Thursday, April 19, 2007

Role Reversal

Tonight my wife and I attended a very interesting meeting at our sons' school district. The meeting constituted a reversal of roles. Tonight the school was learning.
Let me explain. The Special Ed Director of our district - a very small district in a semi-rural area tucked away in the middle of busy Southern California - called a meeting for all parents of students who are autistic. When we arrived, she had the white-board divided into 3 sections: Defining the format of ongoing meetings like this one, Short Term District Goals, and Long Term District Goals. The big surprise was that all that appeared under the Titles was - empty white board. Did she seriously mean to ask us our opinions on what form meetings and goals would take? Shock! Once we picked ourselves up off the floor, we got down to business.

In attendance were 4 other moms, my wife and I, and - get this: the school psychologist, occupational therapist, and autism services consultant (a third-party provider) - all on their own personal time. A positively positive brainstorm session ensued, beginning with establishing the format and regularity of the meetings to be held in the future. It was decided that once every other month, alternating mornings and evenings, for 1+ hour sessions, we would meet. Additionally, one extra meeting for transitional assistance a few weeks prior to each school year. Then we got on to goals:
Short Term Goals
Improved collaboration between mainstream teachers and Sp.Ed. service providers, where applicable...
Extra support for new school year/Fall transition in the form of trained "floaters" who are available to kids, parents, teachers, and even classmates to answer questions and help resolve issues..
Assign a permanent spot on the PTA for a parent of an special needs child (not necessarily autism)...
Consider a Buddy system, wherein NT kids of same-grade would "pair" with students in the Sp.Ed. classroom for defined periods of time. Use this as an "award" for the NT kids - something they aspire to earn. (This idea makes me uneasy. I think it accentuates differences, and a caste system is implied, even if the intended outcome is positive. Any input on this would be appreciated)...
Begin a "Resource Center", beginning with two titles - My Friend with Autism and Rules

Long Term Goals
Sensitivity Training - many different methodologies were discussed on this topic, but no consensus reached. The idea is a good one, though, if implemented with forethought and care...
Sibling Inclusion, wherein all siblings of special needs students would have some fun (bowling, swimming, etc) and be provided an informal forum in which they can share experiences and develop friendships...
Fundraising for special events and services. One mom owns a skin-care clinic, and could provide free sessions. One mom makes gift baskets that could be sold. I own a wholesale fresh flower distributor, and could sell bouquets. We could make it work!

Well, if by this time any of you have decided to immediately put your home on the market and move to our school district, then rest assured that you can hang out here on the weekends for BBQ's and a few icy cold ones.

When roles are reversed like they were tonight, that's what I call PROGRESS.


bigwhitehat said...

Unfortunately in Texas we have a robinhood law that confiscates school taxes from my district and spreads the wealth to swindlers and consultants that rip off less affluent school systems all over the state.

This means the former best special ed dept in the country is becoming more mediocre all the time.

So in an effort to save some precious special ed resources, my son is now in a class with six other boys that are all hard to handle. They like to share bad habits. They like to be so incredibly distracting that nobody truly gets what they need.

For the first time, I am annoyed with the school system.

mumkeepingsane said...

That gave me goosebumps. We're at an amazing school but the school board has had nothing to do with it.

Steve D said...

Ah, Bigwhitehat, don't you just love the unintended consequences of pseudo-socialism?

abfh said...

I think it accentuates differences, and a caste system is implied, even if the intended outcome is positive.

I also dislike the idea of pairing up special-needs students with peer "buddies" in a volunteer service sort of way, as if the "buddies" were volunteering to help with the pets at the Humane Society. It's degrading to be on the receiving end of that sort of "service," and there's a strong implication that nobody would befriend a special-needs kid otherwise.

There are better ways to get peers involved in activities with the special-needs students. I'd like to see more inclusive buddy programs in which every student was encouraged to be a helper and was matched with someone else who needed help in a particular area. For example, a popular kid could be a buddy for an autistic student who was good at math but had difficulty making friends, while that same autistic student could volunteer to tutor a mainstream student in math. That would give everyone a chance to help others, while integrating the special-needs kids in a positive way.

Welcome to Autism Hub -- I've seen your comments on Kev's blog, and I'm glad you decided to start blogging yourself!

Club 166 said...

Wow! Something positive happening? And in California (usually not noted for progressive programs for autistics)?

As Grinker points out in his book, often rural areas step up to the plate better to handle things in a sensible, hands on manner. Perhaps you're just rural enough to be the beneficiary of this effect.

Or, as Zane (BigWhiteHat) might put it, they cowboy'd up and took responsibility for the problem, and are doing something about it.

Hope this is the start of a lot of good things for you.

Alyric said...

Hi Steve

Gernsbacher's reciprocity paper should be required reading for school personnel contemplating buddy systems and the like

Happy blogging:)

Alyric said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alyric said...

For some reason the whole link thing is cut off - so you'll have to add an underscore _reciprocity.pdf to it - I think:)

Doing a nice job of mucking up your comments here!

Steve D said...

Thanks, Alyric, for the advice. I will read the paper. And, once I figure out how the he** all this html stuff works, I will try to fix the link issue.

Mum - It has not been all good at our sons' (not a typo - we have two sons there) school, but my wife and I are big believers in certain approaches to the staff:
-Consistency in approach
-Mutual respect
-Understanding that we are all human
-Not using Jason's "worst days" as the benchmark for success/failure
I only hope that other kids benefit from the slow, steady approach that Jason has benefitted from, and that attitudes in general improve towards autistic students.

abfh - I absolutely agree that your suggestion would be a better way to approach this issue. At the same time, I am wondering if the complexities of such a venture would prevent even its consideration. In a perfect world, yes, but the truth is that the staff at school wakes up each morning with headaches, not enough sleep, dwelling on an argument with a loved one, struggling to pay bills, with a bad cough, too late to eat breakfast, finds they have a flat tire, can't find their sunglasses, cat peed on the floor, etc... So they are just humans like the rest of us, and we can only expect so much. These humans converged last night to try to improve the lot in life of my son, and that's about as much as I feel I can expect.
I am going to read the Gernsbacher paper that Alyric suggested - then I may have more salient points to discuss with you on this topic. Thanks, though, for your thoughtfulness in responding.

abfh said...

Another article you may want to read and share at a meeting is Thomas Armstrong's essay Special Education and the Concept of Neurodiversity, which is about changing the special education discourse to get away from negative and limiting language.

SethL said...

very cool old boy. whether people understand or agree on why or not, these kids are flooding the school systems. It is great to see that your district is being proactive and is listening to the parents. I'm working on mine, and it has come a long way, we're going to take a deep breath and begin our son Aaron in kindergarden next year with a shadow that the school will provide. The trick or a trick is balancing addressing special needs with mixing in with NTs. It's tough. Sounds very promising. I'll contact personally soon. Good to see your own blog.

Steve D said...

Seth -
My son is in the same boat as yours next year - Kindergarten with a "shadow". Email me so we can chat about it - its a big step!