The Autism Classroom Offer.

In the dusty recesses of my mind, a little voice wonders how my son is viewed by the school district.  As a parent of an only child with ASD, I have no way to gauge what’s behind the curtain hidden from my view, inside the non-IEP meetings of the school district about my son.  I have no idea how the teachers talk about or view my child between themselves.

And I wonder.  Not in the way of pre-judging and expecting the worst.  But in the way of a mother concerned for providing my child with the best education, the most respect, and the best methods by which he can learn and develop and grow.  In the end, parents are the ones who must ultimately decide what is best for our children.

I remember when I first began my interactions with the public school district which funds part of my son’s “free and appropriate education.”  I was advised that there is a special class for autistic children that would be “just perfect” for my son and I was encouraged to go and check it out.  The school administrators praised the teacher as one of the best.  With an open mind, I took my son to check out the school.

When I arrived, there was a man who met me there named George.  George purported to be a facilitator between the school district and special needs parents which never made any sense to me.  He was helping me? I felt like he knew very little about autistic children, was awkwardly polite, and out of touch.  He seemed like a host at a restaurant trying to seat me at a specific table as directed by the school district.

I was walked back to a trailer in the very back of an old school about 10 miles from where we live.  The trailer had a ramp and sat in the middle of a very hot asphalt lot.  Outside of the trailer was a play structure, also in the hot sun.  Not a tree in sight.  The ramp was surrounded by a railing and dead-ended into a doorway with the door propped open and a baby gate blocking the entrance.  This was where the autism class took place.

George's height next to my son...

Now, George, our host for this visit, is a very tall man.  My son had never been to this school and never met George before.  We had just barely stepped into the world of ABA and I was not at all familiar with the idea of preparing my son for new experiences.

George decided he would lead us into the classroom.  I told him that he should not go first and step out of the way.  I advised him there was no way my son was going into that strange classroom because it was claustrophobic for him especially with a tall stranger standing there.  He didn’t get it.

Of course, we had a behavior.  My son dug in his heels and started to scream.  As politely as I could, I told George to back off.  (Okay – so maybe it was not as politely as I could).  He finally moved out of the way.  After a little talking, I got my son inside.

Now, I would not call me the cleanest or neatest person in the world – by far.  But what I saw when I walked into in the trailer, surprised me.  It  was cluttered, divided with 4 foot tall cubicle walls, stuffed with old toys (and I mean toys from the 60s) and games were stacked and stuffed into and on a shelf, looking like they would all fall off.

There was a swing hanging from a metal bar in a tiny corner.  It was one of those fabric swings in which the child is completely wrapped up.  (That was the first time I’d seen one – my son had not yet started Occupational Therapy).  The swing was in such a small place that there was no room to move it.  Next to it, was a small trampoline.  The trampoline was set under part of the hanging bar for the swing such that if my son actually jumped on it, he would hit his head on the bar above.

The Fabric Swing

There were three other children in the “class.”  One we never saw because he was wrapped in the swing.  He was nonverbal.  The others were pretty much non-verbal as well.  The children were all beautiful but my son was always echolalic.  He needed to model language from other children his age to progress to communicative language.  That was not going to happen here.  This was not a match.

The trailer was crowded with junk.  Who could study amidst all this crap? I couldn’t believe it was actually being used for children with sensory issues.  The set up was physically unsafe.

Needless to say, I politely declined their invitation to integrate my son there.   When I expressed, in a detailed email, the many physical dangers, I was reassured repeatedly that the class was moving out of the trailer in the fall and would be in a larger room.  We did not go back.

So, back to my initial question.  What was in the minds of the school administrators, who had not yet even minimally interacted with my son to think this would be an ideal environment for him?  Well, it was within their budget.  It was labeled an “autism” classroom.  End of story.

The school district has learned a little bit more about me since that day and I about them.  But this was my introduction to their attempt to provide my son with an “appropriate” education.  It did teach me one thing.

Don’t trust school administrators and their facilitators.  Trust your gut as a parent.  You are the one person you know will look out for the best interest of your child.

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About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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14 Responses to The Autism Classroom Offer.

  1. Flannery says:

    This is very true. We often have to “fight” for the appropriate services because they don’t want to stay within their budget. The classroom sounds appalling, you made the right decision. It’s better that they know right up front who they’re dealing with, it may save some time later when they try to jerk you around.

