How Guidepost Helped this Child Blossom

A look at how the flexibility and unique offerings of Guidepost helped one child with Autism Spectrum Disorder make progress by leaps and bounds

Lindsay Quigley and Fred Palau, Guidepost Montessori Parents

We were looking for a rich educational experience

Our son Dominic is 5, and he came to Guidepost at 22 months old when we re-located to Reston and I (Lindsay) went back to work. Because we’re a busy, working family, we were looking for a place with flexible hours. But, more importantly, we wanted a place that offered a rich educational experience.

One of the things that drew us to Guidepost was the option to have Spanish language immersion. Fred is a native Puerto Rican and Spanish is his first language so, naturally, one of the things we wanted to instill in our son was the ability to speak Spanish. This is so much easier to do when he can experience a fully immersive environment. Now, he understands Spanish very well and likes to speak it with his grandmother. It’s been great to see how much Spanish Dominic has been able to pick up over the past few years.

Our family spoke highly of the Montessori method

Another thing that drew us to Guidepost was that it was a Montessori learning environment. I (Fred) come from a family of big Montessori subscribers. There are Montessori teachers in the family and many cousins that attended Montessori schools all the way through high school as well. They all had great things to say about the method.

Even the teachers in my family who taught in public schools for nearly 40 years had positive things to say. They stressed to us how well the Montessori students did when they transitioned to the public education system compared to the students who had never attended a Montessori school. In their opinion, the Montessori kids consistently performed above the level of their peers. So, we decided that this method would be a good approach to take with Dominic, and it’s been great that he’s been able to do both Montessori and language immersion at the same time.

The ASD diagnosis was a bit of a shock

A year into Dominic’s time at Guidepost, he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). We first noticed that he wasn’t speaking much. Whereas the other little boys and girls could string together short sentences like “Hi, mommy. How are you?”, he couldn’t do that. We started with a speech therapist then, but after some other developmental assessments, we learned he was at a medium risk for autism. The speech therapist noticed he wasn’t making very good eye contact and he didn’t like to socialize much. 

He was officially diagnosed then with ASD level 2, which is middle of the road for people on the spectrum. It was a bit of a shock at first; we thought he was speech delayed and maybe just a little shy. Dominic is a very sweet little boy; he loves hugs and cuddling and playing with adults. We had a misconception that people with ASD wouldn’t be like that, that they didn’t like to be touched. But it’s a whole spectrum and people can be very different even if they have ASD. 

It’s hard for some kids with ASD to express their emotions of love, but not for Dominic. What is hard for him is things like paying attention and picking up on social cues. He’s working on it, but he can’t always tell when people are getting annoyed or angry. Kids with ASD have all the typical behavior struggles as a neurotypical child, but they’re magnified. Many kids struggle with transitions, with there being a substitute teacher, etc. But for him it’s a little harder.

The interaction between outside experts and Guidepost staff has been critical

It was very hard for us when Dominic was first diagnosed because we knew there would be challenges ahead. Mr. Mike, the Head of School at the time, and the guides in the classroom were wonderful. They were very accommodating about having outside professionals come in and provide support. We were able to bring in a behavioral therapist, an occupational therapist, and a speech therapist. They made sure there were private areas where these professionals could work with Dominic, and they also welcomed them into the classroom to help as well.

There’s a real two-way street that allows the Guidepost staff to interact and work together with the therapists to coordinate the best solution for Dominic. Just recently, we had a meeting to discuss new supports. Dominic is 5 now and is exhibiting more hyperactive behaviors. It’s fairly common for children with autism to concurrently have ADHD type behaviors. We all worked together to create a learning plan where Dominic would receive extra support in the afternoon. And because the staff at Guidepost is aware and is communicating closely with these experts, they’re also working on preparing a child study in order to determine the activities that most engage Dominic in order to support the efforts of the therapists. 

He impresses me daily with the strides he’s made

Dominic has made so much progress since his initial diagnosis. He started out at ASD level 2, but now he’s at ASD level 1. We’re continuing to see impressive growth and progress in his goals and developmental milestones. I don’t know a single person who spends appreciable time with Dominic who isn’t amazed at the astronomical strides he’s made since he started with Guidepost at 22 months old.

Academically, he’s advanced. He’s scoring above average in his math and is reading full sentences.The other day he surprised us by reading all the directions on the back of a box of mac n’ cheese, and we also just learned that he can multiply!

But it’s not just academic. He impresses me daily with the skills he’s learned and the strides he’s made. When we started, he was non-verbal, but now he’s speaking full sentences. His socialization has exploded, and he doesn’t avoid the other children anymore. In fact, now he likes to socialize so much that we have to reign that in a little bit!

Spanish immersion has improved his communication ability

Some parents might be concerned that trying to learn a second language while also working through a speech delay might cause problems. They might worry that it would further hinder their child’s communication skills. In Dominic’s case, we think that learning Spanish has improved his communication. There is new research showing that children with ASD struggle with rigidity and that learning a second language can help.By learning both Spanish and English, Dominic’s brain has been encouraged to move in two parallel paths and it’s helped him become more flexible. He’s had the chance to absorb more language and now he can communicate in both. But, also, his rigidity has decreased. He still struggles with certain things, but it has improved a lot since the beginning. We believe the language immersion program is a great option for families who have children with ASD.

All the children seem to love him; we have a good community

We use the portal provided to parents to email each other and set up parties or play dates. It seems like every other weekend we’re going to a couple of parties with Dominic’s classmates. Recently, we rented an indoor play center for his birthday and the entire class came. Dominic had a great time and was playing with everyone. He’s kind of a class clown and really popular; everybody seems to love him. We have a good community.

We want to dispel the myths around ASD

Several parents know about Dominic’s diagnosis from talking to us.We’ve talked with other parents who have concerns about their children or are curious about how we brought in outside support for him. Even the guides come to us and mention that other parents are interested in talking to us about our journey. We’re perfectly happy to share our experience with Dominic, because we know that there’s no shame in his diagnosis. We don’t want to hide it because hiding it is what makes it feel shameful. We also want to dispel some of the myths that are common and that we believed about ASD. If you met Dominic, your first thought wouldn’t be that he was a child with ASD. There’s a whole spectrum of behaviors and personalities; every child is different even if they have common characteristics. 

Meet the Author

Lindsay Quigley and Fred Palau, Guidepost Montessori Parents

Lindsay Quigley and Fred Palau are the parents of Dominic, a student in the Spanish Immersion program at Guidepost Montessori at Reston in Virginia.