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Special-Education Class or Mainstreaming?
Q: My 12-year-old son is in a special-education class. He may have Tourette's syndrome or Dystonia. He has an appointment with a neurologist. He also has writing and reading disabilities. He sees a therapist for his anxiety.
I'm afraid of mainstreaming him next year for seventh grade. His esteem is high now. It took a good teacher and reinforcement, but I'm scared all that hard work will disappear if he's put in a normal classroom setting. Children can be cruel. Last year was a nightmare for him. I don't think my son is ready for this setting. What can I do?
A: Make sure that his IEP contains information about what has made his past experiences successful. List the qualities of the teacher and specifically describe the kind of reinforcement programs that have worked for him. Also make sure that the goals and objectives in the IEP are specific (that is, they can be measured objectively), and that they build on the gains that he has made up until now.
Here are some things you should consider: Does your son's current teacher feel that your son is ready to move to a mainstreamed setting? If not, then ask him or her to make a case for a more specialized program for at least the next year. Is there any other option for your son, or is the school suggesting this placement because that's all they have? If so, then make sure that the new program has enough support to help your son. A specially trained aide in the classroom, access to specialized instruction as often as your son needs it, someone to monitor his performance on a regular (weekly) basis to make sure he's not slipping backward, and communication with his therapist - all would be helpful.
Be careful if the school says "Trust us -- we know what we're doing." I hope they do, but you want to make sure that the IEP (which is a legal document) specifically describes what your son needs, who will provide it, and how his progress in this new setting will be evaluated. If he's already prone to anxiety, this move, if undersupported, could really put him in a tailspin. Ask your son's therapist to get involved here--to review the plan and make suggestions to the school to help them build a smooth transition for your boy.
As I've said many times on this subject: Inclusion, when well supported, can be wonderful. Inclusion without proper supports for kids and their teachers is malpractice.
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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.