Why Mainstream Schooling Terrifies Me
The Monkey is turning 6 years old in less then a month. It’s a little scary to watch my baby grow into a little man right before my eyes. This Mother’s Day I reflected on how blessed we have been through this journey. His speech is developing before our eyes and although he is not where his peers are he is getting there in great strides. His anxiety, at home, is being decently managed through the use of social stories, routine strips and visual queues. The past few weeks we have even gotten over the daily meltdowns that used to occur before ABA therapy started. This is huge considering it took over 1 year for it to happen. At home, in our little bubble, I can look at the Monkey on good days and completely forget that he has autism. Days that are easy and everything seems to go as planned. Days that have no meltdowns or that do not end with mommy wanting to cry. I love days like these.
Throughout our journey with the Monkey we have heard the comment, “but he doesn’t look autistic.” more times then I would like. It is true though, he doesn’t look like someone who has “Classic Autism” especially now that he is talking. I get it, I really do. When most people think of autism they think of kids who don’t speak, who are completely disconnected, who run around flapping constantly because this is how the media tends to portray our kids. Yes some children do have classic autism and they stim often and they may also not be talking so their disability is more visible. So I understand why friends, or neighbours or even family would say that my Monkey doesn’t look autistic at first view. What they do not see is all the prep it took for us to get to that point. How he bottles it all up inside of him until we get home and then explodes. They also don’t often see the meltdowns or understand how he wont even have a sleep over at Grandma and Grandpa’s house because everything is just to different. Things that they may take for granted we can only wish for.
We are blessed, in the autism community, to have a child so high functioning but what I worry about most for him is that this high functioning mask he has will cause his needs to be ignored as he starts school. Will they recognize that his anxiety is building and act swiftly? Will they understand that he gets things stuck in his head and has a hard time forgetting about it which means he may no longer absorb anything he is being taught for the remainder of the day? Will they take us seriously when I tell them that he chokes often and will need to have an EA with him at meal times to remind him to chew his food? Will they watch him closely on the playground as his gross motor skills are still not the best? Will they let him go down the stair last so that he doesn’t get pushed as right now he can really only walk down them if he is on a certain side of the stairs and even then it is still choppy? Will they look past the fact that he can talk and realize he does not always comprehend what you are telling him? Will they understand that he has a hard time telling you things that pertain to the topic at hand? Will they see his high functioning skills and forget to pay attention to the very real delays that he has? For MJ, add in the fact that autism presents itself differently in females and her very high functioning abilities often times mask the underlying disability which is very much present. Will they see her when she needs help? Will they monitor her as much as they should on the play ground? Will they notice her if she decides to bolt? Because she is so high functioning and a very good actress will she get as much support from her EA as she actually needs to blossom and grow to her full potential? Will they take her dietary restrictions seriously and make sure she is never given anything to eat not only by the teachers but by other children, that she should not have? Rebecca and I both share the same fears as our children go into a school as the faces of a hidden disability.
We are not new to the school system. In Ontario the Monkey did 3 months of Pre- Kindergarten which was a pre-k / kindergarten split class and it went HORRIBLY. He had daily meltdowns that would last for 2 or more hours once he got home. He never got into the routine of going because it was only Monday, Wednesday and every other Friday. Talk about confusing for a child who thrives on routines. I understand that his speech is so much further ahead and we have taught him some amazing coping skills over the last year not to mention he is almost 2 years older now but I still have my doubts as to how it will all go.
Here, in New Brunswick, we do not have a Special Needs Classroom any longer. All children, regardless of their disabilities are in the same class. EA’s are used for children who are in need of one to help the child function as best they can in the classroom. After having the Monkey’s IEP meeting I am slightly opposed to this set up. This set up means larger class sizes and not as much one on one with the children who need it. This set up also means that my son might be sharing an EA worker and may not have one that is fully designated to him. This set up means that if the Monkey does decide to have a meltdown they will either remove him or his entire class from the room until he calms down. I have some serious issues with this.
Removing a child with autism from the classroom or removing his classmates does not solve the issue of what caused the meltdown in the first place. Most of the time if the Monkey is having a full out meltdown he can not communicate his needs through words and will not tell you what is bothering him. You have to be the detective in figuring out what the trigger is. If you do not remove the trigger and you simply remove him from the classroom to calm down you are 1)reinforcing the negative behaviour and telling him if you freak-out long enough you wont have to sit in the classroom, 2) if he does calm down once removed from the classroom you are likely to either have another meltdown start up as soon as he walks into the classroom or his anxiety will escalate and you wont even make it back to the classroom, and 3) it will take days for him to go back into the classroom without being anxious about the trigger you may not have removed. If you do not remove the trigger and you remove his classmates instead to try and get him to calm down you are 1) likely to have a meltdown that lasts upwards to an hour or more or until you figure out what the heck is causing it in the first place, 2) isolating the child who already feels different from his peers even more and making his peers more aware of his differences, and 3) your interrupting the learning of the other classmates because of one child which means that your likely to have some angry parents if they start telling their parents that they had to be removed from the class again because another child was screaming.
I personally think that there should still be a Special Needs Classroom to allow for smaller class sizes, more one on one teaching between the child and the teachers, a classroom set up to have sensory breaks regardless of the age of the child, allowing the child to be less anxious and possibly limiting many meltdowns that I can force happening in a mainstream classroom. They argue that it is better for the child to be part of the regular class but I think it has more to do with a lack of funding rather then a better setting for the child who has a special need. They can paint it however they like but it is much cheaper for them to put our kids in with the other children rather then having 3 or 4 special needs classrooms set up that they need teachers for. Some may argue that placing a child like the Monkey in a separate classroom is only isolating him from his peers but I would like to remind you that his peers are in fact the other children in his class who also have autism more so then a child that does not. Those are the children he gets along with the most and is not removing him from the mainstream classroom and/or removing his classmates when he has a meltdown not isolating him even more from his peers then having him in a class with other children who learn like him?
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t build up to mainstream classrooms but would it not make more sense to do this slowly? Set up a buddy program? Start them off with one time period a day in the mainstream class with a buddy? I understand the need for some parents to have their children feel like they are like all the other kids but the reality is they are not and that is 100% ok. This is what we should be teaching them. We should be teaching them that it is ok to be different and not that they have to try to conform to their mainstream peers which is the feeling I got from the IEP meeting and a feeling I did not like. I do everything to help the Monkey learn new skills, to learn to cope with his anxieties, to try and teach him things he has a hard time learning or comprehending but never do I make him feel ashamed for not being able to do something. The Monkey is highly aware of the things that are going on around him and he is an EXTREME perfectionist. We have had to teach him to let go and that things do not need to be perfect but when he sees other children doing something he is unable to do this only feeds his anxiety and drives the little perfectionist in him to want to do this right just like the other kids. He is extremely aware that he is different and I try to make him feel ok with this because IT IS OK TO BE DIFFERENT! Why do the schools not see that? Why can they not make individualized learning plans and have children in smaller classrooms? Maybe it is the hippie granola mom that I am but I think all children would do better in much smaller classrooms that teach each child based on their individual strengths and take the emphasis off of testing. Even if the Monkey didn’t have autism I think I would still feel the same way.
Here is a great video on Unschooling which really intrigues me and makes much more sense then the system we currently have set up. When will the government and the school boards realize that the larger the classrooms get the more children slip through the cracks!
I don’t want you to feel like I am attacking the school system I just think that it does not allow for a child who may learn differently to blossom. This terrifies me as a mother of a child who not only learns differently but who also has a history of regression.
SCHOOL TERRIFIES THE S**T RIGHT OUT OF ME!