What happens when the school bus stops coming?




Posted on May 16, 2012 at 10:06 PM

Updated Thursday, May 17 at 3:57 PM

PLANO — Inside a Plano home, the Boatright family deals in chaos. But it is the only life they know.

There are meltdowns and blow-ups, in the car, on the floor, in a restaurant, on the bed.

Clay and Carole Boatright are parents of Paige and Mia, 12-year-old identical twins with severe autism. We gave them a camera, and for four days in May they kept a video journal.

"This is Paige just getting home from school," Clay said, as he shot pictures of his daughter screaming and bouncing up and down on her parents' bed. "I want her to go to the bathroom; you see the reaction just to go to the bathroom."

"You literally have to make it up as you go along," he said. "They're 12 years old, non verbal, still working on bathroom issues, and are prone to meltdowns."

"But they also have no ego, no pretentiousness. They are never going to steal a car or do drugs. They even still let me give them sloppy wet kisses," Clay Boatright added, smiling.

Carole admitted each day is an adventure. "You never really know what kind of mood they're in," she said.

The twins still have 10 years in the public school system; what happens beyond that frightens Clay and Carole.

"Yeah I think the biggest heart attack moment is when the school bus doesn't show up anymore," Clay said.

That same fear led to the creation of a unique school on Plano's SMU campus. A non-profit technology school called nonPareil Institute is teaching adults with autism to develop video games and apps for iPhones and iPads.

Dan Selec and Gary Moore co-founded nonPareil.

"When I met Dan, that first meeting I went, 'Yes!'" Gary said, pumping his fist and laughing, "a future for my son! And it's been incredible."

Selec and Moore both have teenage sons with autism, and they opened nonPareil a year-and-a-half ago with eight students.

They now have an enrollment of 80, and there's a waiting list.

Inside the school are several artists... good ones. They are drawing backgrounds for video games and designing characters.

Michelle Nugent and Gabby Campos are students who prove what's possible. Their hands can dance, but their minds work differently.

"Because I'm dyslexic and a tiny bit of Asperger's and such, I've always had little bit of trouble when it comes to getting into places," Michelle said. "One of the main things about the artist world is that they don't care about your intellect level... they don't care about being able to read, write, or understand numbers... they care more about what you can do."

Gabby has done some elaborate artwork, yet she had trouble remembering how old she was. She said she had a previous job filing papers. "It was not much fun for me," she said. "It was uncool."

Moore has heard the stories time and time again. "I'll meet a family and they will say, 'Johnny has had three jobs — he's sacked groceries, pushed carts, he's done these jobs, and it's a good job for somebody, but many times they lose interest.' It's not what excites them, it doesn't hold their interest," he said. "And that's why you have a high unemployment rate in the U.S. for adults on the spectrum."

Some of their nonPareil students have become employee teachers, but Selec and Moore envision expanding their school into a full-time workplace, too, where students can sell the technology they develop.

"If you need a place who understands and can teach you, this is probably the best place you can find right now," said Michelle. "It feels really homey to me."

"Before I went to this school, I thought it meant that you wouldn't fit in, but here, you're given a chance to do things you thought you'd never be able to do," Gabby added. "Everything's all right now."

At the Boatright home, employment may not be an option. Few opportunities exist for employing adults with severe autism. The Boatrights believe the key is finding the unique skills of those with autism and developing those talents. And like most parents of children with autism they're Paige and Mia's biggest champions- pledging to continue to fight and push for their development.

But as Paige and Mia age, so do Clay and Carole.

"Special needs parents are the only people on the earth who hope they outlive their own children," Clay said.

The Boatrights have a strong faith in God. They're facing the future with hope and patience- a philosophy that hasn't changed since the day the girls were born.

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com