Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Changing Schools for the Better?

The beginning of MJ's 4th grade year and his brother's 2nd grade year, we made a drastic decision to switch schools. We had struggled for the past 3 years at another school trying to figure out things with MJ, and finally we had gotten them to set up a 504 Accommodation Plan for Asperger's. This was the last month before school ended for summer break and so we were looking ahead feeling pretty confident things were finally going to be OK.
But then we made a last minute decision and things all changed.

MJ and Thomas were both in a full time gifted program located at another school within the city but further away than their home school. While it had been great for Thomas so far, MJ had struggled for the last 3 years trying to find his place as a gifted student with Asperger's. It had not gone easy. It took us a year to find the diagnosis, but then another 2 years to get the school to accept it and willing to make any accommodations.

MJ was so smart, yet he had certain setbacks such as processing delay, sensory issues, problems with speech and stuttering, misunderstanding of nonliteral communication, bad organization, forgetfulness, and invasion of others personal space. Not to mention his awkwardness, strange gait, and the need to be constantly cued. But yet, because he was so incredibly smart, these things often could be hidden, until 3rd grade where problems were arising.

Long ago I had gone to the school and asked them how they could accommodate MJ. According to the doctors and testing, they told us MJ was in the genius range as far as knowledge, IQ, and academics, yet because of his Asperger's his processing was way below average and so it was as if MJ was this super smart kid who couldn't get his ideas out or communicate them fast enough to show others. That didn't seem fair to me, so I asked the school district what could be done to balance this out so he could show his full potential. They told me, "it doesn't matter what diagnosis he has, as long as he is not failing academically, then we will not make any kind of accommodations." I remember being very very frustrated. What an injustice to a gifted child.

Anyway, we fought long and hard trying to figure out how a child with Asperger's fits into a gifted program. Finally at the end of 3rd grade we were getting some results and a 504 Plan was set up. It may have made 4th grade to be a great year for him academically, but another problem was on our mind---his need for socialization.

MJ had struggled with this for years. Although he did have some friends, most of them were in the grade level above his, and many of them were not close friends. He would go tag along with some of the other kids at recess or try to involve himself with the other kids, but none of them were really close friends, and I think they just humored him or let him play along to be nice at times. The problem with the gifted program is that he was stuck with the same 12 kids for all 6 years of Elementary School. This is great if you've got good friends, but if you can't find your place, then it leaves you stuck and alone. MJ often came home very sad and depressed being that he had no friends to play with at school.

Maybe it was part of having Asperger's that he had trouble making friends or knowing how to act socially, but maybe he could do better if there were more possibilities of friends in greater numbers. So although we knew MJ needed the challenge of a gifted program, we made our decision to change him back to our home school hoping for a new chance to make friends. We had our fingers crossed and hoped for the best. The home school had the largest 4th grade class of 4 classrooms with over 100 4th graders. Going from 12 4th graders to 100 is a big difference. Could he find friends here?

We met with the Principal the Friday before school started and introduced our boys. I alerted him of MJ's Asperger's and his established 504 Accommodation Plan. We discussed what accommodations needed to be met, yet also his giftedness and my concerns for how he needed to be challenged. The Principal seemed great and addressed my concerns. He said he would take all things into consideration to find the best match for a teacher for MJ.

And so we sent our boys off on the 1st day of school and hoped for the best. Would he make a friend? Would the teacher be OK? Would this school make a difference?