Year after year, our IEPs sounded like heaven on earth. But the district never fully supported or fulfilled them. Over time, the situation degraded to the point where our relationship with the school administration was lousy - and our son was progressing at a snail's pace. The frustration level was high, and the outcomes seemed increasingly poor. Finally, we decided the simplest, pleasantest, most effective way to provide our son with a terrific education and appropriate inclusion was to do it ourselves. Last year, we started homeschooling.
Of course, not every parent will choose to homeschool - and school inclusion is consistently described as an ideal educational choice. I started researching inclusion, looking for information about what makes inclusion work - with an eye to providing parents with the information I'd somehow missed.
So far, I've discovered a great deal of information, and interviewed several experts. All of them have provided information about what the district must provide; how teachers should be trained; which tests and evaluations are most appropriate; and on and on. But while parents can recommend, demand, or even provide a few of those items, most - such as hiring, budgeting, training, and scheduling - are largely out of parents' control.
I've asked and searched for information about what parents can do to support, facilitate and/or ensure "true" inclusion - the kind that educates each child according to his needs and abilities, involves parents in every decision, includes general and special education teachers in high-quality, frequent trainings, and ensures that each child's long-term goals be considered from the earliest years. But so far, the only really advice I've found is -
- Advocate. Get in there and tell the school what you want. If it's not provided, hire an advocate. If it's still not provided, hire a lawyer. If it's still not provided, sue.
- Get lots of parents on your team, get them to agree on a mutually acceptable set of expectations (despite childrens' very different needs), and come to the district as a group. If you don't get action, hire an advocate... etc.
- Choose an educational approach. Hire an evaluator who will support your choice. Bring your child's teachers, therapists and aide (if provided) to trainings at your own expense. Purchase and provide resources as required. Repeat annually.
Yet some parents HAVE been successful in achieving positive inclusive environments for their children. Of course, some of the credit - in some of those cases - probably should go to districts that truly embrace the idea of inclusion. But surely some of the credit should go to parents.
If you're such a parent - how did you make inclusion work for your child with autism? What kinds of hints and tips can you offer other parents (particularly parents who do NOT have the financial or personal resources to hire expensive lawyers and advocates)? How much time, energy and focus did it take to create the right environment for your child? And - were you able to sustain that environment for more than one or two school years?