Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mainstream vs. Special School – Part 2

Change of any kind is hard for six year olds with autism.  Changing schools in the middle of his kindergarten year was going to be a huge adjustment for our son, we figured.  If his last day at his old school was any indication, it was going to be a long transition. (If you have not yet read Part 1, click here.)

Our son started attending a public, therapeutic day school in February.  We tried to prepare him for the transition from our neighborhood school.  With the help of the social worker at his old school and other therapists who worked with Kai, we created a social story about changing schools.  We also drove to his new school before his first day, and he got to spend a bit of time seeing his classroom and meeting his teacher and other staff.

When he started at his new school, he had a bit of difficulty during his first week, but, somewhat surprisingly to us, already did much better his second week.  He took to his new teacher right away.  Since he was one of only two kids in the class at the very beginning, that allowed his teacher to work individually with Kai quite a bit.  She was patient and enthusiastic.  She saw great promise in our son, and wanted to bring those to fruition.  For a child with so much anxiety, finding a trusted source of support in an unfamiliar place was very comforting.

About a month after he started at his new school, we had our first parent-teacher conference.  Besides his teacher, we met the classroom teaching assistants and the social worker assigned to Kai.  We were very pleasantly surprised to learn that the staff there was actually able to get Kai to do some schoolwork.  We found out that he was reading at a second grade level and doing third grade math. 

We also noticed that Kai seemed happier.  I’ve got to believe that he was aware that he wasn’t being successful at his old school, whereas now he was fitting in and knowing that he was doing pretty well.  His teacher told us that even though he was the youngest, Kai was the leader of his class, which had grown by then to five kids. 

At the Open House we went to last week, we saw that his growth has continued.  He is now in first grade and is doing 4th grade work.  He has a new teacher for first grade, and she and the assistants in that class seem just as committed and capable as his previous teachers.

I don’t want to paint an overly rosy picture and imply that his behaviors have magically improved and there are no longer any issues.  That is not true.  There certainly have been many incidents at his new school, too.  But, the difference is, the staff there are trained and prepared to deal with those behaviors.  They use it as an occasion to teach the child.  And, I believe that he is learning.

There is a saying to be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.  We wished for our son to be mainstreamed, and while the wish came true, things did not end up the way we hoped.  On the other hand, sometimes good things come along when you least expect it.  Our son ended up in a much different place than where we dreamed, and he is better off for it. 

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