Wednesday, April 13, 2011

AND...The Parents Spoke

Following my indictment and subsequent move back to Texas I was having a very difficult time finding work.  As you saw in an earlier blog I was being encouraged by my Internet "team" to interview, tell very little and get on with supporting my family.  The arrest record was out there and I found I needed to be totally honest with anybody who was a potential employer. 

After much brainstorming with my "team" it occurred to me I could restart our Speaking Series and turn it into a 3-day training workshop for parents and educators interested in this type of program for their children with autism and charge a fee.  I had a good friend who developed a website for this new entity based on our experience at NOAH.  I had lined up speakers for the first training session.  I had over three hundred mail-outs ready to go.

The new training organization was called "" after the children.  For these children appear to be born normal, have normal development for a time and then within the first year start to withdrawal.  Many of the parents actually have videos capturing this change.  They thought they were filming their child's development but soon came to find the child began disconnecting and eventually became enveloped in their own exclusive world.  As a parent it is rather shocking to watch and find you have no power to stop it.  The program we used in NOAH, and prior to that a home-based program for my son, Nate, actually brought that child back from his/her exclusive world, through very intense one-on-one, interactive, exciting and encouraging methods. Thus, the name "Re-Emerge".  My friend and I started the development of in February 2005 and launched the website in April 2005.  The site described what our program looked like at The NOAH Project (including pictures), then detailed the agenda for the first three day training workshop and the biographies of the many professionals presenting in the workshop.  The Re-Emerge website brought a lot of attention and apparently some controversy with the courts.

On April 28, 2005 I had a hearing at the court to discuss the end of my first year bond and to begin the PR (Personal Recognizance) bond due to my indigent status plus meet my court appointed attorney.  The prosecutors already had word of this new business and website I was starting as I was court ordered to cease all such activity.  The PR bond required me to take the website down immediately and do no business on the Internet.  I was told I could not do these training sessions.  When I asked my newly assigned attorney why not?  He, who had my case for all of one day, said so I would not be allowed to "defraud any more parents."  I just couldn't believe my ears.  The parents were not complaining about the school, they had seen only progress with their kids.  In fact, very significant progress.

Almost two years earlier, when I was first notified my client could no longer fund the school, I had called an emergency meeting that very evening with many of the parents, the Board members and a small group of business consultants.  Those parents rallied to keep The NOAH Project open.  We brainstormed that first night we met as to what we could do in the short term.  Several of us left with specific assignments and meetings to initiate with other community leaders and foundations.  We met again a couple weeks later, regarding updates on progress and how best to continue our efforts.  In the month of October we gave it everything we had to keep from closing that school.  Not one parent left that school feeling defrauded!  Disappointed - YES!   We were all disappointed, but defrauded - NO!  Just did not happen. 

My attorney never brought those meetings up in the course of my trial.  He "saved" the parents testimonies for the sentencing phase.  He always told me that was how he was going to do it - use them as character references once I was convicted.  You see, he never planned to win the trial, didn't believe he could (being a typical public defender - just wanted me to plea) and therefore he didn't really prepare.  When my husband and I questioned the public defender's commitment to my case, he just shrugged and said it would be an easy appeal.

Here are a few of the testimonies from the parents of the school.  Keep in mind these testimonies were given almost four years following the school's closure:

Ms. Bell:  I chose the NOAH Project because Audrey White was providing a full treatment for the child, not just an educational, but also for parents which is huge.  There is - the suicidal rate for parents with autistic kids is high and divorce rate is high so training for the parents is very important.  Because she provided a special diet which most these children need - special food not like what is being provided for in the public school arena or any other public school or private school that was around.  And the one-on-one attention and treatment intensity that she was providing for my daughter in the program was unlike any other.  And so it was all encompassing, treat the whole child type of program.  The program (also) changed my life more than it probably did my daughter's because, you know, I didn't know how to work with my child, I didn't know the attitudes that the program taught and I wasn't positive.  I was negative, angry, bitter and everything just because of part of ignorance, other reasons for lack of training, so the training that the program ...that Audrey provided was life changing.

Regarding the school closing Ms. Bell said: It was devastating.  It was sad.  But, you know, Audrey didn't stop just because the school closed.  She didn't stop supporting us as parents to help our children.  Her help continued on as long as she could.  And so what we were able to do was take a couple teachers that worked with my child from The NOAH Project and bring them into our home and continue the same program in our house.

Then Ms. Bell described the effect The NOAH Project had on the people that worked there:  The gal that worked with my child wasn't even a teacher certified for special needs, but because of the opportunity Audrey provided to these people that worked there, they were inspired to go and get their (special ed) teacher certificate.  Many of them were therapists.  They went on to be special ed teachers, Highland Park, Plano, McKinney, Garland and so now these people were trained from the program that Audrey provided in a way that the public school can't even begin to train its people.  And so now they're out there helping other children that are not as fortunate as my daughter was to go to The NOAH Project.

