Voice of Ability
By Melissa Real
My daughter Alli attended Rainbows United preschool for two years and was diagnosed with a form of autism at age 5. She attended Blessed Sacrament Catholic School with her sister Kylie and brother Justin from kindergarten through second grade, when the girls celebrated their First Communion together.
When we moved her to College Hill Elementary full-time, I requested that she receive religious instruction from Blessed Sacrament. The teachers were willing to reorganize their schedule each year to ensure that Alli wouldn’t miss religion. My husband Kevin and I were in constant communication with the staff at Blessed Sacrament.
As the time for middle school neared, we were concerned about where Alli would attend. I had a conversation with Daniel Dester, the principal, and told him that we understood Alli would never attend college and that our priority was for her to be in a safe, healthy environment where she felt loved and protected.
At the beginning of Alli’s fifth grade year, Mr. Dester informed my husband and myself that Blessed Sacrament had applied for a grant from the Holy Family Foundation so they could hire an additional aide. That would allow Alli to attend full-time.
He said that even if the grant wasn’t approved they wanted her back and would find some way to make it work. Kevin and I were floored and extremely grateful. Alli would be back with her sister for middle school and able to spend her formative preteen years in a Catholic environment.
Alli and Kylie are in the same grade and share the same group of friends. Everyone in their class – boys included – watch out for Alli and are so kind and patient with her. I visited the class several times over the years to talk to them about autism and Alli’s behaviors specifically. The kids and their parents know that they can contact me at any time with questions or concerns.
Alli’s favorite activity at recess is swinging or spinning on the globe. Her friends are willing to stand and spin her or swing next to her while they talk to others. They help her follow along with the songs at Mass and volunteer to accompany her when she’s reading announcements over the intercom or at Mass because she’s scared of being in front of the church by herself. She didn’t learn to read well until the second grade, but practices with her old hymnals when she plays Mass at home.
This year she’s a pre-K helper on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons and looks forward to those days. She’s participated in an after school book study the last two years, as well as a scripture study group which meets Thursday mornings before school. She runs track with Blessed Sacrament and is a cheerleader this year. She loves being part of a group at school.
Alli participates with the Wichita Saints Special Olympic team in track, bowling and basketball. She also takes a tap/jazz dance class once a week and performs in the annual recital.