Slings and Arrows

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MARCH 7, 2009 9:14PM

Thrown Under the School Bus

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We knew when our son was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, that there would be challenges.  Most of the parents who I have met who have children on the spectrum have war stories.  We all strap on our armor and fight every day to make sure our child gets whatever he or she needs.

I had no idea the first battle would come so soon.

It was after our first parent-teacher conference that we opted to get our son tested to determine if he was indeed on the spectrum.  My son’s preschool teacher noted that he was incapable of paying attention for reasonable periods of time, and that his speech and social skills lagged behind his peers.  She immediately suggested an “educational specialist” to evaluate Little Man in the classroom.  We also opted to also have him tested by a child psychologist who specialized in spectrum disorders.

When the diagnosis came back, it wasn’t a shock, but it was a blow.  What came next, however, was a total surprise.

We were invited to a meeting with our son’s teacher and the “educational specialist” to discuss Little Man’s needs.  There were hints that Little Man would need special assistance, and that assistance might be more than the teachers currently could supply.

Being the kind of person I am, I began to do my research.  I asked Little Man’s doctors and therapists what kinds of things could be done to address the attention-span issue.  I started asking about his education.  Should he be “mainstreamed” i.e. kept in a classroom with kids who by and large do not have learning disabilities, or would he really be better off in a “special education” classroom with other kids with spectrum disorders and other disabilities? How reasonable were our expectations?  What could we do now to meet his needs in the best way possible, while still keeping as many opportunities available to him for the future?

It’s important to remember that autism is a spectrum disorder.  That means that for every kid that fits the stereotype of the uncommunicative, in-his-own-world, hand-flapping, toe-walking tragedy, there is a kid who is smart, engaging, and appears by most observers to be a normal child.  The spectrum includes not only both extremes, but everything in between.  There is no single, surefire approach for addressing a spectrum disorder.  Not only are there different levels of affliction, there are different kinds.  The symptom cluster for asperger’s will look different from classic autism, and even within these diagnoses there will be a wide range of symptom clusters.  Any solution that I would come to with respect to my son would be highly individual, and is by no means a silver bullet appropriate for every kid on the spectrum.

Working with my child’s doctor and therapists, we came to the conclusion that because Little Man is intelligent, fairly high-functioning, and right now isn’t behind scholastically, mainstreaming was an important goal for him.  Keeping Little Man with normal (or, more appropriately, neurotypical) children would not only provide him with more opportunities to learn important social skills, it kept him out of a “special ed” class that might not provide the level of educational challenge he’ll need later on, and might prove difficult to get him out of once he was placed in it. 

The psychologist suggested a “shadow,” an adult assigned to Little Man to redirect him when his attention wanders.  Shadows are a pretty common accommodation made to kids on the spectrum and with ADHD, and generally speaking, they work pretty well.

After several false starts of trying to have a meeting, we finally settled on a Thursday morning.  Unfortunately, I had to be in Chicago that day, so my husband went to the meeting alone.  We thought we were going to discuss what Little Man needed in the classroom.  In preparing my husband to attend the meeting, we discussed the approach.  We wanted Little Man to stay in this school.  We were prepared to offer to pay for a shadow ourselves if the school was unable to provide one. 

When my husband got to the meeting, however, there was no discussion.  The head of the school, along with his preschool teacher, had one message to deliver:  Little Man would not be welcome to come back in the fall.  They didn’t feel like they could handle him.  When my husband asked to discuss options, he was met with a blank stare.  “It was clear by the way it was presented that they had already had a discussion privately and made their decision and were not prepared to hear other ideas,” my husband told me.

I was in a taxi on my way to my hotel in Chicago.  I burst into tears.  I was disappointed.  I was shocked.  I was scared.  But most of all, I was angry.  How dare they?  This was a school that prided itself on being “inclusive,” of fostering the arts and of having a very progressive outlook. Apparently none of those ideals extended to kids with spectrum disorders.

The day was schitzophrenic.  On the one hand I was desperately trying to keep my composure in the business meetings that I was involved in that day. When I wasn’t in meetings, I was losing it all over the place.  I called several of my friends in my support network.  The hotel staff took notice of my plight (I wasn’t very good at hiding my distress at check-in) and bent over backwards to try and soothe me, even though they had no idea what I was on about other than that I had “gotten some bad news” on the way in from the airport.*

But it was my friend Peige, the veteran of the New York private school scene, who gave me the best advice, who put a fire back into me and gave me back my courage and resolve.  On the way back home from the airport in DC, she told me over the phone, “That’s really shocking, Liz.  Honestly, even the most elite private schools should work with a parent in this situation.  You need to go back to them and make it clear that it’s not that easy to make you go away,” she told me.

