Tuesday, August 2, 2016

10 Things about Special Day Class (SDC) Schools Don't Want You To Ask

The first special day class I visited for Nick confirmed every negative stereotype I had in my brain convincing me that Nick should ever be placed in one.

Over the years I've come to question if any child with autism could reach their potential in an SDC setting, yet I know there are little or no alternatives for many of our kids. What I know now is, it is possible when viewed as something we shop for, vs something we just accept or take for granted.


The big idea here is too many SDC's and the teachers who run them are still operating from the perspective that our children will never developmentally grow beyond elementary school.  As a result, they set the bar low and our children suffer, never getting the opportunity to reach their full potential.
Sadly many SDC teachers are still treating students, even in high school, like babies, their "special children" unaware their perceived limitations of each student are part of the problem. For years I thought this would change, but when Nick came home from summer school last week with a "Certificate of Excellence" in an owl cut out aimed at K - 2, my first reaction was "Really....why the heck are you treating my 18-year-old like a child?"  Another reminder change is slow, and we have to teach teachers too!
Ten things you need to consider when placing your child in an SDC? 

1. Does the room feel age appropriate? If the classroom, is not in elementary school, but it looks like one the setting screams, we think your child will always be a baby! 

2. Do conversations between students, teachers, and aids sound like they are talking with a kindergartner?  Individuals with developmental disabilities should be spoken to in a normal fashion, and not talked down to, no matter their age. 

3. Is the class engaged in age-appropriate activities?  I don't mean activities should not be modified for each student. What I mean is does your 17-year-old come home from a field trip with a paper hat on his head?! 

4. Do class activities reinforce negative stereotypes of special needs children? Are they asked to line up and walk single file to the cafeteria in middle school...when the other students are not?  If you're not sure, just channel your inner 10 to 18 year old, and consider the things SDC students did that you laughed at. 

5. When you go in the room, does the teacher sound like a teacher or a parent? Teachers should always sound like instructors, leaders, a person of authority. Teachers who coddle our children often fail to see their potential and instill confidence to achieve more. Pity only stunts their growth. 

6. Are the SDC students being isolated from the typical students during lunch, recess, and other nonacademic activities? When SDC students are not included as much as possible in the general education population during lunch, recess, and other nonacademic activities everyone loses. The general population is denied the opportunity to learn about diverse populations, which will be critical in a world where 1 in every 54 individuals has ASD. In turn, our students are not given the opportunity to mirror and learn from the general ed population.

7. Are you welcome to visit the class at any time? Be skeptical of any classroom where parents are not welcome. No matter what anyone tells you about a classroom the only way to really know how it is run is to see it in action. Yes, you have to follow the school rules, which vary from campus to campus, but you are legally entitled to observe during school hours. 

8. Does the SDC have a process for generalizing the skills learned in the classroom? ASD students memorize information, which is often not retained over time when they are not taught to apply the information in their day to day lives. No matter how many academics are taught, if the SDC cannot demonstrate a plan for each student to generalize skills into the world outside of school, your child may graduate school a social and functional illiterate filled with information that cannot be used to achieve or further their independence. 

9. Does the SDC teacher have experience working with the unique needs of children with autism?  Too many educators are still unaware of the unique and often complex needs of children with autism.  Don't let the small classroom fool you into believing each child is being well servicedChildren with autism, down syndrome, epilepsy, and an array of other disabilities all have unique needs and learning abilities and styles. there is no such thing as a one size fits all when it comes to teaching. 

10. Is your child showing measurable growth in his SDC?  The school expectations for our typical children are pretty universal, and it's easy to let society, our school system, and educators pull our children along the milestones of an "educational" path. On the other hand, due to their individual needs, there is not a universal standard of milestones for special needs chidren. As a result, it's far more difficult to measure our children's progress and map where they are in the process. A great teacher has a plan and understands the goal is independence.  A qualified teacher will help you understand your child's academic/school goals and can tell you how they apply to their eventual independence.

If any of these things are happening in your child's SDC, don't give up, talk. I've found that most teachers want to do a good job, and many have just never been educated about our children. And if you find the teacher won't listen, or can't hear you, go to the next person in charge and express your desire  is not to be disruptive, you just want to help to create a better setting for you child and the other students.  





3 comments:

  1. What a great list! I wish every parent had this from the get-go as the journey begins. I'll never forget visiting Cheramoya Elementary School in Hollywood when I was looking at SDCs. I visited a classroom where the "kids" were in fourth and fifth grade. Awful! The students were lolling around with no supervision while the para-educators (back then they were called "one-on-one shadows") talked amongst themselves in a corner, laughing and ignoring their charges. It was horrifying and I refused to send Casey to that school until they got some real educators. Eventually, they did start a pre-K for ASD kids that was quite good. On back-to-school night, the teacher and her one aide proudly laid out all the age-appropriate portfolios the kids had been working on but Tim & I were the only parents (out of eight children) who showed up. We dutifully looked at each child's work, praising the teacher and her aide--and the children whose parents didn't show up for whatever reason.

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  2. Certainly, Is why I removed my then 6 year-old now 13 from the public school system..It was going to borrowed time and empty fulfillment. ...You are on target..

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