Back to School: Why I’m Hesitant to Send My Son Back to Special Education Preschool
Teachers and Their Impact on My Childhood
I was six years old when I broke my wrist at the roller skating rink, I got this really cool cast that all my friends signed. When I couldn’t button or zip my pants at school because of it, it was Ms. Proctor who buttoned them for me.
When all of my class had perfect attendance for a week Mrs. Schoem would do a cartwheel and we would all squeal with joy when she completed it, she also would spray our faces with a refreshing mint spray after recess. I loved that spray.
When I struggled with writing my name correctly in cursive it was Mrs. Valentine who got me pencil grips and showed me how to grip the pencil the right way. She would help me during recess and would go over the curves and loops in every single letter of my name.
I have a fondness for teachers. It takes special people to show up every day, full of energy, ready to teach, nurture, and grow little minds. I know it is more than lesson plans, grading papers, and crayons. It’s an intense responsibility filled with little resources and at times little appreciation.
Yet, even with my fondness and love for teachers, after a year and a half of public school, I am hesitant to send my son back. I wish it was hard to say that, but honestly, it’s not.
(I want to throw out this disclaimer really quickly, I realize that not all teachers are the same, not all public school systems are the same, and not all special education programs are the same.)
Autism and Early Intervention in Public Schools
My 4-year-old has had about a year and half of education in the public school system. Some of you may be wondering why so young, but part of his early interventions with autism has been a public special education program. This came at the recommendations of his doctor and early intervention team. He spent 12 hours in an inclusive classroom, where half of his classmates had an IEP, an Individualized Education Plan. I.E.P. kids usually have an identified delay or developmental disability. The other students did not have I.E.P.’s or delays, they are generally looked to as typical peer models. So, the class has a mix of children with diverse needs and skills sets.
Special education preschool gives children with delays a place to get services they need like speech, occupational and physical therapy, behavioral interventions, all while working towards school readiness. Special education and accommodations through the school system are where many special needs families first begin to get interventions for their child.
Logan’s First I.E.P. Meeting
When my son had his first meeting to identify his needs and determine if he needed special education preschool, I was ensured that special education preschool was the best place for him. The mediator read off some special educations goals and information about my son, it felt odd and out of place because, but she had never met him. She read off his delays and the goals to help with that delay. These goals measure the progress of the child and are to be reevaluated often.
This essentially became Logan’s first I.E.P. I didn’t know that I had a say in these goals, I didn’t even know what an I.E.P was. This meeting concluded with the decision that my 3-year-old child needed special education preschool, and this is what started our journey into the land of the public school system.
Like any child adjusting to going to school at first is hard, my son joined the program in April, an adjustment period came, then summer quickly came upon us. He started back in the same class with the same teacher in the fall, starting the adjustment period all over.
Logan quickly found something to love about school. Like any little boy he loved cars and trains but riding the school bus was the highlight of his day. Logan had really struggled with separation anxiety and utilizing the school bus helped give him the independence to go on his own. His passion and love for the school bus quickly superseded his need to have me next to him.
Logan’s preschool followed the same routine, free play, circle time, individual groups, craft, snack, play, and the goodbye song. Logan adjusted quickly at first and really seemed to enjoy school and the program he was in.
A Snack and Lack of Transparency
Logan came home one day with the same potato chips and apple in his lunch box. Logan is repetitive when it comes to his snack and has never gone without eating it. When I looked at his note that was sent home from school, under snack “refused to wash hands” was written.
I asked my Logan why he didn’t eat.
“Not allowed,” he said. That was the extent of Logan’s conversation skills. That is all he could tell me.
I emailed the teacher and received a response indicating he had access to water. My husband sent in a note regarding withholding Logan’s snack. I sent several more emails requesting clarification and one requesting a meeting. The response to my request was from the principal.
“Come in and view the daily events in the class, if you have questions afterward we will meet,” she wrote.
They totally bypassed any questions I had. I ultimately had to contact the special education department and express my concern to find out about a situation that occurred in the classroom.
You see, Logan’s teacher had used his snack as a motivator to wash his hands and it backfired. Instead of simply stating that’s what happened, I had to jump through hoops to find that out. Several emails, 1 request for a meeting, 2 calls to the Special Education Department, and a week to find out what happened.
This left me uneasy with Logan attending the school, not the situation of withholding a snack, not that I was happy with that at all, but the lack of transparency and communication regarding the whole situation. I can remember talking to my husband and us discussing if Logan truly needed special education as an intervention.
Unfortunately, resources for autistic children are limited in our county, so it left us at the mercy of the school.
