Below is the text of my portion of the Inclusion Presentation from last week’s PTO meeting. It’s my impression that it was well-received by the audience, and I hope it served it’s intended purpose of putting a personal face on the topic of Inclusion.
My name is Alison Lobron, and I’m the mom of S in grade 5 and G in grade 3. My son G has an autism spectrum disorder and ADHD. He has been receiving Special Education services from Newton Public Schools since he enrolled in the Newton Early Childhood Program on his third birthday.
When G was first diagnosed with autism, and later with ADHD, I knew very little about either disorder. I have found the teachers and specialists at Newton Public Schools to be an invaluable resource in learning about how to understand my child’s unique neurological wiring, and how to best support his growth and development.
It is my hope that by sharing with you a little bit about our journey, that it can help paint a more detailed picture of how special education works at Franklin School. I’d like to begin by reading an excerpt from a blog post I wrote in the spring of 2014, when G was in Kindergarten.
Ever since G was a toddler, he has struggled with learning how and when rules apply. Sometimes, he will over generalize. If he is told to be quiet in the sanctuary at our synagogue one time (during services), then he will be quiet in the sanctuary always (no matter how loud and raucous everyone else is being). He doesn’t recognize social cues… he just remembers that last time we were in this place, he was told to be quiet.
Sometimes he will under generalize. The other day, he put a hot French fry in his mouth and burned his tongue. I taught him to look at the steam coming off the French fry. The steam is a clue that the French fry is hot. Blow on it first, it will cool off. After ten repetitions, it seemed like he got it. Until the next day, when we sat down for lunch and there was steam coming off his Mac and Cheese. I assumed he wouldn’t put it in his mouth… as we discussed JUST YESTERDAY that steam means the food is hot. But I was thinking like me. To me, steam means the food is hot. To G, steam means a French fry is hot. Steam coming off Mac and Cheese might mean something completely different. So, he pops the noodle in the mouth… and guess what? Steam coming off Mac and Cheese is EXACTLY THE SAME as steam coming off French fries.
So how does this play out at school? In order to be successful in school, students need to learn school rules, and appropriate behavior for the classroom, the lunchroom, the playground, etc. We are all parents here. We all know how hard it is to get our kids to learn and follow rules for an extended period of time- like for an entire school day. This challenge is compounded when you have a tendency to over and undergeneralize. Some kids will learn and apply rules easily, and other kids will need more support. This variation of need is addressed by a system known as a Tiered Interventions.
Tiered Intervention works in the following way. There are three levels of support when it comes to teaching expected behavior and addressing inappropriate behavior. The first level of support is referred to as “Tier One”. Tier One supports are for all students. One of the main components of Tier One at Franklin School is Responsive Classroom. Responsive Classroom, when implemented with fidelity, puts in place all the things that most students need. Explicit review of behavioral expectations let students know what kind of behavior is appropriate in the gym vs the cafeteria vs the hallway vs the classroom. I strongly believe this is helpful for all children, but it is definitely true for a child who tends to over or undergeneralize. Morning meetings give students of all abilities the social skills they need to connect with other kids. Specific teacher language that is consistent from the classroom teacher to the lunchroom aide to the principal takes all the guess work out of trying to figure out what each new grown up wants students to do.
All of the Tier One supports are important for G, but they’re not enough. He also needs some individualized supports in order to be successful. These supports come from Tier Two (Show communication log, social story, Social Detective Book). When G was in preschool and kindergarten, he also received supports from Tier Three. At that time, even with all the support from Tier One and Tier Two, G would exhibit some “externalized behavior” – especially non-compliance. As a Tier Three support, his behavior was closely monitored by a Behavior Therapist. (Show some kind of data chart). The BT offered strategies to his teacher and aide, and eventually G developed the skills he was lacking. Because of his disabilities, he will always need some level of support, but it gives me a lot of joy to think about the supports that he no longer needs.
I want to say one more thing about G’s experience here at Franklin, and this is parent to parent. G has made such amazing strides, and has many strengths. But he is also vulnerable. Kids with special needs are about 60% more likely to be bullied than their non-disabled peers. Last year, some of the kids in G’s grade discovered G’s difficulties in learning rules. They created a game I like to call, “Let’s see what we can get G to do.” Most of the things they got him to do were fairly innocuous, like licking the table in the cafeteria. However, one day we were on the playground after school. A group of boys all picked up rocks and made a plan to throw the rocks on the count of three. They counted to three, and all the boys dropped the rocks, except for G. G didn’t realize he was being baited, and went ahead and threw the rock.
Fortunately, G has a strong team. One of the behavioral specialists went into the classroom and did a series of lessons on standing up to peer pressure and also how to be a good friend. The specialists worked in conjunction with his classroom teacher to address the needs of all the students and establish more supportive classroom norms.
G has been well-served by Newton Public Schools for the last five years. I couldn’t imagine what our lives would be like right now, if we hadn’t had access to the dedicated teachers and specialists here at Franklin. I also believe that the Tier One supports that are available to all students here at Franklin are precisely the kind of supports that make a difference for all students and help us build the kind of inclusive community we’d all like to have for our children.