Guest Author - Bonnie Sayers
I recently attended an amended IEP for my son Matthew. This meeting was held due to my request to have written documentation on compensatory time for Speech and Language Services.
Since this is a year-round school, extended school year (ESY) takes place during the month of January instead of during the summer months. One day upon arriving at the school the speech therapist was leaving. It also happened to be the day that Matthew receives his individual speech session at her office, so I asked for some feedback.
I was informed that since this was intersession Matthew was not receiving services, which was incorrect due to this being included in his IEP for the past two years. I explained this to the therapist who mentioned she did not see it in the IEP.
Upon returning home I gathered the IEP and made a district complaint regarding the lack of services. The response I got back from the district was quite different than what was told to me in person. I indicated to the IEP clerk in the office that I wanted an IEP to rectify this and would be filing a state complaint if a meeting was not convened.
I was notifed soon thereafter of a date and time for our meeting and happy with the compensatory time suggested that will be implemented. It was discussed that there is no timeframe on this, so chances are the hours could be carried over to the next school year.
At the conclusion of this IEP, after signing and copies were dispersed, I was informed that the special education students would soon be integrating with the general education students for lunch. Once the lunch process was complete they would start with recess.
I asked for some documentation pertaining to this, but was told this is how all parents were being informed - at IEP meetings. Los Angeles Unified School District has a modified consent decree, which is being facilitated by the Office of the Independent Monitor.
I wrote down in my notebook what was told to me at the meeting. "As part of outcome #7 in the Modified Consent Decree, 52% of kids must be integrated 40% of instructional time of day." The Assistant Principal explained to me that an aide would take two students from the autism class and sit them at a table with general education students. She would have a higher functioning student with Matthew and his aide.
I immediately protested about this saying I did not want Matthew to be part of this integration and that it would create behavior problems for him, plus the fact that he has come so far in his private feeding therapy. The Assistant Principal said she did not figure Matthew into the 52% of kids, but was going to try it out soon with all the students and see how it goes.
Again I asked for some form of written explanation regarding this so I could then indicate I did not want my child to take part. I also explained I felt Matthew would get injured or run away during the recess and shared how the times I have observed recess the aides are basically standing together talking among themselves while the kids are running around their area of the playground. How is their not paying attention going to help my child on the playground with general education students who really know nothing about autism. As it stands now there are aides that are clueless regarding autism.
This whole experiment, for lack of better term does not sit well with me. In fact there has been no more mention of this or when they plan to implement this integration. I bring Matthew to school each morning and take him to the lunch room, which are tables outside. The very first table is where the down syndrome, mental retardation and autism classes sit for breakfast and lunch.
There are aides that are there when the buses arrive and some that ride buses with the special education students. Due to limited adults the classes are all sitting together with aides mixed in from the various classes. Every morning it is like a social gathering of the aides talking in spanish amongst themselves and not facilitating any peer or social interactions with the students.
I have mentioned many times over the years to the Assistant Principal and Teacher that no one ever acknowledges Matthew's presence upon arrival at the table. Therefore, I do not leave until the teacher arrives and someone says hello to my son. I have heard of times that Matthew has run away from the lunch room, and do not appreciate the aides not paying attention to the students they are assigned. His aide still walks out into the area and goes straight to the other aides and starts talking. There is no contact with my child, plain and simple.
At the IEP meeting it was mentioned to me by the Assistant Principal that I should just drop Matthew off in the morning and the aides would have him sit with other kids. I wish someone would take the time to see what I keep repeating about the morning social for these aides. One day last week there was not one aide for the autism class and the other aides got their students to line up and then said they would call to find out where the teacher and aides were. They seemed to forget that I am a parent and not a school employee, so leaving a parent alone with other students should be against some policy. What would have happened had I left Matthew at that table and gone back to the parking lot like the Assistant Principal suggested?
After the IEP we had a home visit from the Developmental Pediatrician. This was during the Floortime session, through the same clinic. I discussed with the Developmental Pediatrician what was told to me at the IEP. She did not agree with this disruption to Matthew's lunch routine and felt it would cause behavior issues.
A few days later I attended the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting at the LAUSD headquarters and discussed with the Compliance Unit this same issue. The data was collected on an intake form. I was told that lunch and recess are not part of the instructional day so this should not be implemented based on what was cited to me.
I also received a phone call from someone in the District stating they tried to get a hold of the Assistant Principal regarding this, and would get back to me. One week later there is still nothing in writing being sent home to parents and no telephone calls to me on what steps I can take to prevent this from taking place.
