Drawman, youngest of my three sons, has had increasingly intense bouts of anxiety, depression and feelings of dread. He is a freshman, so some of this is normal teenage angst. But what compounds Drawman’s feelings, what makes it all so much more intense, is his Autism.
Superman fully embraces his Autism. He is high functioning, very smart, but teachers have to allow him to demonstrate his intelligence in nontraditional ways. He attends a mix of general ed and special ed classes with varying degrees of support. Too much verbiage from some teachers and he goes to his happy place of doodling and comic story board development. He constructs meaning from content in some pretty interesting ways. In Civics class they were learning about the branches of government. Out of the blue right before bed one evening he tells me that the legislative branch of government is like an IEP team. They write the laws, which is the IEP. It comes out in weird ways at weird times, but he is learning.
Now, about the madness. Since it is Monday. And I am determined to adhere to the structure of this blog.
Drawman finds school tolerable for the most part. He wants to do well. And if you ask him, his day works well enough except for two of his classes. And it is not the content of the classes causing stress. It is not the teacher as a person. It is the teacher as behavior manager and the group of peers in those two classes.
The madness is the way we group kids with IEPs at school. Current trend is to mix all the kids in one pot and call it cross categorical. Which is code for budget constraints. Traditionally these classes have been called LD, ED/EBD, CD, AUT and those were homogenous groups by disability. Now many schools mix it up and you can find a combination of any disability in these classes. Which is good. Typically, these classes are smaller. Usually no more than 10 students. Lately, however, I have been in some cross categorical special education classes that have up to 20 special needs students of varying exceptionalities and abilities, one lead special education teacher and one paraprofessional.
And those classes are precisely the ones Drawman is unable to cope with. And here is why. Many of the behaviors of his peers are distracting, a bit scary, and the constant misbehaviors of a few stop the flow of instruction and discussion. And we all know that doesn’t work for most kids on the spectrum. All those unexpected behaviors do not belong in class where you are supposed to be learning. All those unpredictable and unexpected behaviors are very difficult to interpret, to respond to, to adjust to. The interruptions make listening to the teacher and following along even more challenging for many kids with special needs.
I was an ED/EBD teacher for 18 years. I loved every minute. That is my favorite group to work with and I advocate fiercely for their right to be in any class , special ed or not, that meets their needs. That is until acting out behaviors communicate they are not comfortable in those classes. (That’s a topic for another day.) So I would never say we should keep kids separate just because of their labels or specific learning needs. They should be in general education classes with their peers with all the support they need to be comfortable and successful. That’s in a perfect inclusive world. We are not there yet.
We should offer grade level content in smaller class settings for those kiddos needing that, IEP or not. But we should not put those classes together with only special needs kiddos of all exceptionalities just because they have a special needs label.
Because that is just madness.
So, Drawman has to deal with some unexpected thuggish (his descriptor) behaviors. Behaviors that he worries about dealing with all the time. ALL the time. He is not being bullied, made fun of, picked on. He is pretty much ignored by this particular gaggle of boys. But their loud and disruptive interruptions are impossible for him to tune out. While the teachers often use the good old ignore it strategy, some of the students cannot. While the teachers may believe that dealing with this group is just something their classmates have to learn to handle because ‘that is how the real world is and we all have to learn how to deal with jerks’, I do not subscribe to that notion at all.
I don’t think we need to punish or consequence the kids with undesirable behaviors. I think we need to find ways to make them comfortable enough in school to not feel they need to act out. And sometimes folks, that means they are not with peers. Sometimes unwanted behaviors are triggers to other students. In my mind, the person acting out needs another place to learn, not the triggered kid. And I say that as a loyal, fierce advocate for all kids wearing the ED/EBD label. If your behaviors put a classmate in a constant state of anxiety in and out of the classroom, you need a different placement. And I don’t mean isolation or self containment. I mean a placement where kids who are triggered by your behavior are not. A place where you don’t feel the need to act out for whatever your reasons are. Behavior is communication. We need to pay closer attention to it.
Let’s stop the madness of putting all kids with labels in ‘special education’ content classes just because they are special education kids in need of smaller class size and modified course work. That’s just lazy. That’s just crazy.
So, today Drawman is home. He explained late last night, school was just not something he could cope with today. A Monday. A Monday after the clocks got moved ahead.
I sent an email explaining it all to the director of special education and Drawman’s IEP manager and Autism teacher. I don’t expect a response, but they know me well enough to know I expect a solution and I am not going away.