Thursday, October 20, 2016

Ten thousand freakouts as I check out a new school for Max

Whoa. There sure are a lot of big trucks on this road. I am not happy about Max's bus driving alongside them. And this drive is about 15 minutes longer then his current school commute, not what you want when the roads are icy. And how am I going to be able to get to school fast if Max ever gets sick and needs to be picked up?

The building looks nice on the outside. Hmmm, what is up with the interior cinderblock design? Shouldn't that be reserved for prisons? This social worker is very nice. Average class ratio of six to seven kids with one teacher and an aide sounds good. This school mainly has students with cerebral palsy and Down syndrome, and some with autism. A good mix.

Wait, what?! The school doesn't believe in homework? Because it's a point of stress for parents and kids? Max needs homework! He learns best by repetition! A child can get homework if a parent requests it but still, that philosophy is perplexing. Need to grill the principal on that when we meet.

Good to know that plenty of other kids at school are using speech apps on iPads. Good to hear the school has OTs, PTs and speech therapists.

Wait, what?! Therapy sessions are only twenty minutes long? Doesn't it take about five minutes for a child to get settled in? What if you have a child like Max who is very engaged in therapy and has a good attention span—could you get sessions that are thirty minutes? One more thing to ask the principal about.

This is high school, though. There's not as much of an emphasis on therapies. And this is just the first school you're seeing. Maybe other  high schools also do shorter therapy sessions, if at all.  I know a mom who was told her child would receive therapies at the high school she's in, but her daughter's not getting what she was told. Nightmare.

Why is that boy sitting in the class not doing anything?

Why is that girl sitting in the class not doing anything?

Where are the students like Max?

I hope there are some younger teachers here, so far everyone's on the older side—it's good to have a mix of eager newcomers and ones with lots of experience.

Really impressed by all the life skill settings: a store, a supermarket, a kitchen, even a bedroom for learning to make a bed and fold laundry.

The graduates of this school have gone on to have jobs bagging at supermarkets, cleaning up at nursing homes and keeping clothes neat at a department store.

Stop it stop it stop it wipe your eyes bite your lip stop it stop it stop it.  

Ask what other, non-menial jobs students have had.

OK, one works with children at a church school, another helps with animals at a pet daycare place. They have jobs related to their interests. That's good.

He wants to be a firefighter. Yes, the guys at our station all know him. Who knows, maybe he could get a job there someday that doesn't just involve picking up after people. Although I don't know what that could be.

Love that the students sell stuff that they make at craft fairs.

Great, Max and I can check out their work center when we're here for an intake.

Maybe he really should be a model.

It really is a very warm, friendly, nurturing environment. The students seem happy and friendly. But just as important, if not more so, is making sure a school is capable of bringing out Max's intellectual best, helping him with life skills, and preparing him for a future all while balancing his physical needs.

I need to speak with some parents with students here.

I definitely need to check out that mainstream school and see what a program for Max would look like. That's one major thing missing from his life: socializing with peers who are not disabled. If he spends all of his education in schools for students with special needs, how will he be prepared for the real world? Are we setting him on a path that leads only to a sheltered special needs world?

What's hardest of all to figure out is whether this school has a modern, forward-thinking approach to youth with intellectual disability that assumes ability—and is open to trying new approaches.

What's hardest of all to wrestle with is my own fears and concerns about choosing Max's school home for the next seven years of his life. He's so bright. He's got so much potential. He needs deserves the school that will bring out his best.

Chill. There are other schools to visit. The more you see, the better your perspective.



  1. Such a big decision you have to make! I highly recommend checking out regular high schools. We have been very happy with our son being in a congregated class in a regular school. The advantage of that is all the extra curricular activities that the kids get to do. A girl with CP in his class in on the cheerleading team, they go to football games and participate in basketball and floor hockey tournaments and dances with similar kids from other schools. Plus there is a Best Buddies program and they will hang out at lunch sometimes together and during other planned activities. Just something to consider.

  2. In my area as a child ages they qualify for less in-school therapies. The justification as to how the child is benefiting academically from the therapy becomes harder. As an 8th grader I got my son's OT time increased because the high school is very concerned about stamina on the job. Since he has a weak back and a visual scanning issue (both very fatiguing) he needs specific exercises. Our high school has the misconception that making the kids work on job skills longer will increase the stamina. Where actually they need to find out why the child doesn't and then address that issue.

  3. Accommodation I Want to Exist:

    Elimination of homework, either totally for disabled students who have a definite and sustained passion and who are not helped (or harmed) by homework

    Neuropsychology testing, grades over three years, opinions from a resource teacher and two current core subject teachers

  4. So many big decisions, and we're in the process of finding an elementary school for my daughter's first year next year, and you brought up a mile long list of things I didn't even know I needed to worry about! The entire process of getting her setup with school stresses me out so much! Did Max for the special needs preschool at the public school when he was three, like they're encouraging us to do with our daughter? Did you find it beneficial?

    1. My son, who is on the autism spectrum, attended special needs preschool for three years. We found it tremendously beneficial. It was a great way to transition him to public school expectations in a safe, supportive environment. He rode the bus, went to the library, and "practiced" kindergarten skills. He also received PT, OT, and speech therapy. By the time he left, his social skills had blossomed, and we had a very easy transition to kindergarten this fall.

  5. You said 7 years. So that means Max will be at his new school until he is 20-21. I thought highschool in America was only 4 years long?

    1. Some students with disabilities, like Max, can stay in school until they are 21.

  6. I found the whole process a nightmare! I blame PGC because it had been so perfect for us;) Good news is that we did find the right fit. It took time - and a whole lot of tears - but we found it. Any time you want to chat, I am hear for you.

  7. I went to a special education based preschool and had early intervention when I was little, then partially transitioned to a half day kindergarten while spending some days mainstream and other days at a school close to my house for kids on the autism spectrum that I still go to a few times a week for after school programs. I'm mainstreamed at my high school around 65% of the time, for Math, it changes as I take two separate math classes and for most other subjects I'm mainstreamed with a personal aide.

  8. I encourage you to visit as many schools as possible! When I was doing an internship at a non-profit advocating for kids who mostly had IEPs, we visited a variety of schools for kids with different needs, and they were SO different from each other in feel and in population, not just in services. It took a ton of time, but was really helpful when later talking to families about potential appropriate schools. Are there people in your life who are knowledgeable about the school options? Advocates for Children in NYC is great, but focuses on schools accessible to kids in NYC, and I remember that you are somewhere in New Jersey.

  9. This isn't a helpful comment but might help with perspective. My dd has only one choice for high school and middle school. What she gets is what she gets. Is this fair? Does this make me feel reassured the schools will meet her needs? Big fat NOs! But we will deal with it as I am sure you will for Max too.

  10. I know this wasn't meant to belittle cleaners in anyway but I just wanted to say... I am a midwife and my hospital did a feature on one of our cleaners. She talked about how proud of her job she is, how much she loved being a part of an amazing hospital that saved lives. We love our cleaners, they always have a kind word and we literally can't function without us. Sometimes I have just been up to theatre after a woman lost half her blood supply and I just want to give up and cry when Joe the cleaner who has special needs gives me one of his great big smiles and makes my horrible day survivable.

    My job is also mainly "picking up after people" and it is the greatest life lesson I could have learned. I am a much better person for the coffee I fetch and the beds I make than I am for the babies I deliver.


Thanks for sharing!

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