Evan Stein is 43 years old. His family has lived in Westport for 44 years. He and 4 siblings went all through the Westport school system.
He graduated from Staples High School in 1992. At Harvard University — as the internet dawned — Evan and his friend Darin McKeever started StaplesAlumni.org. It faded away after 8 years — but still draws visitors to its pictures and stories.
After earning his MD and Ph.D at NYU, Evan married Jennifer Sherinsky. Daniel was born at 25 weeks. He died 4 weeks later. Evan documented his son’s short life on a blog.
Eighteen months later, Joshua was born. He was “awesome — perfect,” his proud dad says. He knew the English alphabet at 15 months, the Hebrew alphabet shortly after. He memorized phone numbers. He loved license plates, and wanted to know the floor you lived on so that 2 weeks later he could push the button for your floor.
He loved to stand by the computer and type. He got very excited when a computer game he was playing made a noise. Evan created a blog for him, and posted about him constantly on Facebook.
On frequent trips to Westport, Josh visited Earthplace, played at Mahackeno and swam at Compo.
In June 2010, Evan finished his fellowship. He and his son spent the summer wandering around New York and Westport. That fall — when Evan began work as a neuroradiologist — Josh started pre-school.
Two weeks in, Evan and Jennifer got a call to see the director.
She and the school psychologist thought Josh needed extra services to maintain his focus in class. He could not sit still, or keep his hands to himself. He could not do what the other kids were doing.
Evan shrugged off their concerns, but made an appointment at the NYU Child Study Center. During 3 days of testing. Evan thought Josh performed incredibly. “I couldn’t believe the questions he seemed to be answering — and he wasn’t even 3 yet!” his dad marvels.
“But it turns out those tests are kind of a trick,” Evan reports. “The questions and answers are important — but the doctor is watching other stuff.
“How well does he respond to his name? (Not at all). How well does he look in people’s eyes? (Not at all). Does he follow your gaze to see what you’re looking at? (Nope). Does he like to do the same task repetitively? (Yep.) How does he play with a car? Does he pretend it’s a race car? (No.) Does he spin the wheels. giggle or rock? (Yep.)”
That December, Josh was diagnosed with autism.
Evan was devastated. He and Jennifer wondered what would happen next.
The Steins thought about moving back to Westport. Evan called people he or his parents knew here with autistic children. Everyone was supportive and helpful.
They heard many stories about children being successfully mainstreamed in Westport’s schools. It seemed very inviting.
But every expert the parents talked to said that would not work for Josh. After a year in pre-school with a special education teacher by his side, then a year in a special education class with only 12 students, 2 teachers and a para-professional assigned to him, it was clear he needed a specialized school with an extremely low student-teacher ratio, and with very specific and directed teaching techniques.
The Steins pursued a program offering Applied Behavioral Analysis. There aren’t many available — and even fewer that don’t charge $150,000 a year.
In the summer of 2012, the Steins got ready to sink every penny they had into getting Josh the right school and after-school support.
Suddenly, an opportunity fell in their laps. The New York Child Learning Institute had an opening — and they wanted to meet Josh.
“We’ve been very fortunate that Josh found a spot there,” Evan says. “They’ve kept him on track with his academics, while also teaching him how to care for himself and act appropriately in the community.”
Every month, Josh’s teacher comes to the Steins’ home. She shows Evan and Jennifer the most effective parenting techniques.
Josh still comes to Westport almost every weekend. Like every kid in town he loves the beach, Earthplace, Stew Leonard’s and Shake Shack. He likes to walk behind the Levitt Pavilion, and check out the Main Street tunnel.
However, Evan says, NYCLI is in jeopardy. After 24 years, the lease is running out. The convent that owns the building plans to sell it. If the school can’t buy it themselves, the future is uncertain.
Evan hopes his Westport friends — and strangers — will respond. He’s also looking for creative solutions. If anyone knows real estate investors or financiers, you can contact him directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
After a lifetime in Westport, he is sure his hometown can help.