Those who have been reading for a while may recall that we had an IEP meeting in September where we talked about transitioning Mickey from his current highly restrictive school placement (far more restrictive than he needs and with zero opportunities for extra curricular activities or even “specials” like art or music). Exit criteria was given to Mickey for him to work on. What wasn’t defined is the period of time he had to meet that criteria (a week? a month? 3 months?). I also think I wrote about his teacher interfering in Mickey’s relationship with his girlfriend and the subsequent growing dislike Mickey has for his teacher. This has lead to some issues – specifically pre-holiday, but in the last two months, Mickey’s dislike and distrust has grown to hatred with open hostility toward his teacher.
It is worth mentioning that Mickey loves most adults. In fact, in the five plus years that I have known him, I can only think of two other adults that he hated. The two adults were a bus monitor, who by all accounts had no business being a bus monitor for special needs kids – she lasted about 7 weeks and just never showed back up to work. The other was the director of the daycare where he was bullied who told him that if he would act better, the other kids wouldn’t have a reason to bully him….so, in both cases, his extreme dislike felt justified.
I can’t get him to explain his dislike for his teacher, but I suspect it is a combination of several factors: this is a male teacher, and while he likes males, he is used to female authority figures (at home and at school), the teacher did interfere in his relationship with D. and never did anything to fix it before D moved to her new school, the teacher admitted he was pushing Mickey harder than the others because he thought he was capable and in an effort to prep him for transition. I also suspect that there may be a historical aspect to this dislike – Mickey’s memories of his early years are very foggy, but when he struggles to explain his dislike, it can sometimes be attributed to some memory he can’t express. Maybe the teacher reminds him of someone, or it could be his teachers habit of placing hands on the back of Mickey’s neck to guide him to or from a situation – this drives Mickey nuts. He also has had to restrain Mickey more than any teacher in history – for offenses that wouldn’t necessarily need restraining if interventions were put in place before the explosion. His teacher, by his own admission, does push him sometimes – rather than taking the time to try to de-escalate the situation. This is the opposite of what the program he is in is designed to do, but it has become a real problem.
If I had my preference, we would change teachers, but his school only has one for his grade level and while there is clearly a serious personality conflict, we were still working on the assumption that we would be transitioning, so I was hoping to wait it out. But, in the meantime – overall behavior is great but at least twice a week since after the holiday break, Mickey and the teacher have gotten into it. I have talked to the teacher and the administration and expressed my concerns that it seems the teacher is pushing Mickey when he is already agitated, rather than encouraging coping skills to calm the situation. His teacher from last year has had to step in repeatedly when she hears Mickey ramping up and is able to diffuse the situation, but when she isn’t available, it always seems to turn physical between them. So, for those reasons and the fact that his teacher is the one that determines his status on his exit criteria, the transition has been off the table.
Until yesterday, that is. I got a call from the county coordinator for the Autism program we were hoping to transition to. The administration at Mickey’s school called her and wants to start the transition process. We did a lot of discussing whether there was benefit to transitioning before the end of the year (there are 11 weeks left of school, however there are also the standardized testing week and spring break in there). They won’t move him before the testing, so that would only leave 4 weeks of school for him to transition – and as much as I would like to get him out of his current setting, it is likely more disruptive than helpful for him to do half days at a school he won’t be at in the fall anyway. So, we made the decision to move him at the start of middle school in August.
Not only will he be transitioning back to a “regular” school, but for the first time since 1st grade, it is his home school. He will be able to attend with his neighborhood friends. We set up an IEP meeting this morning to discuss all the details of the program, how his day will be structured and whether we think it best to start slow and do half day where he is and a half day at his new school or whether to just have a fresh start at his new school (this is what we are leaning toward, as he will have a new teacher next year if he stays at his school, so there isn’t a deep connection there that we feel would be helpful).
I hung up the phone and cried. I don’t know why it hit me so hard, but I felt hope for his education for the first time in a very long time. His school (prior to the issues with his teacher this year) has been good to him. He has grown tremendously there, but academically I fear he has fallen behind. He is capable of functioning in a less restrictive environment and he needs to have options for band or chorus, which he desperately wants to do. This program will keep him in a small class setting and will offer paraprofessional support when he is able to go to general education classrooms (which could be up to 2/3rds of the day, if he is doing well). He will have a daily social skills class too, which he needs. The thing it offers him that means the most is options – it is flexible – if he can’t handle 2/3 of a day in gen ed, he can do much less. If things are going well, he can be increased as well. It also means shorter bus rides and the options for “normal” stuff like clubs, spirit nights, dances, football games, etc. He may or may not want to participate in those things, but I want him to have the option.
Since this is coming from the county level and exit criteria has been met, per them, unless he does something to royally screw this up, we are moving. I am beside myself and so is he. So, we are going to wrap this week up on a positive note. Yes, we have nearly 5 months before it actually happens and 6 weeks before we have an IEP meeting to formalize the plan, and never having been part of this program, we have no idea how he will do in it, plus middle school is a huge transition anyway, but this is a great thing. Mickey said “so for the first time I can tell people where I go to school and not be embarrassed or have to explain what kind of school it is because it is a regular school?”. Yep, kiddo – the same school your mom and uncle attended, your friends from the neighborhood and dance attend and your sister will attend. Your regular old assigned school. Welcome to your home school Mickey. I see great opportunities in your future.