Thursday, August 10, 2006

school daze

Well, here's my little man all ready to go off to start school. Public school, no less. As a parent with a strong belief not only in homeschooling, but radical unschooling, this was possibly my most traumatic moment in our journey to date.

Fortunately, Jacob loved it. His teacher and classroom paraprofessionals were wonderful, his SLP was a dear, and the entire school (for the most part) bent over backwards for him. He was in a regular pre-K classroom, and although there were other kids with special needs there, he was the only child with Autism. (Due to the fact that all of the Autistic kids were usually shipped to the other side of town, where the elementary school was developing an Autism program, something we specifically did NOT want him in.) As a result, the professionals that worked with him had little to no experience working with a child with Autism. And we used that to our advantage -- we instructed them in how we wanted them to interact with him, how to manage his "special needs", and it forced them to keep us more informed than we would have been by professionals trained in working with Autistic kids. This was an ENORMOUS advantage as we started our RDI program, educating his educators right along with ourselves. His SLP even came to his RDA (Relationship Development Assessment) with us, at the invitation of our RDI program consultant.

So he attended school daily during regular class hours (8:10 to 10:50AM) and participated (as best he could) in the regular curriculum. He did have a twice-weekly pull-out for SLT, but even with that, most of the work the SLP did with him was in the regular classroom. The Map Man dropped him off in the morning on his way to work, and Zoo Boy and I picked him up at the end of his school day. On days that Zoo Boy fell asleep in the car, I would pull into the parking lot early to watch his session on the playground. The first few months I cringed as I watched him dance around the periphery of the activity, flapping his hands and spinning, as Autistic looking as could be. He also spent a couple of months hiding underneath his teacher's legs whenever the Kindergarteners came out to join the pre-K class. But I came to appreciate these moments as a comparison point when we started into our RDI program and started seeing the dramatic changes in Jacob right before our eyes. By the time we pulled Jacob from school (a year and a half later), he was a fully participating member of the class, in the center of all the play, looking as appropriate as any other child there. Nobody on the sidelines would have suspected him as having Autism, I'm sure of it. Well, unless they noticed he was wearing a diaper....

So, if he loved school, and was doing "well" there, and we were seeing progress with him, why did we pull him out? Well, I simply came to my senses. Once I saw what RDI could do for him, I wanted more time to work on it with him, and school was cutting deeply into our RDIable time. We had to get up, rush to get dressed and out of the house, then he was actually AT school for almost 3 hours, then we had to drive home, and then he needed a couple hours of "down time" to get over having to hold himself together at school. That pretty much shot the better part of the day. Plus, even his SLP told me that there wasn't much she could "do" for him, and that all the incredible improvement we'd been seeing with his language was due solely to RDI, not to anything she was doing with him. (In fact, she wasn't even doing SLT with him anymore, she was working on reading comprehension.) We were also desperately in need of good OT services, something that the school refused to give us, seeing as they had an OT on staff (albeit one that wasn't trained in Sensory Integration).

Sending him on to Kindergarten next year certainly made no sense whatsoever -- just as my child was starting to blossom socially, I didn't want someone (a teacher or some like person) stepping in and telling him not to talk to the kid next to him! So we initially decided to let him finish out his last year of pre-K, and then just not send him back the following year. But I ended up getting impatient with our slow RDI progress and I pulled him in April of this year. I don't think it's coincidence that the RDI stage we were working on and "stuck" in since the start of the school year was mastered within the first month of withdrawing him. He also started asking his first "why" questions, something the SLP had been trying to get him to do for the past year and a half. And not sending him to school freed up our schedule to pursue Sensory Integration Therapy with a fantastic private OT.

I don't think being in school was doing him any direct harm, but it certainly wasn't doing him much good. I could provide better playmate choices by selecting locations he'd meet up with a variety of developmental-stage-appropriate kids, as opposed to being forced into a classroom with the same 18 kids of like age. He was already way beyond his class in reading (around a 2nd grade level when we left school, even further along now) and math skills (can add and subtract strings of 3 -- maybe more, I've never tested it to find out). I didn't see any reason for him to be working on pre-reading and counting skills when what we needed to work on was Autism remediation! Posted by Picasa


At 9:12 AM, Anonymous kyra said...

yay for homeschooling the RDI way! and yay for all the huge progress jacob has already made!

At 4:33 PM, Blogger Frog's mom said...

Hooray for Jacob! How exciting to see him progress :0)

We are a DIR (Floortime) family and will probably incorporate RDI techniques when we get a better handle on little frog's apraxia.

I've had the same concerns with school. We have an autism pre-school that was divided into two classes last year so little frog had a class of 5 students with 4 paras and a special ed teacher. He loves school, and it has helped with his ability to tolerate kids, noise, lights, etc. But it takes away from floortime.

I agree with your concern that a teacher in a conventional classroom might inadvertantly shut down progress you are making by discouraging the talking. We've had issues in our district with teacher's putting the young non-verbal kids' PECS books out of reach until snack-time (the time they designated as PECS training time). One parent finally asked them if they planned to tape the other kids' mouths shut until "talking time". Yikes!

At 10:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I completely agree with every single thing you said!! We pulled our 3 year old out after only 2 months because of all the same reasons, but also because our teacher was completely unexperienced, but not willing to admit it or take suggestions!
A great book you might like is called "Better Late than early". The authors are christians and I think you are a little turned off by that from your previous posts, but the philosophy is right on and brings up some amazing points about education! Also, an article in "newsweek" called "The new first grade" is very interesting! I'm not meaning to give you un-asked for advice, but i'm getting so much out of reading your post, i felt i had to give SOMETHING back!


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