Today Lori Boll speaks with Aidan and Lisa Sos. Aidan and Lisa first met Lori on a playground in Shanghai, China when they had just been told that Aidan could no longer attend the international school he was attending due to his Intellectual Developmental Disability (IDD). So, he ended up attending a small school for individuals with special needs that Lori was directing at the time. In the podcast, Lori, Aidan, and Lisa speak about Aidan’s experiences growing up with IDD, his joys, his struggles, and successes. Stay tuned till the end when Aidan shares some incredibly exciting news!
Resources from Today’s Show
Aidan: I was in Ms. Lori’s class in Shanghai. I am intellectually disabled and am about to enter UCLA Pathways. I’m 19, confident and positive.
Lisa is a stay at home mother of two children; both young adults. Lisa and Aidan are currently creating their own podcast to share their journey through Aidan’s school career and advocating for him.
Transcribed by Kanako Suwa
[ Introduction music plays ]
Welcome to the SENIA Happy Hour with your host, Lori Boll. We know you’re busy so we bring you 1 hours worth of content in under thirty minutes, leaving you with time for a true happy hour.
Lori: Hello listeners. Today’s show is a bit different than other shows. For one, I’m interviewing two people and another is, well, we want to start hearing more voices of the people who we actually support. So people with disabilities. Today I speak with Aidan and Lisa Sos. And I met them about 13 years ago in Shanghai, China, when Aidan was asked to leave the school he was attending. Aidan has been diagnosed with an intellectual developmental disability and he was unable to keep attending that international school so he came to the school that I was working at for students with special needs. Today’s conversation, we talk about Aidan’s joys and struggles growing up with this intellectual delay, we talk about his schooling, we talk about his goals he has set for himself and achieved. And we talk about something really exciting that is happening in Aidan’s life right now. So I’m excited for you to hear our converstaion and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. And now, onto the show.
Hello Lisa and Aidan and welcome to the podcast!
Lori: Well, I’ve known you two for something like 13 years or so, I think?
Lisa: Yeah yeah
Lori: And just a few weeks ago, you reached out to me to tell me some very exciting news. But let’s hold off on that news for now and go back to when we first met. So Lisa, can you share what was happening at that time with Aidan and his schooling?
Lisa: Yeah. So we went to China knowing that Aidan had delays, like learning… we didn’t have any diagnosis yet but everyone said go to China, have him screened… we know in the special education world that as much as you can do for inclusion, the better, so that’s the stance we always took. We went to China, enrolled him in Concordia, had him screened. So I forget her name, the principal, the head of school at the time, screened Aidan for pre-school. He did fine. She accepted him, she took him into the school, he matched all the colours, he drew a cross sign, he drew… he found the people. You know, all those standards?
Lisa: And he was doing fine. YOu know, it was a warm environment, but academically, he was probably struggling and by the time, so. We had a review after the first year of pre-school because he was Kindergarten age and that’s when she said he can’t go to kindergarten here. We were like “oh. Okay”. But they were like “but he can go to pre-school again”. And we were like “oh, okay”. So our daughter who is neurotypical but young and we struggled with her – should we send her, should we not… so anyway, in our heads, we were like let’s let him go through pre-school again. He’s got friends who are younger, you know, just help him in the long run. So we did that. We did two years at Concordia. And then she said “no, he’s not ready for kindergarten. He can stay here again for preschool, but he’s not going to kindegarten” and we were like “again?”
Lori: 3 years of pre-school…
Lisa: Yeah, Sean and I were like.. He’s already old? You know what I mean? He was kind of old. So I actually left that meeting, when I left that meeting, I went to the playground, because Bella was at Concordia hanging out with her friends and doing her thing, and I was kinda sad. I was like, “what are we going to do?” I had no diea what our options even were out there in Shanghai, and there you were, with Braden. So that’s kind of… where we were. What do we do? Where are we going? What are we going to do?
Lisa: And the rest is history!
Lori: Yeah, well, and so we should say just in case there’s anyone listening to this podcast that, you know, traditionally, most schools in China did not accept individuals with any type of intellectual disability or learning need and so uh, many parents were in the same situation as you were, where they would start a school and eventually be, your child would be asked to leave the school.
Lisa: Yea, exactly. Yes. We met so many parents that were like. You know, I mean, luckily, we were like “do we go home?” like what do we do. But you know, faith and god’s good grace led us to you.
Lori: Thanks. But so, that’s what happened. We met on the playground and I happened to be working at school for kids with special needs in Shanghai, China, and Aidan ended up coming there. So we got lucky because it was quite a joyful experience for us, Aidan.