I realized that she was right.  The following Monday I went to the Head of School’s office and made it clear that I was disappointed with what had happened in the meeting.  I told him that we hadn’t had a full and broad-range discussion of the options, and that there were a number of things that could be done to meet John’s needs without taxing the school’s resources or the limitations of the teaching staff.  Little Man clearly wasn’t a behavioral problem and was forming relationships with his peers, even if they were not as well-developed as they could be, and he had all the scholastic knowledge anyone should require of a three-year old.  In short, Little Man had a lot of strengths to go with his weaknesses from his disability. If at the end of the discussion, we still felt that Little Man didn’t belong at the school, I would be fine with that, but not having that discussion was inappropriate.  He agreed.  We scheduled a meeting for the following week.

The meeting included Little Man’s psychologist, his speech therapist, his pre-school teacher.  They spoke to the Head of School in his office.  I was excluded in order for the discussion to be more “honest.”  I found that request a little strange. The request that I permit their discussion to remain “confidential” even stranger.  But I was also smart enough to know as an attorney that if I wanted to legally compel the contents of that discussion I could.  Nothing between my son’s doctor and the school could be considered legally privileged.  If it made them feel better to think it was confidential, hey, knock yourselves out.  I’d find out what was said if I needed to, one way or another.  Besides, I had spoken to both the speech therapist and the psychologist, so I knew exactly what they were going to say, and what their recommendations were going to be.  They were on my side, after all.

When the discussion was over I went back in the room.  The preschool teacher mumbled something about having to be someplace and excused herself.  I knew from the look on the speech therapist’s face what was coming.  It was still mildly surreal.  The Head of School acknowledged that he had heard that a mainstream environment with a shadow was what was best for Little Man.  However, he said, “it is inconsistent with our Montessori philosophy to have that many adults in the room.  There are already two teachers and a floater and a shadow would compromise our commitment to a Montessori environment.”  Little Man was still not welcome to return in the fall.

Yes.  He really did say that.  The speech therapist was sitting right next to me when he said it.  I was in disbelief.  He was really going to use that as his rationale.  It was clear to me that the whole meeting had been a farce, an attempt to humor me as opposed to a genuine consideration of what was best for Little Man.  It didn’t matter who I brought to the meeting or what they told the school about what Little Man needed or what would work.  They weren’t even considering changing their minds.

I was angry.  It was a whole other level of angry that quite frankly, I didn’t think I was capable of.  I didn’t lose my cool, however.  I found it surprising I could be both that angry and that composed, but somehow I managed it.  I told him I was disappointed.  It told him that he and the school were missing an opportunity.  I told him that I felt that he was copping out.  And I told him they were missing out on a great kid.

There are a number of flavors to my anger, and I am not sure which is the most infuriating. I am appalled that in this day and age, a school that prides itself on being such an inclusive and progressive and excellent educational institution should have such a backward notion of kids on the spectrum.  It was clear to me what was going on.  The teacher didn’t want Little Man in her class because he was not like the other kids.  He wasn’t the picture of perfection.  He was smart, perhaps smarter than most of the class, but it would take some time and effort for him to reach his full potential.  It sure is easy to have such a great reputation as educators when you cherry pick your kids, including only those whose academic excellence is assured from the outset.

I was infuriated to find out that this desire for perfection seemed only to extend to kids whose imperfections were actually disabilities.  One of the kids in Little Man’s class chronically, hits, kicks, or bites other kids in the class.  Every single day the child is sent inside from recess because of the behavior.  And yet this child, an obvious behavior problem, has received an invitation to return in the fall, while my son, whose sweet disposition is universally acknowledged, is excluded.

The invocation of the “Montessori philosophy” was actually insulting.  Sure, Montessori education does place emphasis on self-directed learning, as opposed to adults directing education.  However, Montessori education also distinguishes itself with its emphasis on inclusiveness and meeting a child where they are developmentally.  There were as many reasons why accommodating Little Man was actually consistent with Montessori philosophy as there were reasons why it might not be.  It was a fig leaf, an excuse.  It was what they turned to because I had already deprived them of any legitimate objections they might have.  The decision was made, and nothing anyone did or said was going to change it.

I’m still considering my options in the wake of what happened.  One of the only good things to come out of the “No Child Left Behind” act is that it made autism spectrum disorders protected disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  That means that I probably have a good claim to sue the school for discrimination. Legally, schools are required to make reasonable accommodations to children with protected disabilities.  I offered something more than reasonable, and they not only did not implement it, they refused to consider it and offered a bullshit answer about why.  Such a suit would get Little Man back into the school, and create precedent for other kids like him to get fair treatment from schools. 

