From the shadow of the Rocky Mountains to the southern face of Crotched Mountain, they traveled – in search of safety and purpose, stability and discovery, and the simple joy of a leisurely kayak ride.
You pull into the parking lot of Dodge Farms Ice Cream and Garden Stand in New Boston, New Hampshire, just off of Route 77. There’s the faintest of drizzles on this raw October morning. The stand isn’t open yet. But there is activity.
A teenage boy is vigorously wiping down picnic tables. You walk over. It’s Colin. A student from Crotched Mountain School. He’s scrubbing away like a champ, dipping his sponge into the bucket of soapy water nearby. Standing next to him, offering instruction and encouragement is Stacy Fiske, an occupational therapist.
You learn that this is a regular stop for Colin, his staff, and Stacy. Dodge Farms has found great benefit in his table-cleaning abilities, erasing the trace amounts of ice cream and other happy goo that make the surface so sticky and unappealing to customers.
Curious about Colin, you chat with Stacy to learn more. Colin loses his focus; your presence is new and Colin is a big-time routine guy. After all, he’s on the clock.
You politely excuse yourself. As you head back to the car, Stacy mentions you should also talk to Colin’s teacher Matt. He can tell you more.
You say thanks, jump into the car, and drive west to Greenfield and Crotched Mountain School.
Matt Jones’ classroom is never dull. Lots of movement. Lots of activity. His group is the older, high-school age students, all boys, and all with unique challenges and behaviors. One of his students walks in, surrounded by exuberant staff who are giving him a great big bear hug. He had just made a significant life skill accomplishment and everyone is excited.
Amid the hullabaloo, you sidle over to Matt.
Tell me about Colin, you say.
So Matt tells you about Colin.
When Colin arrived at Crotched Mountain School for his first day, he was clad in protective gear and flanked by multiple staff. The staff were in protective gear, too. He brought with him a reputation for extreme behavior. A student from Colorado, there were literally no other places for him to go. His father, Tyler, recounts that when looking for safe, appropriate placement for Colin, the family started in Colorado and worked east, finding no options until about a hundred miles west of the Atlantic at Crotched Mountain.
With an autism diagnosis and severe communication limitations, as well as anxiety that boxed him in emotionally, the focus of Colin’s first year or so at Crotched Mountain School was acclimation with a priority placed on safety. If Colin needed support with a behavior, it was always a two-person team of Campus Support Staff who would hotfoot it to the scene.
Because of his anxiety, Colin was uninterested in coming to school. But thanks to the power of the Slim Jim–far and away Colin’s favorite snack–staff were able to incentivize his trip to class. According to his staff, getting Colin to school was a “three Slim Jim process.” Those Slim Jims came in handy everywhere and helped Colin get used to his new surroundings and heed what was being asked of him. Colin’s dad would send cases of Slim Jims to Greenfield to keep the supply chain moving.
But Colin settled in. He would eventually find safety and comfort in his new surroundings. His protective gear was discarded. His staff and teachers gave him more flexibility–essentially backing away and reducing directives, allowing him to choose freely.
As the anxiety began to dissipate, a highly empathetic, sensitive young man emerged. Following his incidents of aggression towards others he would immediately weep.
When he was younger, Colin had injured his grandmother, which had prompted his residential placement. A few months ago, he saw her in person for the first time since the incident and immediately burst into tears.
He hugged her.
You also learn that he’s a big sports guy. He plays basketball at the after-school program and does every single activity offered by Crotched Mountain Accessible Recreation and Sports: kayaking, cycling, and skiing. He went to the prom this year, too.
You finish talking to Matt just as Colin returns from his community adventures. His staff are right behind him as he strides into the classroom. It is obvious to you he feels comfortable here. He has found safety and stability and, most importantly, purpose. He has made his own choices and determined his own experience.
He has found safety and stability and, most importantly, purpose. He has made his own choices and determined his own experience.
Before you leave, Matt tells you one more thing. His father, Tyler, who frequently flies in from Colorado for visits, was at Crotched Mountain a few weeks ago. He had booked a room at a nearby resort. For the first time in over a decade Colin stayed overnight with his dad, without any staff. While they were there, they tried out the hot tub.
You like to think they shared a Slim Jim.