Tom’s Mainstream School Experience
This August, Tom started kindergarten at our local elementary school after three years of preschool and one year of kindergarten at our local school for blind children. We went through a long evaluation process to settle on his placement in an intensive learning support classroom in a public school. I visited regular education rooms and the intensive learning support classroom with Tom’s team from his old school. It was great to have them with us as we evaluated our options.
But as Tom got on his new bus this August, we were holding our breaths to see how this new school placement would go. We had some tough times in the first month or two as he adjusted to his new school. He had a very hard time adjusting to the noise level of his classroom. There are a couple non-verbal students who made sudden vocalizations that he had to get used to. There are students of many levels in his classroom, which concerned me. Especially since Tom is very good at mimicing behavior he hears. I was afraid that he would begin imitating these non-verbal behaviors. He did for a bit, but then he seems to move past that.
Tom was reacting to this new, stressful environment by screaming, crying, having bathroom accidents or falling into familiar scripting which he finds comforting. He tends to repeat sections of stories or TV shows he knows when he wants to escape or when he becomes bored. Tom and I talked a lot about how he was feeling about school. He would tell me if he had a bad day and why – which is a huge step for him. We talked about what the problems were and how he could ask for help. His biggest problem was noise so we talked about ways to tell people he needed help. We practiced asking for help by saying, “It’s too loud for me.” I wanted Tom to feel like he was in control and could advocate for himself.
I talked to his classroom teacher Ms. Green many times during Tom’s adjustment. They were trying hard to get to know Tommy and figure him out so they could help him. But gradually things got easier for Tommy and we saw less and less negative behaviors. He goes to school happy and comes home tired, but still happy. He still misses his old school sometimes and talks about the staff and kids he knew there, but he doesn’t seem distressed by it any more.
He works at stations (math station, reading station, etc.) and has to complete a series of three tasks to get a reward. He often chooses listening to music or time in the sensory room as his reward. I get a daily recap note that tells me if he is completing his work, using kind words and gestures, what his special classes were and his favorite parts of the day. He follows a schedule that is both tactile and braille that he is very into. I sort of think he misses having a schedule on the weekend!
We are seeing lots of positive changes in Tommy. He used to be very lazy about using full sentences. Now we won’t give him what he wants until he uses full sentences and it is working. He used to just say, “water” and now he says, “I want some water please.” It is a big change! He is now speaking in full sentences without prompting. It can be so frustrating when you know your child has words and doesn’t use them. I think he has also realized the benefit of making his wants heard clearly. You better believe that he’s specific when he asks, “Mom, can we go to Five Guys to get a burger?” or “Dad I want to hear Vivaldi on the Sonos.” He got a Sonos speaker for his room and he is REALLY into it. I even notice him doing a better job of using the right pronouns when he speaks. It’s great to see his work at home and at school paying off.
Tom has an aide that is assigned only to him who he has really bonded with. In fact, he seems to get along well with all of the staff and students. I get the sweetest notes from two little girls in 2nd grade who play with him at recess.
This is long. Get Ready for Part 2 of Tom’s Mainstream School Experience!