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News & Notes 52 | Parenting and Autism 54 | Meet the Parent 58



REGISTRATION FOR THE 2021-2022 school year is open for Pulaski County Special School District. In addition to registration for current PCSSD students, the district participates in Arkansas school choice. The Arkansas School Choice program enables a student in kindergarten through grade 12 to attend a school in a nonresident district. PCSSD’s mission is to provide equity and excellence for all students through rigorous college and career readiness instructional strategies. We serve Sherwood, Maumelle, North Little Rock, and Little Rock with 27 school locations - 16 elementary schools, five middle school campuses, five high school campuses and, in 2021-2022, an online K-12 school. “PCSSD is the place to be because we take your child’s education personally,” said Dr. Janice Warren, Assistant Superintendent for Equity and Pupil Services. “We focus on all children and how to prepare them for success.” Schools within PCSSD strive to prepare students for life, cultivate future leaders, strengthen our communities, and drive innovation in the classroom. Every school within the district focuses on AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) and PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports).

DRIVEN is a two-part platform within the district that includes the School of Opportunity and the Virtual

AVID prepares every student with a mindset of Academy. The DRIVEN concept engages students in college potential. PBIS focuses on teaching behavioral online and in-person learning to meet students where expectations, just as teachers teach about other sub- they are and allow them to work at their own pace. jects. PBIS changes the focus to prevention instead of

Applications will be accepted through May 1. If

punishment. This aims to improve school safety and you have specific questions related to registration promote positive behavior with the understanding that and school choice within PCSSD, please contact the kids can only meet behavior expectations if they know Office of Equity and Pupil Services at 501-234-2021. the expectations.





Pulaski County Special School District spans more than 600 square miles in central Arkansas and requires highly skilled and passionate personnel to adapt educational policies and personalization to 25 schools. Every school is accredited by the Arkansas State Board of Education. PCSSD has served schools across Pulaski County since July 1927. PCSSD is committed to creating a nationally recognized school district that assures that all students achieve at their maximum potential through collaborative, supportive and continuous efforts of all stakeholders.


Summer 2021 The Wildwood Academy of Music and the Arts is a summer camp designed for students ages 6–18. WAMA students learn and perform alongside professional faculty. Registration opens April 5! Visit wildwoodpark.org.


The Angolan colobus and serval are having a housewarming party of sorts to show off their new exhibits at the Little Rock Zoo. The weekend-long celebration will begin with a members-only preview event from 5-7 p.m. Friday, April 16, that will include an early look at the new exhibits while animals enjoy enrichment. This will be followed by a private reception in the Civitan pavilion where members will enjoy enrichment — in the form of food and refreshments. The party continues on Saturday, April 17, with an opening for the public that will include keeper chats. (Not to be outdone, the lesser spot-nosed guenon is also getting new digs.) Later in the month, April 24, the zoo will host Party for the Planet, a special Earth Day celebration. Visit littlerockzoo.com.


Garvan Woodland Gardens, 550 Arkridge Road, Hot Springs Price: Free for Members | $15 adults | $5 ages 4-12 | Free ages 0-3 Celebrate the end of winter at the Gardens during Daffodil Days & Tulip Extravaganza! There are thousands of beautiful blooms, including more than 150,000 brilliant Dutch tulips. In addition, spring annuals and azaleas will be blooming, making it the biggest display of color between Dallas and Memphis all season. For up-to-date photos and peak bloom times, check the Garvan Woodland Gardens’ Facebook page.


APRIL 9 10 a.m.


Younger kids love Paint + Storytime at the Painted Pig, where they hear a story and then make a coordinating simple project. All kids are welcome, but this is geared toward toddlers and kids up to age 5. Limit one adult per child. If these dates don’t work for you, book your own private storytime class with friends. Cost is $16 plus tax, which covers the cost of the project. Storytime is a prepaid event. For other classes, check out paintedpigstudio.com.


Argenta Community Theatre has announced an exciting lineup of virtual classes for kids and teens this month, followed by the return of in-person summer arts camp ACTing Up. The ninth annual Children’s Theater Summer Camp will feature two sessions to allow for smaller classes, spacing and other COVID-19 safety measures. Each day has four periods for each grade level in theater movement/dance, acting, music and film. The curriculum for each session is identical. Session one will be held June 7-18. Session two will be held July 1223. The program costs $250, though need-based scholarships are available. For more information, please email Laura Grimes at lgrimes@ argentacommunitytheater.org. For info on the spring mini sessions, visit argentacommunitytheater.org

SAVVY kids PUBLISHER BROOKE WALLACE | brooke@arktimes.com


Make a World of Difference

We have more events than we can pack into one day, so we’re making April Earth Month at CALS. #GoGreenwithCALS THE LIBRARY, REWRIT TEN.





