Persons, places and things: The team we leaned on


By Barb Arland-Fye


As parents attempting to understand our firstborn son’s autistic behaviors, Steve and I leaned heavily on the Autism Resource Team of the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency during Colin’s elementary school years. Two members of the team, Cindy and Kathy, served as a lifeline for us when Colin’s behavior at home and at school challenged his teachers and us!

Colin fixated on water in sinks and toilets, and then on scraping his fingers along the walls until they bled. He darted away from the classroom and from his parents when he could not cope with the stimulation of sights and sounds. The din of voices in a public setting or the high-pitched sound of a baby’s cry distressed him deeply. The hum of the refrigeration units in the grocery store fascinated him, as did the sound of a train’s whistle miles before anyone else saw the train coming.

How was he able to read so proficiently? How did he know, instinctively, that he would have to change schools after first grade, which elevated his anxiety level to the point of becoming physically ill? Why, so preoccupied with his own needs, could he love his baby brother Patrick with his whole heart and soul? Why did he insist on continuing to wear his winter coat, mittens and hat long after the winter season ended?


Our school didn’t have the answers for challenges at school. We didn’t have the answers for challenges at school or at home. All of us leaned on Cindy and Kathy to help us search for the underlying factors triggering behavior that interfered with his quality of life and discouraged us.

I remember one Saturday afternoon when Kathy came to our house to provide guidance, moral support and reassurance.

That day, and many other days, Kathy and Cindy were our son’s guardian angels and our family’s answer to prayer. Their expertise and insights proved invaluable to our school’s principal and teachers and made it possible for Colin to grow and thrive.

Without the Autism Resource Team of our Area Education Agency (AEA), Steve and I don’t know how we would have coped and learned to parent Colin so that he could achieve his potential and share his God-given gifts.

Earlier this month, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced during her Condition of the State address a proposal to reform the AEA system, created in the 1970s to provide special education to support Iowa’s school districts. She believes the system of nine regional entities has grown beyond their core mission. While some AEAs are doing great work, others are underperforming, she said. The result is “top-heavy organizations with high administrative costs.”

Today, the AEA system provides special education, media and professional development services to public and private school staff and students, said Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC). The ICC is urging careful consideration of how the proposed AEA reorganization would affect students in Catholic schools who rely on these services, he said.

I appreciate Tom’s advice, which also applies to Catholic families who send their kids to public schools. Every story has multiple layers and we need to explore the layers of the AEA’s story. What I do know with certainty: the AEA’s Autism Resource Team was a godsend to our family.

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at

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