This week Dima began summer school or ESY (Extended School Year) at our local special needs school. My biggest reason for wanting him to attend was to have structure and an opportunity to work on making positive choices in his day in an environment other than home. This past school year he did very well academically but when it came to socially appropiate behaviors, listening, following directions, etc... he struggled. In fact it eventually got to where he only attended school 1/2 days and was in need of a one on one aide just to get through a few hours of school. I do not share this information to make Dima look bad or to indicate that he is a difficult child. I share this to show two things:
1. Dima is 9 and had never been in any schooling of any sort until this past year. He did not read or write. He did not know how to add or subtract. He missed out on three plus years of having the opportunity to learn. Dima missed out on half of his childhood.
|We get up at 5:00 each morning to wait for the bus to come and pick him up at the end of our driveway.|
|I dress him each morning and pack his backpack and lunch, encouraging him to make good choices and learn all that he can.|
|Dima (im)patiently waits for his ride to show up and talks about all that he wants to do at school.|
The bus pulls up and Dima gets on without so much as looking back. Before he would fight me and cry. He would say, "NO! Dima not go to school!". I would have to literally put him on the bus and secure him in his seat. By 9:00 a.m. the bus driver would be calling me to tell me all that Dima did in the brief ride to school.
2. But now?
Now Dima sits nicely in his seat. I have yet to receive a phone call from the bus driver. Dima is happy. He seems more relaxed in the mornings. There is no anxiety, no tears, no back talk or sassing. Just a typical, happy little boy looking forward to a day of learning and play with his peers.
And at school- oh what a difference! So far each day I have received positive reports. Dima "plays appropiately with peers", he "is easily redirected", "follows instructions without prompting", and again, Dima seems happy. I asked him if it is easier for him to make good choices at his new school and he said, "OH YES! HAPPY FACE!". I think, finally, we found a place for Dima.
The school that Dima is attending now and will attend in the fall is a special needs school. There is more one on one attention, the staff as a whole works exclusively with students with special needs, and the campus is a little more secure than Dima's previous school (Dima would attempt to come home on his own from time to time). While I would say that inclusion of special needs students can be a good thing, I truly see the value in schools such as the one Dima is now at. I am by no means an expert or even have a degree in education. I am merely a mom raising a child with a special need. But I think somtimes typical schools can put undo pressure on a child with needs. It is almost as if the staff (not the ESE teachers) expect special needs children to behave or be just like all of the other children. In some cases it just doesn't work! Eric was an ESE teacher and he agrees- inclusion is not always the answer for every child.
This is where the learning curve comes in.
Eric and I are learning to walk the line with pushing Dima to reach his full potential and knowing when we need to back off. Dima is extremely high functioing in so many ways but given his background he is maybe not as high functioning as we would think. We need to allow Dima to make mistakes and extend the gace to do so. It seems as though this new environment does exactly that for him and it has put him at ease. It is so amazing to watch him grow in his new environment!
Yesterday afternoon when Dima bounced off the bus he was so proud of having another good day at school and he was proud of the Father's Day card he made for Eric. When I looked at the card I couldn't believe the writing (and it is Dima's writing!), the detail, the work he put into it. It was obvious that Dima took the time to do his work and he felt the pride that comes along with hard work.
So this morning when Dima woke up at his usual time and said, "Dima go to school?" he was disappointed when I told him that he did not have school today (no ESY on Fridays). I look forward to next week, to watch him learn and grow even more.