Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency

Valin's mom shares note of thankfulness for Coletta's encouragement,

February 10, 2020

Thanks to Jill Lyons for permission to share this letter. Coletta Jaeger is a school psychologist on our PLAEA team, and this is a wonderful testimony of the impact of her work. 

Dear Coletta, 

I wanted to take a moment to thank you. When Valin was in kindergarten in Estherville, you diagnosed him with Aspergers Syndrome. You took the time to sit down with me and explain what that meant in a positive manner and were a key player in getting him the help and guidance he needed. 

I will never forget you what you told me about people in history, Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton, who may have also had Aspergers Syndrome. This gave me a positive perspective on what Valin's abilities may be,  and I used that positive approach to encourage Valin. 

Bear with me as I take a moment to  speak about his struggles. I remember that he had difficulty making friends because he wouldn't speak to other children. I would introduce him and tell him it was all right to talk to them. As soon as they began to communicate, I would step away. I think this gave him confidence that he could do this alone, and that it wasn't as scary as he thought. 

I remember moving the furniture in his bedroom around. At first, he would go to the spot where his dresser would be and then he would tell me that he couldn't find his clothes. I would remind him to look for his dresser, and then explain why we moved furniture frequently. I moved furniture around ... alot... to prevent the wear marks on the carpet and to clean beneath the furniture.  I also moved furniture ... a lot... to introduce him to change and let him know that change was not necessarily good or bad. Change is just different and that different was alright. 

I recall that teaching him to complete a task meant that a block of instruction was broken down into little steps. I didn't mind. I wanted him to feel a sense of pride in doing things on his own. There were a lot of instances that required that lots of steps and a big amount of attention, and it was always alright. I remember time after time of trying to get to the heart of his motivation. Hahaha. That one was a bit tougher, but boy when the IEP teachers and I worked on it together we moved that little mountain.  

I remember him putting his hood up on his hoodie and sliding his body down the wall in the gym on the first day of school. Being around all of kids had overloaded what he could handle. He was about 10. I recall the same year my heart broke in pieces because while Valin and I were on a walk talking, he told me he wanted to die because he didn't want to be like this anymore. That was hard as hell. 

I really leaned on your words at that time as a platform. I had always told him he was like a real life XMan.. I told him that with his gift comes struggles, and that not only would he be OK but he would grow up to do something amazing in this world. 

I recall his first anxiety/panic attack that took us to the ER. I remember a teacher's aide telling him he wasn't retarded. I remember times when it felt like I was fighting against the whole world just to protect him or speak for him when he couldn't find the words for his frustrations. I WOULD DO IT ALL AGAIN!  I watched that beautiful boy struggle with himself to find some normalcy just so he could struggle with regular kid stuff. 

I had conversation with Valin when he was about 12. As harsh as it may sound I told him that outside of family no-one was going to give a damn that he had autism, and he had to find the best way to get along in society. He did. I watched him grow and bloom! 

The beautiful side to Valin is the best I've ever seen. (I know. I have a bias. Haha!) We have always had deep, intelligent conversation. He's always been his age going on 50. He used to draw pictures as an outlet, then began writing poetry. Now he writes poetry and music. He has taught himself enough Russian to hold a conversation He speaks a bit of German, Albanian, and has studied French, and a couple other languages.

In middle school, he decided he wanted to teach philosophy. So the school allowed him to pursue that goal with the oversight of a proctor. It was short-lived but it was a neat example of how the school also supported his goals. 

I have a relationship with my kids that most parents only get to dream about. I am so fortunate. Valin and I have great communication about everything - good, bad, or indifferent. He performed a song at the talent show last year! The students loved it. It was amazing. He is teaching himself to play the ukulele. It actually sounds pretty good! He has a couple really great close friends. He has a girlfriend. He will be taking driving lessons this summer.

He will be attending college at North Central Iowa Community College this fall. His goal is to be a World History Teacher and he will minor in photography. HE DID IT COLETTA! He did it because you recognized his difference in this world so that we could love and support and teach him properly.

I wanted to take a moment to truly Thank You, for all you have done not only for Valin, but also for me. I had his last IEP meeting yesterday and I came home afterward and just cried because of how far he has come what he has accomplished and of how deeply proud of him I am.

Not many people could understand, but I know you do. You deserve the satisfaction of knowing you make a real difference. I hope you have a wonderful day. 

Jill Lyons

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