On the other hand, lawsuits are time consuming, money consuming, emotionally draining affairs.  And they are a lousy way to try and achieve a moral victory. Usually when friends come to me and ask what I think of a suit like this, I reply that the more important thing is to get the basic needs of the injured person taken care of.  In this case, the focus really needs to be on getting my son into a school that will provide the educational experience he needs, a school that will work with us as opposed to against us. I haven’t ruled out the possibility of a suit yet, but my inclination currently is that it’s not an efficient solution.

A dear friend of mine, one with connections to a local TV station, wants me to go to the media with my story.  While that would certainly cause great pain to the school, it places our family squarely in the center of a media storm over which we will have no control.  The level of intrusion into our lives would be significant, and it places us in the role of being rabble-rousers in a community that is still very small.  And the truth of the matter is, I’m not sure if it would really be newsworthy if we have decided that we are not going to sue the school to try and force them to take Little Man back.  It would basically amount to an attempt to use the power of the media to blacken someone’s eye.  And I’m not sure that’s news so much as vengeance.  And vengeance has a nasty habit of backfiring on the user.

There are other options, of course.  I’m considering them carefully.  My criteria are that the solution, whatever it is, be efficient, elegant and painful.  I have a few ideas in mind.  I am very creative.  Ultimately, I know Little Man will have his day, and the school will live to regret its behavior enough that those who come after me will not be treated similarly.

The other thing is, that as reprehensible as it may be that an independent private school should be engaging in this kind of blatant discrimination, it isn’t the worst thing that happens to kids on the spectrum as they seek education.  Ask any parent who is working their way through the public school system under the IDEA program and you will get an earful. Under IDEA, kids that meet the threshold of being “learning disabled” are given an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) that details what educational goals a child will be expected to meet, and what accommodations and resources will be employed by the school district to get him or her there.  A school district must provide resources to any child who meets the threshold of being disabled under the act.  Under IDEA, the IEP must be agreed upon by both the parents and the school, and there are complicated appeals processes by which parents can challenge an IEP decision if they do not agree with it. The IEP is reviewed every three years and updated as necessary.

It all sounds great on paper, but the reality of actually being in the system is far different.  For one thing, special needs education, because it services fewer parents than other programs, is usually ripe for being slashed when there is a need to cut budgets.  The head of one of the local county school districts (not mine, thank god) is actually on public record as saying that he has a choice this year of cutting football or special ed, and he’s certainly not about to cut the football program.  As is true in most school districts, if you cut special education, you’ll get a few hundred parents at most upset. Cut back on a major athletic program, and thousands will beat an angry path to your door to complain.

In fact, in the special education program, there always seem to be too many kids chasing too few resources.  Schools are incentivized by the budget crunch to fight against parents’ requests for resources, particularly if they are costly, like providing a shadow.  Parents have to be included in any meeting regarding an IEP, and a right to challenge any decision they disagree with, but that means protracted fights with school administrators and other officials to obtain even basic needs.  And while I am lucky to live in a county that has an excellent reputation for having state-of-the-art classrooms for special needs students, including a very highly rated special needs preschool program, most counties don’t have those kinds of resources.  For many kids in less affluent parts of the country, being shunted off to a special education classroom or a resource center even for part of the day can be a horrifying option that essentially dooms a child to substandard education.

Kids also can become the victims of their own successes and strengths.  Because counties are required to provide services once a child is shown to meet a certain disability threshold, there is the temptation (especially in a time of budget crisis) to push borderline kids who could benefit from services out of the program by rating them just above the mandatory threshold.  Kids who thrive after receiving certain services may have to fight all the harder to justify getting those services again when their IEP comes up for review, because the temptation on the part of the school district is to claim that the success now begs the conclusion that he is no longer in need of the service, which may or may not be true.

Sure, one has to wonder how the Head of School at my son’s school can look at himself in the mirror without puking knowing he’s thrown a three year old under the bus.  But he’s not even the worst of the kinds of people I will have to face as I work through the problem of getting my son an education.  And it won’t matter whether I go public or private, I will have to fight for everything he needs.  In the case of some private schools, it will be a fight for the right just to attend in the first place.  In the public school, it will be fight to assure that he gets the best education possible and the resources so that he can effectively learn.  At every turn, administrators, teachers, even parents and other students, will actively work against my son’s best interests.

At my son’s school, there is a boy in the seventh grade who has autism.  He had it when he first started attending the school in first grade (he was never in the Montessori program and never encountered my son’s teacher), and while the teachers were made aware of his condition, the other students and parents were not.  He never had any special accommodations.  When I first told his mother about Little Man’s diagnosis, she of course reached out to me. We’ve talked a lot about her experiences trying to mainstream her son, undercover and without accommodation in a small private school, and her willingness to share with me her story has helped me more than I can say. 

