Monday, November 22, 2010
I wrote a while ago about my concerns about Ben's school placement. Thursday was our teacher/parent meeting and I left in tears understanding that Ben's program was 100 per cent life skills. In the morning Ben has gym and art, and in the afternoon he has 'math' -- which is working on a box that might contain flashlights to be put together, or beads to be sequenced on a string in a certain way -- and then social skills, which is a cooking class where they make things like bologna sandwiches. I was told the math boxes were to teach skills that might be needed in a day program where adults do 'piecemeal' work. I was also told that Ben has many defiant "behaviours" at school when he simply doesn't want to do what is asked of him.
I couldn't track exactly how we had arrived at this point. Three years ago he was at a school for the deaf in a mixed-grade class with other students who didn't have the complexity of his special needs (in other words, they were typical kids who were hard-of-hearing or deaf). The day was spent doing academics modified to his level. When it was time for Ben to move to a high school, we were given two options: a self-contained class for students with developmental disabilities in a windowless basement of a high school that was accessed through the janitor's workshop (I kid you not!), or the current school Ben is in, which was described as a school for students with mild intellectual disability.
Even though it was mentioned at the orientation, it didn't sink in that in choosing this second school Ben would not get a high-school diploma. I felt we were against a rock and a hard place: this school or the windowless basement.
Ben is able to read -- probably at a Grade 2 or 3 level -- but there is no literacy program in his current schedule. He is able to hear with hearing aids and needs phonics to improve his reading skills -- but the other kids in the class don't hear so they don't do phonics.
I met with the vice-principal and teacher today because I don't think the program is best meeting his needs. There are two distinct issues. The first, which has nothing to do with the school but with our education ministry, is that the standardized literacy and math tests in high school preclude most (many?) students with intellectual disabilities here from getting a high school diploma. I'm all for standards, but I'm also for adapting the curriculum so that every student can be successful, regardless of disability. To me, this is a rights issue. And the second is that Ben's current curriculum doesn't promote and develop his academic skills.
When I met with the school today, I was shown a graph that showed that the students in Ben's class are in the first percentile for cognitive function. I was also reminded that in a psychological assessment a couple of years ago, Ben tested in the first percentile. I shared my concerns with how this assessment was done (it lasted about 15 minutes, whereas we've had other assessments that were done over a number of days and yielded different results) and no one who knew Ben was present during the testing (important when your child uses modified signs that may not be self-evident to a person who knows ASL).
I was told that students at this level are not able to meet the requirements of the high school degree. While I thought my son was entering a school for students with mild intellectual disability, I learned that the composition of the school has changed greatly in the last two years, and that his class is actually a developmental disability class for students who are deaf or hard of hearing and have other special needs.
Apparently "DD" students don't ever receive high school diplomas.
And it's rare for students with "MID" to get high school diplomas.
There's something about the pigeon-holing of students into these categories that I find very disturbing.
I need to do more digging to understand how it is that students with developmental disabilities never get high school diplomas -- as I can think of some instances where my understanding was that they did, with a modified program.
And I need to make sure that Ben is in a program where he is improving academically -- at whatever level -- because in my mind that's why he's in school. I don't mind a small focus on life-skills, but in my opinion the scale is out of wack.
The school staff were very open to my concerns and we will have a larger meeting to look at what is best for Ben as well as consider more psychological testing.
In the meantime, I'd love to hear about school programs for students with intellectual disability in your jurisdiction. Do any of these jurisdictions grant high school diplomas? I posted an article many months ago about how there was variation between states in the U.S. on this issue. How is it equitable that a student with intellectual disability in one state can earn a high school diploma, but not in another?