Saturday, May 30, 2009

Realistic or Cynical: A Mommy's Dilemma

This is going to be a long, involved, multi-story kind of post, so bear with me and forgive typos. I'm tired, and the more tired I am, the worse my typos are!

A week or so ago, we had Jaymes' IEP Kingergarten Transition meeting at the school. It was pretty much just to change over the paperwork, but now that I look back I really wish we had had more than ten minutes. With Jaymes' IEP's, I feel like even if it's a small change, it's deserving of a full review and discussion- not 10 minutes. However, this time I was good with that. I'm sure if i had disagreed, they would have been willing to accomodate, but I didn't ask. My fault, not the school's.

We decided placement at this meeting- a self contained Autistic classroom at the same school he is now. It seemed logical to me, that a self contained classroom would be the least distracting, most effective learning environment for where Jaymes is, both academically and behaviorally. A big part of that decision was based on the feeling that there was no way in hell the school would give Jaymes an aide to help him be in a "normal" class. I still feel like that's unlikely.

Fast forward to yesterday. Pre-K granduation, and the cutest little "ceremony" you've ever seen. They had us sit in chairs and the kids sing and dance. They did the chicken dance and a bunch of other dances. One dance parents had to do, and it was really funny. I didn't really do it, I'm really self conscious, and just can't make myself do that stuff. If Jaymes would have cared, i would have done it, but he was too busy avoiding dancing himself, and trying to get to me in the chairs. The whole time he sidled closer and closer to the chairs, would be called back, and do it again. He didn't dance or sing at all, but it was ok. I didn't expect him to. He stood there and watched his classmates, and at some points chanted "no! no! no!"

-Putting in video here. If you're the parent of one of the kids in this class and take issue with their being on this blog in the video, please email me at amber @ dontbitethedog dot net and i will remove it immediately. Otherwise, i'll assume no one cares-

Some of the singing:

Jaymes and peer interaction.. always interesting.

Each kid got a little gift bag and a certificate, it was really nice. His teachers did a beautiful job. It was a great way to celebrate the end of Pre-K for some, and just celebrate the accomplishments of the kiddos still staying in pre-K.

While we were there, the "more at four lady" (whose name I ALWAYS forget) approached me, asking if i'd gotten the flyer for an event the next day. No, I hadn't. I'm glad she mentioned it.

So I went this morning. It was a workshop held by an ECAC person. I can't remember what ECAC stands for, but they are the go-to guys for all things education for kids with special needs. They know the laws, and the in's and out's of IEP writing. I'm thrilled I went, because i got a lot of info, and some different viewpoints on things.

Unfortunately, this brings me to the dilemma. The speaker had a somewhat biased (her words, not mine) view regarding self contained classrooms. She brought up points I had not considered, and just got me thinking in general.

When I made the decision to have Jaymes in a self contained classroom (they don't even eat lunch in the cafeteria, they stay in their rooms), I wasn't thinking of anything except that it would be an easier environment for Jaymes to focus in.

The Pro's:
  • Smaller class size
  • TEACCH trained teacher
  • Lower expectations, and a higher level of understanding than I felt he would get in a regular ed classroom
  • Quiet, easy place to concentrate
  • More one-on-one instruction
The Cons:
  • No "typical" peers to learn from
  • No time outside that classroom
  • Lower expectations
  • He wouldn't need to learn to function in a "real" environment, he'd be in his own quiet little "fishbowl"
  • Completely segregated from "regular ed" kids
When I started thinking to the future, not just this school year, I realized something. I realized that for Elementary school, I'd be ok with a self contained class, because he would still be in a regular school. But if we kept him to that path, it seems like it would become harder and harder to mainstream him later on. I do NOT want him going to a school like Carter Vocational. DO NOT. Unacceptable to me. Unacceptable for Jaymes. But if we keep him only in self contained, disability oriented classrooms, doesn't it seem that we're setting the stage for a lifetime of special classrooms? At what point, in this scenario, does Jaymes transition into normal classes? I don't know if he ever could.

My concern, however, is that the other option (regular ed classroom) is ONLY workable with a one-on-one aide. Everything would depend upon whether the school would agree to this, and I don't know that they would. I'm afraid to gamble on it, this is my child's education. I don't want to mess it up.

I feel kind of stupid, too, for changing my entire outlook on this based on one 2 hour workshop. Am I being ridiculous?

My thoughts are... An ideal situation would be letting Jaymes go into a regular Kindergarten classroom, with a constant 1-1 aide who could keep him on task, help him with work, etc as needed. He would need someone with him 100% of the time, or he'd just drift off and wander the classroom. Maybe let him go out of the classroom for speech and OT. Don't know how cafeteria time would go, but I think with help he could handle it.

