This school year has been an interesting one so far for my first grader, Eli. He had the most wonderful small group autism class for kindergarten last year. It was full day and had all the structure, discipline, and appropriate challenges that he needed. He was mainstreaming for 30 minutes a day, without the help of an aide. By the end of the school year, all those extra hours in the classroom paid off. He was doing great. I placed him at the school he is now attending, fully expecting that he would just pick up where he left off and be able to have the type of structure that he had in the kindergarten class, and continue to increase mainstreaming time.
My little bear is going on 4 months now, and I have been waking up from newborn zombieland only to be disappointed when I realized that things are much different for Eli than I thought they were going to be. I don't blame anyone for this, really, as it is a good deal in part due to circumstances and different teaching styles. The class he is in is NOT bad, it is just not a great match for him. He was coming home with clenched teeth, ready for a fight. Sometimes he would just come home and start yelling at me. Then he would throw a fit in the evening... "I don't want to go to school. My friend is mean to me. He yells in my ear." Come to find out, Eli is the highest functioning child in his current small group autism class. The class can have a rather high noise level, and Eli has always had a strong sensitivity to noise. All the noise was causing him serious tension issues. Also, academically he can do all the typical 1st grade level work.
Eli's teacher has really earned my trust. When I went to her with my concerns, she put him in more mainstreaming time, and she went with him herself the first time to see how it would go, and so she could tell how much time would be appropriate for him. He is now mainstreaming 2 and 1/2 hours a day. While he does NOT behave like an angel the whole time he is in Mrs. H's class, Mrs. H is very experienced and works great with him. He also goes with an aide from his special ed classroom who takes care of him there. The overall result of the new changes? MUCH less tension! We are still having behavior issues that have appeared over the last few months, but the lower tension level is good, good stuff. He now has more appropriate role models, more appropriate challenges, and less inappropriate noise. He also still has his small group autism class in the afternoon, which is good for downwinding a bit and for getting individual help with his lessons. All these changes are very recent. We are watching very closely to see how things will be once he has settled into this routine. All we know right now is that this is great stuff.
I am already concerned for next year! My concerns are these: The small group autism classes in this school district are not going to become more appropriate for him as he ages, they are only going to cause him frustration. It is likely he may not be at a level next year where it will be appropriate to place him in a large, typical public school class setting. All my concerns combined cause me to think that a charter school will be a good option for him for next year. I believe that at a charter school he may be able to be with his typical peers in a smaller class setting, and I think that with the support a smaller classroom would afford, he would do very well. We are looking into options.