Lisa: Yeah, we were lucky. I tell him about that because it was an hour away commute in the morning. I’d tell him what a trooper he was. He never complains, I mean, all those kids. We had those kids, that just got on the van and came to school every single day with a smile on his face. So that’s a lot of credit to him and to you guys at the school that he wanted to go.
Lori: Well it was super fun having him. Aidan, Aidan has no memory of me, as we discovered a few weeks ago but. BUT, I certain remember you, Aidan. So, what, eventually Aidan was diagnosed with an intellectual disability. Aidan, what has that meant for you?
Aidan: Well, I really don’t mind it. I get along with people fine, I make jokes, I, you know, I make everyone feel comfortable when we’re having a great time. You know, I give good feedback and good honest, honesty, and positivity and yeah.
Lisa: Do you think it’s been… I think it’s been kind of a journey of self-awareness, right? Like, you kind of… we read all the books. Eventually they’re going to have questions and your child was going to wonder, why are they different, why are they in this classroom.. And because we’ve moved all over the place, we’ve had different conversations because of different… you know, basically special education is different in every state and because we grew up in differneet states, we’ve had conversations based on that. So I think Aidan is pretty self possessed and confident but he’s, you know, aware, let’s just say.
Lori: Sure, sure. Well, Aidan, I love what you said about your positivity and how you make everyone feel good because that’s exactly what I remember about you. You were only 6 years old and you were always so positive and friendly and everyone loved you and I’m glad you remained that positive wonderful guy.
Lisa: Me too, me too. And it’s always funny when he’s like, typical bratty teenager? I mean, I’m always grateful that he’s positive and funny and outgoing but I’m also happy when he’s neurotypical and mean to me.
Lori: Yeah, yea, exactly! Aidan, can you tell us a bit about how school was for you growing up?
Aidan: I think it was good, then when I went to middle school and high school, it was uh, very very hard, like I wasn’t, you know, maturing but now I am and as a 19 year old, I feel great and awesome.
Lisa: Yea, was it hard for you, was school hard for you?
Aidan: Uh, yeah, from time to time, in middle school…
Lori: Yeah. I imagine. When you were in middle school and high school, what type of classes were you in?
Aidan: Lots of PE, lots of reading and writing… uh…
Aidan: Yeah, art. Ceramics.
Lori: Lisa, was he in uh, any type of programme for…?
Lisa: Yea, yes, he was in a special ed class. So we didn’t know at the time, when we moved to Wisconsin, that was a great system. And you know, you just don’t know. You don’t know when you come back from being overseas what you’re gonna get. Like, we were so stressed out, we knew what we wanted and Aidan and I visited all these schools and didn’t have a house yet and I was like “where should we buy, where should we go…” because we knew that the public system was the best for him and that’s if we could find a school that was like the one he was at in Shanghai, but we couldn’t. But we did hire a special education consultant, she was more like a resource… she didn’t… I don’t feel like she helped that much, I feel like Aidan and I did it on our own, but I think about that.
So we moved to California, we moved from Wisconsin to California, when Aidan was in middle school and it was kinda like going from a Cadillac to a Hyundai. Which was, at the time, wehad no idea. So Wisconsin was like, everyone was in the same classroom and everyone was pulled out for directions, so whether you were gifted or an advanced reader or gifted in math, you were pulled out. And then for special education, you were also pulled out. And he had such good friends and we didn’t know that. And then coming to California, it’s totally different. It’s like, “we’re gonna put you in this classroom and then we’ll put you in general education classes nd we’ll see how you do”. So it was kind of like, definitely going from one extreme to the other. I don’t think it was terrible but you know, it was not as like, what do you call that… it was not the least restrictive environment that we were in.
Lori: Right, right.
Lisa: So he was in the special ed class when we moved to California.
Lori: Okay, that makes sense.
Lisa: Yea and when we went from Wisconsin to California, they were like “because he presents, kind of, typical, they met him and were like oh, just send him here and he’ll do fine! And then two months down the road, the teacher’s like, he’s really struggling, what’s going on? And it’s not like they didn’t have his IEP, we didn’t… you know what I mean? So then at that point, he went to special day class – he went to a school that had a special day class, which is what they call it there, I’m sure you knew that.
Lori: I see. Yea, I knew that. So, Aidan. What are some of the goals you set for yourself growing up?
Lisa: Growing up.
Aidan: Being social. Ummm.
Lori: Well done. Why don’t you tell us about your, your athletic life? What kind of goal did ytou set for that?
Aidan: Uh, I did track and field, then I did throwing my senior year, and I won State with my good friend Isaiah.