I don't want him to be separated from his peers. As it is, their differences are obvious. But in his current class, he is loved and appreciate by his "typical" peers. they help him, they watch out for him, and they don't mind when he ignores them. Jaymes walks into the room late one day, and is greeted by a chorus of "JAYMES! Hi Jaymes!!!"

They're not deterred by his silence or his odd little stims. They don't expect him to talk, but they like him just the same. I am scared of kids in a regular ed Kindergarten class making fun or bullying him, but at the same time I want him to have friends like the ones he has now. true, it's not a friendship like normal- they don't play and talk and all that. But Jaymes is liked. It seems wrong to take him away and shove him into a separate class, where all thye kids are just like him. When I observed the AU class, I noticed that none of the kids paid any attention to the others. jaymes wouldn't be forced to be social, and rather than picking up speech from his peers, he'd pick up their stims and their behaviors.

I'm really very ashamed of myself for not putting more thought into this transition. I went into the meeting entirely unprepared, and I'm the one who suggested the self contained classroom. I didn't think it through, and I feel very silly and stupid for now changing my mind AFTER all paperwork has been completed. It took hearing the ECAC person's explantion of "Least restrictive environment" to get it through my head and get me thinking. I need to be better.

I blame part of the dilemma on my way of thinking about Jaymes. I don't know whether I am realistic, or cynical in my estimation of Jaymes' abilities. I don't know if my expectations of him are too low, if they hold him back and prevent him from reaching his full potential. I assumed he should go into a self contained class because he is different. To me, watching a "typical" five year old talk and play is very hard. The differences are astounding, and seeing those differences gets me down.

I think I do underestimate what Jaymes knows and understands and is capable of. It's wrong, but I do it out of a desire to protect him from a world that is cruel to those who are different. But regardless, I'm wrong.

So now I'm faced with a dilemma. After thinking it over, I want to try and get Jaymes into regular classes, with an aide to help him keep on task. I want him to learn to function in the real world- not a self contained bubble where, while I know he'll be safe from teasing and work that is too difficult, he'll never learn to be social. The social skills are so much more important than the academic goals, to us. Writing your name is great, but being able to handle sitting in a room and play with other kids is priceless.

I imagine the school people will think I'm an irritating moron for changing things up on them. I feel immensely guilty for it. I feel really stupid. But how I feel isn't important, Jaymes is. So I guess we'll see where we go from here.


kristi said...

My son is in a life skills classroom. He is around "Typical Peers" during story and p.e. time. He also goes to daycare. Does your son's school offer any time with the other peers??

I think it is important not only for our kids but other kids to understand their differences.

Amber DBTD said...

What is a life skills classroom exactly?

The thought is that if we can't get the regular class w/aide, then I'll try for the self contained AU class with lunch time and maybe art/music or something spent with the other kids.

Odd Mom Out said...

Sam is autistic and in a self contained class room but he has inclusion with general ed for certain subjects with a 1:1 para with him. The specials like art and music but he's also going to do math and science in gen ed. Its not an easy thing for him but it gives him the chance to be around neurotypical peers and do what they are doing. For me, its the only way I can ever see him fully transitioning into a gen ed room. Its years away but at least he's building up to it. KWIM? Think about things and call for another IEP meeting.

Amber DBTD said...

Probably a bad sign that I had to Netlingo to find out what KWIM meant!

I'm not sure how a setup like that would work in Kindergarten. What exactly do kids DO in Kindergarten? Do they have math and science and so on? Would it be logical to have him go for certain times, but not others? I don't know enough about a regular ed Kindergarten to decide I guess.

Sabre said...

Yes, in kindergarten the kids have regular subjects. They are only in each subject for 20-30 minutes at a time because of their short attention span. Most people I know with school age autistic children (mine isn't school age yet) do what ODD Mom Out said.

OH and HI! I'm a regular lurker. :)

Amber DBTD said...

Good to know!

Thanks for De-Lurking to say hi!

Amber DBTD said...

Well, I spoke with Jaymes teacher briefly about my thoughts... What I got from her is that she thinks the team will give me a resounding no. I honestly don't know why they bother to invite me to these damned meetings, they value the parent's input so little. You know, I'm just a dumb stay at home mom.

I'm very frustrated. But i do really love his teachers. I hope whoever he gets next year is as good. He may not have really achieved any goals in school, but they genuinely care about him.

Amber DBTD said...

Meh, I should rephrase my last comment. He has accomplished some goals, just made very very little progress on his IEP goals. Not trying to lessen his accomplishments this school year at all.

Bad mommy.