The joys and challenges of parenting a child with autism spectrum disorder. BY KATHERINE WYRICK PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRIAN CHILSON


t’s a mild, overcast day when we meet the Reynolds family at the park — Paige (mom), Bert (dad), Anna (17), Max (10) and Prince (service dog). Max’s bright smile and Prince’s shiny black coat stand out against the dull skies. Paige is an English professor at the University of Central Arkansas, writer and actor; her husband, Bert, is a minister; Anna is a junior in high school (virtual). It’s clear that they’re a close-knit family and protective of Max, who has autism spectrum disorder. But their attentions are gentle rather than coddling. Autism spectrum disorder refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism affects an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States today and is the fastest-growing developmental disorder. Paige’s eloquent, tender essay about Max recently appeared in the popular New York Times column Modern Love. It deserves a read — or two — and sheds some much-needed light on autism spectrum disorder and parenting in general.

MOM and DAD:

What resources have helped along the way? Max has an amazing team — from medical professionals and therapists to educators and encouraging friends and family members. Max has a service dog, Prince, who has been such a delightful and helpful addition to our family. We have also found conversations with other parents in similar situations is a great way to find inspiration, support, resources and understanding. It is with this in mind that we are in the process of creating a company (HumanKind Supply, coming soon) through which we aim to promote acceptance and celebrate diversity, including neurodiversity. Did you decide to do mainstream schooling and why? We decided to do mainstream schooling for a couple of reasons. We like the chance for Max to have as many social and educational opportunities with various peers his age as much as possible for as long as possible. We appreciate the team working with Max at his school. For several years, his sister was at middle school across the street, and her presence before and after school brought him a great deal of pride and comfort. Since late fall of 2019, Max has had a modified school week, which allows some flexibility in his schedule for therapy outside of the school setting. This has been such a fantastic fit for him, and it’s a great reminder to us and others that creative solutions are always possible.

“Follow your instincts when it

comes to your child — even when met with opposition, obstacles or doubt. Nobody knows your child in the ways you do. I believe that knowledge can be trusted. — Paige Reynolds


YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT PCSSD The Pulaski County Special School District provides opportunities to central Arkansas students to prepare them for life beyond high school through equity and excellence in education. With nearly 12,000 students and more than 2,000 employees, PCSSD spans across central Arkansas to serve residents in the county. Here are five things you probably didn’t know about PCSSD: has 27 campuses with four feeders 1 PCSSD to cover more than 600 square miles. in 2021-2022 school year, PCSSD is 2 Starting offering a completely virtual K-12 school. (Advancement Via Individual Determination) 3 AVID increases student engagement while activating a deeper level of learning in the classroom.

integration of PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions 4 The and Supports) highlights good behavior in all PCSSD schools by teaching behavioral expectations, just as teachers teach about other subjects.

PCSSD seniors earn an average of $16 5 Graduating million in academic scholarships annually.

REGISTER FOR THE 2020-2021 SCHOOL YEAR pcssd.org/register

MAX: (answers written as dictated to his mom)

What are some activities you enjoy? I like playing with my dogs. I like playing with my connecting blocks. What’s one of your favorite movies or games? Smash Brothers is my favorite game. I kind of love to watch Avengers movies. My favorite Avenger is — it’s a tough one because they’re all so good — Iron Man is awesome. Favorite food? I love pizza. What is Prince like and how does he help you? He’s a black lab. He’s a very good boy. He helps me fall asleep and helps me calm down. Please tell us about Hearts and Hooves. This year I started riding a new horse and his name is Frank. He’s a very good horse. He wears a saddle. We do exercises on the horse, like airplane arms and hands to the sky. The barn is taking a break [for the winter months], and I miss riding my horse with my therapist. MAX AND THE REYNOLDS FAMILY’S BLACK LAB, PRINCE .

MOM and DAD continued: How has parenting Max changed as he’s gotten older? Are there new challenges? When Max was younger (and smaller), if trouble erupted, especially in public, we could scoop him up and whisk him off to an environment more suitable for his needs. That’s impossible to do now, and I guess this is just a common challenge of parenting as a child gets older — providing that sort of protection is harder, so in some situations, we may feel more helpless. We are always exploring new ways to best support him as he grows, as well as how to best empower him toward independence. It’s easier now to ask him what he needs, and this is a wonderful thing. What advice can you give other families who are raising a child with autism? Every child is unique, and every family situation is different. We can only speak from our own story and perspective. For us, the learning curve at the beginning of this experience was steep and frequently felt pretty isolating. Sometimes we felt that isolation more profoundly when trying to share with others who didn’t seem to understand — not because they lacked compassion, but just because they lacked awareness. So, forming a team of support as quickly as we could was incredibly helpful to our family — we needed folks who knew Max, knew us and knew a little something about our daily experiences and the kinds of decisions we were making. I would also encourage parents: Follow your instincts when it comes to your child — even when met with opposition, obstacles or doubt. Nobody knows your child in the ways you do. I believe that knowledge can be trusted.

How did having a child with autism change your life? Having Max has made our lives richer (as having our daughter before him has). I know that I am much better at practicing presence — my son is so good at being fully invested in any given moment, and I have learned a lot about the power of presence from him. Even when worries about the future could become overwhelming, I’m reminded to stay grounded in the here and now. Naturally, we have concerns that are specific to Max’s autism (and to his epilepsy) — those things have changed our lives in practical ways. Mostly, though, Max has changed our lives by bringing us joy, expanding our awareness and reorienting our priorities in positive ways. We have learned better to see and celebrate diversity around us. Similarly, we have grown in extending grace to others, realizing there is so much we do not know about their lives or experiences.

