The Road to Mainstream – Part 2
Last week I wrote a post about my son’s imminent transition from a special education class to a mainstream classroom. I focused on his experiences up until this point in a variety of education settings and how we had come to the decision to make the leap to mainstream.
Today I want to talk about how we have gone about this process so far. Before I begin, I do want to emphasise that I am in NSW so my experiences won’t be the same as someone going through this in another state or territory (let alone another country). Nevertheless, I still hope my experiences may give a useful perspective to other families considering a similar journey.
Our journey so far has consisted of the following elements:
3. Specialist Assessments
I will go through each part and recount our experiences so far so you have a better idea of what we have had to do to continue on the road to mainstream.
We knew at the start of this year that we wanted to work towards this transition for Gilbert so we were prepared to discuss this in Term 1 at his yearly IEP meeting. IEP stands for Individual Education Plan and is a document we have entered into every year since he started pre-school. Basically this sets out our goals and aims for the year and ends with a statement about his future setting.
This year, the school also wanted to raise transition with us so we were really lucky to be on the same page. It was a huge relief to know that they also thought he was ready – I don’t think I would have gone through with it otherwise!
ASPECT subsequently set up a meeting with the local school principal to progress Gilbert’s transition which tool place in Term 2. This meeting involved myself and my husband, Gilbert’s current ASPECT teacher and the ASPECT coordinator, the school counsellor, school principal and the local DET itinerant support coordinator.
It is important to know, as a parent, that you have the right to bring along anyone you feel needs to come to this meeting. We were comfortable with just ASPECT being there with us but we could have brought along a speech therapist or occupational therapist or psychologist if we felt their input was necessary to the discussion of Gilbert’s requirements.
As intimidating (and, let’s face it, depressing) as it may be to discuss your child’s functional issues, it is necessary to estimate what assistance they may need in a mainstream class. In our case, Gilbert has two distinct disabilities – albinism and autism – so we needed to keep both these in mind when evaluating his abilities across a range of categories.
Some of the action items that came out of this initial meeting was for ASPECT to provide some specific detail around his progress around the KLAs so the public school could ascertain where he stood against his potential classmates; for us to get an updated letter confirming his diagnosis from the paediatrician, as well as updated speech and OT assessments; and for the school to look into some of the ways they could ease his transition.
The school’s enthusiasm to have him is encouraging and they have followed through everything they have promised us to this point. So far, so good.
Once we agreed that we wanted to proceed toward transition to mainstream, ASPECT completed a form to notify the NSW Department of Education (DET) that we were intending to enrol Gilbert in a public school for 2012. We also completed a DET enrolment form and presented the school with identification documents to support this form.
We have also obtained updated reports from a number of specialists to help in ascertaining how much additional support Gilbert will need in a mainstream classroom.
The other main piece of paperwork we have contributed to is the application for funding for additional needs. Most of the information we provided at the meeting with the school together with the subsequent reports we have gathered will be used to complete this application.
In NSW, funding is based on the functioning of the child across several areas (i.e. curriculum, communication, personal hygiene, self-help, etc). The scale used starts at 0 if the child has no additional needs in that area, and then progresses up according to need. Our son is a 0 across many areas but is a 1 in others. He is high-functioning and has no intellectual impairment so he doesn’t score highly against this scale but he may still be eligible for some assistance given his two separate and distinct disabilities.
We will not know until next term what hours of funding per week he will be eligible to receive. While in some ways it is encouraging to think he is obviously not as badly placed as other children with special needs it is also scary. I know he will need more day-to-day assistance than he will be eligible to receive. That’s why it’s so important to get to know your school early, get them to know your child and work together to make the transition a success.
I have seriously lost count of the number of appointments I have attended this year. All very necessary but also expensive, exhausting and time-consuming.
Gilbert needed to be assessed in a number of areas to assist with the funding application. He required an updated letter from his paediatrician re-confirming her earlier diagnoses and stating what support she thought he would need to transition to a mainstream class. She confirmed his diagnoses (no surprise there) and stated that it was her belief he would need significant support in the classroom to successfully integrate.
He required an updated speech assessment to identify whether he had expressive or receptive language issues. Surprisingly, he did quite well in the CELF-4 test administered by his speech pathologist and actually scored in the normal to above average range. Great news for his development but not so great for gaining additional funding to address his clear issues with reciprocal social communication…
My son is also an interesting case when it comes to OT and sensory processing. He seeks and avoids the same things, day in and day out – there is no consistency to it which makes it really hard to determine what he needs to calm down.
His new OT undertook a new assessment to see where he sits now and has commenced a new plan to provide strategies to help him through the stress of the next few months. I have also asked the OT as well as ASPECT to advise the school that Gilbert will need additional breaks to keep him engaged, alert and calm in class, Hopefully these strategies will help him make a successful transition.
Vision Australia also performed a mobility assessment of the school for us. The principal accompanied us (and Gilbert) on a walk of the school grounds to identify any potential hazards that may impact on his movement in the playground. The school has already undertaken to clearly paint poles and better mark out areas that are out of bounds and have even volunteered to make other adjustment to help him out.
Next week we have a meeting with the DET Vision Coordinator who will assess his vision needs to confirm he is still eligible for itinerant vision support. This support would not necessarily provide him with one-on-one assistance in the classroom but would give the school regular access to a specialist who can develop individual strategies to help them effectively deliver learning to Gilbert in the classroom.
And that has been our journey so far. His first supported transition visit is scheduled for week 3 of next term with others to follow after that. I will keep you informed of how we go.
Next week I will talk about what we have already done to prepare Gilbert for this change together with what we plan to do next year to support his integration.