High Contrast

Thomas’* first grade year was difficult. He frequently struggled with schoolwork and his frustrations led to behaviors that disrupted class. His parents began to suspect Thomas might have a learning disability, yet they were unsure of what help they could request through the school. So they pulled Thomas from the public school, and Sarah*, his mom, quit her full-time job to homeschool him.

For two years, along with homeschooling Thomas, Sarah and her husband consulted experts. Evaluations resulted in diagnoses of high-functioning autism, ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), anxiety, and learning disabilities. Sarah described Thomas as very smart and imaginative yet “all this other stuff gets in the way”.

With their new understanding of Thomas’ learning strengths and challenges, his parents decided to re-enroll him so he could start fourth grade at their local elementary school.

Sarah knew he would need supports, and she was willing to advocate, but she did not know where to start. As Sarah said, “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

Once Sarah found Starbridge and called for guidance, she was connected to Christa, a Family Education Specialist. Together, Christa and Sarah talked about ways Sarah could effectively advocate for Thomas to have the supports he needed in school.

The school team started with a good plan, but the daily environment was, in Sarah’s words, “too noisy, too many kids, too much stimulation.” In her view, having Thomas in a general education classroom all day was overwhelming, and he was not able to get the one-on-one support he needed.

Within a month, school staff were calling Sarah daily to report Thomas’ behaviors. Within three months, some staff were growing frustrated and suggested the family consider moving Thomas to an out-of-district placement.

Sarah watched Thomas’ anxiety and frustrations increase. “It’s so tough to see your child struggle, to see him recognize he is failing. In my perspective, the school didn’t understand what the right environment for him was and wasn’t putting the resources in place to give him an appropriate education.”

Still, Thomas’ parents were reluctant to move him to a different school and felt there were more options worth trying before taking that step. Over the course of the year, he was suspended 8 times for behaviors during the school day.

Christa and Sarah talked frequently about next steps to modify the plan. Christa commended her for being a “straight-A student, doing all her homework and following through on every resource and strategy I suggest.” Sarah praised Christa for “helping me move from how I was feeling to focus on what I could do next. She kept me grounded.”

Sarah watched Thomas keep trying. She recalls, “You know, no matter how bad the day before was, every day he would get back on that bus and go back to school. He is my superhero.”

Privately, Thomas expressed to his mom that he wished he could take back all those suspensions, that he could show the school he can succeed, and – like most kids – he just wanted to be accepted and liked.

As a last step, the team tried a 1:1 aide for Thomas. With this additional support, Sarah and her team found a plan that worked for Thomas, helping him avoid meltdowns, stay focused, and stay in school.Photo of diverse group of four children from the back - all are wearing superhero capes and one has their arms raised

At their annual CSE meeting, a counselor shared that many adults in the school wanted to see Thomas succeed. After so many phone calls focused on his mistakes and behaviors, hearing compliments from the school staff was music to Sarah’s ears.

The team talked through what would and would not work for Thomas as he learns, and agreed to continue the 1:1 aide for Thomas’ fifth grade year. Sarah says, “We couldn’t have asked for a better team than this one. The success we’ve seen so far is due to their commitment, the right skill-set, and their understanding of who he is and how he learns.”

Thomas is having a much better year. He is seeing accomplishments and success, and gaining confidence as a result.

Of Christa and of Starbridge, Sarah says,

“I can’t say thank you enough. I honestly don’t know how we as a family would have survived this last year without you.”


* Sarah and Thomas are not their real names. The family has asked that their names be withheld out of respect for their son’s privacy.


Starbridge’s Family Education Specialists and Advocates can talk with families about supports, services, programs, and accommodations that allow students to receive an appropriate education. Thanks to support from our funders and grants, these supports are provided free to families. To learn more, click this link to go to our Navigating Special Education page.