News Article Details

Bill Kirby Jr.: Kirby: Mom says Fayetteville school for autistic children a 'life-changer' for son

Fayetteville Observer - 7/19/2019

Jul. 19--Take it from Keri Godwin, the little downtown school for autistic children is a life-changer.

No question about it.

"A huge difference," Godwin, 42, says about The School of Hope, where her son, Taylor, has been enrolled the past two years.

Her 13-year-old is reading.

He's interacting with other students.

"And now he has a girlfriend," Godwin says. "He met her at The School of Hope and even bought her a Christmas present."

Taylor Godwin was diagnosed with autism at age 2 1/2 , but Godwin says she and her husband suspected the diagnosis even before.

Autism, according to the National Autism Association, is a bio-neurological developmental disability that affects children before age 3, and it impairs normal brain development and ultimately cognitive function and social interaction.

"I knew well ahead of time, and I was begging for someone to verify it," she says. "I took him to the Child Development Services agency, but they at first said it was too soon to tell. They said he's just a boy and will grow out of it."

But Keri Godwin is a mother.

She knew better.

"He wasn't crawling," as a baby, she says. "He was not walking. He had no words until age 5 and no sentences."

Taylor and Keri Godwin will tell you their son just wasn't receiving the education they were hoping for in the special needs classes at three Cumberland County public schools. Keri Godwin says she is not being critical of teachers in those schools, but she believes the classes were simply too large for autistic students.

Keri Godwin says she had heard about Amy Sparks, the retired teacher at VanStory Hills Elementary School and mother of Jarred Sparks, who was autistic and died at age 19 on June 10, 2011. Sparks vowed she would one day open a school for autistic children, and today The School of Hope at 111 Burns St. is a reality with four classrooms, occupational therapy exercise rooms, four certified teachers, four assistant teachers and about 22 autistic students ages 5 to 14 each year.

Taylor Godwin is one of those students, and his life has changed for the better.

"When you are the parent of an autistic child," Keri Godwin says, "you are told the things they can't do."

If only, this mother says, you now could see her autistic little boy she loves so much.

"He's got lot more confidence," Keri Godwin says. "He's reading now, and he was not reading when he got there. He makes friends. There's just so much growth, and I am more confident as a parent. I think it is because of the very small class sizes. He gets one-on-one attention socially and academically. If he gets behind in one area, they stay with it until he gets it. They make sure it is mastered. It's those small numbers and the trained staff that works on social and independent skills."

Amy Sparks, too, has seen the difference her school has made in the youngster's life.

"Taylor was a boy who was unable to read a book, and when I asked him a word he would simply reply, 'I don't know,'" she says. "Now the world of reading has been unlocked for him and he knows sight words when he is asked, and I love to hear him read. Just a few weeks ago I experienced Taylor reading a book to a kindergarten class. I have seen a young man become confident and anxious to learn, where before he was timid and unsure of himself. Taylor feels the love that we have for one another at The School of Hope and brings a smile to our faces with his witty personality and contagious laugh. What price can you ever put on that?"

Keri Godwin says her son's world today is brighter because of Amy Sparks, and the promise Amy Sparks made to open The School of Hope.

"She is phenomenal," Godwin says. "She is such an advocate for all those kids. Not just mine, but for all of them. The school is a life-changer, not just for Taylor, but for all. These kids are just as capable as other children, if not more. They just have to be given the right direction. And once they learn something, they never forget it."

You will not find, when it comes to the lives of autistic children, a more compassionate human being than Amy Sparks. She doesn't make idle promises or promises she doesn't promise to keep. And if should you ever meet Amy Sparks, you will find a woman with an enormous heart of hope for every autistic child's tomorrow's to come.

Columnist Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at bkirby@fayobserver.com or 910-486-3571.

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(c)2019 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)

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