The M-Word.

I went to my son’s IEP (Individual Education Plan) meeting a few days ago. Just me and his head teacher. I was expecting an update on progress towards meeting past goals, which I got. I was expecting a discussion of goals going forward, which we had. What I wasn’t expecting was a word that appeared on the laptop screen towards the end of the meeting; a single word my turned my world upside down:

Mainstreaming.

His teacher told me that she’d discussed the situation with the Principal, and they’d decided my son – my autistic seven year-old son who has only attended a special needs school – is now a good candidate for mainstreaming.

I’m not sure what reaction she expected from me, but I can tell you that I could have never foreseen my own reaction: I went into mild shock. I couldn’t hear what she said for a while after she said mainstreaming. The word on the laptop screen was stuck in my vision, and then I realised my vision was blurring and I was about to cry in front of her. I had to stop her talking (which I had stopped processing anyway), and apologise to her because I was still reeling from that one word. That moment, that M word on the screen, are imprinted on my long-term memory. The look on her face, the room all around us, the mix of confusion, astonishment… and just over-whelming joy.

I know better than to idolize mainstreaming (and I hurried to tell her that I don’t idolize it, I recognise its up-sides and down-sides). Nevertheless, it turns out that single word carries huge emotional stock for me, at a deeper level than I’d previously realised or acknowledged.

What “mainstreaming” means is that my son has adequate social, behavioural and academic skills to cope in a classroom with his same-age peers. “Mainstreaming” means, more significantly, that my son has progressed immensely in the past two years, and is now ready to handle a situation that we couldn’t have contemplated for him when he was five years-old. It means a shift in focus from teaching basic skills required to even learn, to being able to put those skills to the test in a more challenging environment. It means him being surrounded by children whose social, behavioural and verbal skills have the potential to improve his own just by being around them, whilst him having enough independent thought and judgment to not be sucked into all the worst that might also be presented to him in that same environment. It also means he no longer needs a teacher ratio of one to three students; that he has gained the ability to self-direct his learning and to follow instructions without as much hand-holding as he once required.

Mainstreaming in and of itself, is not a better education; I stand by my very strong views that education needs to be varied and responsive, and that one size does not fit-all. But the shift from my son requiring a special needs school, to being considered capable of coping in a mainstream school; that is something special for the individual child, and something to be celebrated.

Now comes the hard bit of course; the making-it-happen. Choosing the right school, sorting out zoning issues, transitioning, and ultimately finding out if my son truly is ready for this change. Because he may not be; I accept that possible reality. But my family – and evidently my son – are ready to find out. This is a new step in my son’s journey, and we’re ready for that part of his journey to begin.

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12 Responses to The M-Word.

  1. Congratulations!!! You say “mainstreaming, in and of itself, is not a better education”, but you are wrong. Your son will be exposed to higher ideas than ever could be put across in the SpEd classroom. I know, I was a SpEd teacher.

    Your son is still handicapped. That hasn’t changed…things that appear to come very easily for others will be difficult for him. But the thinking part of his brain isn’t broken. It could be superior in some aspects. But it will be hard work. I am so proud of my 18 year old son, taking classes in Tech School. Looking back, I am so grateful for teachers who insisted he be in the regular classroom, without an aide. They saw what was inside him. Lord, he worked so hard, hours on homework (see if you can get some accommodations…Ben never did but he worked, usually, his grade +1 hours on homework a night until 5th grade, when he had a teacher who was learning disabled herself. He brought homework home 10 days the whole years.) Don’t be naive, as I was, it will be so hard for your son. Ben had a psychologist in the early days, a brilliant man, who was ADHD himself. “Ben, you are the hardest worker I know…” he used to tell him. Your son will be crossing a great river, building a bridge to the other side with little help from others because it is so hard to put one’s mind around the thought of how difficult learning differences can be on a child. We ended up homeschooling in high school, based solely on the advice of Temple Grandin’s book–one of them, can’t remember the name. I felt bad at first, like I was letting him down, but it was a nice vacation from “fitting in”, for both of us. Lots of homeschool kids are LD. It ain’t all about religion, for sure! ……………I’m talking and I can’t shut up.

    My prayers are with you, but so is my joy for you! If your son is like my son, it is exactly the right thing to do!!!!!!!! Tie a rope and hang on!

    • Thanks!

      As to the point on mainstreaming being better, that depends on the child, and the school. It’s simply incorrect to say that mainstreaming is always the better education, there are far too many variable at the level of the person and the actual institution. I can’t do the topic justice in the space of a comment, but this post of mine is a starting point to explain what I mean: http://autismandoughtisms.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/a-right-to-the-wrong-education/

      And I’m under no illusions about my son’s disability; mainstreaming has nothing to do with whether he’s autistic or not, many autistic children are in mainstream schools (for better or worse). The system here in New Zealand means he wouldn’t have the same intensive learning support than if he’d been in a special needs school if he ends up in a mainstream school, but because my son has ORS he is still entitled to some supports (details yet to be known).

      The sad fact is something I haven’t written about yet because it’s still tearing me apart and it’s a complete downer, and I wanted this post to be up-beat, is that we are extremely unlikely to be able to get him into a suitable mainstream school. We are only at the start of that particular fight, but it potentially makes this whole thing a pipe-dream at this point: it’s one thing to say our son can be mainstreamed, it’s quite another to make it happen. So I’m taking joy in the mere statement of its possibility, and not even slightly getting carried away with notions of how wonderful it will be, since I doubt we can make this happen. But damned if I’m not going to try!

      • I don’t mean to sound bitter, or a know-it-all, and I know I do. But I cant’ believe the child who is in front of me now compared to the child I thought I was raising. http://raggette.blogspot.com/2011/06/low-pan-high-glass.html This, I was right about. He isn’t like most kids. He’s a low rider…Forgive me for telling you. “You are wrong.” It was rude.

      • No need to ask for forgiveness usethebrain, there was never any doubt your heart was in the right place, and you should know that even though I may disagree with some of what you said, I will always respect and want to hear from those who have already travelled the path I have barely started on. Indeed, if anyone is a tad bitter right now, it is probably me; coming to terms with the amazing possibility for my son that might never eventuate because of zoning restrictions, is quite upsetting and tending me towards defensiveness perhaps more than usual.

  2. jimreeve says:

    Congrats Mac. This is a huge accomplishment for you for sure. It shows that all of your hard work is paying off big time. I hope the transition is smooth for special needs to mainstream. I take for granted that my son is in a regular class, so I’m glad you created this post. It helps put things into perspective.

  3. Joanne says:

    Congratulations Hon, It is a big accomplishment and I know that you, your husband, and the other stake-holders in your son’s education (his teachers, principals, etc.) will really work to make sure that mainstreaming is the right decision for him at this time. I know some of the challenges you have and I know that you will do what feels right for your family. If mainstreaming is not possible right now, then I know that you will be able to get there soon!

  4. Matty Angel says:

    Good luck! I hope it works out really well.

  5. Wife of Jack says:

    Great news for your family, I hope you can find the right school for him and then you are allowed enough time to transition him well. It’s a bit of a bombshell so late in the year!

    • It most definitely is! We’re annoyed we didn’t have more time to deal with the issue – being so late in the year – but we’re doing everything we can, the fastest we can, and with the full support of the Principal from his current school, which is speeding up the process of having meetings with the right people. We have a meeting tomorrow with his local school Principal, which will be very important in our decision making process about what (and where) will be best for our boy.

  6. Pingback: I Got Yer IEP Right Here: A Survivalist’s Manifesto « ProfMomEsq

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