Unfortunately, that day is not today.
What I want from each school is different.
And yet, exactly the same.
I'm through with standing in line
To clubs I'll never get in
It's like the bottom of the ninth
And I'm never gonna win
This life hasn't turned out
Quite the way I want it to be...
I went to the Goofy Child's school, I went in knowing the image I want to present, knowing the image I need to combat. My child is the one that other parents go to the principal and ask for him to not be in their child's class next year. Well, one dad had good reason. My child and his child spend their time together plotting world domination and attempting incite riots and mutiny. Actually, I am currently considering whether or not I should request they not have recess together so we can stop getting think sheets for acts of terror on the playground.
So, I knew what I was up against going into my first PTA meeting. No problem. I dressed for confidence. This is where I figured out my mission for this school. I was listening to them discuss budget cuts and where they need more money, that they were short 2 smart boards. The smart board problem was temporarily fixed by taking a smart board out of the self contained classroom and putting it in a first grade (?) classroom. Not one person said a word about how wrong that is. One person did say, "So we're good on smart boards? We don't need anymore?" (the answer was we still need them) I'm looking around at the 15-20 (guestimate) men and women seated in the room wondering, where are the SN parents? Do none of these people have a special needs child? Is no one going to speak up? No one did. Not even me.
After the meeting, I told the president I want to help. I want to do something but I can't be there the night of the activities because I can't bring Alex with me. Later, I realized what I said, what happened, what was missing. Our kids don't have an advocate in that room. If Alex can't go, neither can the kids who were in his self contained classrooms. I want inclusion. I want them to know and to understand that our kids have just as much reason to be at these activities as their kids. It is our job as the adults, as the ones planning these activities, to make sure all kids are able to participate no matter what. Our kids are not less than and cannot be excluded, no matter how unintentional it is. I am determined.
I haven't been involved much in the middle school yet. I read e-mails, I follow them on Facebook and Twitter. I keep up as well as I can on what is going on in their school. I read the updates, I look at the pictures... and I wonder... where are our children? Yes, I am well aware that some disabilities are invisible disabilities, but not all of them. I see pictures of various classrooms and activities, I know they have resource rooms, they must have self contained classrooms... where are those kids? Someone needs to ask and so far, it doesn't look like anyone is. No matter how unintentional, our kids still seem to be left out. I would like to see more of an effort to recognize that our kids are worth noticing. They are not invisible.
Alex's school, the Special School, is easy. I just want to fit in. I want a place. a safe haven. Somewhere that we are normal, where I'm just plain Alex's mom and Alex is just plain Alex. You know?
It started out good. Well, it started weird. Ok, it started.
Walter was supposed to go with me. He changed his mind at the last minute. and I thank God that he did. I left a little early so I could get my usual parking spot on the side of the building because there are never any in the front, which is why Alex is always a few minutes late when I take him in (stupid buses blocking the way and the bus guy doesn't want you waiting in line because the line is only for buses), but I pulled into a mostly empty parking lot. I looked around and I'm thinking... Did I get the day wrong? The time? I think back to the e-mail and I'm almost sure I have the right day and time... but this really doesn't look right. Where are the parents? I go in and ask, I'm in the right place at the right time so I go sit down to work on the assignment that Goofy's teacher gave me (It's exciting, and there was a minor amount of stupidity involved, you will love it) until people decide to show up. They did. Just not as many as I expected. I think there were more staff than parents.
The principal and the Assistant principals give their speeches (the principal rocked it.) and the Assistant Principal introduced the staff. He told us their names and what they do but I got a little lost on what it all means or how these people would relate to Alex. I don't even know if that's the right word... I mean I don't know if they would have anything to do with Alex, if he would come in contact with them throughout the day, or what they would be doing. There were the obvious ones like SLPs and such but most of them, I just don't know. He introduced elementary staff and middle school staff and high school staff but I don't know what grades or ages each would apply to. Alex is in 6th grade. If he were in the regular schools, he would be middle school until 8th grade. But then high school is 9th-12th grades but the SSD keeps kids until 21. So, would the 12th grade through 21 be transition? What do they do in these levels?
To find out what goes on in our kids' classes, we break up into groups and go to the classrooms to see what they are learning.
Alex's teacher ended up with 2 classrooms. Unfortunately, they were 2 very different classrooms. and the other 5 from Alex's class must have had the good sense to stay home. It started with me and one set of other parents representing 2 kids. on completely different levels of functioning. As she was showing us her materials, I could tell that she was uncomfortable. She needed to explain to them why her materials looked like a 2 year old could ace them (The girl totally could, not even joking, and it's not because she's a baby Einstein) while their son apparently should be using way more advanced materials. She said, "I have the really low kids." She said it fast and low and I could tell she was uncomfortable saying it. Not as uncomfortable as a rusted knife straight through the heart, but obviously not pleasant. She was explaining the curriculum and the difference between what she was showing them and what their son would be using. The other parents asked her to please slow down because she was obviously uncomfortable enough to try to rush through everything... with good reason. My poker face sucks. I'm just glad they were nice enough to keep their eyes glued to the other parents and ignore the fact that my allergies had my eyes watering and itching like crazy.
So, she apologized for rushing. She slowed down and she started passing the folders with the pecs. Sorting and matching and spelling and... omg. Folder after folder after folder... of things I know without a doubt that Alex cannot do, not on the level they were talking about, not on the level of the materials she uses in class. After the one with sorting animal from plant, I refused to take another folder. She has the really low kids. In a school of 200 kids... are these the 6 lowest functioning? She has 3rd and 6th grade... Please, God, tell me mine isn't the only 6th grader? and even then, the materials for her class... is he the lowest functioning in her class? If it hadn't been for the absolute certainty of public humiliation, I would have walked out right then. But, ever since I ran out of my English class in 10th grade and then embarrassed myself even more in the phone call to my mother in front of a silent study hall class of 50 students... yeah, I try to avoid embarrassing myself in front of large groups of people. So I stayed.
I didn't learn anything new tonight. Nothing that will help me help Alex. Nothing that really pertains to Alex. I didn't even really learn what goes on in his classroom, not what he's learning, not what he can do.
Luckily, the other parents seemed oblivious, but the staff seemed to know exactly what was happening and tried to gloss over it with the worst possible thing they could have said... a version of "when you've met one kid with autism, you've met one kid with autism." easy to say when it's not your kid, and a bitter pill to swallow when it is. What happened tonight, the way it went, the things that were said... I don't blame the staff. They did nothing wrong, they said nothing wrong. There is not a thing I would have done differently standing in their shoes. Truth hurts. That's just the way it is.
Combining those 2 classrooms was a bad move. It took all of the attention off of the curriculum and created a very uncomfortable situation that spotlighted the huge difference in ability. This was not a good night.
but I'm not ready to give up yet. There will come a day that I will be able to leave Alex's school and not cry my way home. I have to believe that.