Friday, 10 August 2012

The School Story Continues! Part 3

The school story continues…..

Since we were not getting anywhere with the Special Education Consultant (SEC), I contacted the Ministry of Education.  Before I called, I was very anxious.  My autism consultant recommended that I create a prepared script to use, and that I explain that I have Asperger’s Syndrome to the person who would take my call. The man I spoke to was very nice and gave me the name of the Principal of Student Services at the school board who is above the SEC.
I emailed the Principal of Student Services and explained our situation about Micah being out of school, me homeschooling her, and needing a class in the school across town.  She in turn contacted the same SEC who I had been emailing. 

I seemed to be getting nowhere.  It was frustrating.
We got a call from the SEC about a school down the road that had space and could support Micah in their Student Support Centre (SSC).  It didn’t really sound like the right fit, but I wasn’t able to assert myself.  When I talk to someone I don’t know, and that person has a position of authority, I tend to agree with whatever they say.   It is something I can’t help.  I automatically say yes when I don’t have time to think carefully and I can’t ask for that time.  I also don’t like conflict probably because of my communication issues.

Anyway, we were emailed a date to go and tour the school. 
I was worried because I had asked the SEC if Micah would have any educational assistant support outside of the SSC and she said no.

Around this time, we also got the call about Micah’s home instruction.  It would finally be starting soon.

It was now Easter weekend.  Four days of worrying about what to do.  Micah was still very anxious- hiding in her room all morning some days.

I sent an email to my autism consultant about my Asperger’s and asked her to share it with the SEC.  It explained my Asperger’s, my anxiety, and the trouble I have communicating to others what I want or need.  I also talked about Micah. We wanted her in a place that would most suit her needs and where she would be supported and have friends.

I received a reply from the SEC expressing understanding about my Asperger’s.  She further explained why she was suggesting the school down the road:  It is in the catchment area for the local high school; it was a viable transition into the public system; and finally, it would let them become familiar with her strengths and needs helping them in making placement decisions.  

It seemed to make sense.  I had to talk it over with my husband.  We had to think about what was best for Micah and we didn’t want to be seen as difficult parents and then be ignored.

We weren’t really sure still what was available in the public board but we did know what we wanted for Micah.  We wanted a small class with lots of individual help mainly in language, math, and gym; a teacher who truly understands autism and the way autistics think, and who has knowledge of the anxiety that goes along with autism and how to deal with it.  Micah needs help breaking things down so she doesn’t get overwhelmed, a French exemption so she can concentrate on her other subjects, enforced breaks, encouragement to use her laptop, social skills and emotional assistance.  Small amounts of homework that is clearly taught before it comes home along with all instructions on how to do it so we can help. 
This might seem like a long list, but these are all pretty common best practices for supporting kids with autism.

We decided it had to be the school across town as that was what Micah needed and what the doctors recommended.  If she were to go to the school down the road while waiting for the across town placement, things could backfire.  She already had severe school anxiety and if there were problems at the temporary school, we might never get her back into school.
It seemed the like school board just wanted her in any available school.

We wrote an email to the SEC explaining our Asperger’s diagnoses and how my husband and I were affected by bullying and academic and social struggles in school.  We told her we did not want our daughter to go through the same things.  We thanked her for offering the school placement down the road but declined, stating that we would continue working toward getting her into the school across town with all the avenues available to us.  We wanted what was in Micah’s best interest and we were willing to wait.

We continued to be polite and persistent in our communication with the school board staff.

Another email was written to the SEC by our autism consultant asking if Micah would get into the ASD class for September.  An email was sent back stating that Micah was on two waitlists for the school across town-regular transfer and ASD class, but she stated that there is no room in either and to consider again the school down the road.  She also mentioned that she was retiring.
I wrote back to the SEC offering best wishes for her retirement and asked for the name of her replacement.

Micah finally started her home instruction toward the end of April.  The teacher was great and Micah didn’t complain about it once!
She was also getting less anxious.

I met with my autism consultant and wanted to know what other options I had for getting the school placement I was after.  She said we could try contacting our school trustee and Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) rep. 
I wrote a short note to our SEAC rep through our Autism Ontario chapter but never heard back.

I wrote a concise note to our trustee explaining everything that had happened with Micah and school.

He got back to me quickly and told me that he would see what he could do and he also forwarded the email to the superintendents.   They would look into our situation.

I received a phone call soon after.  It was the new SEC and she was telling me about the waitlists and limited space in the schools, especially the school we wanted.  She mentioned that in the meantime there was room in the student support centre.  She told me that they would be starting a new autism class in the north end of the region and Micah could have a spot in it, if we were interested.  I told her we would think about it when she had more information on the location, teacher, etc.  I also said that the SSC would be good while we were waiting.  I was excited that we were finally getting somewhere. 
I explained to the SEC that communicating with me on the phone was not the best method and that email was better due to my communication difficulties.  There was less chance of a misunderstanding.

The next thing I knew, the principal from the home school emailed me to say she had met with the SEC and was happy to hear that Micah would be going into the Grade 6 class with SSC.  I panicked and sent an email to my autism consultant.  We did not want Micah in that school.  There had been a big misunderstanding!

I had to write to the principal and the other officials to let them know it was a big misunderstanding.  Micah could not attend that school due to bullying issues.  I had thought it was a placement in the SSC at the school across town.
We sent another email to the trustee thanking him for getting the new SEC involved so quickly and reiterating the school bullying issues at the home school, that there were friends at the school across town and our willingness for Micah to be placed in an SSC at that school while waiting for a spot in the autism class. 

The trustee said he would look into what happened. 
On June 5, we received an offer of a placement in a new autism class opening in the school down the road (the school they had wanted us to try before)!

It was a brand new class so there was no opportunity to visit. 

We needed to seriously consider our options.
The school across town has a good reputation for autism understanding, Micah has friends there, and a years’ long wait list.

The school down the road is small, closer, will have a brand new class, an experienced teacher, is beside a horse farm, has no waitlist- but Micah knows none of the students.

The school down the road and SEC were very willing to do what it takes to make Micah comfortable with the transition.  They were willing to work with us.  They seemed to really want to help.

                                     We accepted!

Micah said she trusted us with the decision so things were okay there even though she was very anxious about it.

We went to a meeting and tour at the new school.  The principal, vice principal, and teacher were great.  Things were very relaxed.  I even felt comfortable enough to talk at the meeting (my autism consultant usually helps me in that area after a pre-meeting).   
They already had a binder ready for Micah with pictures of the principal, vice principal, secretary, teacher, and rooms-even the bathroom!  I usually have to do a little booklet for Micah myself but they had already thought of it.   It was better than any I had made in the past for her.

Micah’s favourite part of the tour was going into the school yard and meeting the horses next door.  The principal is looking into whether Micah can go over to the farm during the school year to help out.  They are trying to do all that they can for her to make her feel good about going back to school.

We are anxious but looking forward to the new school year.   I think in the end we got the best placement possible for Micah.  She has never been to class in a public school yet but they gave her a spot in what looks like will be a great class.

Things are looking good for the fall!