When we first entered the FAC room yesterday morning, I noticed the overhead florescent lights were covered with blue parachute material creating a soft, blue glow. Four boys and Caroline were around a table, listening to music and playing with instruments. Mrs. M_ came over and shook our hands. Curtis and I met the aides, then sat and observed for a few minutes. The room has many areas, each with the ability to screen off the rest of the room.
Mrs. M_ excused herself from music time and spoke with us. There are nine students total; Caroline is the only girl and the only child in a wheelchair, and she has her own full-time nurse. Some of the boys were in the motor room which is on the other side of the school near the gym. We got to see it... it has a little trampoline, lots of sensory manipulatives, and plenty of toys. We also got to see Room 300, where Anna goes to calm down and turn it around... it's an empty room with a chair. We got to see the garden, where the FAC students care for some vegetables they grow. She went over their daily schedule and some of the tools they use. There are some things Anna will really like and some things she'll struggle with. Some of the boys have behavioral problems similar to Anna. One of them benefits from power walks around campus when he's losing it. They really try to individualize solutions to each situation and child, I like that. Mrs. M_ has a very quiet, calm, and competent manner. We really liked her.
Lunch with Anna went well. They had just returned from a school-wide field trip and Anna was all smiles and full of pride for riding the bus two times without crying. She laughed with me during lunch and didn't seem anxious in the cafeteria. We're trying a couple of new motivational strategies at school and they are working to help her comply and behave, so overall the week was better.
I then met with her special ed teacher, her speech therapist, and her inclusion teacher to talk about the FAC placement and our morning visit. I suggested a graduated exposure program where Anna starts out for small increments of time in FAC, gradually building up. They liked this idea. I told them my main concern was about Anna's anxiety and thought the new behavior therapist might be able to help with this. I hope she gets a chance to visit Anna in inclusion before the transition so she can see how Anna copes with the change and if the anxiety goes up or is manageable in FAC. Taking a deep breath, I also mentioned my sadness that Anna doesn't seem to fit in either inclusion or FAC... needing more support in one and being too high-functioning for the other. They all agreed. I asked if there were other kids like Anna on campus? Nope, she's unique... in fact, she's kind of unique in the district. There are no other options district-wide either. But the gap is just too big for inclusion to be an option anymore, so she will have to go to FAC. I said that we should evaluate again at Thanksgiving and if she's still not making any academic progress and is still having these severe behavioral issues, then we'll start thinking outside the box.
So I've really been thinking. I've been listening to all of you and really hearing you. Your advice, your kind words. My mom has noticed, as have I, that Anna has a different demeanor when playing with J, an older boy that is cognitively challenged, in our neighborhood. She seems more confident with him, more relaxed, more herself. One of the things we're hoping from the behavioral therapist is to get a bead on Anna's level of self-awareness. I'm suspecting that it's higher than we realize. Maybe a lot of her issues this year come from that realization that her peers can do things and learn things and talk about things more easily and it's making her feel badly. So maybe she will feel successful in FAC and things will turn around for her.
You know what is really humbling?
I asked her what she thought. I told her about this plan. After all of these meetings, phone calls, and deep conversations with Curtis and family, I asked Anna. Her reaction? "So I won't have to go to Ms. B's class anymore? Yay!" You know, I'd do anything to make this girl happy.
Thank you for all of your support this week. I'll keep you informed... the ARD is scheduled on October 12th but they are going to start letting her visit the FAC class next week.