Here's an article I just read about autism and the debate over inclusion vs. substantially separate classroomes... here----. The article doesn't come to much of a conclusion, but it prompted me to write about some of my own thoughts on the subject, and to rant a bit over something that angered me!
As you probably know, recently Janey left the full inclusion school she had been a student at since the age of 3, and she now is in a program and classroom for autistic children. Overall, the transition itself went well Everyone involved did their best to make it as smooth as possible, and Janey seems to be doing well, or at least as well as before, in the new classroom. It's too early by far to draw any conclusions about which method of education is better for her. Deciding that will take at least a year, I think. But I have a lot of positive feelings about her program now. I like it that she is being taught life skills, that she has music and art and swimming and gym every week---areas where she can shine in a lot of ways. I like the structured teaching, and most all reports I get are that Janey is doing pretty well. I hear many wonderful things about her teacher and aides. It's not perfect --she still has meltdowns and tantrums, and at home, we are seeing some tough behaviors, as I wrote about yesterday. But so far, looking at strictly how she is doing and being treated, I'm cautiously optimistic.
Now the anger. I didn't let myself write about this last Friday, because I was too mad. I took some time to calm down, but I am still upset. I knew going into the new school that the very long school day (right now, Janey is gone from the house from 7-5) was just for this year, that the school had a grant to allow them to offer an extended day for this year only. I was told there would be after-school offered next year I could sign Janey up for. Janey went to after-school every day at her old inclusion school, a program I loved. On Friday, I got the official letter (a form letter) saying that the long day was ending and giving the details of the after-school.
The after-school sounded good. It included things like computers, swimming, yoga, sports and drumming. I saw as I first read that it cost $30 a week, which sounded reasonable. But more careful reading led to this line "We have social inclusion activities available for ASD (autism spectrum disorder) students who are ready and confirmed by ASD Strand Coordinators" Translation---this afterschool program is open to kids who are "ready for inclusion" Well, obviously Janey is not ready for inclusion. If she was, I would have left her at the wonderful school she used to be at. So she can't go to afterschool? Not so fast! There is indeed a separate program for the autism class, focusing on "social skills, life skills and homework" and it's available for "only $150.00 a week"
So---afterschool for regular kids and for those deemed to "inclusion-ready" (a term that makes me sick) costs $30. Afterschool for autistic kids, AT THE SAME SCHOOL, costs $150.
I'll jump in with what I know might be the response here. I know autistic kids would require a higher level of staffing. I know that would cost more. I understand that. However, more than FOUR TIMES the cost? For a program that is about 13 hours a week? A program that isn't even the same as what is offered the other kids? Really?
Is this legal? I am not sure. Probably. Is it right? No. Kids with autism need MORE help, more school time, more teaching. Families with autistic kids, let's be frank, need MORE respite. And although I don't have figures to back this, I am quite sure most families with an autistic child have LESS money than other families. The needs of autistic children limit a family's ability to make money.
One of the thoughts I used to try to calm myself down about this was that I am not sure I would have sent Janey to the afterschool anyway. There is no transportation for it, and I've quickly gotten used to the bus. Even $30 a week would have been a stretch some weeks. However, in a lot of ways, that isn't even the point. Janey isn't the only child affected here. And the issue is fairness, not my personal convenience.
I'm sure everyone involved with this is doing the best they can. They aren't using autistic kids to make money. But what kid of a society doesn't have funds available to prevent this? Where does all the money raised for autism go? Isn't this exactly the kind of case where one of the many autism foundations out there could help?
And I keep thinking---this would not have happened at Janey's old school, the Henderson Inclusion school. It would have been beyond comprehension there to change more for kids with disabilities. If I wanted Janey to go to any program at that school, she was able to---no questions asked. Ever. And that is the spirit of inclusion. That is what I miss---the belief that Janey deserved to be fully included. But as I told this to a friend, she said---"Yeah. Until they couldn't do it any more" I jumped to their defense, but she does kind of have a point. Inclusion doesn't always work. I wish it did. But until it does, can we at least never send home letters that make it quite as clear as the one I got how very separate Janey and the other autistic kids are?
Some late breaking news from later this same day...
-Janey came home today with a new flyer from the principal saying that "several documents were sent out that incorrectly communicated our school's design and cost structure for next year", and saying they would share updated and corrected information about next year's after school program in the next few days, and saying that in the meantime, they wanted to be clear that the program would be equally accessible to all students and families with the same pricing structures for each. Hurrah! I think I was not the only one upset over this!