Saturday, October 8, 2016

Pass or Fail

Dan has a D in his Health and Fitness class! YES. This makes me happy. Let me explain why.

I got a notice today through our school district's automated parent access system which notifies us about grades and missing assignments. Most of the time our weekly emails include a scattering of missing assignments and the occasional alert that our older son needs to work a little harder. 

Dan's grades are usually straight A's. There are never any missing assignments or test scores.  In the few subjects that he actually is truly graded on, he tends to meet the criteria, because his special education teacher is good at targeting and meeting his academic levels, and we do the minuscule amount of homework that comes home (spelling words and adapted projects). 

Dan participates in three "General Education" classes in middle school with a 1:1 assistant. Science, History and "Health and Fitness". For  English, Math and Reading he is in the special education classroom.  This is the inclusion model of his school. 

I usually snicker that my son can probably graduate with a 4.0, which is yet another perk of autism, It's like never having to wait in the rain at a random school bus stop because the short bus comes straight to our house, baby! Haha, you neurotypical families, standing there in the Pacific Northwest rain, we win at bus riding. 
--I like to look for the silver linings, ok?
Dan usually has a 4.0 because most teachers don't know what else to do.

This inclusion model is newish for most of his Gen Ed teachers, and there has been some discomfort in how to manage his participation. He has a 1:1 assistant with him at all times. He does not speak. He makes loud noises sometimes. He has behaviors. It is hard for his teachers to gauge how or if he is participating. It is hard to adapt assignments, and it is hard to determine exactly what he is getting out of inclusion.

But I know, and his special education team knows, that amid all the stimming noises and wiggling, he is absorbing concepts, hearing his peers process, and learning. I'm not about to let him miss out on the experience of a hands on science lab when there are so few of those opportunities in this world that he will be included in. We do what we can. His team adapts in the moment, condensing quizzes, allowing augmentative communication and insisting that the concepts are getting in there. They help, probably too much, in writing answers to questions and turning essay answers into fill in the blanks. He surprises us, sometimes, but he is given the opportunity to learn, just like any kid.

Inclusion research also shows that having kids with special needs mixed in with gen ed classes benefits both the special education students AND the general education students in a number of ways. Despite the stigma and view that our students detract from learning time and instruction, they actually can enhance the process by helping other kids model, process, teach and therefore learn. Not to mention that this models what will happen in the adult work environment, ideally. 
Instead of our kids being sequestered in an "institution" type room at the end of the hall, they are mingling with the rest of the world. Seen, not hidden, where the scary unknown behaviors and appearances become familiar and thus less scary.
This means as adults, typically developing people who have participated in inclusion model programs in schools will be less resistant to hiring, mentoring, managing and providing opportunities to their peers with disabilities as adults. Because it's the norm for them, less intimidating, less alien. They have existed together throughout the lifespan. 
 In the long run, this saves us all money and grief, as adults with disabilities lead contributing and productive lives, paying taxes, earning fair wages, and having happy, healthy community connections. --Instead of sitting on a couch in their elderly parents' basement, or in an institution as in previous decades; Alone, dependent. (This visual is what keeps me up at night.)
So I push at least 50% inclusion for Dan. It's a long term plan. 

So why am I so happy that he was given a poor grade in one of the classes he is supposed to be treated fairly in and adapted? Because to me, this shows someone is actually paying attention. His teacher sees him as a real member of her class. --Not just the kid she's tolerating because she has to. She sees him as someone capable of doing better. Of being a contributing member of that world. Of doing the freaking work.
She has expectations for my son.
Teachers usually just give Dan an A whether he's done the work or not. In fairness, this is probably due to many many years of upset parents reacting to a grade their child has been given by blaming the teacher for not accommodating a disability. I get that. 
I get that most parents would be steaming when a child like mine was given a poor grade. How dare they judge him, when he is so clearly impacted and can't do the work? He is on an IEP! I have heard this many times. I get that, too, I've been there with my other kid. It's hard, and a constant balance between pushing the kid and making sure he's getting support if needed. 
But non-verbal individuals are so often judged so poorly, with so little to contribute,  as "low functioning", with the assumption that communication or behavior is the only indicator of cognition.

Look people, I know he doesn't earn an A in science all year. Come on. I would love to see a B or C for once, if he did a crappy job participating that day. Just to show you are paying attention and that this whole inclusion thing isn't something you just tolerate to make us happy. Like a pat on the head for delusional moms. I'm not stupid. I know.

But I tend to rely on what I also know for sure:
My son picks up concepts, he is listening. His receptive language skills are good when given repetition and processing time.  
When he can communicate his thoughts, they are complete, thorough, detailed, and most of the time, beautiful.
I know he's lonely and wants to be with his peers, even if he can't navigate how to interact with them.
And I know he can meet expectations that most people wouldn't even dream of for him.

So I'm not about to let him miss out, or let them miss out on him. 

I don't know why he has a crappy grade.  Maybe he's behavioral or too loud and stimmy and she hates it. Maybe he doesn't do the work. (Maybe she remembers his brother also didn't do the work.) Maybe he refuses to do push ups. Maybe it's a typo. I don't care. 

On Monday, I plan to go in, find the principal, the special education teacher and the H&F teacher. I will hug her and thank her. I will ask her what any parent would ask her. 
"How can we help him get his grade up in your class?"
Like any parent, of any typical kid. 
Do you know how how rarely I get to say things like that? I relish it, every time. I let the words roll around in my mouth because they feel so good.
Like any parent would. I'm not missing out on THAT opportunity.

I'm hopeful that we will be able to use it as a teaching moment;  a tool for increased awareness and understanding of what inclusion is really about. It's not a black and white concept or formula that can be defined by numbers of minutes on the back page of the IEP spreadsheet. 
It's not the same for every child, teacher and subject. It's a fluid, changeable process, that has to adapt with the child. 
--Kinda like development, really. Kinda like learning. 

Ms. S, if it's a typo, I don't want to know. Just go with it.