Xavier’s journey is measured in inches and feet, the steady accumulation of which led to his ultimate goal–the freedom to move about the campus.
You can hear the sound ripple from across the Crotched Mountain School ball-field. It’s almost like someone is trying to kickstart a small-engine scooter, but the engine refuses to fire.
EMMMMM EMMMMMM EMMMMMM EMMMMMM EMMMMMMM
You bend your ear a bit further and realize that it’s a human making that sound–a boy, specifically. In the distance you see him. He’s standing still, just in front of the Hayden building. His staff waits for him patiently, about 15 yards away.
It’s Xavier, and for a stretch last year, when he first arrived at Crotched Mountain, he and his trademark vocalizations were a fixture around the school–but rarely in the school.
He brought with him a significant autism diagnosis, a touch of OCD, and extremely limited communication skills. In Tom Newbury’s class, this mixture of challenges were not new; his students all had autism and communication challenges as well as a bevy of secondary diagnoses. It was Xavier’s impediments to actually making it into Tom’s class that made him such a recognizable figure on campus.
The X-Man–as he’s known around these parts–would consistently get hung up in his travels, impeded by the various diagnoses that have acted as a barrier for so much of his life.
Those first few months were exercises in patience and fortitude. From the time he departed for school to when Xavier would finally arrive at Tom’s class, you were looking at a solid two or three hours. The best case scenario was a 10:30 am arrival, far past Tom’s Morning Meeting kickoff time of 9:00 am, when his class gathered together to begin the day. Sometimes he wouldn’t even make it to class at all.
This was expected. This was Xavier after all. Right?
Not so fast.
A LONG WAY
When Xavier first began in Tom’s class a list of “can’ts and won’ts” accompanied him, the things that Xavier just wasn’t going to be able to pull off–“The desk has to be positioned just this way or Xavier won’t sit” or “His food can’t touch the sides of his plates or Xavier won’t eat.” Tom immediately filed the list away.
“My goal for the boys in my class is turn them into young men and to have them be as socially involved as possible,” Tom says. “They may not end up managing the Red Sox, but that doesn’t mean they can’t go to a ballgame and grab lunch on the way.”
For Xavier the first goal was pretty straightforward: help him get to school. Specifically, support Xavier in getting himself “unstuck” and making it to class four out of five days a week in time for morning meeting.
For Xavier the first goal was pretty straightforward: help him get to school.
“We were going to treat this boy like we treat the rest of our kids,” Tom says. “What is our expectation of him as part of our class? It was simple: you’ll get to school.”
The strategy? Patience and persistence. Allow Xavier the space to get himself unstuck, and move forward. Staff would not repeat instructions over and over–a recipe for wheel-spinning–but rather offer guidance once and set out for school, almost like a pace car, and Xavier would follow.
“We wanted to give Xavier the space to make his own decisions and go at his own speed,” said Alyse Fusco, Xavier’s Residential Program Manager.
And, as is the case here on The Mountain, the wins came slowly–but surely. The stuck stretches reduced, staff who worked with him throughout the year like James and Ibrahim and Nick and Cici and Ahley and Krissie and Amanda and Bre and Si and Ntsinzi kept him moving, and, just ahead, on the horizon, his ultimate goal was within grasp: punctuality.
“We wanted him to be on time to school for five consecutive days,” Tom says. “And he did that. He exceeded our expectations. He’s come a long way.”
In fact, at the annual Crotched Mountain School Awards Show on June 5, Xavier was awarded a certificate for Transitioning Between Classes During the School Day. It was well-earned.
Friday, May 17
The sun had punched through the thick veil of gray clouds that had hung menacingly in the Greenfield sky for much of the day. Spring had been late this year, but the flowers are in full bloom and the mid-May warmth had finally begun to settle into the air.
Carter Hall was decked out in decorations and the DJ was setting up his gear, getting ready to blow the roof off the place. One by one, Crotched Mountain School vans pulled up to the door, a steady stream of students dressed to the nines emerging in single file and heading into the big room.
The party soon got into full swing and the dance floor was electric. Students and staff and family members let it rip while the music blasted.
Your attention wanders to the double doors at the entrance to Carter Hall. Xavier is standing there. He’s stuck and repeating his mantra to himself. Claude, his staff, and Alyse are just a few steps away smiling and encouraging, beckoning him onward.
A few minutes pass. You look back and notice that the X-Man has made it through the first set of doors and is now in a holding pattern at the next set. Another ten minutes or so zip by and you see that Xavier has officially entered the building.
He continues to slowly make his way to the dance floor. Alyse is a few steps ahead, cheering him on. He walks to the floor and stops and Alyse stretches out her hands. Xavier taps them, then pulls his fingers back. He taps them again and pulls them back again. Then his hands rest on her hands for a little longer and they stay there. And then he starts to move to the music, swaying back and forth, hands still coupled, and then they’re dancing and an hour passes and then he’s still dancing and then it’s finally time to go and in a fluid motion Xavier lets go, departs the dance floor, strides through the double-doors, and, side by side with Claude, walks out of the parking lot and up the road, heading home, melting into the twilight.