You see, since the last time I wrote, school has begun. Ballerina and Music Man have started kindergarten. Music Man is in a similar setting to what he's used to.....a group special education classroom with group activities and learning. Ballerina has joined a general education kindergarten class, after coming from a one-on-one ABA-based preschool setting. And we've been watching her learn to acclimate to this new environment.
I was so nervous going into the first day of school. Ballerina is a handful for anyone who she hasn't already sized up. We are very fortunate......her teacher has the well-earned reputation of being the firm kindergarten teacher that we know (from experience) that she needs. But that same teacher is also responsible for 16 other kindergarten students, and kindergarten is a HUGE milestone for any child. Even if they have been going to full-day day care from the time they were 6 weeks old, in day care, there is a great deal of play time. Not in full-day kindergarten. Kindergarten around here is what I think of as first grade for my generation. By the end of the school year, these children must be able to read and write, they must be able to do some basic arithmetic.....or else they haven't met their requirements. Most children come into kindergarten with some (if not all) of these skills. Ballerina is in that group (she can read quite fluently, although there is an issue with her comprehensive skills). We believe this contributed to her placement into the general education classroom setting.
Since school began on August 27, we have been seeing quite a few issues that concern me. She is slower than her classmates at following the class rules and seems to spend time every day in "Time Out". Most days, this simply translates to her taking a moment to collect herself before she follows a requirement laid out by the teacher. Her refusal to cooperate lands her in time out, because as we have told the teacher, she needs to be taught that she cannot dictate the actions but must follow the teacher's instructions.
But at what point are we wrong?
I believe that children should be pushed, but there is a fine line of when you need to simply lay off. Have we crossed that line here? Are we expecting too much of her? Was she placed in general ed because they didn't want her in the same classroom as her twin brother?
When I sat in that placement meeting at the end of last year, it was made very clear to me that general ed was DEFINITELY where she belonged, but we all understood that it was going to take time for her to acclimate to the new setting and new requirements. That has certainly shown itself to be true. She has never been sent to the principal's office, but when I was in the building doing something for the PTA (copying the bi-monthly newsletter), I heard her crying as I was leaving. Not just crying, but screaming. She was exclaiming, "No, I don't WANT to!". I don't know exactly what she was referring to -- it could have simply been about another trip to Time Out. But I am pretty sure I heard someone take her into the hall to talk with her. Since I would have been visible, I left at that point, making sure I didn't interfere with the school's authority in Ballerina's eyes. But I have to wonder ... is this something that happens every day? What does that do to the perceptions of the other children in that classroom, who will be her classmates all the way through high school? Are we handicapping her future in order to give her that boost in the beginning of her elementary school education?
I have been taught that, as a parent, my number one responsibility to my children is to do what I can to help them to live independent lives. But when special needs come into play, things have to change. How much? I won't be available to take care of either Ballerina or Music Man all their lives and Big Brother may or may not be able to take on the responsibility. They are both bright and are probably considered by many to be high-functioning, even though their diagnosis has never been HFA (High Functioning Autism). They MAY be able to live full and independent lives and I have to prepare them for it. And learning how to function in society is a key part of that.
And that's what I'm trying to do. I just hope I'm not pushing too hard too fast.
Ilene is a happily married SAHM raising 3 great children. Big Brother is a typical 7 year old second grader and Ballerina and Music Man are girl/boy Autistic twins who are 5 year old kindergarteners. Ilene blogs regularly at My Family's Experience With Autism and periodically writes guest posts on SPD Blogger Network, Oxygen Mask Project and Multiples and More, as well as a monthly post here.