Dover resident Barbara Baker, who recently told the story of her 19-year-old autistic daughter Mary Gwen, to a group of legislators. (Photo courtesy of Brianna M. White)
By Robert Rosen
Hometown Weekly Staff
On Friday, March 11, Nashoba Learning Group in Bedford, an organization that works with children and adults living with autism, hosted several legislators to share the school’s programming and successes and heighten lawmakers’ awareness of the challenging budget realities for Chapter 766 schools that educate students with special needs.
As part of the event, which was co-hosted by the school, Rep. Kenneth Gordon, Sen. Michael J. Barrett and maaps, the Massachusetts Association of 766 Approved Private Schools, Dover resident Barbara Baker spoke about the journey of her daughter Mary Gwen, a 19-year-old autistic student who is nonverbal.
“I talked about our journey,” Baker said. “How we got there. [Nashoba] has helped our whole family. It allows my daughter to relax. It’s a safety net.”
A nonprofit association with 87 member schools, maaps members provide has over 150 day and residential programs and schools that provide education and treatment to approximately 5,500 students in Massachusetts with disabilities. There are also about 1,500 students who come from outside of Massachusetts to attend a maaps program.
The event at Nashoba was to show legislators what maaps programs accomplish and their importance. Despite the appearance that they are expensive in terms of the money that they are receiving, they aren’t receiving what they need. Students at Nashoba and other maaps schools typically require one-on-one teaching and behavioral analysis as well.
Mary Gwen began attended Nashoba at the age of 12. Baker said her daughter was at an all-time low and the school turned her around.
“They make students feel loved,” Baker said of Nashoba. “These kids can really do well. They just need a specialized learning environment.”
Baker said that Mary Gwen will stay in her current program until she’s 22, when she will enter an adult program. As part of her education, she does vocational training, and when she completes her current program she will either find volunteer work or get a job. According to Baker, her daughter has shown some interest in office work, laundry and setting up the cafeteria.
“To see it is just amazing,” Baker said.
On Thursday, April 7, the State House will host an event for Autism Spectrum Awareness and Acceptance Day, an event that Baker has attended in the past. She said she has had the opportunity to meet with Rep. Denise Garlick and speak with her there before.
“It’s very important to develop relationships with legislators so we are on their radar,” Baker said. “This can make a huge difference. They really have to have a specialized learning environment. They can learn- they just need a specialized learning environment.”
Robert Rosen is an Editor for Hometown Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @roberterosen.