The Future Happens Here and Now
So I'm please to report that my meeting yesterday morning with Charlie's case manager went well and was productive. (After my heavy duty emotional display at the last meeting with the school district, no fireworks were strictly in order).
The case manager had typed up all the information about services, staff-to-student ratios, school calendar, behavioral support, etc. that we had heard on our visit to the big autism center. She indicated that, depending on Charlie's needs, changes might be made. For instance, classes at the center have a maximum of six students with a teacher and two aides; the staff-to-student ratio can be 2:1 or 3:1. In the self-contained autism classroom that Charlie is currently in, there's one teacher and four aides, and four students–indeed, Charlie's classes have all had a 1:1 staff-to-student ratio since he started school in New Jersey when he was 4 years old, and I've really no idea about how this change might affect him.
While there were definitely plans about the administrative end of Charlie changing schools, there didn't seem to be anything specific involving Charlie himself. I asked about him visiting and the case manager thought that would be good. I mentioned that it's really important to find out the names of Charlie's new teacher and the aides and students. We also talked about taking photos of the teacher and aides and therapists, of the classroom, of the cafeteria, the different parts of the building. (While typing this, it just occurred to me that I should probably try to go to the school on my own and take all the photos myself with my trusty iPhone camera and then get a little crafty with iPhoto, and finally replenish the color cartridge on the printer.) (Or maybe I'll just send away for photo prints…..)
It was good to talk about plans for Charlie's new and future placement and it seems that he will be there in a matter of weeks. We continue to receive Incident Reports that mention restraints and holds and that arrive some two weeks after the fact(at least; one report that we just got this weekend was dated September 23rd). Of course it's hoped that Charlie will do better at a new school but he's not there yet, and (to judge by a particularly long paragraph in one report), he's having exactly the same difficulties, and the staff is responding in exactly the same way, as they have for months. At the September 25th meeting, Jim made a heartfelt statement about how restraints affect Charlie for days after; how awful, bad, confused, hurt, Charlie feels afterwards (no, he doesn't tell us that in words but there are some things Charlie's dad just knows). But ever since it was clear Charlie is definitely going somewhere else, little (nothing) has been done to remedy the day-to-day situation in the classroom.
And rather than just say, "Charlie will be outta there soon, we'll just count down the days," we as his parents need to make things better for him now, where he is now. It's important to plan ahead for Charlie's new placement, but we cannot have him suffering one instant more. I mentioned all this to Charlie's case manager and asked if she could think of some way to have some sort of meeting about Charlie's IEP, as so much has changed since that document was put together last May. Having made this request at least six times and gotten one no after another, I'm not too hopeful of getting a meeting, but Charlie's case manager talked about the possibility of adding an amendment to his IEP. There are some things that Jim and I wish to include in our parental statement and we'd rather change them prior to Charlie being placed out of district. We shall see.
As Charlie has gotten older, we've again and again heard that we need to "think about where we want him to be in 10 years," about the future, about his adulthood, about the next step and the next and the next. Believe me, Jim and I think of these things constantly. But being Charlie's parents, we also think a great deal—think most of all—about the boy in front of us, the boy who is Charlie today, not yet 12 1/2 years old, still very young, and sweet, and always looking baffled and worried when he realizes he does something that he shouldn't.
As I walked out of the school, I saw a speech therapist who did her teaching practicum in Charlie's classroom years ago, did speech therapy with him after that, worked with him in our house. I had known that she works in our school district but had yet to run into her and was just really happy finally to see her. She wanted to hear all about Charlie and said she'd try to visit him while he is still at the town's middle school, on her lunchbreak. I mentioned the helmet, and that he does not wear it at home. "Oh, I believe you, of course he doesn't," she said, and added that she really hoped to see him and give him a hug. I told her, I thought Charlie would welcome this.
Actually, I'm quite sure he will.