The Realization that the I.E.P. Wasn’t Being Followed
In November we had Logan’s I.E.P review. Unlike my first meeting, I was a little more prepared, more knowledgeable, I sought advice, listened to fellow moms who had navigated special education before me, I knew a little more.
If there is something that autism does to you as a parent, it surely makes you a fast learner and heck of a researcher.
I came in with my I.E.P. Binder filled with evaluations, emails, doctor recommendations, private assessments, and I had even written my own goals for Logan.
You see, at my first meeting, Logan’s I.E.P stated that Logan would receive speech therapy one on one with a speech therapist for 30 minutes outside of the classroom.
When we asked about Logan’s session we found out there were several from the prior year that was not done. In addition, we found that Logan was getting group speech with other kids, this gave Logan approximately 1 minute of speech a week.
No wonder he wasn’t improving in his speech, right?
At this point, I decided we needed to reevaluate Logan’s speech, and after some back and forth, it was agreed that Logan’s missed sessions would be made up and that Logan would get an additional 30 minutes of speech each week.
Multiple I.E.P meetings were called to finally get an agreeable I.E.P. for my son. I came to all subsequent meetings prepared with my I.E.P Binder with Logan’s picture on the front, his smiling face as a reminder why I fight for him.
Why is it so difficult to write an objective, a goal, and a legit way to measure it? Not, “Well, I like 80%” as a measure of success because everyone uses 80%.”
I wish I could say that I.E.P meetings are a meeting of the minds to make the best possible education decisions for Logan but it’s not. It’s walking in to a war zone, I fight for services my child needs, IEP goals not being followed, I try to address lack of communication, staff not properly trained to handle autism and I ask for assessments that the county simply doesn’t want to pay for due to budgets.
I found out quickly from other parents that inadequate I.E.P. goals and needs not being met were a common scenario.
The thought that kept coming up in the back of my mind was this is preschool, I can’t imagine what I am going to have to go through when he reaches a graded class.
Like seriously, it’s preschool. We are talking letters, shapes, and numbers, what am I going to do when it gets to something more technical and abstract?
Finally, things began to go smoothly, and I thought, okay, finally, Logan will get the services he needs and will start making some progress, he will be ready for kindergarten when the times comes. We are all finally on the same page.
You see that is all any autism parent wants, their child to get the services they need to help them succeed.
The Case of the Missing Bus Driver and Aide
Then in December, the bus pulled up and the driver and the aide on the bus were different, though the substitute bus driver and aide were friendly, change is hard for an autistic child. A change like that doesn’t go unnoticed. Over the course of 2 weeks, the substitute bus driver became the same familiar face. When I would ask where the original driver and aide were, I was told they were sick. While I found it odd for both the aide and the driver to be out for so long at the same time yet, I was reassured they were sick.
One night I was checking my email when I received an anonymous Facebook message from a fellow special needs mom. This mom was reaching out to the parents of the students who rode my son’s bus.
Wide eyed and heart racing I read through the email. I just couldn’t believe it. I was informed by this mom that the driver and the aide on the bus were let go for assaulting a kid. My heart stopped. My biggest fear, placing my son in a situation where he couldn’t be protected.
Logan doesn’t have the communication skills to tell me if someone is mean to him, if someone hurts him or if someone yells at him. He couldn’t tell me anything that happened on the bus. Why was I told over and over that they were sick?
The next morning, I called the Manager of the bus routes, I wanted to know what had happened regarding the incident and was told since my son was not the child in question that I was not allowed to know any information. I requested to see surveillance footage from the bus’s camera only to be told there was no footage of the prior driver and aide because too much time had lapsed.
I was told that they handled the situation as best as possible and there were no further concerns. When I asked why parents weren’t notified, I was told only the families involved needed to be notified. There were no concerns for other parents. Apparently, these people must not have children, and most definitely do not have a child with communication delays.
How it is not of concern to all parents who stood at the bus stop with their child every morning, exchanged in small talk with a bus driver and an aide they entrusted their child with, entrusting their child’s safety physically and emotionally, day after day.
My husband had contacted the principal of my son’s school and discussed the situation with her. Her response was that transportation issues were not her concern. My husband explained the importance of transparency regarding situations like these and that parents had a right to know this information. She responded that she would think about it.
The next day a letter was sent home to all parents of children who ride the bus. The letter stated that an aide being fired for being “too rough” with a special needs student. The later came a little too late for comfort and was more like a band-aid placed on the broken trust of many parents.
