The public policy that could change my autistic son’s life

Photo by Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

I walked into the Texas Capitol for the first time several weeks ago on an unusual mission: I came to share my greatest fear as a father.

I don’t spend time planning retirement or saving for things like boats or vacations. I don’t worry about my future career or strive for a position of authority or wealth. I worry about what happens when I am not on this planet to watch and look after my special-needs son, Landon.

Landon was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. I lay awake at night worrying about how he will take care of himself when I’m no longer here. How can I help him lead a life where he has the means to provide for himself? And, of course, the question every special-needs parent asks: Am I doing enough? 

That question is what led my wife and I to take off work, pack our bags and drive from Houston to Austin with our children to testify before the House Public Education Committee on a bill that would change Landon’s life and the lives thousands of children like him.

We teared up when we first learned about legislation that would have allowed parents to customize the education of their special-needs children. Finally, we had hope that perhaps our son may have the opportunity to learn, to get a job, to have confidence and to feel normal. That one day, he might become a productive member of society.

There is still time to act on behalf of the students who most need help. A one-size-fits-all education model simply does not work for this community of students who each have unique learning challenges that call for specialized teaching and therapies.

Landon is currently in the public school system, where wonderful teachers and administrators truly care about his future. Unfortunately, their teaching methods are restricted by bureaucratic red tape and often far less effective than other educational offerings. For example, when Landon was three, he responded to a video series called “Your Baby Can Read.” We brought it to Landon’s teachers, as we saw what a powerful tool it was for learning. But they were not allowed to bring it into the classroom because it was not approved by the school district.

We all understand the need for such controls in the public school setting, but the result is that Landon is not being taught in the way that works best for him.

We have 21 special-needs schools within 25 miles of our zip code. All of them have programs for children just like Landon. But as my wife said in her testimony before the committee, these schools may as well be a million miles away because they are financially out of our reach. School choice for special-needs students would change that, opening educational doors for our family and many others who simply want to put their kids in the learning environments that best meet their needs.

I urge our state leaders to pass legislation that will provide relief for the thousands of parents of special-needs children. Parents, like us, who might be able to sleep a bit better knowing that when they are gone, their children will have a shot at a life of productivity — and perhaps even happiness.

Isn’t that what every parent wants for their child?