But the thing she did that was most helpful was introduce me to her son.  For those who don’t know he has autism, he seems shy and a little weird. But if you know what you’re looking at, you realize that this is an intelligent, composed, earnest, kind young man who just happens to have a disability.  He’s the kind of boy that we should all hope our children would be.  For all the doubts his mother sometimes has about whether she has done right by him, he is someone that she should be (and is) very proud of.  He has not had it easy.  He has suffered much at the hands of peers and parents and educators who did not understand him.  But he still stands here, resilient, hopeful.  “It gets better,” he told me.

I want to believe that is true.  And deep in my heart I know it is.  But I dream of a world without this war from inside my armor, still gripping my sword in hand.  Because the arrows are still flying all around me, and I am not out of the fray yet. It’s a war that many of you do not know we are fighting.  It’s a war that as the economy slides will grow more desperate.  And because we are fighting for our children, it is a war that we cannot afford to lose. 







* I do want to extend a special shout-out and thank you to the James Hotel in Chicago, and especially to Ana and Marco, who were working the concierge and check in desk that day.  I have never met two hotel employees with more compassion and discretion.  They took care of me without intruding, and were gracious and genuine in their caring.  I really do want to encourage anyone who is planning a trip to Chicago, or who lives in Chicago and wishes to put a friend up in a hotel to patronize the James Hotel.  They were incredible from start to finish, going above and beyond the call of duty in the kindest way I could ever imagine.  Y’all have made a loyal customer out of me.

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In this day when schools are graded the way they are, there is the incentive not to take risks with children who do not conform to the norm. They have lost sight of their mission to teach, and have adopted instead a goal to have high test scores. I have a great deal of admiration for you, that you would not allow them to get off that easily. Good work.

But most importantly, you have kept the ultimate goal in front of you -- it's not vengeance or retribution against a school, but finding what is best for the child, for Little Man. Good luck on that. He is lucky to have the parents that he has.
It's good to see that you have many options, and it sounds very much like this particular teacher was simply lacking the appropriate skills and refused to learn them. I probably wouldn't have been as kind or appropriate as you were. I hope you still consider throwing the school back under the bus, so at least this doesn't happen to some other child. And it might get the school board and other paying members of that school to get involved so that more appropriate decisions can be made. I think a news story would be quite useful to that end. But of course, I know you value the privacy of your family. Perhaps they could highlight the school while leaving your identity in the dark?
And may I also say, what a wonderful mother you are. Really. Someone for me to emulate. thank you.
Liz, I'm so sorry. The school wars are never fun and dealing with inflexible administrators and teachers can only make it worse.

Pre-schools are a whole horse of a different stripe, as well, because they seem to have rules of their own and often seem like they're making them up as they go along.

I don't like to give advice, because every situation is different, but from my own experience fighting the preschool wars, I do think that walking away might be the best solution. You have right on your side, but it likely isn't worth the angst and sh*t that will come down on your head by pursuing keeping him there or even trying to get them to see the error in their thinking. I spent a year of my life fighting a preschool battle (over different stuff, but I was on the right side) and if I could do it over again, I would have moved my kid in a heartbeat.

The only other thing I might suggest from experience is that while there are great private and public schools around, the public schools in this part of the world do a reasonably good job of resourcing kids with special needs. Several of my church friends have children with Aspergers' (in middle school now) who are thriving in the public school with accommodations.

I'm not knocking private schools (I have one kid in public school and one in an independent, private school) and I love many things about the private school where my little man is, but I do think that they are more free and more quick to "reject" or "dismiss" any kids who don't meet their expectations or require "additional attention" or resources.

Hang in there. Sending you and Little Man "hugs" for support and a big ole ass-whooping to the Head of School.
I had a child in your shoes. At the age of 4 we were call to his private school and told to never bring him back, period.

We had fights for years. The public school system tried to make us pay for postage stamps to send things home because they could not be given to him.

The fight over all the years wore us down. We did the best we could and we won a lot of the battles. However, if I had to do it over again, I would have home schooled him.

Keep your chin up and pick your battles. There is going to be lots of them ahead and you can't fight them all.
Procopius, Odette, thanks. I'm still working out what we're going to do, but we're definitely more focused on finding the right school home for Little Man as opposed to vengeance.

Hi Lisa! I am keeping the public schools firmly in mind as we go forward. I'm definitely walking away in the sense that I have no intention of putting Little Man back in that school next year even if they were to change their mind tomorrow. That said, if every parent who has this experience with private schools refuses to say anything or do anything about it, the discrimination continues. So I have to figure out how I stand up for all the moms who come after me in a way that still lets me do what's best for my son. I don't have the answer yet as to what that may be. But I'll definitely keep y'all posted.
Liz - I'm a Montessori Momma myself. The 11-year-old BigGirlChild was actually held back in the first grade. Her eyesight was very bad, but she faked it well, so she didn't have glasses until just before kindergarten. She wandered the world in wonder at what she could see, but cared little for what they were teaching. Her grades were fine, but they said she was "distracted". (Translation: "Standardized testing starts next year and she'll bring the scores down.")

