I met with Tom’s high school SENCO (special needs co-ordinator) yesterday to discuss his gradual transition into the “HCP” special needs unit at the school. The more I see of it and the more I talk to the staff there, the more I believe this is the best future for Thomas academically. As much as he’s transitioned into high school like a champ, the expectations of him for production of work in quantity and of a certain quality, for focus and for behaviour are too high in the mainstream school. It’s not that he can’t do the work, although in some cases he can’t (maths, for example), it’s how it’s delivered and how they want him to demonstrate his understanding that’s the problem. He has a lively imagination and excels in acting and story telling but his handwriting is atrocious and so slow it limits how much he can produce and how legible it is. It doesn’t do justice to the ideas brimming in his mind. He can do practical science and cookery but when it gets to the book studying part his mind wanders; his focus lasts for about five minutes. He spends some of the lesson sharpening his pencils and laying out the contents of his pencil case, he fiddles with Blu Tac, he “helps” the teacher run the lesson whether the teacher wants help or not! He forgets who gave him what homework and for which lesson. He forgets the details of the homework and if it’s not written clearly in his planner or loaded up onto the homework app for me to review on my phone then I have no idea what he is expected to do and neither does Tom!
As he progresses through the school, it’s clear that Thomas is going to slip further and further behind his peers or at the very least continue to derive only limited value from his lessons because he simply isn’t wired to learn in a traditional academic environment. The frustration for me is that he’s a clever boy; he has a quick mind, he has great imagination and grasps certain concepts quickly, he can make mental leaps swiftly and get to the point before I’ve even finished talking, he remembers certain things in great detail. Unfortunately his focus, his understanding and his memory are selective.
I don’t want him to struggle or feel that he’s not doing as well as his friends, or to be anxious that the teacher is displeased with him or he’s not meeting the teacher’s expectations. He continues to receive the occasional negative mark for behaviour that isn’t naughty but sometimes falls below the standard expected: talking, late for register, other silly things that have a perfectly reasonable explanation if you perceive the world from Tom’s value system and understanding. He approaches the world from a different angle and as much as he is willing and tries his very best he will never be the academic student mainstream schooling requires him to be because he doesn’t think or learn like one.
How to resolve this? I think we have the perfect solution. The head of the HCP is offering him the best of both worlds: some lessons in the mainstream classes with his mainstream friends, some lessons in the HCP. At the start of the day he’ll register in the HCP and then go to his usual mainstream form room to spend form time with his mainstream friends. Where this year he’s been taking the more academic lessons (maths, English, science) in a separate, small “booster” group for struggling mainstream students, next year he’ll take them in an HCP group, the only difference being that they will be taken in one of the HCP classrooms instead of in one of the mainstream classrooms. The more vocational lessons such as Performance and PE will continue to be taken in mainstream groups. At breaks he’ll be able to associate with friends from both parts of the school. Eventually, if all goes well and he assimilates happily into the HCP lessons, he’ll be transferred officially from the mainstream roll onto the HCP roll, and neither he nor his mainstream friends will be any the wiser.
I spoke with him about it yesterday and I think he’s coming around to the idea. He’s already had a trial run, taking some Outdoor Science lessons with an HCP group and has thoroughly enjoyed their practical approach to teaching scientific concepts. One week they went on a trip to an adventure playground to investigate gravity. The next week they floated things on water. The following week they made a picture out of natural objects such as leaves and twigs. The HCP science lessons have been a big success, his second favourite lesson after Performance. Discovering that he would be able to join the HCP group for swimming lessons was a positive; the mainstream don’t have swimming lessons and he loves swimming. Finding out that another autistic boy he knows from primary school is in the HCP group he’d be joining was another positive. I think he’ll go for it.
I’m finding out more and more that the things I think will be a problem don’t turn out to be in the end. Time has a way of resolving issues. I’m learning to take each day as it comes, each situation as it arises and to stop thinking about the future because we never know how it will play out and however we try to anticipate issues it never happens the way we foresee anyway. I’m okay with that; either Thomas will enjoy transitioning and will move into Year Eight in the HCP seamlessly or we’ll have a few months of unsettled schooling and he’ll return to mainstream and continue doing the best he can. My job is to ensure he is in the best environment possible for him to reach his potential, where he’s happy and making friends, learning and building confidence and acquiring life skills. I’ll do my best to make sure that happens, whichever location works out best for him. So long as he’s happy, I’ll be happy. That’s all I want. That’s all any parent wants, isn’t it?
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