Monday, October 8, 2007
Picking Up the Pieces
One of our biggest gripes with the public school system has been their low level of expectation for our son.
If he could read at all... add at all... write a few words... that seemed sufficient to them. They refused point blank to include any academics outside of the three "R's" in his IEP - even those skills which WOULD be tested when it came time to take the state-mandated tests.
By age ten, with NO reading disabilities, he had never read a chapter book. Never completed a proper book report. Never done a library search for a secondary source. Never built a diorama. Never read a map. Never read about local, national or international history (except on a single worksheet).
He had "learned" basic time telling, change counting, and double digit adding and subtracting - but he didn't seem to really get much of what he'd learned. And he had barely touched measurement, graphing, geometry, fractions, multiplication or any kind of logic puzzle.
In theory, this was perfectly reasonable because... Tommy was autistic. He didn't do well in a typical classroom.
For three years, he had been in a county-managed "autism support" class in a typical elementary school.
It was a nice class of kids at about his level of development (most with Asperger syndrome). Some had "hehaviors." All had social/communications issues. It was a nice school, too - in a very nice district. The class had 1 adult for every three children. In theory - the perfect place!
And in his nice class in his nice school, Tom had been learning "social skills;" taking "adaptive gym;" and generally working at about 50% of his competency level. While his typical peers were off to museums and historic sites, his so-called field trips were to the grocery store and McDonald's. Evidently he was to learn "life skills" in his "high functioning autism" class.
Did we fight for better options? We did. We tried to get supported inclusion, but Tom didn't really cooperate - and of course the general ed teacher was not expected to adapt to Tom - so that was that. We tried to get reverse inclusion groups at recess and lunch. But schedules - apparently - made such groups impossible. We worked for more academic content, coming to IEP meetings armed with state guidelines and legal materials. We created our own feedback form, so we could be sure to know what was going on from day to day. We even provided our own 1:1 support so that our son, an accomplished clarinetist, could be included in band (which met before school once a week).
All along the way, we met with marshmallow-like resistance: we rarely heard the word "no." Instead, we'd hear "we'll look into it;" "we'll give it a try;" "Let's see how it goes." Then we'd hear nothing. We'd ask for meetings. They'd get postponed. We'd ask whether Tom had been escorted to his once-a-week clarinet lesson at school, and would learn that the class had been "too busy."
At no point was the resistance - or the problem - concrete enough to warrant legal action. At no point could we show "no progress." In no way could we suggest that Tom was not grouped with his peers.
All we knew was that Tom was not learning at anything like his real potential - and at the rate he was going, he could expect to make it to about 6th grade by the time he left high school.