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From Chickens to Children: One Student’s Quest for Friendship

By Alice Griffin

My son Daniel did well in elementary school, because the teachers worked with him. When he started middle school, we didn’t want him bussed far away as was typically the school district’s way of handling kids on the autism spectrum. We sent him to a charter school because we believed that kids on the spectrum don’t get bullied at charter schools.

Sadly, that turned out to be false. At the charter school, nobody would sit with him at lunch. He would do anything the other kids told him to do to try to make friends; and as a result, Daniel was suspended once for behavior. He went from a B student to a D or F student.

The school had farmyard chickens. Daniel spent most of his time with them. His only friends were literally the school’s farmyard chickens.

We knew something had to change.

I met Mrs. Katy, a Newton Learning Center teacher, at a fundraiser and learned that Newton was for high-functioning students on the autism spectrum.

When Daniel and I walked into NLC for a tour, I was scared for him that he wouldn’t know anyone, but a kid he knew from summer camp was there and greeted him. My fears were gone.

During the tour, Daniel spent half a day at the school. After his short time there, he didn’t want to go back to the charter school. I felt he learned more at Newton Learning Center in half a day than he did at the charter school all year.

You see, my child is very social – which is different from other kids on the spectrum. He loves people. I so wanted him to have real friends.

At Newton, we’ve seen him grow leaps and bounds. Where he had reading comprehension trouble before, now his vocabulary and comprehension have expanded. And he is so far above his grade level in math, they are trying new ways to work with him in that subject.

Newton Learning Center
Alice Griffen (left) and her husband Rick (right) celebrate their son Daniel’s (center) outgoing nature and independence, after he gained confidence and friendship at Newton Learning Center.

Before Newton, Daniel wasn’t able to be away from us. Even in church in seventh grade, he needed us by his side. He now serves communion, and he’s the lay reader. He reads scripture in front of the entire church. He doesn’t need us at his side any more.

I worried that if he stayed in the school district, my child would become a homebody, alone and unable to contribute to society. Thanks to Newton Learning Center, he has a future, maybe in IT, or anything he wants to do.

My husband had cancer a couple of years ago. Daniel was naturally upset. The Newton teachers supported him mentally and emotionally at school while I supported my husband at home. I fear that would not have happened in the school district and they would have sent him home, as they often did when he was upset or acted out.

Newton Learning Center is a safe environment where the kids are not bullied and they learn to handle emotional issues.  Newton works on emotional well-being with the students and because of that, we are able to work on it together at home.

To other parents considering a change for their child, I will say you don’t have to worry about your kids being in danger of bullies at Newton. They are never bullied, they’re included. And the kids there are so welcoming, it’s enough to make your heart break. You’ll want do anything you can to get your kids here.

About Alice Griffin

Alice GriffinAlice has lived in Reno for 20 years and works at a local insurance agency. She and her husband, Rick, love to go camping and enjoy nature. They have three dogs, a cat and a dozen chickens. In her spare time, Alice crochets prayer shawls to give away at her church for anyone who needs comfort. Her dream is one day to move to the mountains – but only if it’s within a day’s drive of the ocean!

About Newton Learning Center and Second Start Learning Disabilities Programs, Inc.

Newton Learning Center is a member of the Second Start Learning Disabilities Programs, Inc. family. Founded in 1974 in San Jose, California, Second Start Learning Disabilities Programs, Inc. was created to offer tutorial and diagnostic clinics to children with severe disabilities, such as autism. The program grew to add multi-disciplinary, academic and therapeutic programs as well as offering services to at-risk children with special needs. Today, Second Start Learning Disabilities Programs, Inc. operates four schools in Northern California and Northern Nevada including Pine Hill San Jose, Newton Learning Center San Jose, Pine Hill South Monterey and Newton Learning Center Northern Nevada.

Alice Newton’s video story, and many others, can be found here.


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