Michael attended a PPI – Pre-Primary Impaired class from the age age of two to three. It’s an early elementary school but children have daily schedules of physical and occupational therapy in a classroom setting. Discussion took place when he was four and I learned that our local elementary school had a pre-school. I inquired with the school district regarding Michael attending our local school, but was told it would be so much easier for him to attend the PPI class. They had all the equipment and training needed to work with Michael.
I, on the other hand, wanted Michael to be able to make friends in our neighborhood. I insisted that Michael attend our local school to the dismay of the school officials. We were the first “mainstreamed” student in our elementary school.
I can say we’ve come a long way from those times. Our first obstacle? No ramps into the building. Cement ramps were placed so Michael could get into the building. Second obstacle? No accessible bathroom. They agreed to place an accessible toilet in the janitor’s closet. They placed an adult size accessible toilet in the janitor’s closet with the cleaning supplies. My son was four and the toilet came to his waist. Umm, okay. Not a lot of thought there for a pre-school classroom.
The school hired a company to install an accessible sandbox – the type that a child can wheel up to and play with. Well it was above his head when first installed in the kindergarten playground. The company came back and made adjustments.
We received reluctancy from staff to accept change. At our old school, cafeteria personnel were assigned to remove children from the classroom during a fire drill. At the new school I was told that just wasn’t possible. I worried about my son’s safety because of the apprehension and hands-off attitude I faced with school officials.
I was seriously doubting my decision to mainstream my son, when our miracle arrived. My son was given an aide and it changed our life. She became one of my best friends and as I’ve repeated so many times over the years, became a better mom to my son than I. She was his advocate, she made sure he participated in all school activities, and for the first time since my son attended this school, I felt 100% safe in the knowledge that my son would be fine.
Kindergarten arrived, and we were excited. By now Michael had already attended pre-school for three years. We were ready for a change. Unfortunately for Michael he had a teacher who wanted absolutely nothing to do with a special needs child and made it very clear to us from the very beginning. She explained that she had a busy classroom and did not have time to “deal with it”.
Michael was doing well at this point. He did have some fine motor skill issues and did not color in the lines, cut, or print well. We realized he would never be an artist, but he did well enough to get by. We explained to the teacher that Michael should be graded on his capabilities, but the teacher disagreed. Michael was to be held to the same standards as any other kindergartner. By October she had already decided that Michael should be held back. Wow! I was ready for a huge fight.
I am very pleased to say that administrators from our school district took notice of the situation and called a meeting with the teacher and in no uncertain terms told her that her attitude would change. I even received an apology from the administrator, not the teacher. From that point she kept a “hands off” attitude and we got through it.
The lesson I learned? Your child’s teacher can make or break your child’s school year. I can usually tell in one visit, how a teacher feels about having my son as a student. I learned to talk to parents, educators, and staff and received recommendations for teachers. I am my son’s advocate.
What next? Learn about the later elementary school years.