I’d like to say that was all that happened during the school year but unfortunately, it wasn’t. Logan had become accustomed to his new bus driver, she was friendly, she and I had a great dialogue regarding Logan. She asked questions about Logan’s interest to spark conversations with him. I felt that Logan was safe with her. She was the reason I allowed Logan to continue to use the bus.
The Day Logan Was Left At The Wrong School
Then in February, she was sick and there was a substitute bus driver. I realize the people get sick and kids still go to school. So, without hesitation, Logan got on the bus and waved goodbye.
An hour after Logan got on the bus, I got a call from the bus manager. She has left a message stating there was an incident on the bus and that Logan was left at the wrong school earlier that morning. I can remember immediately intense fear hearing the message and frantically calling the school trying to find Logan’s whereabouts. Apparently, Logan had been at school, arrived late, and was on the bus back home.
That was the longest 15 minutes ever, waiting to see that big yellow school bus pull around the corner. When Logan walked off, I grabbed him and hugged him as hard as I could with tears streaming down my face.
I just couldn’t believe they left my 4-year-old autistic child at the wrong school.
You see, in situations that are scary an autistic child might not talk or respond when talked to even if they are able to. This is exactly what Logan did, he refused to even provide the wrong school with a name.
I refused to allow Logan to ride the bus after that incident. I was reassured by the Transportation Department that this had never happened before, they were going to make changes, and to give them another chance. I just couldn’t. I had a strong distrust of the system and an even tougher time trying to understand their logic.
When I would reiterate how my son was left at the wrong school, I was told back how he was still in school custody. It didn’t matter to them that it was a new building full of strangers, people, he nor his family met, at a building he wasn’t supposed to be in. They were all employees of the school system, he was safe, it wasn’t an issue.
I had a tough time even sending Logan back to school after that incident and his separation anxiety quickly returned. I know that I couldn’t hold Logan’s teacher responsible for the fault of the bus, so we trudged on trying to do the right thing for my son.
Like I said, there aren’t many options for autistic preschoolers in my county, nevertheless, we preceded hoping to continue with Logan’s interventions.
A Change In Logan’s Behaviour
Then Logan started having days where he began refusing to go to school, beginning to run at drop off, crying and hyperventilating on the way to school.
Maybe the fear of being left at a different school bothered him, maybe he didn’t feel comfortable anymore. His routine had changed because I was now driving him, minor changes are a big deal to an autism routine. I wasn’t sure what had caused Logan’s change.
I had learned from another mom in the class that she had suspected an aide of grabbing her son. Her son was transferred to another school, as a way to keep her son in special education and the family satisfied. The aide continued to work in the classroom.
Her son was Logan’s friend and Logan often talked about him. Maybe Logan was upset that his friend was no longer in school.
That’s the tricky thing about communication issues, when your child clearly can’t tell you what is going on, you must trust others, you must have faith that they care about your child and your child’s wellbeing. You must be on guard, you must keep your eyes open, and follow your child’s behavior. You must be hyper aware and vigilant.
When I asked his school if anything had changed, if there were new students or if any students left, I was quickly told that nothing had changed. I had already known the answer, failed communication at its finest.
Logan’s attendance dropped into the 40% range. I just simply couldn’t take my child who already has anxiety and forces him into a classroom that made his anxiety even worse.
I started setting up Logan with outside resources in another county, driving over an hour to get him services outside of the school system. With my mom friends as resources, I was able to find him a provider that serviced him with therapy, speech, and a social skills playgroup.
Even with his outside services Logan still did not improve with school.
I tried to improve communication with his teacher on the days that I would get Logan to school but it just didn’t seem to get any better, Logan was miserable and not thriving.
I requested another I.E.P. meeting to address Logan’s behavior and ask for the second time for a Functional Behavior Assessment, so we could see what was triggering the problem. My husband’s first request was denied, but no documentation ever provided. The meeting resulted with his preschool teacher being assigned to collect data for the assessment and mentioning she didn’t even know how the behavior assessment worked. I knew at that point the meeting was not going to result in an accurate behavior plan.
Logan’s behavior would happen inconsistently, there were times where we would pull up in the car drop offline and he would walk right out, other times he would have a crying fit, trying to run away from school, occasionally one of his favorite aides would walk next to him and they would walk in pretending to be robots.
Frustration Sets In With A Grab
Towards the end of the school year, with a countdown in sight, Logan got out of the car upset. He had a tough time getting his emotions together. I got out of my car and left it in the drop off line and walked over to him to help him work through it.
