Thursday, October 7, 2010

Mainstream vs. Special School – Part 3

Here are the top ten differences between our son’s therapeutic school and his old neighborhood school:
  1. The staff at the therapeutic school are specifically trained to work with kids like Kai. The staff at his neighborhood school mostly are not.
  2. The environment at his old school was not conducive for a child with many sensory issues. His new school environment is designed for kids like him.
  3. At his neighborhood school, Kai was assigned one untrained aide, and his teacher had too many students to be able to provide a lot of one-one-one attention. At his current school, there are three well-trained aides besides the teacher for a class that is half the size.
  4. The near-daily incident reports at his old school made us feel guilty about our son’s behavior. His incidents at the therapeutic school are reported to make us aware.
  5. At the regular school, he did not have much success learning in a regular classroom environment. At the therapeutic school, he gets a lot of individual attention which helps him excel.
  6. At his old school, he was instructed along with the other kids in class, most of who were behind him academically. At his current school, he advances at his own pace and is now doing 4th grade reading and math.
  7. At his old school, his behavior would sometimes preclude him from participating in special activities. At his new school, special activities like working in the Snack Shop are set up specifically to provide him with learning opportunities.
  8. At his neighborhood school, he stuck out for all the wrong reasons. At his current school, he was described by his teacher as being the leader in his class.
  9. When he attended his old school, Mom and Dad were constantly stressed out. Now, our stress levels are lower.
  10. At his old school, he felt like a failure for his inability to behave like other kids. At his new school, he often comes home smiling and cannot wait for us to open his backpack to check out his scoresheet to see how well he did that day.

Now, all of this is not to say that all kids with special needs are better off in special schools. I am only reporting the experiences that we had. It would be wrong to generalize for everyone else.

Ideally, we would like it if our son could get the same type of supports while also benefiting from being in a mainstream classroom. So that raises the question of how kids with autism can be successful in mainstream environments. I think the keys to success are providing the supports they need, which includes having adequate numbers of well-trained staff, making adjustments to the classroom and school environment, and changes to routines and procedures. With the realities of the public school system these days, how likely is all of that to happen? Our neighborhood school is a good school, with good teachers and staff, and they do a good job of educating most kids. It just wasn’t the place for Kai, at least for now.

We are fortunate that we found an alternative that is helping him learn, both academically and behaviorally.

If you have not already done so, you may want to check out Part 1 and Part 2.

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