It was 7:45 a.m. A quick hug and he was off. His little feet shuffling as quick as they could toward the gym.
“He wants to see his friends,” Jamie Samouelian said smiling as her son Henry ran off, disappearing into the giant hallway. Henry, a 3rd grade student at Eton Academy in Birmingham, began attending the private school last year.
The oldest of RPM President, Al and Jamie Samouelian’s three children, Henry loves to read, play games and hang out with his brother and sister.
“He is very dramatic,” Jamie said. “Anything that he reads about or sees on TV he loves to re-enact; and he loves superheroes.”
At just 8 years old, Henry has faced and conquered a number of challenges. Born 3 months premature, Henry came into the world weighing just 2.5 lbs. He spent 60 days in the NICU before going home on Father’s Day, just one month prior to his due date.
In 2015, Henry was diagnosed with Autism. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), estimates 1 in 59 U.S. children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. (CDC 2014) As expected, when he began attending a public elementary school, he faced various learning challenges that left him frustrated and restless.
“He has learning disabilities and social struggles,” said Jamie. “He was just struggling to learn in a traditional classroom. He had trouble controlling the sensory input, connecting with his peers and creating meaningful relationships. Because of his struggles, he began to fall further and further behind in comparison to his classmates.”
After evaluating Henry’s progress, Al and Jamie decided to transition him to Eton Academy last year. “Henry is like every other kid,” Al said. “He loves to play. He is very curious and wants to be successful. However, he learns at a different pace.”
The entrance to Eton Academy, a private school for students grades 1-12, is spacious and open – with unique architectural touches, including a sundial strategically positioned in the ceiling. Students flood the one-of-a-kind entrance every morning in preparation for the 8:25 a.m. start time.
The unique, yet warm entrance foreshadows the special approach that both students and parents experience at Eton.
“Our ratio here is a 10 to 1,” said Eton Academy Director of Public Relations, Betsy Pilon. “It’s a very different approach to how kids are taught. We use a lot of multi-sensory instruction. We’ve also developed our own program called the Eton Approach – that is really how we deliver our curriculum.”
When at Eton, it’s rare that you will see students sitting quietly at their desks, instead a lot of the instruction involves movement.
“Some students learn best visually, some learn best auditorily, and some learn through kinesiology,” Betsy said. “So, if we can deliver instruction in a way that can hit all of those ways, we can help students really grasp these concepts and the brain absorbs them in ways that work for each student.”
She continued saying, “If someone is having a hard time with reading and doesn’t understand the concept with just text, we find different ways to deliver it. Often times, they head outdoors for a scavenger hunt, or relay race – even for their literacy or English classes.”
For many students, Eton is a school of need. But for some students it becomes a school of choice. “We want Eton to become a school of choice for people,” Betsy said. “We have several students that it is their goal and their family’s goal to transition out to either their home school or a different private school. However, we have about 20 students that graduate from Eton every year.”
Since he began attending Eton Academy, Henry has made major improvements, particularly in the areas he was seeing the most challenges.
“He has made great strides in reading, writing and math,” said Jamie said of Henry’s progress through tears. “The daily struggles of getting ready are getting better. He’s more confident. I mean, if he tried to make friends with a typical developing kid, he’s still going to struggle, but everyone at Eton is quirky. So, he doesn’t struggle as much to make friends. Really just every aspect of our daily lives has improved.”
Children and adults with Autism typically process information, learn and react in different ways. Challenges come when developing social, emotional and communication skills. Signs begin during early childhood and last throughout a person’s life. Early intervention treatment services have been shown to improve a child’s development. (CDC)
“Autism is not a disease and it cannot be cured,” Al said. “But, unlocking the passion of Autistic children has historically gifted our world with true geniuses in art, music and other areas of innovation.”
*Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Data and Statistics, ADDM Network 2000-2014, April 26, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html