I switched her over to a Montessori magnet and today she's in the fifth grade and on the honor roll in spite of what they called "sensory dysfunction". (?!)

I don't have experience with autism personally, but I can say that it would be well worth it to stick with Montessori at *least* until he's old enough to get some real academic idea of how he will do.

Although it is child-motivated learning, it can be a godsend for kids who need some space to grow within. When it works, it's spectacular, but the truly awesome thing about Montessori is when it *isn't* a good fit for your child, it is extremely obvious. (I tried with BigBoyChild and he crashed and burned.) You said he's learning what he should be learning, so I would say it would be worth finding another place which is Montessori oriented.

I cannot imagine what this is like for you. Shame on those people for being such jerks about the whole thing. The least educators can do is go through the token motions to make you feel as if you had a say. That's a true insult when they can't even fake it to be polite.

{{HUGS}} to you and your Little Man. I'll be watching and you'll both be in my thoughts.

(thumbified for being an AWESOME mom!)
Lisa, Particularly informative,sensitive, maddening post. My son is 23 and autistic and I know the fight of Ieps and the frustrations that he could've received less than adequate education. I was especially lucky that my older sister worked in the Dep't of education for our state and the staff in his private school only needed to hear that once.
Everyday is a fight, when a child has a disability, especially outside the classroom. One would wish that this wasn't the case, inside.
Rated for doing your homework
Liz, I'm so sorry for the name mix up.I feel like such a jack ass!:-[ Once again, sorry!
Catnlion, you are right, of course, which is why I'm still deciding whether this is one I want to fight, and to what purpose.

Jodi, I don't want anyone to see this as an indictment of Montessori method education. I have huge respect for the Montessori method. Here is not a case where Montessori failed my child. This is a case where a teacher failed my child and tried to blame it on the Montessori method. Guess my son wasn't the only one thrown under the bus....

junk1, thanks. I'm doing the best I can. Hopefully it's enough.
Liz, My thoughts:

1) This school is not the right place for your family. It could be the best school on the east coast, but, based on what you've shared, IMHO, just not the right one for you.

2) Re the "“it is inconsistent with our Montessori philosophy" comment, here's my reply -- BULLSHIT. I was on the board of a parent run Montessori school, good friends were/are Montessori teachers, my daughter (a product of MM's methods) has her Montessori teaching certificate. This guy is blowing smoke. They don't want to be bothered with having their boat rocked. When my daughter was 5, one of her classmates at our Montessori school was a child with Down's Syndrome. Danny, I'm sure, would not have fit this in this Headmaster's picture of the "Montessori philosophy," but he was a valuable member of the class.

Pick your battles carefully, Liz.

I am so sorry you have to add this ridiculous and egregious insult to your coping strategy, but I know you will make the right decision, whatever it turns out to be. Little Man has a mother with the brains, know-how and gumption for advocacy-plus. Good luck and please keep us posted.
Welcome to the world of disability advocacy. I suggest you bone up on the ADA and other disability laws. You'll be in fights like this until your son can advocate for himself.

Good luck. Were counting on ya :)
The first experience with exclusion that we experienced after my son's autism diagnosis was his being kicked out of a Montessori pre-school. We had sent him there because of our faith in the method, but having gone through that ordeal (asnd now having heard about yours), I am far less willing to exculpate Montessori as an institution or system than you seem to be.
Too many thoughts to possibly record here, now, and too much anger to articulate much except to say I feel this profoundly. I can't get out of my head the pathetic dodge of blaming "the Montessori philosophy" for a lame and indefensible decision. So very pissed, and yet somehow certain that you and your husband -- and Little Man -- will make the right choices from the many laid out before you. But mainly I'm just feeling a lot of righteous anger for you and for your son. Rated because its so damned important -- and well said.
awful. so disheartening. it must be really frustrating.
This is awful, Liz. I would have expected more from a Montessori school. Please keep the faith though. Not all schools are like this. Not every IEP meeting is a battle waiting to happen. If you have charter schools in your area, you might want to check them out as they are a nice bridge between traditional public schools and private schools. In my opinion, a smaller class size will be key for Little Man.