Mr. Atkins:  Well, Audrey's school...yes. Audrey's school was based on a methodology which was developed at a place in Massachusetts.... and you know, what happened was that interaction and that connection with the child ended up bringing the child out of his shell over time.  Its not a fast process, but at least there was hope.  Here was a program that didn't cap what our child's progress was going to be.  Here was a program that didn't deter him from being who he was at the time, but also encouraged him, you know to progress at the pace he wanted to progress.  He was only there for two months, maybe two and a half, but in two months went from completely non-verbal and not being able to interact with his siblings, not being able to communicate, and at the end of it his vocabulary had already started to blossom.  Now he wasn't completing sentences but he was making requests.  he was able to develop words like yes, no, uh-huh and huh-uh as some simple communications that a child has already mastered at 12 - 13 months, well our son was three, and we hadn't been successful in getting him to master that.  And introducing this new approach already began to break down some of those walls and introduce those new communication tools with him.  And he was giving us eye contact where that wasn't possible before, and really put on a path that we have continued to follow to this day with him.  And so the benefit of those two and a half months, in my opinion, reaches far beyond the time that he was at that school.

Mrs. Atkins:  My son was non verbal and didn't know who we were.  And by The NOAH Project and having the therapy, he began to speak and say "MAMA" for the first time after like maybe six weeks, which was more than I could have ever wanted or knew that I could have from him.

Mrs. West:  Well I have to say amazing progress, not only in him (her son), but just observing other children.  And that was why I so wanted that program after working there for two weeks and seeing the amazing results and just the children connecting.  I just knew that was the program I wanted for me (and my son).  My child has made great strides with the program.  And not only in his life, in our lives too.

Mr. Foley:  The individual, isolated one-on-one therapy, with individual facilitators.  That is what he (my son) needed.  Like I said it was a clean environment with no distractions, one room that was his.  You had viewing glass where you (as a parent) could go in at any time.  I would go in there, on my lunches and things like that, and watch and observe.  That is what I liked about it, the individual one-on-one, which is what a child with autism needs.  You started to get more eye contact and more reactions from him.  An autistic child tends to concentrate on the peripheral, not on the subject or the conversation.  And we started to notice improvement that because, and that was mainly because of the ...It was intense one-on-one therapy.  It was several hours a day, five days a week.

How much of a difference would these testimonies have made during the actual trial?  Another pertinent piece that was left out of the trial was that I continued to work with a group of business consultants to get the school reorganized and reopened.  We sent out reorganization investor packages to major corporations connected to the business consultants that December 2003.  These are not actions a thief would take.  Yet even then, given the above testimonies, the prosecutor told the jury that I traumatized the parents and kids of The NOAH Project.  How do prosecutors get away with these sorts of statements?  She also told the jury I "did it" because I was aspiring to be the "Queen of Autism" while she stood in front of me at the defendant table pointing at me, with her voice raised to the rafters.  Why do we allow such false courtroom drama?  We swear to tell the truth, why doesn't the prosecutor do likewise?

If you could have only seen me back in the day...I was working two full time jobs, one my financial business and two, as volunteer Director of NOAH.  I was hardly the picture of a queen, more like a frazzled mom, over-committed and working around the clock.  Did I want great things for me?  That was never what this was was to help a few families and their children and hopefully be a part of a new movement in the treatment of our kiddos....a more holistic approach, treating all aspects of the child, including the most important relations in their lives...their parents.  Nobody loves these kids more than their parents, nor will there be any greater lifetime advocates for these special kids than the parents.  Growing that healthy relationship is absolutely the key to our special childrens' developmental success. 

Further, this program did not belong to me.  I didn't create it.  I only coordinated the pieces, where it had been a home-based program before, we brought it to a school setting, so it could be more scientifically documented on its way to becoming mainstreamed.  It was simply an attitude, a set of beliefs and methodologies.  Had it continued, the successes would have gone to the credit of its originators, we had a written agreement which set all that out.  There is the truth of it...more of what the jury never heard before convicting me.


  1. The more I read your blog - and your links on FB to other cases where people are not adequately defended, the more appalled I am that lawyers can get away with what they're doing - and not doing. And they're not held accountable. It is incredible.

    Those parents' words should have gone on record!!
    They are wonderful words. WONDERFUL.
    As are you.

    Thanks for this blog.

  2. The parents DID actually go on is just the timing that is questionable. In the trial they should have been questioned about the meetings to keep the school open and all that was said in those meetings. Instead I was convicted and then they were allowed to make these testimonies in the sentencing phase....which may be why I only received 8 years, NO restitution, NO court fees and NO legal fees...I suspect the jurors realized they had made a mistake BUT they cannot go back at that point. After all was said and done the attorneys can talk to those on the jury. One of the jurist told my attorney...they thought everybody was lieing!! THAT is known as reasonable doubt!! I'm sure I did not look trustworthy because everytime I tried to say anything the prosecution was interrupting me and running up to the judge for a sidebar...or whatever its called.

    Nancy, it is frightening that the players in the justice system are not held accountable. Any other job in the world does not allow that.

  3. Oh. Glad they went on record!!

    Your ordeal was/is incredible.

    (As to your comment on my blog just now - I LOVE your gray hair. ... very classy!!! And yes, you've EARNED IT BIG TIME!!!!

  4. If those jurors would have been allowed to hear from these parents (or ME) BEFORE the sentencing phase, this case would have been dismissed immediately.
    In the 15 years that I've known you, you have had three goals:
    1) Help your children
    2) Help others' children
    3) Help parents realize their children's potential
    You do not have one greedy, pretentious, or selfish bone in your body. You have always put others' needs first.
    Shame on the people who took advantage of you and made you the scapegoat for their indiscretions!
    In Mark 10:14 we find where Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."
    I DO know that all things work for good. It's just hard to not be angry when I think of how these men hindered countless lives; not only yours and your family, but those of children and their parents, from your good work.
    I have faith that the truth will prevail in the end! God has a plan!