We moved into our new house earlier this year, but the boys are just moving into their new schools this month. Although Nick and Gabe have been placed in their new schools, and will complete their second week in those classrooms tomorrow, Matthew has yet to be placed in a classroom. Instead, we have done dozens of hours of testing and meetings, which culminated in the IEP/Placement meeting yeterday.
After 3 hours in the meeting, I agreed to check out the ‘HFA/Aspergers’ classroom at a different elementary school….but I was hesitant. And I told everyone that.
The staff I have worked with at our local school, the school Nick has been placed at already, has been wonderful. From the Principal, to the ST/OT, the school psychologist and his assistant, to the office staff, and Librarian, everyone has been terrific. But today, I met with the majority of those staff members, plus the teacher for the suggested placement and a representative from the district. I gotta say, I was less than impressed.
I was first taken aback that neither of them seemed able to give a clear definition or explanation of the program. I realized this was a pilot program going into the meeting, and that in it’s first year it would obviously have some….bugs. But, my challenge was if no one knows what the program is intended to look like, does that make it a program, or just a theory they are putting into practice with a small group of guinea-pig kids? So, I asked more questions…
As my direct and specific questions were met with vague answers and then finally some specific examples, I quickly became worried. I expressed my concern that the placement didn’t ‘feel right’ or intuitively ‘make sense’ during the meeting, then on two different phone calls after the meeting, and specifically emphasized that I’m concerned about any teacher who views children in the way this program’s teacher does, probably shouldn’t be teaching children with (or without) autism. It was suggested that perhaps I am putting too much emphasis on the program teacher using the ‘wrong’ words during our meeting. I was assured that the teacher approaches behavior modification and social education in the same way I do, and shares my view that ‘Children do well when they CAN, not when they WANT to,’ so the teacher just needs the chance to better explain herself. Which we are scheduled to do on Monday. No, not this Monday, next Monday after Spring Break.
I tried to accept it. But by the time I was home, and my brain went over the conversation again, the red flags I heard got bigger…and bigger. I called some personal friends and resources, and confirmed what I suspected: This wasn’t the program for my son. And then I knew there was no reason to hear the explanation or visit the new classroom on any Monday.
I bet you’re curious as to what was said, right? Of course you are! Here are a few summaries of the conversations that sent up the ‘red flags’ – see how many ‘red flag’ words you find in them – you know, words that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up should you hear them being said in the context of your child from his/her teacher, and confirm that the person you are talking to is not familiar with the autism community. Yeah, those words. Ready? GO!
Me: Can you tell me how the program works? What is the basic structure?
District Rep: The kids come and check into the room and set daily goals, then head out to the GenEd classroom they’re assigned to…
Me: They transition to morning routine twice? How is it that they don’t miss the morning routine in their GenEd classroom that way?
District Rep: Well, that’s a good question, I’m not sure…
Me: It reminds me more of Coaching Club, something my oldest participated in at his last school, but they met before school started since transitions are so challenging for children on the spectrum; I can’t imagine Matthew would be able to jump into a routine after it already started…
District Rep: Well, that’s a good point, maybe that’s how it works, I’m not sure.
Me: Can you give me a specific example of how the kids in this program are working on their behaviors?
Teacher: Ok, sure, there is one boy that makes noises during class which is disruptive, and often attention seeking, so if he makes a noise, I put a tally mark on the paper on his desk [she motions like she is doing this] and he knows that’s his warning. If he makes another one, I mark it down again and he loses a privilege He never loses his privilege entirely, but if he can’t stop making the noises he would get a less preferred privilege instead of the one that he would really prefer…
Me: [LONG lecture about Collaborative Problem Solving, the purpose and value of simming, sensory issues, ineffectiveness of the approach and a general discussion of my intense annoyance that anyone – let alone this teacher – would use the word ‘attention seeking’.]
Teacher (and all staff members): Oh, well that is not how we have to do it for Matthew, it is totally individualized based on each student’s needs.
Me: Not the point.
….fast forward through 2 more hours of this meeting, which were focused on Matthew’s evaluation results and IEP creation, to me at home, going over my notes and reading the flyer they provided me with on the program which I had yet to read in its entirety. *Note here that the teacher created the flyer, so these are her words (I am intentionally not editing for spelling or grammar; it was written by a teacher after all . Keep up your ‘red flag’ word search.
The LIFE Program – “Learning Independence, Fostering Excellence” – a behavioral based program aimed at promoting students’ success in school and LIFE
The LIFE program is a highly structured district program. The goal of this program is to meet the diverse needs of children who have the ability to access a general education curriculum (with modifications and accommodations), but whose history of frequency and intensity of behaviors, as a result of their disability, impedes their success in a general education classroom. These students may have a diagnosis of autism, however it is not a prerequisite for placement in the LIFE program.
An integral part of this program is the emphasis placed on monitoring behavior, teaching appropriate skills, as well as working to extinguish or get rid of inappropriate behaviors. Students in this program will receive daily social skills instruction in the form of social skills groups as well as incidental or ‘in the moment’ teaching of appropriate social skills across settings
. The LIFE program strives to foster excellence by systematically and directly teaching students how to be successful in both school and life.
There you have it, a clear, concise well written explanation of the program….oh, no, wait, that’s just more confusing and offensive.
So what’s your red flag word count? Here were the words that boiled my blood:
Transitions (as in multiple and unnecessary)
There were many more than these, definitely the LARGER concepts are most concerning, but just the use of these terms sent my intuition into overdrive. So, needless to say, Matthew won’t be attending that program.
But, I still have to attend that Monday meeting to discuss this with them; I’ll update as soon as I know more…