Sunday, April 14, 2013

School Choice

I have to admit, I thought choosing a school for K would be...easier. I really thought that one would stand out against the rest. That there would practically be a giant, red arrow pointing down, letting me know, this one was it.

Right now we are choosing a school for an initial 45 day placement. We really need more data on K's emotional health, in order to determine the best permanent placement. The school we choose will be capable of collecting that data, and at the end of the 45 days, we will be told what type of environment K needs to be successful. Picking a school for this temporary placement should be easy. It's not as if we are signing K's life away. It's only for a couple months.

But, it's still excruciatingly difficult.

We toured one school that has a pool. Now, K would live in the water if she could. Water and swimming are her things. I've joked that if she could just be taught while in a pool, everything would be great!

However, this school has students that are a lot more behavioral than K. By more behavioral I mean they use swear words I don't even use, and are more aggressive. Because K has such a low tolerance, at times, for other children, and can be a very anxious kid, a more chaotic classroom just doesn't seem like the best fit.

But, they have a pool. In K's eyes, that's all that matters. She told her counselor she could just ignore the other kids, but I'm not so sure...

Of course, this school has lots of other great qualities. I like the way the school is run, the classes they offer, the fact that there are other kids her age. There's even another girl. It is also run as a school, and not so much a therapeutic center. This appeals more to my husband, for whom education is paramount, not that I disagree. I think K has a lot of potential, and though she does have some learning differences, she also needs to be somewhat challenged to move forward. She is definitely a child who rises to the occasion...or doesn't if it's not expected.

I was able to meet the 3rd grade teacher, and she was extremely nice, and laid back. Although we did witness more intense behaviors (a boy swearing at the teacher, and running from class), what was nice to see is that the boy wasn't immediately pounced on, restrained, or anything else. They have people who, if a child bolts, lead them into a sensory room (not a seclusion room, I was able to see it) to calm down. Restraints are not first line of defense, and they know the kids, and what they will do. They know this boy won't leave the building, so they calmly just have someone monitor him, and take him for a break.

So, while I don't love the idea of K being in a class with kids who seem more intense behaviorally, it was nice to know that if she did have an issue, it wouldn't be a big deal, like it was at her previous school.

Of course, we also have ASD stuff to deal with, and I am not 100% sure how this school would handle that. The pre-teaching. The prompting. There is one teacher for the 3rd grade class, and while there are not that many kids, K is used to either 1)having her own aide or 2)being in a class that has a low student:teacher ratio. I am not sure how she'd do without extra adult support.

When it comes down to it, this school has a population made up of kids who have more mental health issues, and their needs might differ a lot from K's. K is a high functioning kid, but still needs some "autism 101" stuff, and if the other kids don't, will it be done? The lack of these things are always the cause of K's own behaviors.

But, they are a specialized school, and I am used to dealing with public schools, who don't have the capability to really cater to each child. If K did go to this school, they might be able to provide more easily what she really needs, and within a more typical "school" environment.

Then there is choice #2. This school is a completely different from school #1. It is 100%, first and foremost, a therapeutic environment. Honestly, if K went here, I would have no worries. They have a 2:1 student/teacher ratio, and the ability to easily go 1:1. Kids are allowed to choose where they do their work, if they are having trouble in the class, and everything possible is done to make each day stress free. As our advocate described it, it's like walking into a big hug. They deal with kids who have high anxiety, and don't admit students who have intense behaviors, so it's a much calmer setting.

They don't do things like reward charts, because they feel even that can cause a kid's anxiety to rise. If they promise something, they deliver. They don't take anything away. There is no earning. When I say this is as stress free as it gets, I mean it. There are gardens the kids can tend, every child gets an iPad for school, and specials like music are a choice. If a kid doesn't want to go, they aren't forced. I mention music because K, although she generally loves music, has a difficult time in a large music class. Just too loud. Here, she could either skip it, or they would go so far as to allowing her to do music 1:1.

This all sounds awesome, right? Especially for a kid who has learning issues, and anxiety issues. It seems like an easy choice...

Except, nothing is easy. My husband isn't totally sold on this school. They don't push academics the way he would like. K would be the youngest kid at the school, and in a class with one 4th grade boy, and one 5th grade boy. There are no girls close to her age, who could act as peers. The school does have a few girls, but we were told on our tour that K would not have the opportunity to interact with them.  The school is also on the campus of a psychiatric hospital, which makes the husband uncomfortable. He can't separate the school from the hospital, so to him, it would be like sending her to the psych ward. However, since we are looking for data on her emotional health, is there a better place than somewhere dedicated to it?

Again, it's just an initial 45 day placement, but because 1)we don't want her going through too many transitions and 2)things aren't looking too good on the permanent placement front, we are also looking at these places as potentially being where she stays beyond the 45 days. That's what makes it a more difficult decision. Which place would be best for K long term, if it came to that?

Unfortunately, we have a child who doesn't fit any one mold. She isn't intensely behavioral, and a lot of schools are meant to dealt with those issues. She also isn't a kid who necessarily needs a completely therapeutic environment, either, and academics are still something that are pretty important to us.

Of course, we are parents, and every parent has tunnel vision when it comes to their kids. We see one path, but in reality that might not be where K is headed. We don't have a crystal ball, so we have to guess where she's headed, and what she needs. Especially being so young. We just don't know her trajectory, yet. There's still a big part of us that firmly believes K is college-bound, and can find a career she loves, and be successfully independent. We don't want to yank her off that path just yet, but then again, are we just fooling ourselves...

If you've stuck with me this far, I am grateful. I wanted to share what we were going through, and how things aren't as easy as you might think. Getting your kid out of the school system when things aren't working out, can seem like a dream scenario. But, everything that comes after is no cake walk. At least, it hasn't been for us.

This coming week is our April vacation, and the following week we are taking K to tour school #2. After that we hope to make a decision rather quickly, because she really needs to get back into a program. It's hard when you feel your child's future is completely in your hands, and your hands alone. I really don't want to mess this up.


  1. You will make the best choice for K. Of that, I have no doubt. Sending you hugs...

  2. We went through this two years ago and it's tough. I am glad though that there are good options for K, it's luxurious to have the choice of two good programs.Follow your guts regarding which environment you think will be the best for K right now. I get that you don't want to have to keep changing, but you know your daughter better than anyone and are in the best position to judge which environment will best suit her needs. You don't know what the future may hold for her, I'd focus more on what's best for her right now. Where will she be happiest and where will her needs best be met.

  3. I am so glad that you have options. I hope that you find peace with whatever choice you make. Katie has a bright future, no matter where she ends up, and that is because she has amazing fighters behind her. Good luck on your choices.