Friday, December 07, 2012

Weighing the Options

You may have noticed we've been having a lot of dips in the roller-coaster lately. In fact, the past three years of Joey's schooling have not been the rosy, well-progessing days of the three years before that. Even with teacher we think are excellent in the last two years, we have lost ground.

It really struck home the other day, when his current Awesome Teacher, Ms. F, was praising gained ground. Joey is now independently walking from the bus to his classroom in the morning. Woo-hoo! Independence! Yay!

But wait. He was doing that in second grade. We're just now regaining skills we had in second grade?

I haven't said anything yet. I need to chew on that some. We're just now getting back to some of the independence he had in second grade. Some. Not all.

Yes, we have had some skills move forward. And he's grown up some. Not at the pace of his peers, but some. And yet, there are still these moments, whole days, whole weeks, when I feel like we're trying to regain lost ground. We had it. Then we lost it.

This fall, we may have the opportunity to get Joey into a new school- one that seems designed just for him. Academics in the morning, tailored to the child's skills (so if Joey wants to go gangbusters in math, he can! and if he needs help in reading, he can get that, too!). Afternoons dedicated to movement, therapies, and specialized education (social skills, extra speech and language work, fine motor work, etc). Movement and sensory breaks throughout the day. Classrooms of 5 students, with one teacher and two paras. Plus full-day OT, speech, and vision therapists on site (and perhaps PT, depending on who the students are). All of these people would be trained not only in special education, and not just in autism, but specifically in Joey.

Sounds like a dream come true, doesn't it?

But here are the cons.

We've been lucky to be in a small school system, and many of Joey's classmates have gotten used to him. They know him. They can at least tolerate his quirks, even if it is more in a mother-hen fashion than a friend fashion. Interaction with non-disabled peers would plummet, restricted to activities I could arrange after school.

I have an answer for this one, though. We are entering middle school. Much of that tolerance is about to evaporate in the world of the selfish, nasty pre-teen hormone rush. We are already seeing bullying and nastiness; it is about to get serious. This may be the time to rethink inclusion, which is already looking shaky. It is no longer a safe space for Joey to learn to interact with non-disabled peers, or for them to learn to interact with him. It is about to become even less so. This may be the moment to go ahead and give him more controlled environments to practice the skills he is being taught, and spend more energy on carefully controlling the "on the job" interactions he has to deal with- after all, it isn't just his classmates that are about to hit Hormone Central.

The other con is the price tag. At $40K/year (which is a bargain, by the way), we have to put together the data that supports our observations: that as we move away from the model we were using, and that the new school will use(with morning academics and afternoon pragmatics and highly trained staff on site at all times), Joey's ability to access both his academic and his functional curricula plummets. When he is in those reg-ed math classes, he's supposed to be being instructed how to function in those classes; yet it seems that the school's idea is to just toss him in there and hope he "picks it up." He needs a lifeguard to help him practice his social skills, but his para is green from school and untrained. And note how little I just said about learning math. We've seen his reading go from being at "above 6th grade level" in second grade to "below basic" in fourth. No one seems to be able to even tell me what progress he's made in reading. I've seen none. In fact, I've seen major regression- he won't read for me. He is again tolerating me reading in the room, but is not paying any attention to what I am saying/reading.

I worry that putting this down in black and white will somehow be considered a reflection of the teachers he has. What I feel is that we do have the A-team; these are the best teachers this school has to offer. And here we are, even doing our best and working our hardest. This isn't working for Joey. He's falling behind more and more, even as he moves forward, because everyone else is not only ahead of him, but they are moving faster. Yet his strengths get tossed to the wayside and left to stagnate, unchallenged or minimally challenged. He already passed the end-of-year test for this grade- two years ago. Has he moved forward at all?

So it is time to start gearing up for battle. This is going to be a tough, nasty one, which could be all for naught if we can't 14 others to win the battle, too. 15 students are needed to open. What a disaster it would prove if I can prove the schools are failing, yet have no where for him to go. Burned bridges are tough to recross.


farmwifetwo said...

