Preparing for High School: Update

high schoolI had heard a lot of things about special ed in our high school, the different tracks, what they can take, where they can go with the different diplomas… I wanted to meet with people who could tell me definitively. And I got some answers.

In essence, we will have to choose a track by this spring, which will determine whether or not The Boy ever goes to a four-year college. That’s a tough decision for any parent of a fourteen year old, I think. And I think if they made general ed parents do this, there might be a bit of “education reform” down here.

There is an “occupational” track, designed for kids who are cognitively impaired, and have IQs in the 50s-70s. They are taught in special ed classrooms (segregated from the rest of the gen ed population), and the coursework focuses on work experience, heavily. If we choose this path, he cannot use his diploma to ever go to a four-year college. He may also not be able to take band, depending on when the core classes are scheduled.

Then there is the “future ready” track which is the general ed curriculum. They have a special ed teacher available to be in some of the 9th and 10th grade core classrooms. There is an elective study hall that special ed kids can take to get homework help. And that’s it.

We could start him in the “future ready” and move him to the “occupational,” but we couldn’t do the opposite. It almost feels like they set them up for failure in the gen ed track with little support, and then when they fail, funnel all of the special ed kids into the “occupational” track.

Everyday, special ed kids are denied taking electives in schools across this country, simply because of their disability. But because most parents don’t care about electives, and don’t fight for their kid’s right to equal access to the curriculum, nothing is done. But this is a smaller issue.

This setup, this all-or-nothing choice we have to make… this is something else entirely. I have a friend whose son is more academically age-appropriate than mine, and he is in the “future ready” track at this high school. His teachers don’t know how to modify his assignments, and he has to stay after everyday to get help from his teachers, on top of the “study hall” he gives up an elective for, so that he can have a special ed teacher help him do his homework. Is this really all they can do? Is this really all there is?

Yep, this southern state sure has opened my eyes to the reasons people homeschool.

UPDATE: I just shared an email exchange with The Boy’s former program teacher who said that the part about never, ever being able to go to a four-year college was absolutely untrue. Good news. But makes me wonder what other information the “transition coordinator” screwed up…

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Extra-Curricular Activities and the Autistic Child

I read and shared a great article the other day, written by Laura McKenna, entitled, “Our Public Schools Must Be More Autism-Friendly — Here’s Where to Start,” and published on the Pacific Standard Magazine website.  In it, Ms. McKenna highlights ways in which schools could be more inclusive with their extra-curricular offerings.  She makes an excellent point, as may of the kids I know on the spectrum do not participate in clubs and sports, due to the level of social sophistication that is required for inclusion.  But that only allows our children partial access to everything the school experience has to offer.

The Boy and I have made the decision to continue with school band next year.  I have spoken to the band director, and we are going to take a proactive approach, and really monitor what needs to be modified and accommodated for him, even in terms of performances.  I am comfortable with that, and if I ever get uncomfortable with the situation, I can pull The Boy out and continue with private lessons, which was my intention when the whole band debacle went down this winter.  But here’s the thing: I realize now what a social thing school band is, and I understand that this may not work out for The Boy, and that’s OK.  But I still want him to belong to his school community, and if it won’t be through band, then how?

We have mostly stuck with independent stuff like surfing

We have mostly stuck with independent stuff like surfing

When he dropped him off after spring break, his dad told us all about how they played basketball, and The Boy has a great shot.  They also worked on catch, but were not as successful, and they would work on that (uh, right).  Sure, if The Boy has interest in playing sports, we could encourage it, but to what end?  School sports are also social in nature, with the necessity to read cues from teammates and opponents and to quickly interpret them and decide on a course of collective action – a tall order for someone with underdeveloped social instincts and executive processing difficulties.  So he shoots free throws by himself?  Again, how does this help him fit into his school community?

Our local Autism Society Chapter has taken on the challenge to fill this void in our community, and I applaud them for it.  They have been recognized statewide for creating a “Friends, Fun, and Birthday Club” which happens once a month to celebrate all of the kids birthdays that happen that month.  Friends, siblings, and those on the spectrum are all invited – anyone can attend, and since Birthday Parties are kind of a sore spot for the autism community, this meets a very strong need, and is quite successful.

They also have a once-per-month fundraiser at a local pizza restaurant, which has turned out to be a social gathering for the kids on the spectrum and their siblings.  They all sit at the same table, away from their parents, and they bring their DS’s and gameboys and have a good ol’ time.  It is a sight to behold, and I almost get teary-eyed watching them together.

The chapter offers monthly music and art programs for the kids to participate in, too,and again, friends, siblings, and kids on the spectrum are all welcome.

But again, this is all outside of the school community.  Inclusion needs to happen outside of the classroom, as well, and it is high time our schools begin to recognize the void in our kids lives.  Yes, we want to allow them the comfort of being alone, but as adults on the spectrum will tell you, they also want to have friends and be a part of the larger group.  We have to help them do that, and developing programs to address those needs is long past overdue.

I’m off to share this article with my son’s principal…