Lori: So you won the state championship in shot put?
Lori: That is phenomenal. And California is a huge state!
Lisa: I know! It’s a huge state!
Lori: Yeah, that’s brilliant. Congratulations!
Lisa: I remember because, we were going to Senior Valley, okay, so we’re going to Prez now. It’s been one thing after another. And you know, he’s always been confident, you know, like he tried out for soccer and he went out for, he was on the basketball team in 8th grade, so he’s always, he’s always tried. And in 9th grade, he was actually the manager, he didn’t make athletics here in Riverside, especially basketball with high expectations. So they have a lot of Track and Field stars and there’s Olympians, but he’s always been… and I’m grateful that he’s always been curious and confident and try, even if he doesn’t get it. So track and field was one of those sports that we just, grabbed on to. Thank goodness his teacher at the time was like “I really think you should try out for track and field, it’s still a team sport but not, you know, water polo?” and so yeah I think it was good. And I think his build is what told the coaches that he should probably start throwing? Because it’s interesting, you go to a track meet and you see all the throwers, they’re all shaped the same. They’re all kind of, upper body strength… you know what I mean?
Lori: Yeah, yeah.
Lisa: Not the typical runners, so it was good. It was exciting.
Lori: That’s great. I’m so proud of you, Aidan. Well done.
Aidan: Thank you!
Lisa: Yea, we just got his ring.
Lori: Oh, nice!
Lisa: I know!
Lori: So, how about some struggles? Did you ever feel frustrated or struggle or have issues with people not treating you well, Aidan?
Aidan: Uh, yeah, I would say that there are some struggles.
Lisa: Like what?
Aidan: Well, for one, I didn’t really know how to deal when you get a girlfriend so I was kinda feeling that issue, wonder if I should do this or that. But now I changed now and I have grown up, been good, been responsible, going to a good school, like yea, I feel good.
Lisa: He, um, so he definitely, I’m just gonna chime in. So he’s always been pretty accepting of himself and the school that I chose for him for high school is very prominent with… they have a programme called PALSS, Peers Always Learning Side by Side, and so it’s a club and the typical kids and students join the club and they’re there to support the special education students and it’s like an inclusion programme and so Aidan, I think, in some cases, he just really didn’t like that distinction. He would’ve rather just been a part of the school as opposed to the special education kids. There was a couple of times he came, I would pick him up from school and he’d say I hate it when people come up to me and are like Hi! Hi! Hi! And they’d just kinda look at him. And no fault to them, they’re just trying to be friendly, but he was totally put off by it and so I think some of that. And he also didn’t, he liked his classroom and he liked being there and he never complained about it until senior year, he had terrible senioritis… but one time they had a pep rally and all the special education students came out together and the whole school roared and it was awesome, but he was kind of like.. I don’t really want that distinction?
Lori: mmm. Gotcha.
Lisa: I think that was probably the hardest. But he really wants a girlfriend. That’s his big goal.
Lori: Alright. Well, you know, so that leads me to the next question. So we talked about senioritis, graduating from high school which you’ve just done, so maybe in your next step, that’s where the girlfriend comes in. So now it’s time to tell us this exciting news Aidan! Where will you be going very soon?
Lori: Get out of town! UCLA. Tell us more.
Aidan: Well, I am in the pathway programme at UCLA. I met with my roommate, I, you know, it was our very very first school and I love LA and feels like I’m going to do awesome. You know, meet new friends, and you know, get the, girlfriend… and probably be hanging out with the track and field guys and the coach.
Lisa: So he met the, the shot put throwing coach at the qualifying meet in Senior Valley for state. So I think the coach was just there to see the town and recruit people and he got to meet him. So the Pathways Program, Aidan explained it pretty well, it’s Pathways, UCLA Pathways is independent learning support. And he’ll do internships, he’ll take classes and join clubs, he’ll be in… he’s not an UCLA student so he can’t be on the basketball team, not that we were headed that way, but you know, he’ll do like trivial stuff. So we’re excited.
Lori: Well, he’s technically an UCLA student, right? Because UCLA Pathways is part of UCLA, right? It’s just unable to join that type of thing.
Lisa: Yes, yes, it’s considered UCLA extension, not UCLA. I can’t remember the distinction they give but yeah. So it’s exciting. We applied to 4 schools and he was accepted to all 4 which is exciting, and the one we thought was a shoo-in was the hardest, UCLA was our first choice because of location. We went to Florida because John has family there and two of our siblings went to school there and it was a great program and probably our second choice. But then UCLA kinda last minute came in and accepted him.