Black and white is necessary so you can look at the pros and cons objectively.

My Mother and I had the "school or homeschool" conversation yesterday and even though she admits the school system sucks trust me they are not hard done by and make much much more than your teachers with much better perks, she still handed me the "social" card.

Sorry, social isn't being ignored by a bunch of kids the same age as you are. Social is learning to listen, visit with, and respond too people that actually talk and interact with you. I don't care if they are 3 or 99.

If you can afford it and it is a good a program as you think it might be.... I'd seriously consider it.

mommy~dearest said...

I would seriously consider it too. It sounds like an amazing program (but don't they all), and socialization can come other places. I am looking at a similar option (sans the $40k pricetag, thank goodness), that is out of district for us, so I don't know what I have to do to get him in there just yet.

It sounds like Joey and Jaysen go to the same school. Lol. Or at least they are in a fairly accurate representation of what a "typical" district is offering kids.

I will be paying close attention mommabear... I am sure I'll need to summon your strengths and strategies to prove the district is "not doing it's job" very soon.

May the force be with you.

Danni said...

I know you'll do what you feel is best for Joey and the rest of your family. This option does deserve consideration.

There is probably a way of bringing it up with his current school without burning bridges. It's possible that what was a good fit at 2nd grade is no longer one now, and it's not anyone's fault. There's also the changing expectations- 4th graders are expected to do more for themselves than 2nd graders, and the extra pressures, which are probably not intentional, could be why he's struggling with things he used to be good at.

From personal experience (I'm autistic) I got far more out of one year of social/life skills lessons than I did out of 13 years of academics in mainstream. And I was good at nearly all academic subjects (art, PE and design and technology were the exceptions). I had to wait until I was 22 to get that help- I think if I'd had it earlier I might not have had as much anxiety and depression to deal with. I do know that I was able to perform better academically after having that help though- got an A in AS Computing at 24 despite being very ill. I'd only managed Bs in my GCSEs at school, and I was considered gifted. (UK qualifications- GCSEs are taken by 14-16 year olds, AS Levels normally at 17, A2 Levels to make a full A Level at 18.)

It's possible Joey might manage in mainstream again when he's older and is able to cope with the demands better. Or he might not. The main thing is that he's happy and is able to cope as well as possible with life- academics come after that and can always be caught up with. But you probably know that already :-)

Joeymom said...

I do think this is not a blame game. The folks at the public school are working very hard, and doing the best they can. That makes me all the more concerned about leaving him there- especially for middle school.

Katie said...

I think if you can communicate that it's not a blame game, but that Joey is regressing, that it may not be such a good fit anymore, then you may not burn as many bridges. Nobody can argue with the facts. (though they often do....)

I would be very, very worried about leaving Joey there for middle school. From what you've written in posts this year, it doesn't sound like Joey is a good fit for that inclusion setting. It may be that in 2nd grade he was, and it may be that if he'd had other teachers then it could have remained a good fit, but the fact is that it doesn't sound like one. It sounds like a very, very dangerous setup where someone is going to get hurt. I am not envious of either his teacher or his para, the latter who as you've mentioned so many times is clearly untrained. (That may only get worse in middle school. As kids get bigger and older and harder, paras get less and less interested and middle school is not a choice setting.) The stress Joey is under is extreme, and if the PBIS is not enough, it is unlikely going to suddenly be enough in middle school. I am worried for Joey's safety, his teacher and para's ability to keep him safe, and ultimately the safety of other students. That does not begin to bring bullying into the picture. As you know, that will almost definitely get worse with age - sigh.
The new school sounds amazing. I would be curious what the backgrounds of the staff and administration are but don't see any red flags so far. I guess the other alternative is looking at other public middle schools that may be stronger. In NYC, there are multiple options, but I'm not sure how that works outside of NYC.

Anyway....good luck. I wish this was easier for both you and Joey.