Shaping a son’s future

With dozens of elaborately decorated clay models of dragons, dinosaurs and cartoon characters displayed around the house, it seems as though Clinton Mesa is just a 17-year-old teenager with a great hobby. But, as his parents, Lou and Chris Mesa, found out, their son’s knack for making strikingly descriptive models, was much more than a passion.

Though Clinton Mesa made it through his elementary school years without major problems, his eighth-grade teachers noticed some peculiar behaviors that weren’t typical of a 13-year-old boy. After two years of rigorous testing and countless forms, paperwork and meetings, Clinton Mesa finally was diagnosed with autism and Asperger’s syndrome.

With dozens of elaborately decorated clay models of dragons, dinosaurs and cartoon characters displayed around the house, it seems as though Clinton Mesa is just a 17-year-old teenager with a great hobby.

But, as his parents, Lou and Chris Mesa, found out, their son’s knack for making strikingly descriptive models, was much more than a passion.

Though Clinton Mesa made it through his elementary school years without major problems, his eighth-grade teachers noticed some peculiar behaviors that weren’t typical of a 13-year-old boy.

After two years of rigorous testing and countless forms, paperwork and meetings, Clinton Mesa finally was diagnosed with autism and Asperger’s syndrome.

Asperger’s syndrome is characterized by an encompassing interest in one or more patterns of behavior or a strict adherence to nonfunctioning behaviors or routines, though the individual, in many cases, does not display any speech or language problems, according to the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office submitted a report to the U.S. Congress Subcommittee on Human Rights and Wellness in January that stated that there are at least 1.5 million Americans living with some form of autism, of which are more than 150,000 school-aged children receiving government services.

The federally mandated Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which is the primary federal law that addresses the needs of children with disabilities, requires:

  • the availability of a free appropriate public education for all eligible children with disabilities;

  • an individualized education program (IEP) for eligible children with disabilities;

  • the inclusion of students with disabilities in statewide and districtwide academic assessment programs; and

  • requires the placement of students in the least restrictive environment.

    “You never want to believe that something is wrong with your child,” said his mother, Lou Mesa, a teacher at Agueda Johnston Middle School.

    Lou Mesa said that although she had her concerns throughout her son’s elementary school years, she had always been told by teachers that “he’d grow out of it,” eventually.

    “They always told me he just couldn’t focus and that he was just immature. They told me he would grow out of it,” said Lou Mesa.

    Clinton Mesa’s first-grade teacher had noticed that he was constantly playing with something inside his desk, his mother said, and that it was then they discovered that Clinton had a knack for making detailed sculptures out of clay, or anything that can be molded.

    Lou Mesa said Clinton Mesa didn’t really display any real problems while in school. It wasn’t until he was in the eighth grade that teachers noticed behaviors that weren’t typical of 13-year-old boys, and subsequently referred him to a counselor.

    Though Clinton Mesa underwent numerous types of testing and saw a number of different doctors, no one could quite place a finger on a specific diagnosis.

    “Nobody could tell us what was wrong,” said Lou Mesa.

    It wasn’t until high school that more in depth testing on her son took place, including speech and language tests to occupational tests.

    Though a bit devastated, Lou Mesa said she knew she had to make up for lost time and get her son the services he needed to get ahead.

    But, that was only the beginning of the struggle.

    For his sophomore year in high school, Lou Mesa said her son was not receiving any of the services that are mandated for children with disabilities.

    “I was constantly requesting for my son’s services, but they kept telling me that there weren’t enough teachers in the department for it,” she said.

    “I had to go in and call a meeting with special education officials from DOE, principals — everybody — and demand that my son get what he’s entitled to,” said Lou Mesa. “I wasn’t doing it for me, I was doing it for my son.”

    It was during the summer that Clinton finally was able to get the services, classes and individualized help he needed to succeed.

    Clinton Mesa now is a senior at George Washington High School, and an aspiring artist who has taken his talent to computer graphics.

    The Mesas are in high hopes that Clinton Mesa will be able to use his passion for art to further his education — and his horizons — after graduation.

    An educator herself, Lou Mesa is hoping that parents and teachers will understand the importance of listening to your instincts when it comes to children.

    “Be involved. Call the teachers, go to the meetings and make sure you know everything that is going on with your child,” she said. “You should know your child better than anyone else.”

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