Parenting Max has opened our eyes to a bigger world “ of wonderful, courageous and caring people — those with various disabilities, families and friends who love and journey with them, and professionals

who dedicate their careers to helping them. — Paige Reynolds

Are there questions not to ask a parent of a child with ASD? From our perspective, any kind, sincere and open questions from others are welcome. We are always eager to inform others and advocate for those with ASD based on our experience. We will share what we feel comfortable sharing and withhold what needs to be private. We speak only from our experience and understanding, not presuming that our answers are the only answers, and not speaking on behalf of anyone other than ourselves. Questions that are not helpful are those which are dehumanizing of others or diminishing of their stories and experiences. What have you learned from raising Max? There are unquestionable challenges, but we have also learned that there is much to celebrate in the beauty of diversity, including neurodiversity. Parenting Max has opened our eyes to a bigger world of wonderful, courageous and caring people — those with various disabilities, families and friends who love and journey with them, and professionals who dedicate their careers to helping them.


How is your life different from those of kids who don’t have a sibling with autism? Having a sibling with autism didn’t inherently change my life; it’s the social expectations and stereotypes surrounding autism that affect it. Max would probably be different if he wasn’t on the spectrum, but every kid who grows up having a sibling doesn’t usually question why that person does certain things. It’s just who they are, and as little kids we just accept it. The thing that truly differs in my life is the knowledge that if I’m out in public, I need to try my best to not instigate a meltdown, because if I do, everyone around us is going to judge us. Of course, having Max as a sibling has probably changed my life — in ways I’ll never fully understand myself — but I do know that the most obvious differences between my life as his sibling versus the life of a sibling of a neurotypical brother are not different things about Max, but the different reception society can have towards him and our family because of his autism.

Meet the Parent:


The irony isn’t lost on them — the Small family is anything but. With four kids and a menagerie of animals, parents Lee Ann and Jeff have their hands full. They manage, however, to meet life’s challenges with grace and positivity — no small feat. This creative, artistic bunch enjoys spending time together and shares a love of the performing arts. They’ve even been known to break out in song when inspiration strikes. Here we offer a backstage peek at this multifaceted family. Please tell us a little about your family and any pets. I’ve been married 21 years to my husband, Jeff Small. We have four children: Whitley (19), Melody (16), Noelle (15) and John Isaac (10). We have two dogs, both rescues. Mango is a Lab mix, and Willoughby is a long-haired Dachshund. We also have two ducks, Ghirardelli and Duck Van Dyke (DVD), that live on the pond in our front yard. Melody also has a bearded dragon, Jiminy Cricket, and Noelle has a fish named Princess. What does school look like for you guys? I homeschooled my children for years and one by one sent them to school. In the fall of 2019, my oldest went to college, and we sent the other three to school. It was the first time I hadn’t had anyone home with me during the day since I became a mother. In March they all four came back home. Whitley is back at college, but my other three are home. Melody and Noelle have been doing school virtually, and John Isaac is homeschooled again — hopefully just for this year.


What are your favorite “family time” activities? Before the pandemic, we spent a lot of time in local theater. Two of our children, Melody and John Isaac, love to act. If they weren’t in a show, we could be found watching our friends in one. Many of our closest friends are “theater family,” and we’ve missed them terribly. Even at home, much of our family time has been centered around karaoke or watching our kids put on skits or plays. All four of them love to sing. Whitley plays the piano by ear, and her siblings usually join her in singing. When they’re all grown up I know that’s one thing I’ll miss the most. In the summer, we love to swim and cherish our occasional lake days. I love the water, and I’m thankful that all of our kids do, too. Name three things that have helped or are helping your family make it through the pandemic. We’ve been really careful with the pandemic. It’s been the hardest on our youngest, John Isaac. He’s incredibly social and loves

meeting new people. He’s not meeting new people, and that’s been hard on him. We’ve tried to make sure he has plenty of play time outdoors with neighbors, and we’ve emphasized that this is temporary. We have so many things to look forward to that we know we’ll appreciate in a new way when all of this is over. We’ve tried to take this time to focus inward as a family on our relationships with each other. With my oldest in college now, I know how quickly the years fly by. In that regard, it’s been a hidden gift to have extra time together. Melody spends a lot of time video chatting with her friends and stays connected that way. Noelle loves seeing her classmates on her daily Zooms and spends more time doing puzzles and crafts. We also have wonderful neighbors who’ve also been home all year, and our kids play outside together. It has definitely been a different year, but my kids are troupers. They really haven’t complained. They’ve grown closer in their sibling relationships and have learned to be more thankful for the simple pleasures in life.

Profile for Arkansas Times

SAVVYkids | April 2021  

Meet the Magnificent Max & his loyal sidekick News & Notes Parenting and Autism Meet the Parent 58

SAVVYkids | April 2021  

Meet the Magnificent Max & his loyal sidekick News & Notes Parenting and Autism Meet the Parent 58

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