*The following was published in the Winchester Star on December 15, 2018
Four students were on stage this week practicing for the school’s annual holiday play, “Silent Night.”
Each was handed a white ukulele and shown some choreography for the song “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” After practicing twice, the four boys started hitting their cues.
It’s not unusual to see something like this in a traditional school, but this is Grafton. What these boys did was amazing. All four have autism or intellectual disabilities that prevent them from attending public school. For them to process directions, learn a routine and perform as part of a group is nothing short of astounding.
Grafton has been facilitating these dramatic changes in special-needs children for 60 years. Its educational and training programs have earned national acclaim, and its patented Ukeru Systems method for handling behavioral problems without using physical force has been adopted by facilities in 25 states.
Despite its accomplishments, many people in the Winchester area don’t know what Grafton is or what it does, and those who have heard of it often characterize the school as a place where out-of-control kids have to be pinned to the ground or locked inside empty rooms until they calm down.
“We’re better known nationally, and to an extent internationally, than we are here in our own region,” said James Stewart, president and chief executive officer of the Winchester-based Grafton Integrated Health Network. “It’s hard to get over those old perceptions of who you were versus what you are today.”
Grafton is the largest residential provider of children’s services in Virginia. This year, it has provided early intervention, psychiatric residential treatment, therapeutic programs, applied behavior analysis and outpatient services to 3,258 individuals and families dealing with one or more developmental, intellectual or mental impairments.