Mainstreaming our kids. How does it work? What is it? Is it the right answer for everyone?
Students who are mainstreamed are expected to keep up with curriculum with minimal supports. Some modifications can be made, but there are restrictions.
When Brandon started school in kindergarten, he was mainstreamed into our public school system. It worked well during the first year. He was mainstreamed into gym, music, and art.
When he wasn’t in these classes, he was in a self contained room. All the students in his room had a developmental disability. It was a small room. Therapies were done in this room, educational goals were worked on in this room, life skills were worked on in this room. There was not a lot of interaction with the other students in the school.
By first grade, the IEP team decided Brandon would be mainstreamed into just gym and music. In second grade, we were told he would no longer be mainstreamed into the gym class. After Christmas of that year, we were informed he would no longer be mainstreamed into the music class.
We asked why this happened and were told that Brandon wasn’t able to keep up with the class. He wasn’t interested in learning music theory, or art theory, and he wasn’t able to follow directions in gym class.
We asked if he could have more supports in these classes. Nope. There were not enough teachers or paras to go around. If Brandon were to have more supports, another child would have less supports. We certainly didn’t want that. We wanted more supports for all of the students in Brandon’s class.
We asked if the therapies (speech, OT, PT, and music therapy) could be completed according to a schedule. For example, could music therapy be every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday so our son knew what was coming. The answer was a quick “nope”. It was explained to us that the therapists have a lot of kids to see and they will “push in” whenever they have time.
No matter what Brandon was doing, when the therapist showed up, he was expected to stop whatever he was working on, transition to the therapy in a corner of the room, and work with the therapist for 20-30 minutes. If he was eating lunch, they would stop him and direct him to the therapist. We were bothered by this, but felt we had no other options for Brandon.
Then we heard about the Special School District in our county. We started researching what they had to offer and felt this may be a viable option for Brandon. We took a tour of the elementary school in our area and talked with other parents who chose for their kiddos to attend this school. Everything was very positive. Yes, therapies are done on a schedule. Yes, there are private areas for therapies. Yes, the classroom size was smaller. Yes, there are paraprofessionals in every room. Yes yes yes!
I excitedly told my work friends what we were thinking about for Brandon. I had worked with adults with developmental disabilities for 20 years and knew they would be happy for us. There were some that were not.
Upper management heard about Steve and I considering a change of schools for Brandon. I was called into the office and asked about it. I explained why we were looking at this option. I was then told how horrible it would be for Brandon. That my husband and I were not considering that we were isolating him from the world. That I did not understand what folks with disabilities need. I was also told to keep this to myself as it did not fit with their vision of inclusion.
I had a great deal of respect for this group until that moment. They weren’t listening. I was told that Brandon deserved better than what we were considering. They told me Steve and I were “absolutely wrong” to even consider other options for Brandon’s education.
My problem with that? They never met Brandon. They never offered any suggestions on how to make it better. They never asked if we needed any help. What they did offer was a lot of judgement.
Ultimately, we did decide for Brandon to attend the self contained school. There was almost an immediate improvement in his behavior. It wasn’t perfect every day, but it was significantly better.
There were schedules. There were routines. There were different rooms for therapies. There was a learning area set up like a kitchen to help him learn some kitchen, eating, and table skills. And he was with his peers. He was no longer isolated from his schoolmates!
We have made choices for Brandon that did not turn out as well as we hoped.
As Brandon prepares to graduate this spring, we know in our hearts this was one of the best decisions we ever made for him.
Remember, we parents know our children best. What works for one does not always work for all.