Sunday, April 27, 2014

Autism Acceptance & Understanding 2014 Day 28: Public School

Last year during these posts, I waxed poetic about how much Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has helped T.  That still remains true.  Because our challenges with T arise from his behavior, having Behavior Analysts working with him everyday and coming to our home every two weeks is an invaluable service and support for us.

Toward the end of last year's posts, I mentioned that his full-time ABA coverage (about 37 hours) had been reduced down to 20 hours per week.  Insurance had been covering it full time, but because of his age at the time (11yo) and how long he had been receiving full-time ABA (about 6 years, yes YEARS), our insurer decided that he could benefit from at least some time in the public schools.  Or put another way, they weren't paying for full time anymore unless we could prove that 40 hours a week of ABA was still completely medically necessary.

Rob and I decided that it was time for T to try to go back to the public schools for part of his day.  Honestly, we had already been pondering it.  When the reduction in hours came, we didn't appeal.  We called up our school district, the one which we hand-chose when we moved here in 2007 specifically for its special education services.

Scary?  Yes.  For crying out loud, we're talking MIDDLE SCHOOL here.  Kids are figuring out how to be decent human beings at that point!  They know how to be mean, and fitting in and being like everyone else is THE motivating factor in their lives.  How would my gentle T, who may not understand when kids are being mean, who happily sings & scripts his way through his day, and who flips a bracelet and melts down when "Happy Birthday" is sung, fit in there?

Here's the deal: I knew that my non-conversational, vulnerable boy was safe right where he was.  His every need was met.  His Individual Treatment Plan at the ABA center was tailored specifically to address his deficits, and there were proven curricula in place to help him progress.  He was (is) truly LOVED by the staff there - all the way up to the top tier of administration.  They are personally invested.

And yet, and yet...he wasn't in his community.  He wasn't in our community.  His whole day was spent surrounded by other fabulously "gifted" children like him (I like to refer to our kids as gifted), and the only time he spent with NTs (NeuroTypicals) was in church.  He could still go to the ABA center a few hours a day, but he was about to start back into the public school world for the first time in 5 years.  Talk about a leap of faith.

We are almost through his first year back in school now.  How has it gone?  Well, it depends on what questions you ask - and the answers you are seeking.  Has he gained math skills?  No.  Do we have data & graphs showing progress in all his academics?  No.  Have we seen an increase in some mild aggressive behavior?  Yes.  Is that due to the change, or adolescence?  We don't know.

But...can he now maneuver those busy hallways like a boss?  Yes.  Is he in a science and an English class now, being exposed to ideas and literature he wouldn't have been otherwise?  Yes.  Did he answer a rhetorical question posed by the English teacher out loud one day, taking her pleasantly by surprise? Yes.  Does he have a classmate (NT) that wants to be his lab partner?  Yes.  Are there kids that walk down the hallway with him on occasion, asking him questions and being friendly?  Yes.  Does he now sit with me at home on the sofa and allow me to read children's/young adult literature to him out loud, and seem to be listening and interested?  Yes, yes, and yes.  

Again and again, I've thought about Eustacia Cutler, Temple Grandin's mother, and how difficult and scary it must have been to send her to Arizona after college to live with Temple's aunt and work on her farm.  It would have been safer to keep her home.  But what would the world have missed if she hadn't taken that chance?  We may have never gotten to know the Dr. Grandin that has inspired so many people around the world.  What will T miss if we don't carefully but intentionally expand his horizons?  

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