While I personally feel this lunch and then recess integration is not suited for my child, it might be a good thing for other students. I think it all depends on if the aides and other related school personnel at lunch and recess are properly trained on what type of behaviors and issues might arise as a result.
Also it was never explained how the general education students would be taught on communicating with students who have a variety of disabilities. There needs to be a plan in place before just placing students with down syndrome, mental retardation and/or autism at the same table as general education students. A facilitator should be present to make sure the integration works and becomes a success and not just a drastic change for the special education students.
For nonverbal students they need visual reinforcements and preparation that they will be moving from their regular seats during mealtimes at school and sitting with other kids. Some form of structured activities needs to be implemented for recess time and not just place kids along with an aide into another section on the playground where these students are not familiar.
I really do not agree with changing the routine and structure of the day for special education students, unless this is part of their Individual Education Plan (IEP) and the parent is on board with these changes. Social stories could be used with higher functioning students to help prepare them for these changes.
While doing an online search to find out about inclusion for students with autism and general education students I found some resources to share.
Alberta Learning, Special Programs Branch has a 230 page pdf document online entitled Teaching Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Print copies can be purchased at www.learning.gov.ab.ca/k_12/specialneeds or call 780-427-5775.
Page 9 contains the Table of Contents, which includes Chapter 7 - Facilitating Inclusion, starting at page 111. Promoting Positive Peer Interactions begins on page 121 of this document. This document also includes case studies, task analysis: asking a peer to play and a motivation assessment scale.
The National Autistic Society in the UK has a 16 page pamphlet called, Understanding difficulties at break time and lunchtime by Patricia Thorpe, ISBN: 1 899280 86 3. The review at this page on the pamphlet starts off by saying, "This is an excellent and precise guide for all school staff to read and particularly important for lunch time support staff who may not have met children with autistic spectrum disorders. Parents reading this booklet will, I feel, be confident that everything that can be put into place for their child is being done!" This review is by Judith Colley, author of Working with an Asperger pupil in secondary schools, through NAS publications.
Over on mugsy.org is an example of a social story for Lunch Time that consists of "Before lunch I am usually in the playground. A dinner lady tells me when it is time to go and have lunch. I get my lunch box and then I walk to the hall. When I go into the hall for lunch there are lots of people there. Usually it is not just my class. A grown up usually shows me where to sit. There are lots of children in the hall who are eating their lunch. Children often like to talk while they are eating. There are lots of children in the hall who are talking at the same time. If the children get too noisy a grown up asks them to talk quietly. Sometimes children forget to close their mouths when they are eating. I will try to stay calm and quiet if I see children opening their mouths when they are eating. I will try to eat my own lunch and not worry about the way the other children are eating their lunch"
Inclusion as Social Practice: Views of Children with Autism - An online subscription or single article purchase is required to access this article. Social Development, Vol. 10 Issue 3 Page 399 August 2001, Blackwell Synergy
This study illuminates the social realities of inclusion of 16 high functioning children with autism (HFA) in public schools in the United States. The study suggests that the practice of inclusion rests primarily on unaffected schoolmates rather than teachers, who typically are occupied monitoring academic progress and disciplinary transgressions across a range of children
Visual Supports during lunch time - a power point presentation with examples
San Francisco Unified School District, Academic Plan for Student Achievement good charts with examples that includes parent and community involvement
Rethinking Mainstreaming/Inclusion - interesting entry in blog dated May, 2006 - The Life that Chose me, my life in a world of exceptionalities
Autism Program Evaluation - San Jose Unified Schol District, 2003
There is a forum A to Z teacher stuff that has a thread need lunchroom help that discusses inclusion setting for autistic students. Here is where I learned of "lunch bunch", "The students choose regular ed. students to join them for lunch in their classroom. The focus mainly on social conversation while they eat lunch. The teachers may have conversation starters or pictures set up so that the students can use them in order to aide them in their verbal exchanges."
A search on lunch bunch groups brought some further resources -
Office and Administrative Hearings, Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, State of Hawaii, Findings of fact, Conclusions of Law and Decision cites under #30,
A "lunch bunch" program is offered, which allows students to socialize. Special Education Teacher further described the "lunch bunch" as a mix of about 5 to 10 special education and general education students in a situation where they played games and practiced social skills.
Buddy Circle - there are also examples of how to set up a lunch buddy
Best Buddies Organization
Educational Autism Tips for Families 71 page resourceful ebook for families entering the school system with a recent autism diagnosis. Find out what issues take place over the course of a school day and meet these challenges head on.