Thursday, March 24, 2011

Time for a reality check

This morning, I spent a brief time talking with the kindergarten teacher in the special education program in our local home school. The purpose of this meeting was to sit down with her and ask what was needed for children to be considered ready to enter this program. This is the highest level of special education at this level prior to mainstreaming as I understand the system to work. And I have the advantage of one of the locations being in my own home school (translation, I could potentially have all 3 of my children in the same school).

When I went into this meeting, I was hoping (and reaching) that Rachel would be ready for a mainstream classroom setting when she entered kindergarten and I would work with Simon to get him ready for this program. However, as is often the case when talking about Rachel, it became clear to me the longer I spoke with the teacher that I may be expecting too much from her.

This teacher pointed out some of the key differences between her classroom and the typical classrooms. They are working on the same curriculum as the neurotypical classrooms. However, they don't have "centers" because these children typically not capable of working independently. Circle time, as a consequence is much longer. But it doesn't start that way -- they work up to it. She also works with the kids more on comprehension skills rather than on simple reading, and works with them to understand how to read pictures and faces, as many autistic individuals don't naturally develop these skills. She also really pushes some basic life skills on a daily basis, like counting money and the growing the ability to describe things (for example, this is a square because it has 4 sides that are all the same). Many of these kids can see these things, but can't do anything with them. They can see a square, and they know it's a square, but they can't explain WHY it's a square. By teaching them to think like that, it will help them in the later grades. Memorization isn't enough for long-term learning and this classroom works on giving these children these skills.

She also explained that she has had students who have spent some time in the mainstream classrooms if they are able to go in there independently. There are no paras in the classrooms with autistic students to help them through the day and help to keep them on point. If they need that level of support, they cannot be in the mainstream classrooms. She has sent children into the other classrooms for writing workshops most consistently. They also share specials time (gym, art, music, media, computer lab) time with their neurotypical peers as well as lunch and recess. So, they aren't completely isolated.

But because the curriculum is the same, there is no fear that these children are falling further behind long-term. Perhaps that will be a good thing for Rachel. We know it would be a good thing for Simon.

I am going to continue to strive to prepare Rachel for the possibility of mainstreaming and for the possibility of Simon entering this classroom. However, the reality is I may be enrolling them both in this classroom or sending Simon to another program. I understand that. And I am prepared for that possibility. But I have to be prepared for the real likelihood that Rachel may not be ready. I probably should start planning for the desired result of them both being placed in this special education classroom. At least then, they'll be together.


  1. I always find those "reality checks" to be a blow to the gut. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in Jack doing so well that I forget that that doesn't necessarily equal that he's doing well enough to be in a 'typical' classroom. I had one of those moments a couple days ago.
    I hadn't been thinking too much of kindergarden yet because he still has a year left of special ed preschool before he's even old enough to enroll (our school doesn't offer mainstreaming until kindergarden). But his in home tutor made the comment that she doesn't think he is by any means ready for that yet. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the present accomplishments that I forget about the bigger picture... But I'm thankful for the reality check, they help to remind me when sometimes I seem to forget this is a 'forever' deal...

  2. A year ago I figured both my kids would mainstream for kindergarten which is now just a year away. Now I'm almost positive they won't. But a year is a long time, so I'll just take it one day at a time and see what's best for each of them.

  3. Wow. I'm sorry to hear it sounds like it may not happen soon.
    However, it sounded like the mainstream classroom also doesn't make it very welcoming for special needs kids. Might be worth it to contact a Child Advocate if it's something you really want for your kids. I have found them to be very helpful with me in the past.

    ps Found you through a comment you left on BlogHer. One of my 4 year old twins was also diagnosed classic autism when he was 2. He also has CP and some other learning disabilities, so it's likely we won't be looking to mainstream my son ever :(