Charlie is now a happy school boy at the county autism center he attends. There are some 200 students at his school in central New Jersey and even more staff and most know Charlie by name. Charlie has been at this school since November of 2009 after a very contentious experience with a central New Jersey school district (that we no longer live in, though Charlie still attends the same autism center). We are no longer arguing with the school district about teaching methodologies, staffing levels, hours of therapies, incident reports and so forth. We now spend meetings about Charlie’s Individualized Education Plan discussing his education, instead of arguing about special ed law, placements and behavior plans.
Some might say we’re just tired of fighting and gave in and agreed to have Charlie attend a separate, out-of-district autism center rather than attempting to have him in a classroom in a local public school with the supports he needed. That is one way to see the matter.
But another is that, we chose to acknowledge the limitations of what a public school district itself could do and chose a setting that seemed to offer Charlie as accommodating, and conflict-free, a climate as possible. Looking back, there must have been quite a bit of stress on Charlie’s special ed teachers and therapists who worked in public schools, having to teach their students and also deal with the other faculty, parents and administrators who may have felt the special ed students were just occupying space and taking away resources. Charlie is extremely sensitive to other people’s emotions; being minimally verbal, he is incredibly attuned to non-verbal communication. I am sure he was well aware of contention between school staff and parents and was often confused and frustrated that we adults couldn’t get along, when he was trying so hard to learn.
Charlie has always wanted to go to school to learn and to do his best to have good days, not to find himself the cause of angry disputes. Parents sending in special ed students wearing secret recording devices is a sure sign of one thing: Something is very wrong with a special ed program and with communication and interactions between parents and school staff. So much contentiousness is too often the case but it must be addressed. How can we make sure that everyone is truly on the same page about providing the best education possible for our students?
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