As Brandon begins transitioning away from school, I am looking back to his educational experience. Did we do the right thing moving him to a self contained school for those with developmental disabilities? Steve and I have no doubts that we did what was best for Brandon.
Is the self contained school right for every student with a developmental disability? Of course not. When we made the decision to move Brandon, we were met with differing opinions. Upper management of the company I was working for at the time strongly disapproved of our decision. How could we isolate our son like that? How could I promote inclusion while “isolating” my son? Our friends and family, who know Brandon best, were completely supportive.
Here is what I do know. When Brandon got to high school, he was volunteering in the community. By his last couple of years, he was volunteering in the community with his class twice per week. This was not available to Brandon at our local high school due to the significant challenges that come with his autism.
At his high school, Brandon was navigating the halls of his school independently. He was able to go to his therapies by himself. He was able to take notes and such to the office by himself. People in the school saw him. They know who he is. And they like him.
Autism is a spectrum disorder. Brandon falls on the severe end of the spectrum. He has so many challenges with communication, sensory needs, and interfering behaviors. Our local high school has 2,000 students. Alex and Josh both attended this school. And they both have told us that Brandon would have been lost there.
But they have also told us of students who are on the higher end of the autism spectrum doing well at the school. I could not be happier for those students. It works for them and I am glad they (and their parents) had that option.
In my opinion, the para-professionals (paras) are the folks who can make a positive experience even better. The paras spend more time with our kids at school. They are in the lunchroom. They are in the restrooms. They are in the hallways. They are in the classroom. And they are in the community with the students.
Brandon has been blessed with some wonderful paras over the years. All schools, self contained or not, should have paras available to those with disabilities.
I have a family member who works as a para in an elementary school. She works with children with autism and other disabilities. What she wants folks to know is how capable these kids are. They may need some extra help with math, science, and all the other stuff, but they can do it.
Let’s make sure those kiddos have the needed help so they, too, can reach their full potential.