A few months ago I shared the struggle we went through in our attempts to find a school that is worthy of our little guy, Simon. I use that phrase "worthy of" intentionally. I am tired of the mentality that leaves us feeling our kids need to be good enough for the school, and I think that mentality has played a big part in making the school "system" so rigid and painful for kids with differences like ours. Time to expect the school to be good enough for our kids.
As you might expect, this is a rather tall order, but I'm just not willing to settle where my son's education - and self-esteem - are concerned. None of us should.
After much consideration, and a lot of self-doubt, we decided to give Simon's old school another chance. Here's why:
1. Our other options were limited - the private school we so hoped would become Simon's new school, changed principals immediately (days) before Simon's application was to be reviewed, and the incoming principal is apparently not "keen" on having more autistic kids in their school. Which is such a shame, because the school was becoming a real model of meaningful inclusion, thanks mainly to the outgoing principal. All the best schools outside of our division were full, no further applications were being considered. And while we were given the opportunity to explore other public schools in our division (thanks to yet another letter writing campaign on our part, after we were told the deadline had passed) we were no more confident in any of them, than we were in Simon's old school.
2. The difference between taking a chance on other schools in our division, and taking a chance on returning to Simon's old school, is that Simon has a number of good buddies at his old school who we made sure to have regular playdates with during the past year of homeschooling. Many of the challenges stemming from autism in a neurotypical world, are social. And when I consider how hard it is for Simon to be in a classroom in the first place (meeting unreasonable expectations and dealing with sensory overload), how much harder would that become in an environment where he didn't even have a single friend and had to start from scratch making social connections?
3. Finally, the only reason we even considered Simon's old school is because they ousted not one, not two, but THREE staff associated with the trouble he had last year. To me that said a) they took our situation seriously and weren't going to tolerate it, and b) the environment is a safer place for Simon now.
But Simon REALLY wants to go back into a classroom full of his friends. And I don't think at this stage (Grade 2) that I can deprive him of the chance to try. Of course the big unknown is not how hard Simon will try - I can guarantee you he will try his hardest because I've seen how far he's come in the past year; the big unkown is how hard the school will try.
I have resigned myself to the possibility that this coming year may be a complete write-off for Simon academically. I have very little confidence in the teacher, having met her before school started, and unfortunately the principal sounded MUCH different in meetings where the division rep was present (ie. when someone who's job it is to enforce meaningful inclusion is in the room) compared to when they were absent. The principal's tone changed markedly and shifted away from discussions of how to accommodate Simon, to discussions of how Simon needs to find ways to assimilate. Hmmmm. I can deal with that - if it is a starting point for a journey in which the school and it's staff are open to working with us to gradually learn more about autism, deepen their respect for Simon as an idividual, and come to accept his differences as bringing their own gifts, rather than bringing a need for assimilation.
Only time will tell how the school handles Simon. Right now, their focus is entirely on Simon growing into their vision of inclusion. The test of whether we stay in this school beyond this coming year, will be whether their vision of inclusion grows to accomodate Simon. If I see progress and growth in them, then we will continue to work with the system. If not, then Simon deserves better, and we will have to find it elsewhere.
We have arranged to start with half-days and proceed from there. How quickly - or even if - we move to full days depends entirely on how Simon is feeling about himself and what kind of relationship the school fosters with us. Academically, we have plans for homseschool lessons during the part of the day he is not in school and over the weekends (which are good for Simon anyhow, since he really needs a consistent routine) and for exploring a math tutor from the University to foster his gifts in that subject (which will also mean I will be asking to have Simon pulled out of math class for resource work instead).
I will continue posting homeschool info and resources, especially from a sensory homeschool perspective. And for those of you who will be embarking on a year of school outside your home, I thought I would share some of the resources we are using to ensure three key areas of preparation:
1) the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) process:
2) modifications needed to a child's learning environment:
3) materials we can supply to the school to improve their understanding of our son:
A mini-library for the classroom comprised of Can I Tell You About Aspergers?;All Cats Have Aspergers; This is Gabriel Making Sense of School; I'm Not Weird I Have SPD; Sensitive Sam; Squirmy Wormy (all available on http://www.amazon.com/)
Photocopied excerpts from Raising a Sensory Smart Child and The Out of Sync Child (also available on http://www.amazon.com/), since it's unreasonable to expect the teacher to read those books in their entirety, but I want her to read certain key parts.
4) Tools for Sensory Success (vetted through the teacher in advance):
- sit fitter (wiggle seat)
- fidget toys
- a band that wraps around Simon's chair legs so he can bounce his legs while working
- mp3 - just for school - with playlist suitable for school to block out extraneous noise
- tennis balls on chair leg bottoms to reduce all that screeching when chairs are moved
And finally, some time ago I read this excellent advice for beginning the year with a child who has special needs:
At the beginning of the year, discuss with the teacher your desire to: a) have them as the single point of contact for regular feedback between home and school (this means you will not be getting one call from the music teacher, one from the phys. ed teacher, one from the principal, etc., but rather one single call from the teacher when necessary; b) have regular meetings set up on a pre-arranged schedule - depending on your child's needs/challenges this may be once a week, twice a month, once a month, etc. (this helps prevent those dreaded phone calls from the teacher every day or every few days - ask that all issues that do not need immediate resolution be dealt with at these regular meetings).
I hope these resources will help you if you're feeling somewhat (or overwhelmingly) unprepared for the battle ahead. I sit here this evening, with a mountain of work ahead of me to sculpt my son's school into an institution of acceptance and accommodation, with the challenge of educating the educators on what meaningful inclusion really is. And I am left with a feeling that is too close to resentment, because of that word: battle. While so many of us are left feeling day after day that we are losing the battle with the education system, I do in my heart believe, we will win the war.
May the force be with you, my magical little man.