Friday, October 8, 2010

Time Flys When Things are Up in the Air!

Wowzer! I cannot believe we are 5 weeks into school and I have yet to post a single entry on my beloved BLOG.

The summer flew by pretty much without a hitch. Camp was great, Casey loved it and really had a wonderful time. We struggled with the last couple of weeks of no camp/no school to keep him tended to and busy. But other than that, a really, really lovely summer was had by all!

Having said that, I spent much time this summer, despite all the pleasantness, being a bit anxiety ridden over the approaching school year and what it had in store for our boy. Going back through my previous posts, I noticed a huge lack of info regarding his 7th grade year. I'm wondering if I was just avoiding the issue, or was being lazy, or both.

If it was because I was avoiding the issue, that would be due to our big decision to put him in a new setting for his 7th grade year at a whole new school. For years now, he's been in what is referred to in our district as an "AI' program, or for all of you who have trouble with acronyms as I do, an "Autistically Impaired" program. In short, usually a small group, 4 to 5 students with 2 paraprofessionals and a teacher. This has been his life at school since he was about 1 and 1/2 years old. It's very controlled, good in some ways, not good in others. We have been lucky to have great teachers and paras. The concept of the AI class for Casey was probably a bit of a mistake after about 4th grade.

But, and that's a big "but", he was safe, and worse yet, he was always the star of the show! He was always the highest functioning in his group. If I had had a "Casey" in his room with him, I would have been thrilled as a parent.

A dear friend of mine who is also my advocate, and in a way, a mentor in all things educationally related with our kids, was constantly pushing for her son to be in regular ed. based on all her vast knowledge on Inclusion she had gained from numerous conferences she's attended and books she has read. I kept Casey in the AI, because I didn't go to a lot of conferences, I didn't read a lot of books. He was safe in the AI rooms. Was she nuts to send her guy out into the real world?

I think in hindsight, my friends belief that inclusion was the best thing for many of our kids was rubbing off on me, but not to the point that she was at. So, 5th and 6th grade came and went. I got a bee in my bonnet, and forced some issues with him being in what is called the Cross Categorical classrooms part of the day then. This Cross Cat., for short, is a program for children who have varying "disablitiies" and not necessarily Autism. They run the program pretty much like a regular ed. program, but with many modifications to help the kids get through the day on their terms. I felt safe still, knowing that there were paras in that program as well. And those kids weren't "typical" either.

But, it never really worked for him, especially in 5th grade, when there were just too many transitions, and a special ed. teacher, who believe it or not, admitted she had little knowledge on teaching children with Autism! Going back and forth between AI and Cross Cat. with different rules and paces and kids was a lot for him to handle. Not until they actually scheduled time with the Cross Cat. for all the AI kids did it ever really work for him. Structure. That's all it takes usually.

And so, once I saw how well he was doing with being in Cross Cat. part of the day in the 6th grade, it hit me that perhaps it would work all the time, and that he needed the chance to experience this full time. This decision became cemented in my brain after going to the Open House for the school he would be attending in 7th grade.

Long story sorta short, I went, saw the same almost preschool like setting there, for 7th graders, that he had always been exposed to. The kindly speech therapist showed me the reading curriculum they used, which was something he had done years and years ago. He would go from one room, to another room all day with the same, mostly non verbal kids he was in class with now, while the other 7th graders traversed the faciltiy, going room to room, new experiences, new classes, new kids. There were televisions in the corners of each of the rooms I saw, reminding me of all the notes that would come home during the years saying "They got to watch a video today!" way too much. Was that going to happen there too? One of the teachers from that program pointed out her "time out" area proudly. Most classrooms don't have a "time out" area. And when another family whose child was clearly typical, accidentally made their way into this classroom, they seemed almost mortified to find out from this teacher that it was "a classroom for children with Autism, but you might get to volunteer to come down and be with them and read to them when school starts!". The family quickly made their way out. My heart sank, and promises to myself were quickly made.

With tears in my eyes, I told myself, and later that night, my dear and supportive hubby, that Casey was not going into another AI program. He needed more. Casey would be in the Cross Categorical program at this new school, and he would start from the beginning of the year, and he would not transition from AI to Cross Cat. for part of the day, it would be all day! I told Bill he was not to let me change my mind on this sudden and hard and scary decision. He was all for it, and felt it was right too.

I quickly got in touch with my friend/advocate and told her of my plan. She was in full support and guaranteed me that we were going to make it happen, and that better yet, it would work, and that we would see that it did!

I was exhilerated with my new found courage and wherewithall, and scared out of my mind at the same time! What was I doing to this boy who was about to go to a giant, new middle school?! Second guessing myself became the norm........

to be continued......