Wow, what a years’ time and a completely different mainstream teacher can make in a “Back to School Night” experience.
To protect the not so innocent, I am going to just call last year’s mainstream teacher Miss O., don’t let the “Miss” fool you she is far from young and needs to retire, IMHO. I am also going to protect the innocent and call the kindergarten teacher Mr. K and this year’s teacher Ms. C, but don’t let the Ms. fool you either, she is not that old, she graduated Carlsbad High in 2003. (I know most of you already think I am prejudiced just on that basis, but she really and truly is the real deal!!!)
Let’s rewind, back a few years to make sure you really get the significance of today, Austin’s 9th birthday and “Back to School Night” for his 2nd grade classroom.
In kindergarten, Austin was the test case for mainstreaming the “nonverbal” child who was of course nowhere close to working academically with the class. I honestly believe the team was politely trying to show us he could not handle it, but they gave it the best team effort of saying we could try it with the kindergarteners, since his goals were closer to what they would be doing academically. I think what the team missed was my wanting Austin in this class was not my want; it was really and truly what I saw as what was appropriate for him. I would sit with him at football games and I would see he would watch Emily and the other children. He would watch so intently and want to play with the kids but he just did not know what to do to play or to get the children to play with him.
Back to School Night kindergarten, we had walked in and I think we actually surprised Mr. K when he realized we were at “HIS” Back to School night. No one had really given him the heads up that a) Ed and I were PITA’s and B) we were expecting real mainstreaming, even if for our child meant the socialization part of mainstream!!!
When we walked into “Back to School Night” he was shocked. I think he thought we would go to the special education classroom for “Back to School Night”. After the normal talk about how his classroom worked, he spoke to us personally and explained why he did not have the 1st day picture of Austin up or the leaf project that had not been sent home, which he quickly fixed by handing one to us and promised they would be up until the end of September. He also explained how they were still working on all the details since Austin was the ”first” nonverbal child with Autism he had and that no one had given him direction on what was expected of him.
Bottom line Mr. K. made the effort; he made us feel welcomed and wanted, even though Mr. K told us numerous times he was inexperienced and new at this and unsure what our expectations were. We walked out of Mr. K’s class that next summer with numerous kids knowing and loving Austin. Mr. K did his part and we would see peers in the community and they would all run up and talk to Austin, even though Austin was still unsure what to do.
Last year, we walked into Miss O’s 1st grade classroom hopeful and full of happiness that Austin was going to mainstream again part of the day. I think we may have actually walked in with rose colored glasses, because I guess we both thought, that maybe Mr. K or the special education teacher from the year before would have given Miss O and Liz the new special education teacher the heads up that a)Ed and I were PITA’s and B) we were expecting real mainstreaming. (Between you and me, I think the only memo given was that we were PITA’s and they were not saying that affectionately.)
We walked into the mainstream classroom on “Back to School Night” and tried to find Austin’s desk, there was not one, because he did not have one. After listening to Miss O speak for 45 minutes on her class and how she does things, we started to explore the classroom and look for Austin’s colored person the children of the class had done, Austin’s pictures, or that Austin had even been in the classroom and that the teacher of the class actually felt he was a part of the class. We found NO clues of any of the above mention items, in our minds Austin had never been part of this class and WAS NOT part of this class. As we were waiting to speak to the teacher we were chatting with another set of parents we knew. Finally Miss O came to speak to us and the other parents, I inquired about why Austin did not have any of the above mentioned items, and she curtly told me she did not have time. When I inquired if she might be able to at least take Austin’s face picture and put one on the bodies the kids had colored so the other kids would know he was part of the class, she again curtly said she was very busy and when she had time she MIGHT download her camera, she might get be able to get to it. (Luckily for her, by this point 5 years into the Special Ed game, Ed had taught me to at least try to bite my tongue or take her head off, and I was partly in shock that someone would just come out and be that rude about having a special education child in their classroom. She was also very luck because Ed had just had his tonsils recently, because he was livid!!! Normally when we are upset the letters to the district come from me, this particular letter came from Ed the teacher and father of Austin and stressed how inappropriately she had acted.)
Unbeknownst to me at the time, the non-special education parents we had been speaking to had a conversation about this after they left the class. Husband, who really had no knowledge of Austin expect a kid named Austin had Autism and was his son M’s friend from kindergarten, says to his wife. “Isn’t Austin in the class? Why didn’t he have a desk or any of the other things M had?” Wife says to husband, “Yes Austin is in that class and when I was asking Miss O why Austin did not have a desk or name tag, Miss O said she was sure where he would be in the class or what he would be doing.” My point of this part of the story is even the dad of the mainstream class could see all the glaring issues with this teacher and her classroom. So when the wrongs were abundantly clear to Ed and me, I know for a fact it was not over reacting, even though we may have;-). The mom later told me she felt like the teacher had with her actions and word said Austin was not a part of the class; she just had to have him in the class.
