Glory Days

This is the time of year that takes me back to 2009 when my son graduated from Harpeth High School in Cheatham County. It’s a small county without a lot of built-in services, so many of our supports, accommodations and modifications were very much due to thinking “out of the box.” Most of the time that worked to our advantage and since it did result in Josh graduating with a regular education diploma, I’ve got few complaints. However, this end result wasn’t all that apparent even a year or so prior to graduation. This is truly a case of turning lemons into lemonade (with apologies to Beyonce!).

It all began in Josh’s junior year when he got himself into trouble. While waiting for me to pick him up at the back of the school, he decided he would throw rocks at a car owned by a teacher he didn’t like (long story). Obviously, this didn’t go over very well, and the result was that he not only had to pay for the damage he caused but also could no longer wait in the pick-up line after school. For the rest of the school year I had to collect him from the front office where he waited with the principal and vice-principal after class let out.

Josh can be an extremely social and likeable person when he wants to be (notwithstanding the rock-throwing incident), and he formed a real bond with both of his “captors,” especially with the vice-principal, Coach Collins. Maybe it was Stockholm syndrome, but after a while he came to look forward to his after-school confinement, even to the point of calling Ms. Simpkins, the principal, his “Soul Sister” and Coach Collins his “Soul Brother.” They seemed to enjoy their new titles and, in turn, renamed him “Superfly” (I’m not sure why but he loved it!).

It even got better when Coach, who directed the cars and busses exiting after school, decided to bring Josh along with him. Well, Josh took to directing traffic like a duck to water and soon was in sole control under the watchful eye of Coach. Eventually, they even bought him his own reflective vest, whistle, and white gloves. I can’t tell you what a huge difference this made in his life. For the first time in ages, he was excited about going to school because he would be able to direct traffic afterwards. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, on campus knew him and started honking, talking or waving to him at school and when we ran into them in the community. It was a major boost to his self-esteem, and he ate it up!

Fast forward to senior year. We’re still struggling some academically but making progress due to some excellent common sense programs put in place by a number of wonderful teachers (more on that in another blog). The traffic directing, however, is still the reason to get up in the morning. In fact, he finished his probationary period and was offered the chance to wait back in the pick-up line, and he turned it down because he wanted to continue doing his “job.” So every afternoon just before final bell, they would page “Superfly” to come to the office. He’d don his equipment and be out there whistling and waving the students safely through the traffic maze.

Somehow the Ashland City Times found out about this and showed up to interview him for their paper. Now this was not even our local paper, since we live in Kingston Springs, but they did a wonderful article about Josh and his new “career” and, I’m happy to say, never once mentioned he had autism. Then someone on the Yearbook staff decided they wanted to reprint the article; while all the other seniors had their usual one-paragraph blurb of activities, hopes and desires, Josh had a two-page spread in the Yearbook!

Comes time for the annual awards program, and Josh is not really interested in going because he knows he is not winning any awards. His dad and I talk him into it by suggesting he should go if for no other reason than to support his wrestling buddies (he was one of the team managers) in case they would win something. Unbeknownst to any of us, Coach Collins had a plaque made up for Josh commemorating his service to the school as its first and only Traffic Director! Josh got to go up and accept his plaque in front of the whole student body and to a standing ovation from his peers. What a moment!

When graduation rolled around not long after, we were so excited because we had just found out about a month previously that Josh was going to be the only special education student that year to graduate with a regular education diploma. He had passed all his required subjects and exit exams, albeit by the seat of his pants in some cases! When he was called up to the stage, they used his “whole” name, Joshua Lawrence “Superfly” Shindler, and en masse his entire class stood up to applaud him, the only standing “O” anyone received! I can still see Coach Collins giving him the biggest hug ever, and it still makes me teary-eyed.

I wanted to share that experience with you because it just shows what can happen from one small generous moment blossoming into many, many buds of friendship and love. If his school’s administrators had not taken him under their wings during a particularly tough time, none of this would have happened. I will forever be grateful to them for that. Every kid deserves an experience like that. It just takes someone believing in you and taking the time to bring out your best side. He has benefitted over and over by these kindnesses, because even now when we go out, we constantly run into now grown-up kids from high school who remember Josh and inquire about him. He’s hard to miss around town as his customized license plate reads “Superfly.”

May you all find someone who will shelter and nurture your child to be the very best that they can be. Peace and love!

Josh & Coach Collins

Josh as Traffic Dir.


    Barbara Moore | June 9, 2016 at 9:33 pm

    Carolyn, I remember meeting you and Josh when my son, Rusty, was about 3 or 4 years old. I’m not sure how old Josh was, I know he was a little older than Rusty. I’m glad to read about this story of Josh as I think of him and wonder how he is. It’s absolutely heart warming to read. Rusty graduated in 2012, stayed in school another 4 yrs and is now attending Waves in Fairview. I think once he gets used to their routine, he’ll do fine. The staff at his dr.’s office has helped me a lot with services for Rusty. There are services that insurance and DIDDS pay for to help him.

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