A week later, my friend Barb (Katie’s reading tutor) and I met Mary, the Program Specialist, in front of a middle school in our home district. I liked the feel of the place. This classroom had fewer students and the teacher, Mr M, took time to talk to us in person. He was thrilled when he learned my daughter had an iPad and rattled off apps she could try. Katie learns quickly on the iPad. Could this be the answer I’d been searching for?
There were several non-verbal students in the class, but the others were at least as verbal as Katie. And here too, I found a former classmate of Katie’s. This girl immediately recognized me. “Where’s Katie?” she said, looking behind Barb and me.
“She’s not here, but she may come next year.”
“Good,” she said with a grin. “I like Katie. We have fun.”
Again tears threatened. I loved knowing that Katie had touched so many lives.
Mr M and Barb discussed reading. Mr M showed her some worksheets and Barb nodded approvingly. The conversation to math. I began to feel a glimmer of hope.
Then Mr M said, “If I can get your daughter, or any of my students, in the transition program and she can hold down a job bagging groceries or folding pizza boxes, then I consider myself a success.”
The third time he repeated this refrain, I said, “You need to meet Katie and then we can discuss expectations. Because if she ends up folding pizza boxes, I’ll consider myself a failure.”
There was an awkward pause and Barb said, “I think you need to aim a little higher with Katie.”
Mr M nodded, but I could tell he was unconvinced. Yet when we sat down to observe, I was thrilled to see academics filling the daily schedule. Only one period was devoted to life skills. There was no kitchen here.
My school district may struggle to accommodate Katie’s sensory needs (and the resulting behavior if those needs are unaddressed), but it works hard to keep special needs students as close to grade level as possible. Unfortunately for Katie, it may be too little, too late.
Next we went with Mary to another middle school to observe another special day class. Like all the others, this was a mixed disability class rather than autism specific. It was unclear to me what distinguished the two classrooms, although I suspect most of the higher functioning kids were lumped into this second class. I liked the teacher, but learned that she was a substitute. She had no special education credential. Plus there was no guarantee she would return next year.
Once again I met a former classmate of Katie’s and he was just as thrilled as the others at the prospect of seeing her again. I was happy that she would know someone in whatever class she entered.
I left the second school feeling conflicted. Could my school district truly have the best middle school program for Katie? Was I willing to trust them a third time. Could I take that risk?
Mary and I talked in the parking lot after Barb left. “I was surprised,” I said, “to see how much more emphasis this district places on academics.”
“It’s a better fit for Katie, I think,” Mary said.
I nodded. “But I have to be honest. It’s hard for me to consider coming back given our history.”
“We have a new behaviorist,” she said. “And we’re hiring another. I think you should consider it. I don’t think what happened before will happen now. The entire department has changed.”
“Oh, I’ll consider it.” But could I agree to it? That was the question.
“And if you do transfer back,” Mary said, “we might want to review those goals again. Put less emphasis on life skills and more on academics.”
It was music to my ears.
To be continued…
Until next time,