General Ed, A Dream Realized

My son is not your typical child with autism but really, what child is typically autistic? Over the years since he’s been in school, I’ve always told the school district that he is not a good candidate for mainstreaming but the response has always been, “this is how we do it” or “children with autism do better with slow transitions”. Unfortunately, how they do it and how my son does it are two very different things. My son does not do well with slow transitions. He does better if he’s just thrown in the mix. He’s an all or nothing kid. If the choice is between mainstreaming and full inclusion, ditch the mainstreaming because he isn’t going to succeed in two class settings.

Mainstreaming is when they take a child, slowly build up the time this child will spend in a typical class until they are deemed able to be there full time. Generally, mainstreaming doesn’t start until at least a month into the new school year. Long enough to understand the routine of the class they are entering. Of course, this does nothing for understanding the routine of the class they are going to mainstream into. Or build relationships and bonds with kids by starting a class from the very beginning and learning the routine and rules together. So by the time he starts the mainstreaming process, he has already understood that the SDC class is his class and he has formed relationships as best as he can with the kids in his SDC class that will allow such bonds and he enters a new class for an hour and a half a day with kids he has never met. This new class provides no bonds, friends are paired up already, and he doesn’t view the teacher as his teacher. To him, this new class is a vacation from his other class; one he sometimes wants and sometimes doesn’t.

This went on for two years. And for two years, I kept telling them it wasn’t going to work. Academically, he’s at or above grade level and he really doesn’t belong in an SDC class. I’ve even been told by the school district that he doesn’t even qualify for SDC but his behavior is preventing him from going into full inclusion. Behavior I always told them would happen if he was mainstreamed. I get notes from school on how can’t focus, he doesn’t sit still, he wants to roam around the room and play with toys, wants to talk to the kids, he pretends his hands are airplanes or he pretends he’s a power ranger. (Hello!? Anyone home??? He’s pretending! And wanting to talk and play with the kids! Isn’t this supposed to be a good thing? Doesn’t that tell you something??) He isn’t bothering with the class because he knows it’s not his class! He hasn’t formed any relationship with the people and children in this class so why should he bother? He knows if he doesn’t he’ll get to go back to his class with his friends. Trying to make friends in a class that is set up for you to not get that chance is a pretty bum deal.

He’s smart and he’s very social. Even with a class full of kids that are either non-verbal or not social, he still manages to make friends. And he cares about them and wants to be with them. As his mother, I know that these are not the friends that will benefit him by modeling proper social skills and pragmatic language but I also can’t deny that he cares about them and wants to spend time with them. He pushes them into a relationship that he wants but they aren’t very good at cultivating so he does the work and they just need to play along. And many times they do. So again, why would anyone be surprised by the fact that he doesn’t do well in the mainstream class when his friends aren’t there?

Last summer I placed him in a typical summer camp because I knew that he could do it even if the school district didn’t. It was such a wonderful experience and the staff gave me daily reports that I gave to the schoold district. He did so well and I even had an aide tell me she would never have known he had any issues if she weren’t assigned to him as his aide. Ah, those beautiful words from this lovely angel! This was something he started from the beginning and was just thrown into and he did beautifully. And the school district was blown away but he was still placed into mainstreaming this year.

Now that you know the back story, let me tell about my latest IEP. I was in heaven! It was the best IEP I ever had and yes, even though he is only currently in SDC kindergarten, I’ve had a lot! I didn’t have to ask for anything – it was all offered! I expected a fight with the current budget crisis and rumors had been flying around that were making me very nervous. I was basically offered the moon as far as I’m concerned!

So next school year, my son will repeat kindergarten only this time he will be in general ed, with a shared aide with several other wonderful services. I can’t believe that it’s finally happening and I will admit, I’m nervous. But I’m too excited for him to dwell too much on the nervousness. He will now get to experience starting a class with typical peers from the beginning, bond with them and gain much needed pragmatic language. He’s always learned best from his peers and we will hopefully have found the last piece of the puzzle to full recovery. His last remaining issues are with expressive and receptive language and a lack of focus but maybe in this new, exciting and challenging environment, his language will catch up faster. An improvement in focus would be nice but that might be asking a bit much. We can dream, though! I had one dream finally happen, why not this one?

Who knows what this future will hold, it may be a miserable experience but I’m going to go with the idea that it’s going to be fantastic. If that changes, so be it but for now I’m just going to enjoy this ride and expect the best!

During this IEP season, I hope you all have as wonderful an IEP experience as I did!


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