Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Road Less Traveled: Public School Settings and Autism

  • Guest Post by Jennifer Lynch-

    Editorial Note:  Jennifer is a single mother of 3 boys ages 12, 7, and 6. They all have ASD anxiety, SPD, ADHD.  Her eldest also has schizoaffective disorder, her middle son has OCD, Tourette's, and her youngest also has ODD.  Jennifer is one of our "Confessions" Autism Mama's who always participates on our Facebook Page  and private group.  She has a wealth of knowledge and a background as a Psych nurse.  Since her middle son received diagnosis, she has not worked outside the home.  Jennifer is also on the autism spectrum. 

    Jennifers Boys @ Eagles Stadium
    Transitioning times in school are difficult for any child, more so for a child on the autism spectrum. Going into High School, Middle School, and Kindergarten a parent is faced with a lot of choices. These choices come with no manual. Fortunately, as a parent, you are your child’s most staunch advocate and know your child best.
    This is where we open with my son, age 12 and entering middle school next school year. He has been in every setting thus far and this will be his 8th school.
    He got picked up for services by EI (early intervention) for not talking at 2. Graduated into the public pre-school program, and just kept moving up. Kindergarten was full inclusion. It was a great year. So great we did it again! To give him some maturity time, develop speech. It helped. First grade full inclusion another great year. And then the problems started snowballing. Work got hard. Socially inept, we had disciplinary issues. Then attention problems. Before long we are adding medications, and behavior plans. And more services -Social Skills group. Now we are looking away from the LRE (least restrictive environment). We had one triennial that was so dismal we had an IEE (individual education evaluation) just to be certain these scores were right. Well essentially they were, but his needs weren’t being met. Schools a lot of times offer the minimum. Not what they qualify for, you have to fight for that.
    The settings in a nutshell are ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’. An ‘A’ setting is regular education with up to 20% pull out support, ‘B’ is up to 40% pull out support, and ‘C’ is more than 40% pull out and referred to as self-contained.
    In an ‘A’ setting, it’s full inclusion. Up to 1/3rd the class is NT (neurotypical developing). There are two teachers. In an Autism program, 1 teacher is Autism certified, the other regular education. In a non-Autism program it is a regular education teacher and special education teacher.
    In a ‘B’ setting, it’s full inclusion. Same 1/3rd ratio of NT students, same teachers. It’s just more support in small group instruction with the special education or autism certified teacher.
    Now for the ‘C’ setting. In middle school my son can be pushed in for Math and ELA (English Language Arts). Also recess, lunch, and specials. A lot of people argue against ‘C’ settings because there isn’t exposure to typical peers. Maybe so in some programs but that shouldn’t be the case.

    For my son, this ‘C’ setting will offer him a class size of 12 with 2 teachers. Push in for math and English. NT exposure for lunch, recess and specials. Life skills he won’t get in regular education. If the goal is independent living, then this is where he needs training. All the kids have Ipads. This also isn’t provided in the regular education setting. My son has significant writing and speech delays and processing issues. He can keep his Autism classification and continue full day ESY (extended school year) yet be in the ‘C’ setting that isn’t Autism program so none of these kids have that social deficit.

    Every state has their own qualifications on programs for special education. My state of Delaware has Diploma and Certificate of Performance. He can stay DCAS which is diploma track on the ‘C’ setting if we choose. Though it’s quite unrealistic to think he will meet the standards to qualify for a diploma. He can continue working towards a G.E.D. and stay in school until 21, and hopefully in the next 9 years the programs will change to meet the demands of the children that are up and coming. Vocational training in the ‘C’ setting is important too. Getting a job without a diploma, we will just have to cross that bridge later.

    I spent years trying to coerce the school to take my son into the Autism program as he was floundering in the regular education setting. Finally they took him in 5th grade (3rd assessment attempt). Now I’m sending him back to the feeder school. The team thinks I’m batty, and changing my mind which is nothing further from the truth. To keep him in the Autism feeder he’d be in a class the size of 4-6, with all classified Autism, it’s fixed, only choose diploma track or only Alt (alternative program), no pick and choose flexibility. One size doesn’t fit all, just because you have an Autism classification does not mean necessarily that the Autism certified program will offer the best stuff for your kid. Ours in middle school offers self contained with no flexibility and only 4-6 kids and no shot at push in or taking the diploma track. And also no Ipads and no Wifi. Well that sucks! No, we don’t want that Autism program anymore but we shall keep the classification. Our feeder school is around the block with kids he’s known for ½ his life. So many benefits, and I don’t see the cons. No brainer really.
    My advice is look at every program every transition year. To convince your team, get professional letters. I had ready made letters from developmental pediatrician saying he can’t handle changing classes 7 times a day, he needs life skills for independent living. He needs an AT (assistive technology) assessment for the dysgraphia.  I got Physical Therapy script from the neurologist stating that he wants an assessment. Don’t just ask for PT, speech or Occupational Therapy.  Its easy for them to say no. Come prepared with documentation from a doctor ...then they almost can’t say no. Or if you ask and they say we don’t think he/she needs that, then go to plan b. They are too afraid of due process. That gets things moving. We take it as it comes, choose the best option for my son,  and continue zig zagging our way, navigating through the public school system on the road less traveled.