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!