    • solodialogue says:

      I love your take on things! You give me strength – in your own way… The classroom was appalling. How they could try to sell me that it was “perfect” was just unfathomable.

  2. Amanda says:

    Just reading this made me ill, I can only imagine how you must have felt being there personally. You are right they don’t always know better!

  3. Ugh, that sounds awful. I’m surprised poor Tootles would even go in such a clutter, claustrophobic place- I’m sure it was awful for both of you. That description just made me so sad for the three kids in there whose parents either didn’t no bettter or didn’t care enough to fight for more.

    It’s funny you write that last paragraph today- I just talked with someone at my son’s present school. She told me that the classroom (which was perfect in every way) we have set up for him to be in next year might not exist anymore, according to rumors. So I have a call in and am waiting to hear back from the preschool special needs coordinator…. How can they change our agreement after multiple classroom visits with and without A, at least 10 e-mails (which I have saved!), several phone conversations, and an IEP meeting. They do NOT have our best interest in mind. I’m so exhausted from all of this and he’s only 3- hasn’t even been a public school student for a year yet. 😦

    • solodialogue says:

      Oh trust me, I was pulling him in. He was not a happy boy. I felt bad for those three boys. I have no idea why their parents/caregivers would have thought this place was acceptable. It was all kinds of not acceptable.

      How could that class suddenly “not exist” for AJ? You will get exhausted and then – in the morning – you will be renewed and continue the fight. It’s just how it is and what we do for love. You are an amazing mom – I have no doubts that you will get AJ what he needs! ❤

  4. Lizbeth says:

    It’s the sad truth. As a parent, we are the only ones looking out for our kids. Don’t get me wrong there are some wonderful teachers, aids, PT’s etc. but within the school district they are financially tied to their budgets and are limited with what they can do. Sigh.

    • solodialogue says:

      You said it. You did have a great teacher for A this year. The district itself is always going to be a struggle for us. Our kids are lucky to have mamas that fight! 🙂

  5. Grace says:

    At first I was like “Yay! An autism-specific class!!” (We don’t have this.) Then I was like “Ugh. This is abysmal.”

    It reminded me of Laura Shumaker’s book, when she was trying to find a residential placement for her son. On the advice of her lawyer (ahem), she visited every facility the school district suggested, which were all wrong for one reason or another. She was then able to make the argument about WHY they were all wrong, after seeing them firsthand. Eventually she got what she wanted for her son.

    • solodialogue says:

      What? There’s always 100 bad lawyers for one good one… I cannot even believe there is a place like this and that the district was trying to sell me on it like The Emperor’s New Clothes! I guess, as long as you actually go see them, you are a witness to whether they are right or not. The real question here is how and when do you get time to read?! 😉

  6. eof737 says:

    The description of that space really distressed me… Why would they think it’s okay for autistic children to be in such a chaotic, unsafe space…. Follow your guts as a parent. I completely agree!

  7. It makes me so sad and angry that there are places like this that are supposed to educate our children. We’re very lucky: our school district is very wealthy, and the programs they offer are on the whole exceptional. Every child deserves that, no matter where they live. Having said that, Pudding thrives in her self-contained classroom at this point. She is so overwhelmed by other kids that she can’t possibly learn from them. Mainstreaming isn’t right for her at this point.

    • solodialogue says:

      It is a very sad situation. I’m angry that they actually thought I might accept this. I think if there was a viable self-contained classroom, I might have second thoughts. However, given my choices, integration and private schools are the only and the best options.

  8. OMum22 says:

    Awful, awful place. My heart goes out to the children that were in that class. Perhaps their parents didn’t know of or couldn’t find any other options? Perhaps they couldn’t afford anything different? There was a study done at York University to find out what factors resulted in the most positive outcomes for ASD kids. What they discovered was that where someone lived, public vs. private, mainstreamed vs. special needs, etc – none of the factors mattered anywhere near as much as whether or not the child had a strong advocate. A parent, teacher, social worker – someone who was vocal and active and involved. I found that very reassuring, and extremely motivating. One of the challenges parents of ASD kids face is that there’s so much power taken away from us by this disorder – there was nothing we could do to prevent it and there’s nothing we can do to ‘cure’ it. So knowing that data supports the fact that we can make a huge difference for the better by being advocates for our kids – that’s empowering! 🙂

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