Dumping Kids with IEPs into General Education Classrooms is not Inclusion
I can’t believe its November already — time for the first round of parent-teacher conferences for Kindergarten.
It brought me back to memories of last year’s conference. Pre-k 4 was so different. It was a true inclusion class run by a special education teacher and the classroom provided a lot of support and individual interventions for all of the students which set the bar of expectations high for me as a parent.
Last year’s meeting started when her teacher told me how much she loved Ally’s quirky personality. That Ally was funny, sweet, and special.
She told me all of the good things about my daughter and praised her perceived abilities to be high. As she began to discuss her areas of weaknesses, like her fine motor skills, she also mentioned that their occupational therapist provided strategies and support.
When she told me about her difficulty socializing appropriately with her peers, she also told me what she was doing to help.
When Ally lacked understanding of her tone when communicating with her peers, she told me how she practiced repeating sentences to Ally in different tones of voice and asked her to pick the most appropriate one for the situation.
To help her understand language, she told me how she taught soft words and prickly words by using physical objects and associations.
And when she struggled to share blocks with her friends, this teacher told me that she swapped the blocks with another child to physically show my daughter how she makes her friends feel when she doesn’t share. And my daughter didn’t like it, but they worked through it.
There were interventions put into place for every negative thing she had to tell me about my child’s school experience and she had a plan to help that all supported her IEP and IEP goals. It felt like she naturally knew how to do this and I admired how knowledgeable she was.
I left last year’s conference feeling confident that my child would be okay. That she would flourish there.
But Kindergarten conferences went differently. This year my daughter is in a general education classroom with a dedicated paraprofessional.
Her teacher started off and told me how academically strong Ally is, that her test scores were almost perfect. But she struggles with Writing and gets frustrated easily.
Her socialization skills are concerning as she misinterprets her peers as being mean to her when they aren’t and in return, she says things to them, and she wants to be away from the group often.
She has meltdowns and gets overloaded by the stimulation of the classroom. They can’t figure out what sets her off.
While she completes her individual tasks and contributions at circle time, she wants to leave the circle when she is done.
Ally wants to be left alone to do her own thing. On her own schedule.
Alone. Ally is often alone.
The kids are learning to ignore her behaviors.
The kids are learning to just ignore her.
And I spaced out for a brief moment as I thought, Is that what we want for our children with special needs, to be ignored?
She ended by telling me that she is not very experienced in having a child with behavior like Ally’s.
And while she is trying to learn how to handle it, I have a hard time believing that Ally is the first child with Autism to enter this classroom.
It felt like the time the owner of a Goddard School told me, “we’ve never seen anything like this before.” Thirty years in business and you’ve never seen autism before?
Teachers who are not experienced with autistic behavior is a sad commodity in our education system and I am not blaming an educator in a broken system. With the latest focus on inclusion and the least restrictive environment, we are dumping our children with IEPs into a world that is illiterate to special education.
This year’s conference left me feeling like our roles were reversed. Like I’m the one that has to provide the plan and the strategies for all of my child’s weaknesses. Like I have to figure out how she is going to meet or develop any of the skills in her IEP.
While I am an educator myself and have some small ability to give insight, it leaves me wondering about the parents who don’t. What about them? What will happen to their children?
I left this year’s meeting feeling bad for my child.
And it shouldn’t be this way.
My child is not that different. She is not a mystical creature that nobody has ever seen or met before. She is a little girl who is real. She has feelings, emotions, and struggles. And she is here in a world where the true mysterious creature is her IEP, and how it is going to survive the weather of a General Education Classroom.
*Follow me at mischiefmomma.com