The public school year starts tomorrow. Despite the IEP that is all set to go, complete with the two half-days a week with him in the TEACCH classroom and with ABA therapist from his ABA clinic attending with him one of those days, I'm beginning to have doubts as to whether this is all worth it. We have worked hard to maintain a good working, respectful relationship with the public schools while he attends the ABA clinic full time, all in the hopes that he will eventually transition out to the public schools. This particular elementary school has a TEACCH classroom and the most wonderful, dedicated and imaginative SLP on staff…I didn't want to completely let go of all of that. We truly love this elementary school: the diversity, the staff, and the dedication to their special education classes & students make for a unique place where we were excited to send him, and we lobbied hard for us to continue this set-up for the fall. (The fall, which starts tomorrow, August 11 – how is that possible?)
Yesterday, completely unprompted, Rob expressed some concerns about continuing this. I had to admit that I've changed my mind about it too. So what's changed?
T turned 9 this summer. He remains a happy, healthy kid with very serious communication delays and challenges. Sensory issues and repetitive behaviors, so very typical for people with autism, abound. As of now, we have no evidence that he reads or that he is unable to share with us an ability to do math or other academic activities. This is not to say that he isn't intelligent; his intelligence is not measured by academic practices. He is blessed to have the opportunity to go to an ABA clinic full time, paid for by our health insurance. This is nothing short of a miracle for him and for us. They love him fiercely there. And each person that works with him is personally invested in him for the long haul. The PhD who runs the clinic and his consultant can be with him for years to come, tailoring his program specifically to meet the needs of his "beautiful brain" (as described by his neurologist). At what point do we say that the public schools may not be in his future? Or perhaps not in the near future for him?
If this clinic were not available to us, the elementary school would be a good place for him. He would learn skills, get to work with the fabulous SLP there, have some interaction with typical peers – it would be okay. As good as a public school could get in the state, I imagine. Even so, it is not his home elementary school. The TEACCH classroom is the self-contained classroom which is housed in another school in our school district - so it's not like he's getting to know the neighborhood kids. And even with all the work that's been done, he needs direct 1:1 instruction (or very small groups) to learn. He does not learn in a classroom setting.
My heart is heavy because I understand the inclusion movement. I think it is vital and tremendous, and simply the right thing to do…for the kids that can handle it. T could "handle" it, but is it best for him?
What is there not to like about the clinic? He works 1:1 with one therapist in the morning, has 2 hours of small group and play time, then the whole afternoon he's 1:1 again with a different therapist. His therapists are fun, energetic, engaging, and totally dedicated to his progress. He gets hugs, tickles, smiles, and gets plenty of breaks to go to the motor room for sensory fun. He works HARD for 7 hours a day. The rate with which he learns new skills & tasks puts a year's IEP goals to shame.
I must acknowledge that I am loathe to make changes for him. It is easier to continue with the routine that we've established. And there is some comfort – and it doesn't take much courage – not to decide and keep my fingers in both pots. I don't want to let go of the public schools, but if I am honest, I'm not sure that 2 half days are really benefitting him. It's just keeping a dream alive that maybe I need to release. I've dreamed new dreams - and have released the typical ones that most parents get to keep without much thought. I don't know what his future holds and I can't control it. I learned long ago that the best way to take care of his future was to do what he needs today & tomorrow, and perhaps even next week. The ABA center has done brilliant things for him. The school would be fine. But I have in my power the ability to get him the Cadillac of care. Stay tuned. We may pull him from the public school completely in the next few days…for now.