The staff member that was helping facilitate the car drop off line walked over to Logan and grabbed him by the upper arm and tried to pull him towards the door. When I interjected, her response was “he just needs to get to the door.”
That was enough for me. I just couldn’t believe that staff was ok acting this way towards any 4-year-old that was crying, especially a 4-year-old with autism.
I quickly realized what I suspected the whole time there was a huge lack of training and understanding for staff regarding children with special needs. It was apparent that communication, compassion, and trustworthiness wasn’t going to be found at my son’s school.
Heaven forbid the car line gets too long.
I had emailed Logan’s teacher and the principal regarding the situation and made it clear that I want no one touching my child or grabbing him by the arm.
Seriously, I had to write an email to say that I didn’t want my son to grabbed or forced into a building. Why did I have to explain that? Why was it even necessary to have to make these statements? It was disheartening.
There is a difference in grabbing a child by the arm and trying to force them to a door than taking a child by the hand and gentle acknowledging their feelings then, lovingly guiding them towards the door.
The principal emailed me back saying that she had to investigate the situation. I am not sure what needed to be investigated since I was right there, and witnessed this first hand, but it simply turned out to be a stall tactic.
I received an additional follow up email from the principal stating she was out for the day, unable to talk to anyone, and would follow up.
I never heard anything more regarding the situation. The school year ended with continued disappointment, to say I expected a response would be a lie.
More Questions About A Broken System
There is always accountability for the actions we take, and we do not take.
While Logan’s school may feel that leaving matters unaddressed, in the dark, dodging questions, is appropriate, this isn’t how I live my life, nor will I teach Logan to live his life.
It also showed me that while I am concerned with my son’s safety and wellbeing, perhaps they are not, maybe they feel ignoring the situation can cause it to go away, but it just compounds the situation.
Sometimes no answer is an answer.
I can’t express my disappointment with my son’s school system. It’s hard to fathom that all of this could happen in one school building or on one school bus.
Maybe it is just pure coincidence that my son happened to be at student assigned to both faulty areas, or maybe I got a real glimpse at how broken, untrained, and vulnerable the special education program really is.
I speak with other special education moms in the area, some schools are flourishing while others are greatly lacking. Is it really that hard to provide a nurturing, fair, and supportive environment in all our schools?
Even harder to grasp is I am a hometown girl, I grew up in this school system. I expected more and held it to a higher standard and was ultimately letdown and dismayed. It is hard to see my childhood school system so broken, flawed, and with little regard for its most sensitive students.
Does the school system just care about the schools with more financial resources?
Is special education the step-child of the school system? Why are there still so many negative connotations with special education?
How can I ensure my child is safe and unharmed with every aspect from transportation, staff interactions, and transitions to learning? Special needs parents advocate daily for their kids, through the daily struggles and challenges. Children and parents have enough to worry about, shouldn’t the basic foundations of school not be a cause for concern.
Why do parents have to go into battle to fight for resources for their special needs child, resources that should be the basic requirement?
In Conclusion, I Still Hesitate
You may be thinking as you read this, no way this could ever happen in my district, no way is there any disappointment with the programs my school offers but there is. I was naïve about it too.
There are parents who are simply tired, tired of fighting every I.E.P., tired of fighting and being side stepped for interventions. Parents who are fearful of speaking out, parents who worry about losing their child’s services by expressing their concern. Parents at the mercy of the school system.
The truth is there is an increase in special needs, which in turn creates an increase in I.E.P’s, which creates a demand in resources, but there is a lack of funds in the budget and budget cuts, which means these kids aren’t getting the resources they need.
No school can say that we are meeting the needs of every child with an I.E.P.
Parents are being forced to pay to get services, that should be provided by the school if a parent is willing to fight the battle they are paying for lawyers and advocates to stand beside them. Parents are being stonewalled while trying to help their child. Decisions are being made before I.E.P. meetings even take place.
Somewhere along the line things have blurred, somewhere we stopped caring and nurturing students. Teachers have limited resources and help, and testing is becoming more important than teaching. Hiring advocates for schools to simply do their job.
Somewhere along the line, the school has decided what is considered a free appropriate public education, which blurs the lines as to what is appropriate.
Somewhere along the line teachers are expected to perform with limited resources along with an increase in students and lack of training and guidance.
Somewhere along the line, it has been acceptable to be careless with our most precious members of society.
Somewhere along the line, the system is broken.
Somewhere along the line, people have chosen to be silent.
Somewhere… that somewhere is where I am hesitant to have my son return to.
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Comment below to share your advice and stories along with me. Because I am truly lost and heartbroken when it comes to sending Logan back.
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