Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What Makes A Placement Bad?


I just found a post I started writing years ago, and I laughed and cried when I realized how little has changed. Nick's older, I'm wiser but the system is still the same. Here's what I wrote in 2009 and I feel the same way today, with a few additions; time has thankfully brought balance and the emotional roller coaster called our life has far fewer stomach wrenching climbs and dives. Still, I don't understand why any of our middle and high school classrooms operate like K-3 classrooms. Sad, when adults get stuck in their limitations and  hold our kids back. The moral of the story; it's a long journey and change is slow. 

2009 
For me placement has always been either good or bad. In Nicky’s case when it’s bad, it’s been so bad and so emotional. I look back and I can still feel how I felt when the placement wasn't right and I would begin to get frustrated, angry, freighted and protective. When I realized a program was not good for my son, and I felt like people had been given a change to rectify the problem, and did not, my emotional reaction was primal; strong and protective, it border lined irrational in a modern world.  I don’t remember being interested in using my negotiation skills or trying to understand the other side. They became "the enemy" so fast it would make your head spin.

Some people wonder what makes a placements bad? A few reasons they have been bad for me:

l. They were not able to monitor his medical needs.

2. They were not able to provide a physically safe environment (Nicky was a runner and he has almost zero safety awareness)

3. The classrooms or teachers were not able to offer the behavioral or educational supports necessary for him to fully participate in and benefit from his educational environment.

4. They discriminated against him and did not let him participate in general ed. school programs.

5. They did what was easy for them, not what was best for Nicky. 

The negative consequences to each of these for Nicky scared me. When faced with these problems I have always been able to get his placement changed, but it is not always easy or without consequences. FYI...This is where good record keeping and relationship building skills were essential.  I often get asked by parents “How do we find a good placement?” and I always reply the same way. I believe the good placement is not, what worked for any other child but what works for you. In my case I don’t want Nicky in a special day class or a non public school. I want him in a typical education class room all day if or until it no longer serves him to be included. So I had to find a school that supported inclusion of special education students into the general education program. Note that I said “supported” inclusion, not had inclusion. Schools cannot legally deny most special educational children the opportunity to be mainstreamed some or all of the day, however if the administration does not believe in inclusion and they do not embrace inclusion, it’s apt to be a tough road to travel. I had Nicky in one school where he was mainstreamed ½ of the day. It worked good for one year when he had great teachers who ran the program and believed in the societal benefits of mainstreaming. When the teacher retired, the program fell apart because the school administration did not share her philosophy, and overworked frightened general education teachers resented adding working with a disabled child to their already full plates.

The stories for what has and what has not worked go on and on.  Seems to me that at the end of the day a good placement is on that keeps your child safe and meets their developmental, educational and social needs, whatever those needs might be. At the same time we have the right and the responsibility to fight for that placement no matter what anyone says. So if ever there is a time when the phrase "What You Think of Me is None of My Business" fits, this would be it. 

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