To make sure the story is clear, in both Kindergarten and 1st it took over a month to get Austin to even step foot into the classroom, so he also missed all the bonding and friendships that are made that can only be made in the beginning of the year. They were only mainstreaming him at lunch, which was not at all what we wanted.
I want to make it clear Liz, our wonderful and awesome special education teacher, was NOT our special education teacher in Kindergarten, and had JUST walked into this situation new in 1st grade. The plus was she had been our districts NPA ABA supervisor and was familiar with Austin, just not with the mainstreaming or the mainstream teachers.
So poor Liz, I walk into speak to her at the end of Back to School night of Austin’s 1st grade year frustrated. I did not scream, I did not yell. I did not even really cry. The tears that fell were tears of frustration. I explained calmly to her all the issues I had with Miss O and how these were the days that as a parent of a child with Autism you truly know what you are missing. I will say honestly Austin is my 4th child, I really already knew what I was missing, but I think these are the types of moments that parents of a 1st child who have a disability truly get mugged by the disability. I just got a little punch in the chest and the wind knocked out of me, but most parents wake up days later from this type of moment still dazed and confused and ANGRY!!!!
We walked out of 1st grade knowing Austin had made progress, knowing that he still had mainstream kids greeting him out of school and Austin demonstrating those skills in public, but still not sure that Miss O didn’t only know his name because of the letter the special education director got after back to school night. I am sure Miss O will never forget us, or Austin but I am sure she learned nothing from us and is happy we are now an almost distant memory.
Fast forward to today, to Austin’s 9th birthday and “Back to School” night. We walked in, immediately found Austin’s desk. When the teacher came over she said “hi” to Austin, he responded appropriately with a smile on his face. She told me how excited she was to meet us, and how Austin was already fitting in with the class (which he started attending on the very 1st day of school) and how UNPROMPTED, when his device failed he waved goodbye to the class unprompted to the class as he left his time in mainstream, earlier in the week. Ms. C said she was very excited when she was told by Beth (our wonderful 1:1) that we had been working on that skill with Austin for 3 years, I had the awesome moment to say to her,” no we have been working on that skill since he was 3 years old.” After I left I realized that is not even a skill we have been working on, we have been worked 6 years saying “hi” and OMG he said “goodbye” UMPROMPTED!!!! We just started working on that, and OMG this is huge!!!! What a great birthday gift to MOMMY and it is wasn’t even her birthday, it was Austin’s!!!
As I close this out tonight, my birthday wish for Austin and his friends with Autism and other disabilities, is to have PITA’s for parents, to have parents who listen to their guts and push beyond what anyone else thinks their “Austin” can do, because parents ALWAYS know best. I want them to have special education teacher’s like Liz and Michelle who believe as much as the special education parents do that our kids with IEP’s can and will do this, and I want them to find a Ms. C, who is the mainstream teacher who is willing to step outside her comfort zone and make it happen for a kid with special needs! If every mainstream teacher took this approach the likelihood of every child with Autism or a disability getting a job and being a productive part of society would sky rocket. The studies show for every $1 you spend on early education you save $7 special education and jail time. Our kids with special needs need as much independence and socialization, training, and as much services as possible when young because the studies show every dollar spent saves $7 dollars down the road. Be fiscally responsible sooner then later! You as taxes payers will spend for my child and all like him, but where do you want to spend it? I am voting on making him a tax payer and not a tax taker.
My goals for Austin are the same as for my other 3 children. I want him to be a tax paying citizen, I want him to be a productive part of society that is not dependent on society or at least the least amount of dependent, I don’t care if he the president of Oakley (a very Autism friendly company, that supports Austin’s favorite Autism charity TACANow.org) or a greeter at Wal-Mart, I want him to be independent and happy. The only way to get these kids who are independent, is to give our kids what they need is time and money and that does not even just apply to kids with Autism. It takes a village to raise a child, it a takes a nation to raise a child with Autism. With the numbers being 1:110 we need this nation to step and fund the services kids need. Put the money behind IDEA to make our kids productive parts of society who are not dependent on it.
As always thanks for reading and PITAup and change the life of a child with Autism, the life you change might just be your own!!!
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