In January, three of the boys who had been in Tate’s Instructional Kindergarten class were moved to regular education classrooms. I don’t know much about one of the boys, but the other 2 were still receiving a few services via updated IEPs. When I ran into Geo’s mom (Geo was in Tate’s class), she was nervous, but said that the team was confident that Geo was going to be ok in a classroom of 23 kindergarteners. Geo would continue to receive speech services, but his other services were being cut. He was going full-mainstream without an aide. The classroom did not have an aide, so there were 23 students to one teacher. She said she wasn’t so sure, but well, they were the “experts”.
Last week, we had Geo over for an ABA-therapist-assisted play date. I figured it was a great way for Tate to play with a friend whom he hadn’t seen in a while. Also, since Geo had been mainstreamed (oh, what a dream!), I figured he had made significant gains and would be a good role model. When I had extended the invite, I asked about Geo, but his mom didn’t say much.
Geo arrived with his mom. Geo, making very fleeting eye-contact, blurted out a few questions about Tate’s whereabouts. I directed him to the basement where Tate and his therapist were waiting. Geo did not say goodbye to his mom or to me. He just flew downstairs, shouting for Tate.
Geo’s mom thanked me for having Geo, saying that he really was excited to play with his old friend. She hesitated, and then dove into a conversation with this statement, “So, have you seen benefits to having an Autism diagnosis?” Uh, er, um… I must have looked stunned, because she apologized for blind-siding me. I told her no apologies were necessary. I said while the diagnosis was hard to hear, we had suspected it, and since we started ABA, Tate’s progress has been amazing. Short answer: yes.
She asked if we are glad that Tate will be in Instructional First Grade. That is a mixed bag…but mostly, I answered, yes, for him, it is necessary. He still struggles in the larger groups, so he needs that space with fewer children and 3 adults to be able to work well in a school. She looked wistful. She then said that she wished that Geo had not been mainstreamed. Without the smaller class, and all of the supports that he had in place while in Instructional Kindergarten, Geo really struggled. His social skills declined. His academics declined. He started to shut down. All of that progress…gone.
She is dreading first grade for Geo. They are waiting to get him evaluated by a pediatric neurologist. She hopes that with an outside evaluation, they can get (at the least) some more services in place in the regular-ed classrooms. She said she wants him to enjoy school again, and not be sitting in the corner, with his back to the class, hands over his ears, shutting it all out. That statement made my heart ache.
The boys had a great play date. Tate was squealing with delight. He was trying to get Geo’s attention. They were laughing. When Tate’s therapist brought them upstairs so Geo could prepare to go home, she looked exhausted. She commented on their high energy. Geo’s mom came, and asked how it went. From my point-of-view, it went well. The boys played together and really ENJOYED each other’s company. Tate’s therapist gave a more professional synopsis.
She had tried to engage the boys in a more sedentary activity first, because Tate had been working on some writing programs. He was interested in Play-doh. Unfortunately, Geo was unable to attend long enough to play. Noticing Geo’s need for input, Tate’s therapist set up the obstacle course that they use for Tate’s gross motor program. Even with running the course several times, Geo still was seeking input.
Geo’s mom was grateful that Tate’s therapist was able to give a professional opinion. We discussed setting up another play date in a couple of weeks. Tate was actually excited about that. Yes, my kid, the one with social issues,HE wanted to play with his friend again. Oh-em-gee…that is heaven!
This play date helped me realize that the grass is not always greener. Hubz and I really would love for Tate to be in a regular-ed classroom. I was a bit jealous of those boys who got mainstreamed in January…I so wanted that for Tate. At that time I knew that it would have been detrimental, of course, but still…a regular ed classroom. That’s the “promised land”.
Now that I’ve heard this downside to mainstream-land, I am so much more aware of what can go wrong when children are plucked too early and transplanted without all of the right tools. For me, it was a reminder to stay the course. To fight for Tate’s rights. To fight for services and an appropriate IEP. Geo’s mom said that this has been quite the lesson on being her son’s advocate. She’s ready to battle. I let her know that I am always willing to talk, to share ideas, to listen. No one should have to go through this alone.