When my son, Cameron, was 4 and in Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities (PPCD), he had wonderful teachers.
But something was missing. The school told us the class was the only option for young children with disabilities. Nobody told me that we could consider placement in regular preschool or public pre-K with aids and supports.
At the Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARD) meeting, we discussed autism strategies. We talked about student-to-staff ratios. They told us that Cameron could do some things in small groups of 4-8 For other things, he needed one-to-one help.
That’s when an idea popped into my head!
As we discussed each of his Individual Education Program (IEP) goals, I asked his teacher to define the ratio he would need to make progress. This exercise was eye-opening. The teacher agreed that for Cameron to make progress on all his goals, he would need one-to-one support all day.
I always had a vision for Cameron to grow up as part of the community, to always live with family and or friends. I never had a vision of him living a life of segregation. I did not want him to end up in the state-run living center or even in a group home with people who didn’t know him. At 4 years old, he needed constant support. How could we make inclusion happen for him?
I met another mom who had the same vision for her son. We convinced the school to let their teachers’ preschoolers attend class for free with kids in the PPCD class. It wasn’t ideal, but it was a good start!
The children with disabilities had good speech, behavior, and social skill models in their class. And the neuro-typical children were learning empathy and how to be peer supports for the other children. We all need a little help from our friends sometimes!
Cameron continued to need one-on-one support throughout school. This support allowed him to be included in regular classes for most of the day. His work was modified, but he worked alongside his typical peers.
Expectations for learning and behavior were much higher in the regular classroom. The neuro-typical kids invited him to their birthday parties and sat with him at lunch. The elementary school relationships helped when he moved to middle school. Students no longer ate lunch with their class, but with friends.
Cameron graduated with the friends he had gone to school with over the years. He was so happy. He did not actually graduate and get his diploma that day. He came back to school for the 18+ program to work on his transition goals. The important thing was that he walked across that stage with his typical peers!