Monday, April 21, 2008

Special Ed vs. Mainstreaming

Ever since Casey has been in the education system, he's been in what is considered "special ed". He began around 1 in a small
program geared specifically for toddlers with Autism. We loved it, it was a Godsend, and he thrived.

He then moved on to a preschool in our district that housed one of the largest programs for Autistic children around. He was there for 3 years, and he thrived in this program as well. That whole program too seemed like a Godsend, and I say "seemed" because, in a way, it set him up to be what he is today. Still in special ed.

We got brave and decided to move him into what is called a "cross-categorical" (a room with mixed disabilities, not Autism specific) classroom in a regular grade school for first grade. In hindsight, our first mistake here was that he was of age to go into first grade, but maturity wise, wasn't even close to going into first grade. We should have put him in half day kindergarten (cross-cat) and given him more time to adjust. As a result, even this special classroom (which by the way housed 1st and 2nd graders and was overstaffed, but also too student heavy, couldn't fulfill his needs and he couldn't keep up with the pace. We would get notes daily telling us he wasn't focused, couldn't attend, couldn't stay on task. It didn't help that his teacher was a relic and needed to retire. And so, long story long, we moved him into a totally Autistic program at another grade school.

It was really a relief at the time, he saw many friends that he knew from preschool, and the pace and size of the classrooms helped immensely. He's had a good run there, even being included in the regular ed classrooms for part of the day. He's had his rough spots, but we've seen him grow intelligence wise. Not so much socially, but that could still come.

Now, we are faced with changing schools next year, which will be a 5-6 grade building and it scares the bejeezus out of me. A dear, dear friend of mine has put her son, who is on Casey's level in regular ed full time with an aide for the last 3 years now, and often tries to get me to do the same with Casey. That whole concept scares me to death, there is so much work in doing it, for the kids and the parents. And you know how you get the gut feeling about something? Well, my gut is that it wouldn't work for my child.

He does ok in regular ed when he's there, he follows along somewhat, but is stiff not focused a lot of the time. He still hasn't picked up on cues such as getting his book out when the other kids do, things like that. And he does quite well when he is back in the AI (Autistically Impaired) room with smaller groups and one on one instruction. Too much is going on in a regular ed room. I truly believe it's overwhelming.

At the same time, I have mixed feelings moving him into the same situation again at another school. By all accounts, it doesn't seem like he'll be mainstreamed this year into regular ed..."Have you ever been in a typical 5 grade classroom Mrs. Davis? We don't know how Casey would manage!". Part of says, that's ok. 5th and 6th graders can be tough, and he doesn't need that. And there are so many issues that I could go into but won't now. But then, I don't like him being around kids with behavioural issues all day, who are also mostly not always verbal, and who have the same social level as he, if not lower.

I think my intentions for writing this blog is to get other peoples opinions about this and let me know what they have done and what works for them. This is definitely a subject that I am going to touch on again soon!


Marla said...

M is in the fourth grade. We bounced around from Montessori, special ed preschool, special ed grade K, mainstream grade K, mainstream 1st, special ed second and special ed third and by the fourth grade I was so tired of advocating that I pulled her out half way through the school year and home school. M's Ccyclical vomiting syndrome did not get bad until just this last December. CVS was not why we decided to homeschool. The schools just could not meet M's needs. Her self esteem was going way down and she was not learning anything. I noticed that she was coming home with completed work but when I went to do it with her she was clueless. After observing it seemed obvious the aides were practically doing her work for her. There were many other reasons as well. She was mimicking poor behaviors and became increasingly paranoid about being looked at and made fun of.

It is a tough tough choice and there is no right answer. Every child is different. Main streaming is great for some and a nightmare for others. For M mainstreaming was beyond a nightmare and did lots of damage to her self esteem. She thrived in NJ when she was in a room with eight other children similar to her. The teacher there was amazing. They don't have classes like that in IN. Our options in this state are very poor in my opinion.

My best advice would be to follow your gut. You know best. Don't let someone push you to do something you know won't work. Get the book From Emotions to Advocacy by Pam and Pete Wright. It is excellent and helped me advocate well and make decisions.

I also encourage visiting the classrooms of the grade he will be in. Go and observe the mainstream and the special ed. You can learn so much through observing and that was what really helped me make my decision.

I still worry if I made the right decision. My husband and I made it together and we both go in spurts where we obsess about it. But, I can say for M it has been great. She has thrived and is more verbal and confident in ways we never saw when she was in school.

Good luck. I hope you share your journey here.

kristi said...

I agree with Marla. You have to do what works for your child.

Bonnie Sayers said...

My son Matthew is nonverbal in the fifth grade in an autism class. His brother Nick is HFA, sixth grade (13) he did preschool special ed for two years and then the special day class for K and then first grade he did half days in reg ed and then the SDC class. I had him repeat first grade fully included in general ed and then he went on for 2-5.

We live in Los Angeles and I did not like any of the middle schools so he is being homeschooled using California Virtual Academy. Now I have to find a middle school for Matt and that is hard but I will go to due process for one that I did find that is brand new and seems better for him.

I think that holding Nick back in first grade was the right thing to do and another boy in that SDC class was held back as well and he had RSP through fifth grade. Nick stopped in 3rd grade and then it was just consult with teacher.

Another boy kept on and went to special schools and still struggling. With Matt I held him back as well, he did three years of special ed preschool as he was not ready for K.

I write about them at my site. I found your blog thru a comment on autismvox

My name is Bonnie also.