Last week I visited the classroom in Pleasanton. It’s a good program, at a nice, well-maintained school. I liked the teacher. But when all is said and done, I’m not sure it’s any better of a fit for my daughter than the classroom she’s currently in. Both programs have distinct advantages and disadvantages—at least as far as Katie is concerned. I wish I could take parts of each program and create something that would truly work for her. Unfortunately I’m fairly certain that’s not going to happen.
On the plus side, the Pleasanton class is smaller (seven students) with a better student-teacher ratio (at least 2:1). The aides and teacher clearly have experience with autism. I’m confident they could handle whatever behavior Katie dished out. In fact, given that this class is located in the Pleasanton School District, rumored to have one of the best autism programs in the East Bay, it’s quite possible the entire IEP team would be superior to the folks I’m dealing with now.
But the alternate placement is not a mixed moderate/severe special day class like Katie is in now. It’s an autism class. They use the standard ABA-based teaching method that has never worked well for Katie. The seven students are all boys. Three of them are non-verbal and the other four appear to talk less than Katie. I suspect Katie has better social skills than all of them. So even though she will be the youngest child in the class, no one will model better communication or social skills.
The difference between the two classrooms when it comes to speech is staggering. Her current placement may contain children with a host of disabilities and learning differences, but it terms of communication they are way ahead of my daughter. Katie loves going to school with these kids, who to her, probably seem pretty close to “normal.” And because of that, the alternate placement will not be nearly as motivating. In fact, I think she might view a transfer as something close to punishment.
The new class has some nice mainstreaming opportunities for 4th and 5th graders, but nothing has been worked out for a 3rd grader like Katie. And while I think Pleasanton would do a better job handling Katie’s sensory issues, they do not have a dedicated “sensory gym” like Dublin did. The school doesn’t even have a swing. Sigh. But I did see a well-used trampoline.
In other words, there were some pluses and minuses. I left the class feeling totally conflicted.
Should I jump at the chance to get Katie into a great autism program even if the program wasn’t a perfect fit?
Did the benefits not only outweigh the negatives, but also justify a second major transition in a single school year?
I wasn’t sure. A week later, I’m still not sure.
I suspect my district thinks the transfer is a done deal. They’re busy preparing the necessary reports for Katie’s triennial IEP, and I’m sure every one of them will discuss how her current placement is a poor fit because there are far more kids in her current class and it doesn’t have the number of aides that the program in Pleasanton does—as if somehow the district has no control over classroom size or the number of aides it hires. Or the lack of training they receive.
So that’s how I’ll spend part of my winter break with Katie: reading through a stack of reports, hoping I’ll stumble across something that will make my decision easier. Because right now, it’s not feeling easy at all.
To be continued…
Until next time,