By the way, I truly admire not only your approach to mothering, but also your decision to avoid the knee-jerk wish for vengeance. Your energies will no doubt be better utilized in finding a suitable situation for your son than using them all up by engaging in vengeful activities. Best wishes to you.
"'It gets better,' he told me." That's what resonated with me. I'm drawn to read your posts about Little Man because I have an inkling of what unknowing parents can do with a high functioning socially challenged child. I've already let you know I don't include you in that category. But not being a parent myself and knowing what I know about special education through the "pillow talk" of a still gainfully employed teacher, I'll resist any temptation to add even one cent to these great comments. But I support you and your family and look forward to that better day for Little Man.
I don't even know how to comment intelligently to this heartfelt post. As a mother of 3 and a grandmother, I can can tell you that I support any and every effort you must take to protect your son and ensure that he thrives in this lifetime. That is our job as parents and it is a lifetime contract between us and our children.

Your bittersweet account here is so well told, so relavant and tender. You are a fierce warrior for your beautiful, intelligent, precious son. He is so lucky to have you as his mom and his best advocate. The system you are working with is unbearably difficult, more than I can fathom. You need all the strength and support you can muster and it will be well worth the fight, however you choose to do battle for John. My most sincere love and prayers are with you and your family as you navigate through these rough waters. Smoother days are ahead. Meeting that yong man and hearing his words to you was very inspiring and heartening. Hang tough, Liz, your son is going to thrive wherever he lands, with your loving guidance and committment to his happiness and well being.
I will definitely check out the James Hotel in Chicago as I travel there on business 1 to 2 times a year.

Screw that school.

I taught Head Start preschool years ago (not a certified teacher, but worked for Americorps/Christian Appalachian Project), and we had a kid there with far worse autism than what you're describing with your son.

But you know what? He was still a little boy, and I still had to try to educate him to the best of my abilities. (As a teacher, I would have recommended ANY and ALL adult help dealing with any of my students, let alone a child with autism. Screw educational "philosophies." I'll do what gets the job done.)

From what I hear of Montessori education, it works really, really well for some children, but is a disaster for others, without a whole lot of middle ground. If your son needs constant adult guidance to stay on task, he might not be a good candidate. That doesn't mean there's something "wrong" with either your little boy or the system; just that they might not be a good fit for each other.

Best of luck to you.
How draining and infuriating.

It's times when people lie about their motivations that make me angriest.

Wouldt it have been somewhat easier to take had they simply sacked up, said "We don't feel equipped to deal with Little Man's challenges on a day-to-day basis, and are making the call accordingly" rather than hiding behind a bullshit excuse?

As a kid who was always on the other end of the classroom teacher's attention (i.e., "gifted" student in a classroom full of 36 mainstream-to-special students) I've also seen the power of The Middle to demand all the time and attention of the teacher, leaving the two tails of the bell curve to amuse/entertain/teach/soothe themselves.

The education system isn't as broken as the healthcare system, but between the two, I've got to say, our national priorities are ALL screwed up.
Liz, this is tremendously frustrating. I had a related experience years ago when my daughter was attending an excellent day care/preschool. My daughter had several surgeries to correct a skeletal birth defect and had to endure a full-body cast for several months. I was told that she would not be allowed to come to day care there because of the cast. The center's rules were that each teacher and aide be required to be able to lift 50 pounds. My daughter, in her full plaster regalia, weighed 45. I met with the executive director and quietly told her that if they were accepting federal funds, they didn't have the luxury of denying attendance to a (albeit temporary) disabled child. They did relent, I was able to keep my job and my daughter was able to stay in a place where she had friends and was happy in spite of the discomfort of her recovery. She graduates from high school in a few months, and she can walk. Bonus!

It's not easy to get through these difficulties, but I have every confidence that you will. Little Man is fortunate to have you both for a mother and advocate. While I'm not convinced that this school is the right place for him, I'm also sure that not allowing them to wiggle out without a real meeting, which they still have not done is what you need to do and in fact are persuing. Don't let them off the hook.
Julie, you are of course absolutely correct, I don't want my son in that school at the end of it all, one of the reasons I am not really gung ho about pursuing anything like a lawsuit or a media push that would only be effective if what I wanted was to force their hand with respect to Little Man.

Sally, thanks.

Jon, I gotta say, I was hoping you'd stop by. Thanks.

Libertarius, Montessori does seem to have a mixed reputation. But honestly, in this case, I think that this was less about Montessori education than a teacher who was too rigid and lazy to work with a child with a disability.

AJ, thank you. Righteous anger is pretty much where most people end up on this when I tell them about it.

Dave, thanks.

Lisa, I will use your comment to provide an update on the story: we actually do have a preschool lined up for next year, one that I know has worked successfully with kids like Little Man and is very sympathetic to what I have been through. It's a bit of a drive, but in the end I think it will be worth it.

Stacey, thanks so much for your support. It really does mean a lot to me.