Lori: That’s great! And it seems like more and more of these programs are cropping up at universities. I know UC Davis opened one up last year….
Lisa: Yep, brand new. But yeah, UC Davis, we applied in Fresno, which is the Wayfinders Program, and CLE which is College of Learning Exceptions or something… what does the LE stand for, I can’t remember?
Aidan: College Living Experience.
Lisa: College Living Experience. So they, all over the country…
Lori: Well, that’s, that’s cool. I just think it’s great that there’s more and more opportunities out there.
Lisa: Me too. And I think as a parent, you’re like, you know. Every year, what are we going to do? What’s he going to do? And then you get closer and closer and it kinda always fell on my shoulders and it was stressful.
Lori: Yea, we’ve definitely been talking about a lot of positives today which is amazing. And we haven’t shared the stressful points, but maybe that’s for another podcast. But you do think it’s important to share your story and I think it’s important to hear it. Why do you want to share your story?
Lisa: You know, I just think that there’s so many people, in particular, I just feel like we all have differences, right? And so what makes us successful, I think we have to, as a parent, I didn’t feel like I had a lot of support. I felt like I had to do a lot of things on my own, which is fine, as a parent you kind of.. You know grow up with your child knowing that and feeling that but it would be nice if there were more resources. Or even just people to talk to and advocate for kids. Or even like, I would’ve loved to even have a spreadsheet – where should I look for schools for him?
Lisa: You know, just something.
Lori: And that resource doesn’t seem to be anywhere.
Lisa: It isn’t! And I even was… I think it’s very typical to go through that school system and you know, they have post-high school education, usually until they’re a certain age, and I think there are a lot of times where as parents, we just kinda go through the system and we just kinda go where we’re directed and I’m not sure if that’s a good fit for him and I need to think of something else and I was very surprised that even his educators, his teachers that I adore, knew that there was another option other than here at Riverside, the post-high school program. Which I think is great, it’s fabulous if it’s a good fit, but for Aidan, it was like… that’s just like an extended high school and I’m not sure if he’s gonna get anything out of that. So I think even for educators, they don’t know.
Lori: No, they don’t. You’re right.
Lisa: And this teacher has said many times, I’m so thrilled, I’m so happy, that one of my students is going to a major university. And that’s so sad, I think she should have more students that go… you know, to major university.
Lori: Well hopefully you’ve opened up her world and now she knows of schools that are out there. We talked about that, the resources not existing. But I think it probably does exist, it’s just… how do we find it, right? So, yes, keep telling your story. And how is it that you’re planning on telling your story?
Lisa: So we started a podcast, Aidan and I. It’s still very much in the infant stage and we’re still just dabbling and learning but Aidan likes it. He’s liked, he likes the broadcasting part of it and it’s a fun thing for the two of us to learn together so the podcast I think, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to… I’ll still sit on the board until the officials are elected and then I’ll probably kind of phase out and because I don’t have a high school student anymore, and I’ll be it’ll be different high school parents and I would like to leave that. I would like to leave the legacy of Aidan, and where he’s going and what happens to him in the future and I’d like to be able to talk to him and document that. So I think the podcast is where we’re headed.
Lori: Great! And do you have an address for that podcast?
Aidan: neurodivergency pod!
Lisa: It’s neurodivergency, it’s on…
Aidan: Apple Music and Spotify
Lisa: Apple and Spotify. I’ll figure it out.
Lori: Yea, we’ll link it.
Lisa: Yea it’s Neurodivergency. We have an Instagram, NeurodivergencyPod. We started talking about the word Neurodivergent, and I don’t know, neurodivergency is a word we made up but it’s actually a lot of Spotify playlist, like music, called neurodivergency and it’s interesting because I haven’t figured out who made these and… so I haven’t had the time to listen but yea.
Lori: Well, Aidan, is there anything that we didn’t get to talk about today that you want to share with us?
Aidan: Uh, no, thank you Lori!
Lori: You’re very welcome. Well, I couldn’t have been more proud. I’m ready to burst into tears for you. So I cannot wait for an update on how you do at UCLA and if you get a girlfriend, all that good stuff.
Lisa: According to him, he’s going to have many!
Lori: Well, probably! It’s college, right?
Lisa: Yea, exactly!
Lori: So I wish you the best of luck and please please keep in touch.
Lisa: We will, right?
Aidan: Will do! Thank you again!
Lisa: It was so good connecting!
Thank you for joining us for today’s show. For more information including how to subscribe and show notes, please head to our website. That’s SENIAinternational.org/podcast. Until next time, cheers.