If you are coping are you learning? So if you are just sitting in class “attending” to the teacher which means eyes on the teacher, body facing the teacher, hands on desk, feet on floor, quiet hands, and appearing to be listening does that mean you are learning? When you are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder these are the expectations placed on you to be in the general education classroom. These are evolving expectations for all young children in school and they are just being kids when they have challenges meeting them but in my experience I haven’t heard “just being kids” said about a child with Autism in the same classroom. Instead, at an early age, along with other children with ASD have become projects to enable them to be more and more in the general education classroom.
I was at an annual meeting with school staff and school board staff and I was told how well my son Johnny was doing in the regular classroom setting. So I guess that means everything they have taught Johnny is working. He is sitting in a regular classroom with all the other children listening to the teacher. He is not disrupting the classroom and the flow of information. Johnny is sitting there quietly . That must mean he is learning lots and continually moving forward right? Does that means that we can remove all his supports because he is now with all the regular children more and more? Is this the real picture of what’s going on?
I have to pinch myself because I remember that it was six years ago this coming January when I had to listen to a paediatric developmental Doctor tell me that we would be lucky if Johnny was able to go to school as we know it and the idea of him even being in a regular classroom was probably not in his future. Johnny more then likely wouldn’t be able to talk either so we needed to look at alternative ways of communicating. So after many years of intervention, occupational therapy, behavioural therapy, speech therapy and even having to go through a class where all he learns is how to be a student, it’s nice that in the regular classroom and he’s doing really well. Can we just be happy that he’s in the regular classroom now? Can we settle for “what you see what you get” or we can to look deeper.
When I go to IPRC meetings IEP meetings all I hear about is how they want Johnny to do more and more in the regular classroom and be weaned off supports and have him there as much as possible in the regular classroom. Even though because of Autism being a neurological disorder and his brain is wired to learn differently then the children and that is never going to change he is expected to change. I find myself wondering what the real goal is. Is it to move another special needs child into a regular classroom to make the classroom “inclusive” and not in separate classroom? It makes me wonder if my son is just being trained everyday to be what he is not and learn the way that is hard for him and worse to APPEAR to learn the same way as other children. How can a regular classroom be truly inclusive if the teacher has not changed anyway that she or he teaches to accommodate the special needs child and have all the children learning the same way? Having Autistic kids in the general education setting means that educators must accept the way they learn and adapt and not have the children be the only ones that adapt. It feels like there must be at least a meeting of minds halfway not so one sided that I feel it is. After all, is the way Johnny learns really wrong or is just an alternative way of looking at things?
When you are raising a child that’s mind is wired differently you quickly realize that the school system seems to be this one size fits all cookie approach to teaching all children. How can your child learn in that environment? They have to somehow learn to learn in a way that is not natural to them. It sadly sets them up to fail because not all children on the spectrum can do that. Everything is geared towards making that child be a successful student as long as they follow along and do it all like the other kids. It is the biggest follow the leader game out there right now but the problem is is that with school supposed to be about making carbon copies or exact replicas of each other or is it about helping each child be an independent learner and being individual that learns and explores the world around them selves with wonder and become a critical thinker. All kids are individuals and I would say that when you are raising a child on the spectrum they really don’t have the same social filters to blend in. In fact they don’t want to and in a way it’s not a bad thing. As parents we do not want Johnny to feel that who he is and how he learns is wrong. Instead we want him to feel good about himself and confident that different is not wrong but just another way of getting to the same place.
So you can imagine teachers and principal and other professionals surprise when I raise my hand and ask, “How is he learning? What is he learning? What do you see him at right now?” Then I start getting stunned expressions and they say they’re happy with his progress but…..
Our work is cut out for us because we have to challenge the teachers and ask, is coping and sitting in a regular classroom enough? Is learning below his potential enough? Is that really what you do when you have a child that learns differently you teach them to become an underachiever because that’s OK it makes your job easier? There is definitely something wrong with this sort of strategy. I feel like every day my son has to prove that he is learning something.
Now if only we could get the regular classroom teachers to be a bit more flexible with how they deliver the curriculum because its not like the kids in the regular classroom would not benefit from a varied approach. Sadly we had to advocate to have him spend more time in the Autism room for academic work so that he could actually learn and spend time in the regular classroom for subjects like music, art and gym for social reasons and being part of the group. Luckily Johnny has an Autism teacher and EA that understand him, and endeavour to find ways to help him access the curriculum in the way he learns best and he is now really learning and excelling at Grade level. They want every academic opportunity to be filled with meaningful learning and not just sitting in the regular classroom to appear inclusive and struggling to do what the other kids are doing. Meaningful learning for me is what education should be about for all children.