Guest Author - Bonnie Sayers
My nonverbal son Matthew turns twelve at the end of June and is finishing up fifth grade and moving into secondary schooling come September of this year. Preparing for middle school is not just to benefit the child on the autism spectrum. As the parent I need to see firsthand what the school is like and take into consideration any buzz I may hear about a particular school. I have been researching schools online for months now, visited some schools and Special Education Centers and have finished this search.
We are with the Los Angeles Unified School District. The school profile is listed online, but I found it hard to find ones nearby and had to click on many to find out where their location was and then call for more details. The information online is limited to the year the school was opened, if they are Title I, their year round scheduling, if they are a charter school and whether a learn school. There is also the racial ethnic history with the total of all students attending for the five previous calendar years. The other charts are for student attendance, student adjustment and staffing profile.
Here with LAUSD the Elementary Schools are doing away with year-round schooling, but the secondary schools still have students attending various times throughout the year. I printed out school calendars for one, three and four tracks to know what the schedule is for starting and vacation times.
I called schools and asked for the Special Education Department to find out if they had any autism classes on campus. Some schools may just have a special day class and not an autism class. With autism classes they are either mild to moderate or classified as moderate to severe. Matthew is in a moderate to severe class. I inquired to the track the autism class was on and if they were on break or in session at the present time. How long had the teacher been there, how many baseline assistants and how many are assigned to a specific student. A baseline aide is one who is with the classroom and now the aides for students are referred to as additional adult assistance – (AAA).
When visiting classrooms and schools I asked the following questions:
1. School calendar year – year round or traditional
2. Classroom category - mild to moderate or moderate to severe
3. Class size – how many students allowed, how many classes
4. Number of aides – break down for baseline and AAA
5. how often is adaptive PE
6. school uniforms
7. gym uniforms
8. locker room – how long to get changed, supervision
9. lunch – what time, how long
10. field trips – how often, sample of where
11. school map – get one
12. bus drop off location
13. lock down policy
14. phone in classroom
15. bathroom in classroom
16. therapists – male/female/ how often – in class or pull-out basis
17. art, music, library, computer room
18. assemblies – how often, where held, how long
19. class schedule
20. nurses office – change diaper/restroom
For all the schools I called I got the start and end times for the school, if the same teacher was staying, how many classes were for autism and then I asked the Assistant Principal at the Elementary School where the classmates were going for Middle School. I went to visit one Middle School while Matthew was on spring break. We were met with negativity by the Administrator and the class seemed like a dumping ground for autistic students. It was beyond poor and considered our home school. This is the same school I visited for Nicholas’s Middle School transition the previous year. I would not consider this school for general or special education students.
I let those schools I was visiting know that Matthew is nonverbal, has feeding issues, a behavior support plan that resulted from a Functional Analysis Assessment at his last triennial IEP. He uses the Alternate Curriculum and testing and is not toilet trained. I also explain that he usesPECS and a communication device, is on medication and has sensory issues. He receives Adaptive PE, OT and speech services. There is also Assistive Technology. I also inquire as to if they have had a speech therapist this school year since there is a District shortage and no services have been provided this school year so Matthew will have compensatory services as well.
The Special Ed Centers serve students from age 12 through 22 and a good percentage have mobility issues. The autism classes I toured had a large range of ages and degrees of the autism disability. There were some with lots of visual supports in the classroom and others that lacked support systems. The Administrator taking a few other parents, Nicholas and I around had a negative attitude and did not seem to want us bringing our children to their school. He made a point of discussing bullying several times. We did get to see the gymnasium, outside cafeteria area, computer room and passed by several restrooms.
The issue or having an aide on an IEP and going into a Special Ed Center was brought up and it would most likely result in the AAA person being reassigned. I was not happy with that since I went through so much to get a new AAA for Matthew just this year. The few good points in regard to a Special Ed Center is the safety net of a somewhat protected environment and no uniforms. We left that depressing building and headed for another one that is actually our home school for that type of school. This one was much nicer, but since we had no appointment we could not go on a tour. Here again we were met with negativity since we did not bring a District Program Specialist with us. Personally, I will visit whatever school I please and not wait for a school person to tell me where I can and cannot go.
The third place was a regular Middle School that just opened up this year and turned out to be excellent. The school hours are much better than all the others that start between 7:30 and 8:00. Also on Tuesdays most schools get out at 1 pm for teacher conferences. This Middle School I chose starts at 8:30 and Tuesdays they go in at 10:00 AM. I even told the Assistant Principal I am considering having Matthew take the bus. If all the other students are taking the bus I think it is important to follow the same routine. I think it would be good bonding for Matthew and his new AAA. It is not very far from home at all and the process here is that the AAA would drive here and park and take the bus from our residence to the school.
A student at that classroom lives about six blocks from us and attended another Elementary School with Matthew and was like a mentor to him. I am looking forward to Matthew being in the same classroom. It is the first year teaching for the male teacher and he was very warm, friendly and energetic. The class had the schedule posted and some behavior charts and chore lists for the students. It was such a positive experience being there observing them outside having a science experiment and then going into the classroom.
I had the teacher conference the morning of my visits and kept the report card and IEP papers with their progress noted with me along with a copy of his current IEP. I showed the Administrators of the schools and the one teacher the report card so they could get a sense of where Matthew is at academically. I should have produced a picture but forgot to do this, but did have a wallet photo handy I neglected to show. I did mention that Matthew has had floor time therapy and that we were trying to get it reinstated with a new therapist.
I also indicated that I am his home health care worker. One Administrator at a Special Ed Center wanted more information on IHSS, so I her my business card and told her that the SEMAC meeting that was cancelled for the same day was to be on that topic.
I even told the AP that we can move up the IEP as soon as possible so that Matthew can get into that classroom. It turns out a few other kids in his classroom will be going to that school as well and that teacher there told me they may add another classroom next year. I want to get Matthew a uniform so we can prepare for wearing white collared shirts and pants with a button or snap and zipper since he usually just wears Adidas pants with the drawstring.
Appropriate Inclusion of Students with Special Needs
Autism: Making new plans and goals for your children
LAUSD Parent-Student Handbook
Middle School Reform - Middleweb.com
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.