A Mind of My Own
Posted by Gail | Filed under Autism
Chapter Eight: Advocating At School (Part 1)
When Malcolm first went to school I insisted on meeting with his kindergarten teacher to explain who Malcolm was and what his unique needs were. (I’ve actually been pretty pushy most of my kids’ school lives, and have always insisted on meeting teachers before sending my kids into their care.)
I asked that the kindergarten teacher read a book I had that would help her understand Malcolm’s language issues. I already had a diagnosis in hand – this goes a long way to getting you what you want from the school system – and Lucille was an experienced teacher. She didn’t get to be such a good teacher by being anybody’s dummy, and so she familiarized herself with Malcolm’s disorder and started using some of the strategies that would help him cope with school, like putting him to sit close to her rocker so that he wouldn’t be able to drift of without her noticing. We made it through JK without incident.
When it came time for senior kindergarten, I had a new request. I had met a child and youth care worker (CYW) in Alexandra’s Grade Two class who was working with another Asperger’s child. I liked his approach. We talked about the challenges Malcolm was facing and he offered me the services of a co-worker who would come and help Malcolm learn some of the social skills I wasn’t that good at teaching him – too close to the subject, it seemed. I took him up on his offer and Dawn joined my team of experts. She worked with us that summer and then, as the school year approached, I decided he needed her at school too. First, I went to the principal and explained that I wanted Dawn to attend school with Malcolm on my ticket – I was paying for Dawn’s services privately. She agreed as long as the kindergarten teacher agreed. So that’s where I headed next.
Then I proposed the arrangement to the kindergarten teacher. She was willing, if a little hesitant, and agreed as long as the principal was on board. I announced quite proudly, I remember, that the principal was indeed on board and so off to school Malcolm went with his own CYW in tow two days a week.
Dawn worked wonders. She taught Malcolm how to put up his hand to answer questions. She repeated the question so that when he was chosen he remembered what he was answering. And she acted as a social coach pointing out when children had spoken to him and reminding him how to respond appropriately. Malcolm gained months of skills in just a few weeks. I saw it at home in the way he related to us. And Dawn reported the changes she was seeing, including the fact that Malcolm was ready to pull away and sail on his own.
When Malcolm moved to Grade 1, I had great hopes. The teacher was a specialist in special education and had been the one who identified Daniel’s need for special help. Things did not go as I’d hoped.
I had been learning all about Malcolm’s unique needs – I already knew my son very, very well – and I wanted to share that with his teacher. She didn’t want to hear word one from me. She was the teacher. She was the specialist. She hardly needed my input. So we butted heads. When the children were asked to count by ones, twos, fives and tens to 100, Malcolm was bored out of his mind. He already knew all his timetables to 12. When I suggested she asked him to count by sevens and nines, her response was that it wasn’t part of the curriculum. Malcolm wasn’t happy either. After Christmas break, he started making himself vomit in the mornings so he wouldn’t have to go to school. I worked around him for a couple of months and then I’d had enough. I decided to pull him out of school.