Tuesday, September 26, 2017

I'm OK with My Child in Special Education

My sweet little girl with Down syndrome steps inside her classroom. Jaycee retrieves her folder from her backpack before hanging it up. Jaycee walks to her little basket containing basic toiletries to work on self-help skills. She brushes her teeth, brushes her hair, applies deodorant, and washes her face all on her own. She takes her seat in her desk ready to start her day at school.

In a typical day, Jaycee will have reading, spelling, writing, computers, social studies, and math. She has a full day, but it is a day tailored to her. The majority of her day is spent in a self-contained special education room specifically for children with (what I would consider) severe language and/or speech delays. Jaycee is now on her sixth year in this classroom that individualizes work on each child's level while trying to develop communication skills.

But, let's go back to the beginning. Jaycee started school the day she turned 3. Her first class was an early childhood classroom, which was a small class composed of children with developmental delays or diagnoses associated with delays/educational needs.

An Adorable Jaycee in Pre-school Stuck in a Classmate's Stander
It was not easy sending my very tiny and nonverbal three year old to school. The only comforting thing for me was her placement in the early childhood (EC) classroom. I liked the idea of a smaller classroom even if it meant that her classmates all had some sort of diagnosis.

I never second guessed her placement. Jaycee had about 5 spoken words at that time but was a proficient signer. She didn't understand safety and would run off without warning. She was not potty trained and wouldn't be until age 5. Jaycee was extremely delayed in her fine and gross motor skills as well. As a speech-language pathologist, I had worked in this very school the two years prior to having Jaycee. I knew what was expected from each child in the classrooms. I knew that the best fit for Jaycee would be the EC room.

A few months after she was an EC student, I was chatting with another parent of a child with a disability that was in another school district. She was very surprised I had consented to Jaycee being in an EC classroom. When I told her that I didn't have a problem with the placement, the mom assured me Jaycee needed to be with typically developing peers. When I explained that Jaycee was very, very, very delayed compared to her peers, the mom responded that Jaycee could probably be in that regular classroom with an aide. I really didn't see the need to put a Jaycee in a classroom that was significantly above her abilities just to be with typically developing peers when there was a perfectly fine specialized and individualized classroom with a teacher trained to help a child like my own.

After that conversation, I realized my choice wouldn't be favored among some. I got that mom's perspective. I really did. But, I wished she would have stopped to listen to mine. Every child with a disability or diagnosis is different, and that's why there's education laws.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) here in America requires that children with disabilities receive the level of education they needed in the environment that is least restrictive, which is referred to as LRE. The principle behind LRE is that the child with the disability should spend as much time as appropriate with peers who do not receive special education.

The placement of a child is a case-by-case decision. A diagnosis does not mean that a child will be automatically placed into a special education room. School districts should not be placing all children with Down syndrome, for example, in a self-contained room on the basis of their diagnosis alone. Conversely, a child with a disability is not automatically assumed to need to be in the general education classroom. There are many factors to consider when deciding where a child should be placed and what level of support a child needs.

I'll be honest and say that Jaycee has always been in a very restrictive environment, but it's been the right one for her. She has always spent most of school day in a special education setting of some type. That being said, she has always had opportunities to be around peers during recess, physical education, lunch, class parties, music class, and library time. Everyone in her class knows her, and she has friends in the regular education room. Her time in a separate classroom has not isolated her from developing positive social relationships. More importantly, she has developed friendships with other students in her special education room.

Being in a special education classroom has not been detrimental to my child. Some parents I talk to fear that if their child is placed in a setting similar to Jaycee's that their child will not develop friendships, they will be isolated, they won't be challenged, they won't have good peer modeling, and that they will learn "bad" behaviors from the other students with disabilities. I get all of those concerns, but I have been more than happy with the attention and teaching my child has received in her special education classroom.

It's important to remember that there is no ONE single answer for placement for ALL children with disabilities. This has been the path and the decisions we have made for our child, and it seems to be working. That's why I'm ok with my child being in special education.

1 comment:

  1. Every kid should have an education which is tailored to them.


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