It's almost the time of year when parents start looking at alternative school options for their kids. I know we started this research around this time, last year, ourselves. There's so much to check out that it can become a daunting task, and one in which you may desperately desire to get an unbiased opinion about the school, teachers and IF it's going to be a good fit for your child.
Our son is high functioning on the autism spectrum. Not Aspergers, mind you, but high functioning with a normal IQ. He has behaviors that go hand in hand with autism, like ADHD, some sensory issues, and anxiety. If you're the parent of a child who's on the spectrum, you'll already understand that there's no one-size fits all for our kiddos. Just like each of them have specific needs, each of them require specific environments to help enrich their over-all education/socialization needs.
I have been homeschooling my son since Kindergarten. Our public school options back in California meant that he would be "resourced" for most of his academics. Meaning he would be pulled out of his mainstream classroom to a resource/special education room with other kids who had learning disabilities. It sounds doable on one level, but with all the education budget cuts that had taken place, we were left with one special education teacher, a big resource room, and several kids who performed on a variety of levels academically. After hearing the odds that appeared to be stacked against him in public education, we chose to home school.
Upon moving to Tennessee, I spent countless hours researching schools, both public and private. I liked that we lived in a county that promoted inclusive education; meaning they would keep kids with special needs in the mainstream class with the help of an aide, as long as they were able to stay up with the class and not disrupt the learning environment with behaviors. Tricky, since I knew he was going to be anxious going from a one-on-one learning mode to having 30 other kids in class. And, like many homeschoolers already know, we're pretty laid back about needing to use the restroom, asking questions, talking, and even getting up and roaming the house if need be. Staying on task with a kid on the spectrum many times means going out of the box with options to bring them back into a focused state. Traditional classrooms can't function like this, obviously.
It was at this point we started researching alternative education options. We were told by our new therapist that if he got more socialization opportunities, it would help in his over-all social development. Not really understanding how we would facilitate this growth from the outside looking in, we delved into looking at feasible options. And by feasible I also mean affordable. Let's face it, private schools, especially the ones that would have staff who knew special ed, are expensive. I kept telling myself. "we can't put a price tag on anything that would help (our son)." But really, there are some wonderful schools out there that would take me going back to a full time nursing job just to pay the tuition. While that wasn't off the table, entirely, we found what we thought might be a good and affordable alternative: Montessori!
There's some good information written about the Montessori method of learning, and how it helps kids who learn differently. There are good write ups on how Montessori allows kids to learn at their own speed, never pushing them to a level of anxiety, but also taking into consideration the whole child. It sounded lovely! It sounded too good to be true. And for us, it was.
I'm not here to bash Montessori schools. Just like in any other alternative education environment, there are good fits and bad fits. I'm just writing to tell you that not all assumed good fits will actually pan out.
First, you must know that if your child is NOT self motivated, this may not be a good learning environment for him. There are some kids who love the idea of learning and who can't get enough knowledge. Our son, if given the choice of playing or reading will always-without hesitation-choose playing! Plus he's smart enough to see when teachers try to combine the two, and will (and did) balk at the whole idea! This particular learning environment increased his anxiety, caused him to wander the halls (because that's evidently ok with this particular school) and take many 20 minute bathroom breaks. His teacher, who supposedly came with a degree in teaching special education, handed my son off to a teacher's aide, who had NO experience with autism and who was left frazzled at the end of the day from not having the necessary skills to effectively communicate with him.
I think what I became the most irate about, was that Montessori gives the kids about a 6 week time frame to "adjust" to their new surroundings. That makes sense. But what does not make sense is that they NEVER ONCE communicated with either myself or my husband about our son's personal transition, his behaviors, or their concerns. Hey, if it "takes a village", maybe bringing in mom and dad as part of the equation might be a good idea??? Just a thought...
In the end, my son didn't like going to school and they didn't feel like they could meet his needs. Mostly because the teacher's aide decided that she no longer wanted to work full time. It was a disaster! Our only experience was one of resentment, anger and frustration. Our son, who gained absolutely NO SOCIALIZATION skills from this awful experience was brought back home, and I'm once again home schooling him. He's now a happy, well behaved child...who has many friends and playmates.
Socialization is something that is better serviced when parents can get involved anyway. People, even mutli-degreed professionals, who tell you differently do not always have your child's best interest in mind.
Parents, you KNOW your own child. His gifts, his limitations, his needs and his potential. Think very stongly before entrusting your precious child to an educator or learning institution that sells you on the fact they are a perfect fit for your child. Maybe they are! But pray for discernment and then trust that inner voice!