Friday, September 2, 2011

Initial Thoughts on Mainstreaming

My younger son and I have been two peas in a pod now for a long time. My buddy. Attached at my hip. The little boy who wants nothing more but to walk behind me at a hurried pace and spew everything that comes to his mind. He loves me. He says so all day long, and I know it to be true.

He shares all parts of his day, and, really, I do to him as well. And, when I took him out of an ill-fitting school to homeschool him for the second part of last year, that relationship only solidified.

And, now, we are preparing to send him to his first public school, an environment that is so different from the montessori and homeschool settings he knows that it even slaps me in the face as a shock--all the desks, the chairs, the people and how they move about in the room, THE NOISE. The type of people felt very different as well. They weren't messing around. This was their child's education, and they were going after the sign up sheets, the supplies, the places in the classrooms, etc., with gusto.

I stood there, new, clueless and suddenly void of the excitement I had carried with me on my way into the school.

In order to make my son feel included, I directed his attention to the wall of stars to our left. Each star contained a student's name as well as the name of the teachers. His wasn't there.

Come on, people, I thought to myself, STEP UP YOUR GAME! Kids are involved, here!

Thankfully, we were noticed by the person who will serve as our son's aide for the school year. I shook her hand, looked into her eyes and thought about the 45 minutes which I fought for the need of her presence in our son's day when we were negotiating his individualized educational plan a few months ago.

She was my hard-won victory, intended to be my eyes and ears and his protector during his days at school. I hoped the other children didn't laugh at him for needing a helper...

He so far has a special chair--a ball that will help in to get out his wiggles but still remained seated during his day. And, after testing it, he found his new teacher and ran over to say hello to her. He looked excited to be there.

As he and his aide ran to the playground along with the other kids, the parents remained in the classroom for a Power Point presentation of the teacher, the upcoming year's curriculum, what a typical day is in this class and what is expected of each child.

No parents were visiting, introducing themselves or saying hello. It certainly wasn't a meet n' greet, for some reason.

The lights went out. The presentation began. And, as I sat there, on our son's bouncing ball seat listening to the expectations of the children, my heartbeat began to quicken. To see what each child would be expected to do alone--particularly in our son's areas of weakness--put a lump in my throat.

The day...the kids...the curriculum....the all seemed so...FAST. The parents, like the kids, have been at this for a number of years now. They know the drill. They sit. They listen. For the most part, they do as they are told. And, they have friends.

Our son lacks everything on that list. And, he's coming in as an outsider.

As the pace of the classroom moves on, I could just visualize our son struggling to keep pace, seeing that he was not keeping pace, recognizing that his peers KNEW that he was not keeping pace.

Dear Lord, PLEASE do not let his peers tease him for not keeping pace. Please, no more bullying.

I spent so much time this past spring/summer erasing the damage that had been done at his last school from peers that laughed at his inability to socialize, answer to social cues, follow the curriculum, or organize his work space. He became such a bundle of nerves that he started to develop obsessive compulsive disorder.

And, he kept most of the anxiety to himself. He didn't want to let me down. He didn't want to tell anyone that he was failing.

There was little in the power point presentation that felt encouraging, and, as much as I tried to fight it, tears welled in my eyes. Oh, yeah, that's a great way to start the year. The new mom of the new kid. Soon they will all find out that he has special needs and she's likely psycho.

I reached in my purse in the dark for a tissue and quietly dabbed at my eyes and nose. By the end of the presentation, I had used four.

Walking in tonight, I had a vision of mainstreaming. I saw children with needs working within a general education environment, sometimes with a helper, but with success. Now, I feel like a fool.

I remember third grade. I didn't even have learning delays or a deficit. It didn't take much to cause one to be singled out. Third graders can be harsh when it comes to the differences in their peers.

Suddenly, I worried that I was sending our son into the Lion's Den. Yes, I have him lots of adult support, but I don't know how well he can keep the fast pace of the class. And, in the quiet corners of his peers, I don't know if he'll even be given a chance.

I'm a special education mother. My experience until now has been full blown special needs and special education classes. I'm the mom that most people think deals with the hardest kind of special needs.

Last night, looking at the concept of mainstreaming, I certainly felt as though my life until this night was easier. It's easy for me to operate within the special education environment. All the students have their issues. No glass houses. No thrown stones. We are all working on our own things.

How, just how, do you take a child with needs and introduce him successfully into the quick pace of a typical classroom and the often harsh social circles of elementary grade school kids?

Last night, I cried for me, and I cried for my son. The concept of mainstreaming is scary, and I'm not sold. I've spent the day fighting the urge to run hard and fast the other way.

Only, with a higher functioning child, I'm not sure where "the other way" is, exactly.


  1. Amy - there's so much I could say about this post. Ben has been in mainstream state scools all along (after I turned down an initial offer of Special needs nursery when he was 2). I am really happy that he has always been in mainstream - but it's been a hard path. Yes - he sticks out like a sore thumb much of the time. No - he doesn't really have any friends - though there are boys he plays with. Yes - otheres have been mean to him. Yes - I have sniffled through lots of meetings. But I also know how lucky we are - schools ahve been supportive and Ben is happy. He has one more year in primary - and we already have the invite to the High School open evening - which I am very very nervous about. I don't know if it will work out in the long term - but we're going to try.

  2. Uuuuuuuugh. This has been SO VERY difficult for me to grasp. I suppose our children on this end of the spectrum will need to learn to function in mainstream society, yes. I have no argument when I am told that teasing will be a part of his life. But I keep asking why can't I guide his life until he's an adult? Adults are more lenient, in a way, with quirkiness. In my moments of panic, I think that I could buckle down and set up a much better home school than I did last year---one that won't kill me in the process. I could carefully maneuver his world and exposures so that he doesn't have to have life slap him in the face every minute of the day...

    I'm a mess over this. I guess I'm going to just pull my Mom Cave followers right along with me.

    Thanks for your thoughts, Ruth. I appreciate your experience.