August 25, 2006

One success story provides hope and encouragement for others

CNS Pathways Academy Graduation

CNS Pathways Academy Graduation
(click to enlarge)

On a warm, sunny June morning, under large white tents covering the back porch of East House, parents and teachers smiled, applauded and cheered as the students at the Center for Neurodevelopmental Services (CNS) Pathways Academy celebrated their graduation and the bright future that lay ahead of them.

"Graduation day is a special day at all schools, but it is a particularly triumphant occasion for Pathways Academy students because of the challenges that they have overcome in order to realize their achievements," said Roya Ostovar, PhD, director of the Center.

In its ninth year, Pathways Academy is one of the few schools in Massachusetts to provide a specialized curriculum and environment for students with Asperger's syndrome and related disorders.

While many of the students received certificates of grade advancement and will continue their education at Pathways Academy, for Dean Ballard, the honorary valedictorian of this year's graduating class, graduation marked the end of his schooling at Pathways and the beginning of his future as a college student.

When Ballard, a tall redhead with a big smile, came to Pathways seven years ago, he felt as though he belonged for the first time.

"Dean took to the program immediately because he felt safe among the teachers and enjoyed meeting other children who faced similar challenges," said his mother Lynda Ballard. "The staff at Pathways bring out the best in their students, no matter what special issue they face. In Dean's case, they nurtured his gift for mathematics and instilled confidence in him that he is a smart and capable person."

Joseph Gold, MD, director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Program for McLean, notes that Ballard's feeling of "fitting in" is a common reaction among Pathways Academy students.

"This program is designed for children who have felt out of place socailly and academically in traditional school settings," explained Gold. "Using a social pragmatics and sensorimotor integration approach, the remarkably devoted and gifted faculty and staff her at Pathways make it possible for these same students to thrive. Dean is a great example of how a school can nurture and aid in a student's success. We all enjoyed his speech at graduation."

For Ballard's mother, graduation day was bittersweet. "I had mixed emotions. On one hand, I was deliriously happy for Dean and incredibly proud. On the other hand, I was sad that after seven years, we were parting ways with McLean," she said. "McLean and Pathways will always be a part of our lives and we will remember this time fondly as Dean reaches new heights and achieves great things."

Dean, who received a diploma form Lexington High School in addition to his certificate from Pathways Academy, has already begun attending Middlesex Community College, where he plans to follow in his father's footsteps as an engineering major.

"Dean attributes his success to all of his teachers at Pathways and I can safely say that we would not be where we are today without Pathways Academy and McLean Hospital," says Lynda Ballard.