Cathy, thanks so much for your kind words, and for your patronage of the James Hotel. Honestly they were so good to me it was insane. Never seen anything like it. They not only upgraded me to the best room they had, the concierge actually called me to check in on me, found out when I would be back from my business meetings, and arranged to have a special dessert (chocolate of course) waiting for me when I arrived back, along with a very kind note. They were amazing.

Leeandra, would that there were more teachers with that attitude of teaching the kids you have, regardless of what they have.

Verbal, I totally agree.

Jane, you my sister in torment, thanks. You help me understand just how many choices there are, how strong we can all be when we put our minds to it, how to take joy even in the pain. Thank you.
As everyone else has already said, this is horrible. I wish you strength.

Two thoughts jump out at me:
- If you can twist arms at the school to get your son accepted for next year, do you want him to be with these people? The unreasonable and unkind behavior you have described would make me think twice.
- Whatever you decide to do is going to take a lot of your energy. I would carefully consider whether a fight over this particular school is worthy of your energy--there must be lots of other uses of your energy that will benefit your son more. Like spending time with him, and getting him into a situation where people appreciate him for who he is.

Good luck.
Liz: one thing you may consider is that legal battles over disability rights have the ability to set precedence. Kicking montessori in the teeth may not benefit little man, at this moment, but future children with disabilities can use your case to help their struggles.
Anything that I could add, it sounds like you've already given due consideration to. I understand your thinking behind a lawsuit or going to th local television station. On the other hand, people in your community deserve to know th truth about this school and their "approach" to the Montessori method.

But as a parent, you have to do what's best for your family. Your son is very fortunate to have such a caring, devoted, and strategic advocate in you.
I just have to say that your comprehensiveness is an awesome thing to behold. I’m w/Skeptic. Your son made a particularly divine choice in a mother.
Liz, make sure you keep that armor well-oiled and buffed to a fine shine. Even when you find a school that is better equipped to help Little Man reach his potential, you will be at the mercy of the administrators. Hopefully, for your duration at any school, you will have administrators who aren't afraid of putting their foot down with staff and making sure Little Man not only gets what he's entitled to but gets what he NEEDS.

I'll bet you're not the first parent to run across this problem with this school. And I guarantee you won't be the last.

Thumbed, and keeping you and Little Man (and Big Man too) in my thoughts and prayers. Keep fighting.
Oh, Liz, this is just too hard! I had no idea sweet, bright kids were being kicked out of schools like this.

I have nothing significant to add, except my best to you and your little man.
There is little more that I can add that hasn't been said already. You are obviously a wonderful, caring and smart mom. Too bad the people at Montessori don't realize just how smart you ARE. I have a feeling, they will learn. Very soon. Rated.
Liz J

Hey there~

I’m sorry to hear about the latest development with your son’s school. It’s unfortunate for your child and for the other children at the school who stand to learn something from The Littlest Pundit.

If it’s ok, I’m going to talk like an advocate here and tell you the same things I would tell someone that employed me. First of all, you have to only think about what is right for your son, not what’s “right”. Do you really want him to be in a place where he’s not wanted? My experience with children (especially boys) with Asperger’s is that though they may not activate socially, they are extremely keen to environmental stress. The school is wrong in rejecting him, no doubt, and you could probably make them reconsider, but even if the plusses of that outweigh the negatives, is this really going to be the best place for him and for you to grow.

Now, if you decide to take the school on or even if you decide to move him to another school, I really, really, really advise you to find someone in your area who knows the system. It removes you from being the target for administrators and teachers that you will no doubt have to get nose to nose with for years to come. It sounds lame, but they will hang any irritation and frustration they feel on the advocate and not on you. In many cases, I’ve actually found that a lot of paper pushers will develop a good relationship with the parent if they have someone else to focus their other (negative) feelings on. This is good for your son and good for you.

You’re smart and you’ve done your homework. Your description of the processes in the piece is dead on. Just remember that like everything else, the humans that preside over the process are tired, frustrated, and bound by things that are not written into the letter of the law. Keep excellent records starting with the parent teacher conference and including every phone call, document received and copies of EVERYTHING. You will never regret the extra time it takes to keep tabs on all of it.

You have to become informed of what’s really happening in your county/school system and who the person who signs the forms really is. The best place to get the real gossip on these individuals is at parent group meetings. A lot of those folks have an ax to grind and are more than happy to give you straight-up information about how to get what you need. (((Mostly, you will find that they give you info on how NOT to get what you need, but that’s just as good.))) I've lead enough of those groups to know that the real dirt is there for the taking ...

The psychologist is also a good resource for this, just remember that they also have a practice to protect and many other students that they will need to speak on behalf of … there’s nothing wrong with that, but it is restrictive and you need someone who can throw themselves under the bus in your place! You need to be in tip top form …

I highly recommend Pete Wright’s for everything. I’ve worked on two cases with him and have attended dozens of his workshops. He’s a pro (and has fought and won before the Supreme Court) and offers a classy and effective way to get where you need to go with your sanity in tact. The workshops are open to parents as well and his ed law manuals and NCLB manual are priceless resources.

