Grade One and Registration Day
Today I registered my fiver for grade one. It’s a monumental occasion for many. It’s a big deal for me and for her. Everyone who has a child with special needs will get what I mean when I say that my heart is in my throat and my fingers are crossed as I tentatively prepare to ship her off to public school. I have had a big knot in my stomach since I left the school this morning. And to think there’s another six months before she starts. It’s not that I don’t have faith in our public schools – my older child attends one and does quite nicely. My older daughter, now 8, attends French Immersion, the poor person’s private school, and does very well in both languages. The system works for her, most days. I trust the teachers and I know my oldest child is receiving quality instruction in life, in English and in French. But when you have a child with special needs – one who wanders and has difficulty with so much in life, well, your struggles are different. Your obstacles, your milestones. All different. And so I say ‘tentatively.’ I want to show my Ainsley that I am excited. I want to show her I trust the teachers here and she will be in good hands, and yet I am worried in the extreme. Until now my daughter has been in a private school. I wish I could keep her there until she was ready for college or university, but the school only runs through senior kindergarten. So this year she graduates to public school. I want to be happy and relieved, but unfortunately I know too much and have heard too many stories from the parents who have gone before me with their special needs children. I know of the child who was suspended five times before October 2008, essentially for having a brain injury. I know of the autistic child who wanders and often gets lost. Other times he wanders the halls with an education assistant. I wonder about the quality of his educational experience. I know of my friend’s little boy who left the school and hid in the bushes when he was escalating into a rage and no school employee could calm him down or help him to feel safe. I remember how we all searched for him. Schools have a lot of pressures these days – no question. Children have greater needs than ever. Teachers have a harder job than ever. Yes, early years classes have caps on class size in Ontario, but does that mean that there are fewer problems. No. While numbers may be smaller, mental health, physical health and neurological differences are higher. An extremely high number of children are included in the regular classroom as a result of “inclusive education” models. And while that benefits some and works well for many, it isn’t a perfect system. I have heard from children with FASD, (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) the same devastating prenatal brain injury my daughter sustained prior to coming into our lives, who would quickly tell you they don’t want to be in the regular classroom. It is too busy, too loud and too overwhelming. I have heard from some who would tell politicians straight out what good is inclusion when my teacher has no idea how to help me and I am always always the dumbest one in the class. I have heard some say inclusion is a joke. “I am physically in that class but I am not included in any way.” Inclusive education is a happy bedtime story politicians tell themselves when handing out little pats on the back for a job well done. If they knew what I know and had heard the same stories of special needs children punished for having special needs, well I think they might be every bit as worried as I am about this coming year.
It’s a problem. Integrating some special needs kids into regular classes can destroy the learning experience for both them and the other students. Mostly it’s the sheer time and attention demands; they are deducted from somewhere!