Ryan got on the bus this morning and started his first day of second grade. He woke up by himself and came downstairs dressed and ready to go. When was the last time that happened? I have a little boy who loves school, which says so much about the teachers who work with him.
We have been blessed with an exceptional teacher who really understands and knows Ryan. This will be the third year he has been in her K-2 class. She teaches Ryan all of the academics, but he joins a typical second grade class for morning circle, social studies, science, lunch, recess, and related arts. He has a one on three (there are three second graders) aide to help him when he is in the typical classroom. For the most part, Ryan has thrived in this type of setting.
Deciding how to educate a child with autism can be difficult. Many children on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum are also very bright. They can handle the academics. At the same time, they struggle socially. And school is all about being social. Put a child who is delayed socially into a typical class and academics can suffer, unless he gets the proper support.
In the typical classroom, Ryan also has to deal with sensory overload. Bells ring, loud announcements are made, fluorescent lights are bright, and 23 other kids in the same room can feel crowded. Ryan has trouble following teacher directions because he can’t filter out the extra noise like chairs scraping across the floor, sounds in the hall, loud voices, cars going by outside of the windows.
Also, being social has no meaning for Ryan. He doesn’t automatically greet a person because he doesn’t care whether or not the person thinks he is rude. He doesn’t understand the concept of winning because he doesn’t understand why he would want to do better than someone else. He also don’t get why he has to do a good job with his school work, since he don’t understand the social concept of not wanting to appear less smart than his peers and looking like he doesn’t understand. Basically, Ryan doesn’t feel the same social embarrassment that his peers feel.
I thought a lot this past summer about how to best educate Ryan. I’ve been reading about inclusion and what the experts say is best for a child with autism. I’m beginning to think that no expert is as much of an expert on my child as I am. I’m going to have to figure this all out by myself. There are experts who think that autistic children, no matter where they are on the spectrum, should be totally mainstreamed no matter what. I don’t agree. There are too many factors to consider.
However, I had a conference with Ryan’s teacher last week about starting to include him in a typical math class with his peers. Ryan is more advanced in math than his other two second grade buddies in the special education class, so Ryan gets his math instruction by himself. I feel that if Ryan is going to learn more social skills, he shouldn’t spend too much time by himself. Math is also just one hour out of the day, so it’s a good place to start. It’s going to be a balancing act. Ryan will need to deal with the social aspects of the classroom while still being able to learn the academics. It’s something we will need to figure out as we go along. The teachers and I will need to communicate and work together everyday to creatively find ways to help Ryan deal with the obstacles that may come up. That’s what education is all about.