Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Secret Lives of our ASD Mainstreamed Kids

There are 3 kids with an Autism Spectrum Disorder in Leo's 2nd grade mainstreamed public classroom. Leo, Aspie Girl, and PDD Boy. They sound like superheroes, don't they? Three out of 22 kids. This, my friends, is the new normal. This doesn't include the other proud owners of IEPs for other disorders or delays.

Leo's teacher, his peers, and the parents do not know about his Autism label.
The para that allegedly assists Aspie Girl doesn't know either. The majority of parents believe paras are there to help the teacher, like an assistant teacher. They must believe our district "gave" our class a para out of kindness or something. Like there's money for THAT. Moms look at it like positive status. An extra that a fellow mom may lose out on. "My class doesn't have a para this year" a fellow mom says gloomily, while another mom perks up to say how wonderful "her" para is, and how she helps her son all the time. What about OUR kids? The reason they are there?

Leo reports how the para is the one that checks his weekly sentences. How is it that I know her handwriting and not the teachers? Leo reports the para checks the mail, makes copies, doing all that assistant stuff while Aspie Girl loses out on any natural opportunities for learning.

Naturally, Aspie Girl is a bright girl and friendly. She has several friends that I see her play with during recess. Aspie Girl, according to Leo, is a "help needed" kid, a kid that "needs extra help". She makes her daily trip down to the Assisted Learning Room and attendes "lunch bunch" with other help needed kids in 2nd grade.

I assume Aspie Girl's program is crappy, because not once have I seen the para do anything for her, other than "watch her", like glorified babysitting. No facilitation, no explanations, during recess or at a day long field I attended.

During this beach field trip, the kids gathered around a naturalist that was holding up sea creatures while giving a talk on them. I see Aspie Girl off to the side, twirling her long piano fingers into the sand, not able to listen to the talk. I could only listen through her. I heard the wind, the cars, the other groups that were nearby. All distractions that kept her from learning.

Her para was listening and watching other kids, occasionally glancing towards Aspie Girl, making sure she didn't "wander off". In my mind, I dream I slap her around, shouting at the para and the teacher. I order them to move Aspie Girl next to the naturalist so she could see and hear the talk. So she could learn. After all, why did she take the 45 minute bus ride? She could've twirled her fingers in the sand at school.

What will the para say at her next IEP? Aspie Girl is a good student. She's doing well. Of course, because she is not a behavior problem. Detached doesn't cause problems for other students or for the teacher? Will the para say she enjoyed the field trip? Would the para have behaved differently if she knew I was a special ed parent?

I know about PDD Boy too. I could just tell, and then a mutual mom friend had mentioned it in conversation. We've never been in the same class until this year. I thought here's my chance to get to know the family and see what happens. Maybe I'll have a friend!

PDD Boy's mom doesn't know I know. He is "doing well" too. He is "doing so well" that he doesn't need a para! Surprise! And what did HE do during the talk with the naturalist? He was next to the naturalist, a good spot. Phew, I thought. He began talking to himself, humming a bit when the naturalist was talking. The teacher quickly removed him and put him towards the back of the group since he was distracting the naturalist. Oh good, so both kids are not learning. Nice.

We've gotten together with PDD Boy, a play date at his house. I hope one day we can talk about their shared label. I don't know the mom very well, but my hope is that one day I can trust her and she can trust me. She's kind of quiet, and when I put out feelers, they were rejected. I use my nephews as the stories, and I also openly share that Leo had a speech delay. No luck.

I feel like a bit of an ass, but I don't know what else to do. I can't disclose Leo's label without knowing what I'm getting into. The mom hasn't been to our local support group. That was my hope. She doesn't advocate for him overtly. I think she does the school services and that's it. Fortunately, our district has an excellent ABA provider now. She could get great services. I wish I could talk to her! I wish I could tell her how the teacher is handling his issues (or not handling them I should say). I'll have PDD Boy over soon - Leo really likes him and his twin. I really want Leo to have several friends on the spectrum. They'll need each other.

I feel for PDD Boy. I envision him in a couple excellent social skills groups I know of, with some terrific children that would really challenge him. But Leo comes first.


A Bishops wife said...

I am considering changing my major to education from criminal justice. It would take me about 3 extra semesters. It is just that, well being a mom with two kids on the spectrum and being a bit "Fed up" with the school system I think...maybe they could use me. I have been thinking that would be better to try and "change things" instead of complaining I always do. The Illinois programs do not offer much for my kids. Generally.

Steve said...

It certainly seems like you're doing all the right things - just keep "being a friend" and eventually she will trust you enough to either share her concerns about her child, or actually open up and acknowledge that she should be concerned.
I've found that parents in that frame of mind won't/can't be forced into listening; they need to arrive at the conclusion on their own, even if they are unknowingly nudged by good people such as yourself.

Ashley loves Leo said...

Hey Bishop's Wife. Like your education major idea. Us parents could really use a pro like you. Nothing better than an Autism mom in my book. Now look who's discriminating! (ha ha, me)

Thanks for your good advice Steve (and compliment btw). You're right - I'll just hang in there and see what happens.

Laura said...

Wow! That's disheartening. We're trying to figure out what to do next year. The special ed director wants us to repeat Transition Kindergarten next year -- the class that seems fine, but with the teacher I really don't like. I talked to another mom whose son was in the transition class last year, who also had problems with the teacher. Her son is in a contained class now, but loves it. Who knows, maybe I can find a transition class at another school that might have a teacher who knows how to deal with special ed kids. The paraeducator in the class is great, at least!

I agree, that hopefully PDD Boy's mom will come to you. I really haven't clicked with any of the moms in Hutton's class. One seemed promising until she started gushing about how much they love the teacher. Huh, are we talking about the same, distant, cold woman who sends insulting emails? Hmm.

Mom without a manual said...


I am a new visitor and wanted to tell you that your post hit home for me. My son, JP, is getting ready for Kindergarten next year. So as you know we are in the "placement vortex" right now. I am 99% sure we will be going general ed classroom but our district is stingy with the para support ('ll never happen unless I threaten lawsuit).

I will definitely be visiting your blog now that I found you!

Anonymous said...

Again, your child had wonderful programming and everyone else's is crap. You really are competitive when it comes to this. I thought your child was recovered? Is that not enough for you or do you have to scope out and critique every child and parent of that child that you come across? I can't imagine parents tolerating that and I am sure it is not an effective way to get them to listen to you.

Anonymous said...

Yes, and pity all the autistic children that don't have a parent as perfect and as "expert" as you. Please.....I can't imagine you being an effective advocate at all with this attitude.

Ashley loves Leo said...

Hi Laura - Good luck with finding a good transition class with a good teacher. It's so hard! It seems like more and more teachers are learning about our children, so hopefully they will come your way. And your friend too! Our kids deserve it, and it makes me crazy that so few of our kids get what they need.

Hi manual mom! Thanks for your kind words, and I really love your blog name. If we only had one! Anyway, good luck with your time in the crossroads. We can only make the best choice we can make with the info and choices we have at the time, right? And we can always make changes on the fly.

I had to threaten due process every year we had services. Isn't that crazy? We only had to really do it one year, thank god. We had no choice since we couldn't afford to pay privately.

Good to hear from you Anon. Is this Puerto Rico anon? I agree, it's so unfair that most children do not get the services they need. And no, it is "not enough" that Leo is where he is. It'll never be enough until our education system takes care of ALL our children. Not until all parents have access to the services they think their children require