COLUMBIA — Taysir Yalaoui is 4 years old. On Valentine’s Day, he didn’t need any help writing cards to his classmates because he knows how to read and write all of their names.
In other ways, he doesn't quite fit in. He is not yet fully potty-trained. And he is so literal that when his friends wanted to pretend a playground climber was a rocket ship, he made sure they knew it wasn't a real rocket ship.
Taysir's mother, Shannyn Yalaoui, said she noticed his development was a little behind his peers. When he was a year old, she brought him to First Steps, Missouri’s early intervention system for infants and toddlers with developmental delays and disabilities. After a screening, he was set up with a communications therapist and a play skills therapist.
At age 2, the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders diagnosed Taysir with autism. Taysir aged out of the First Steps program when he turned 3, but the program set him up with Columbia Public Schools’ early childhood special education program, known as ECSE. He started attending part time in January 2013.
In the transition from full-time day care to splitting time between day care and special education, Taysir became too rowdy for his day care providers to handle. During January and February 2013, he was asked to leave two day cares.
When United Cerebral Palsy Heartland Child Development Center, or UCP, which accepts children with disabilities, had an opening, Taysir was able to join.
By working with the more specialized day care, continuing with various therapies and using outside resources such as therapeutic horseback riding at Cedar Creek Therapeutic Riding Center, Taysir has made a lot of progress and met all of the goals set for him when he started special education. He graduated from the program within a year of starting.
His mother said that because of Taysir’s success, Columbia Public Schools recommended he move to an environment that allows him to interact with more higher-functioning children — a Title I classroom. Title I is the district’s federally funded preschool program that helps at-risk children prepare for kindergarten.
During the screening process, Yalaoui was concerned that because they had worked so hard to catch Taysir up to his peers and because he was so successful academically he might not be accepted into the program.
Once Taysir was accepted, Yalaoui had yet another challenge: figuring out how to transport him to school, because while special education comes with busing, Title I does not.
Here is one family’s story of navigating the myriad resources available in Columbia, and the limitations that come along with them, for raising a child who rides the borderline on the disability spectrum.