This is a choice that you will have to make yourself based on your own child, but I thought I would share with you our experience. It all depends on the type of support your school board is going to provide, but again, you know your child best! Go with your gut. Here is our experience and what we’ve learned from it.
When GG first got diagnosed we saw many health care providers and therapists. We read every book and went to many, many workshops. The advocating workshops taught us how to communicate with the school team. The workshops were also about our child’s right to attend a mainstream school. “They deserve to be where every other child is. They shouldn’t be secluded because of their diagnosis. They have the RIGHT to be at school with other children, in the same class. They should not be segregated in an integrated setting.” These same workshops left you feeling strong enough to fight the school board and advocate for full support if needed. I now had the tricks and legal wording I needed to make sure they understood my daughter’s needs and provided for them. As an EA, I see parents come in to meetings ready for the “fight” because in all honesty, that is what it has come down to with all of the cutbacks we are seeing. The Catholic board advertises full inclusion and that our children are a respected member of the school community. I believe in their hearts, they want that to be true. But over the years, I have worked with children who have only needed academic help to being a flight risk, harm to self/others, and attendant care, to now only working with the child who is most “disruptive”. Even children who need help with toileting, are non-verbal and a flight risk don’t necessarily get support if they are quiet and easy-going.
That is one part of making a decision on whether or not to go to a mainstream school. The other part though, and this is where I am all for segregating (shocking I know) is that some our children never feel like they belong.
GG was the type of child who would copy any negative outburst or self-harm she witnessed. So being in a class with other children with autism who did this would not be a good placement for her at that time. Also, academically she was pretty close to the same level as her peers until grade 2. She seems to be stuck at this level for most things (maybe some grade 3) and she is now in grade 8. The gap just gets bigger and bigger. Socially, she is like a 4-6 year old in grade 8 class with a bunch of 13 year olds. She has lost all confidence in herself. She is so aware of her differences and needs compared to her peers she absolutely hates it. She uses up all of her energy trying to fit in and be like everyone else. Her pediatric psychologist said it is like being a Buddha in a Catholic school. You get along with others, yet you never really feel like you fit in. She is full of stress and anxiety. She is pushing her support away by being rude, non-compliant and silent. Our happy go lucky girl (most of the time) is now angry and somewhat depressed. I’m sure teenage hormones are a part of this as well!
We tried to get her into a class with children who are diagnosed with LD (the autism class had too many children that she could not relate to but the LD class had more peers struggling like she was). The wait list was so long, they didn’t believe she would get there before grade 9. Now we are on the search for the best high school placement for her.
Some things to consider when choosing a school:
*Location and transportation – you need to make home life easy for you and the family as well
*Amount of support needed and the availability at that school to provide it
*Social struggles that may arise in the future. How aware is your child going to be of their differences and what is their personality to be able to handle that?
*Knowledge of staff and accessibility of the school
You can request meetings with several different schools and interview them just as you would if you were hiring someone to do a job for you.
Click here to see a list of questions to ask when interviewing different schools.
If you can or may need to in the future, home schooling can also be a great option if you are able to do so mentally and financially. There are many different home school groups in communities that you can tap into for support. Click here for homeschool resources and information.