I had a lingering feeling – a worry really – that this day would eventually come. I was hoping time would prove me wrong. I was hoping all the therapy we were doing was going to make a huge impact and it would not take us down this new path. Therapy did make a tremendous difference in my son’s life, just not to the extent that would keep him in mainstream school.
I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t ready to take him out of a mainstream elementary school and have him start his high school years in an adapted school.
I always fought hard with the school district to ensure the proper resources for him. He had early intervention. I was blessed with phenomenal teachers and aides who supported him and went over and beyond their call of duty to tailor his academic learning to fit his needs.
Still, that wasn’t enough.
Even in the sixth grade, he wasn’t reading or writing despite all of our efforts to teach him. I had to ask myself if keeping him in mainstream school was really more for me than it was for him. So I sought help and guidance from those who knew Emilio well and who had also become my friends – his teachers, aides and therapists.
We went over his IEP’s, his strengths, his challenges and what that would look like in a mainstream high school. Over and over, I felt it in the pit of my stomach that he would get lost in a mainstream high school. Not only would he fall through the cracks, but he may fall so far deep that I may never be able to reach him. Everyone else on his team felt the same way.
I took no comfort in their collective and unanimous conclusion that Emilio would do better in an adapted school. It only confirmed my fears.
And it made me sad.
I wasn’t ready for it. I tried to build my strength and my confidence by convincing myself I was doing the right thing for him, so when the day came for him to start his new school, we would both be ready for it.
He was nervous to start a new school and he still had no idea he was entering an adapted school.
Would he know the difference? Would he feel the difference? How would this make him feel?
The first day of school came all too quickly. As we walked towards the school yard I found myself fighting back tears. I held it together, bent down to give my little guy a big hug and told him that he would have a great day.
His teacher approached him, lovingly taking his hand and leading him to the rest of her group. His classmates I imagine. His new set of peers and comrades. Some have severe disabilities that you can see while others, like Emilio, are not so visible.
I stood on the opposite side of that fence watching my son walk into school; a fence that was separating the neurotypical world from my son, who was now in an adapted school. I closed my eyes and clenched my fists around the fence. Can’t you be just a little wider? Can’t you be equally protective and inclusive?
I went back to my car and cried. Will he regress? Will he be challenged enough to learn and move forward in his life? I was convinced that he would not. I was convinced I made the wrong decision for him.
I sat in front of the school yard every morning for one month and watched my son talking to himself while pacing the grounds all by himself.
I shed more tears.
I looked around and saw so many beautiful children with different needs, some more severe than others.
I shed more tears.
How will these years be for him?
And every now and then he would provide me with small bits of information. He would give me these updates in very small increments.
And it goes on. He’s developed new friendships at his adapted school and has even made a BFF (even if it’s only for the day).
He’s grown over these last few years and is starting to come into his own unique person who is expressing his views more and more.
A lot of this has to do with the school and the environment he is in that has supported him and helped him to develop into a fine young man who has acquired a vast amount of life skills.
I believe early intervention is the key to helping kids with special needs build a solid foundation. I also believe mainstream school works great for the students who can truly benefit and thrive in it. But for some kids with special needs, inclusion and mainstream school isn’t what they need.
What is important to remember is that the ultimate goal is what is best for the child. That can only be determined by acknowledging their abilities as well as their challenges and verifying what resources would be available to them if going down the path of mainstream education vs. adapted schools.
What works today may not work tomorrow and we have to be flexible to meet their needs.
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