I’m around if you ever need ANYTHING!!!

This is a lot of comment ~ and I was going to send it in a pm, but thought it might be informative to others as well ... hope you don't mind!
You sound like a revolutionary mom. I'm so amazed by how you are protecting your child--it's a fierce thing with us moms, huh?
This isn't a direct parallel, but when I was reading this account I was reminded of the battles and continuing battles over Title IX, which mandates that money be spent proportionately on men's and women's athletics at public education institutions. Some of the bureaucrats you deal with sound like the same bureaucrats who think spending money on girls is a waste. And about how it was brave moms and dads, who risked being singled out in their communities, who went to bat on behalf of their kids.
Liz, this is infuriating, but expected. Back when you opened up to OS about the Little Man and his diagnosis, several folks (me included) encouraged you to seek out your local public schools.

This painful situation for your family is also just another case study on how private schools are incredibly harmful for this country. The private schools pick and choose, offering the parents of "normal" affluent children the opportunity to attend a school that scores far better across the board in all of those always important testing fields. The roots beneath exceptional private school performance has nothing to do with the 'exceptional' teachers or students (as they and the parents outwardly believe); it entirely has to do with the fact that the private schools don't have any significant number of special needs kids, children living in poverty, behavioral disorders or ESOL students. Parents send their kids to private schools so that their little ones don't have to be in the same classroom as a kid with Asperger's and his teaching-aid shadow. Just like parents send thier kids to private schools to keep them out of a minority-majority environment. It sounds horrible, but it is absolutely true.

I'm terribly sorry to hear about this heartwrenching chapter of your family's story, but I long for the day when exceptional, activist parents like yourself are fighting for and volunteering in our nation's public schools. Losing the Little Man is that Waldorf School's loss and your community's collective gain. Keep your head held high.
I have no advice; just know I'm with you. And I'll remember the James Hotel.
I am so glad that Little Man has an able, educated, savvy mom in his corner. I know you'll put his needs first, but hope you'll find a way to bring this blatant discrimination to light.
Thank you for this. I am a former educator, and now a school board member, in a small Texas community. We will be adding many special education services this year that were previously handled by a larger district under a co-op.

We are very determined to create a comprehensive, excellent program, and are even dipping into reserves to make sure we meet the kids' needs. But you've made me even more aware and determined to keep focused. I may not be able to help Little Man, but I can fight for him here in Texas.
One more comment - all the best to you, your husband, and son. I have a good friend whose child has Ausbergers and is mainstreamed in our school. He has been a lead in the school musical, a science fair ribbon winner, and a drummer for the band. She has had to advocate for her son, but has found many compassionate, enthusiastic educators who have gone to tremendous lengths to help . There is hope!
Liz, I am awestruck by your dedication, brilliance, advocacy. Little Man could not have a better mother.

I don't truly believe in private schools. I don't think battling them is worth the energy. I agree with Edgar that fighting the battle in public schools might be a more constructive use of your superb brilliance.

Please don't take this as criticism. Since almost everyone does, I hesitate to even write this. I admit I am very disturbed by diagnosing preschoolers, especially boys. None of my five brothers could possibly have adapted to a nursery school; fortunately none of us went. One brother walked three miles home from kindergarten, he hated it so much. I didn't go to school full-time until I was 8 because Catholic schools on Long Island offered split sessions. Only one of my daughters went to all-day kindergarten, and as she complained, "I used all my goodness up." My father's social skills were very underdeveloped all his life. Two of my daughters only stopped hating school when they went to Yale.

Obviously I am not questioning the diagnosis of full-blown autism. But the spectrum bothers me. The definite of "normal children" is getting narrower and narrower, possibly stigmatizing creative, divergent thinkers. I am sure at least two of my children would now be tested and diagnosed, yet they are done splendidly as adults.
Hi Liz,

I wrote you first when you posted "The New Normal". My post was long and detailed about the school wars I had to go through with my son, since pre-K. I did not think your battle would start so quickly too.
Montessori schools were created to help out children not only with learning disabilities but also with mild to challenging handicaps. The Head of School's attitude at your school is despicable and he certainly does not answer Maria Montessori's nurturing philosophy.

But unfortunately you will find the same, albeit more hypocritical, in public schools. Your research about the IDEA shows that you already are aware of that. As for the NCLB, it does not help at all children with disabilities in general, I speak of experience. It encourages teachers to teach to the test, and the child who needs more than just that is "left behind" for sure.
Be strong!
Liz, it sounds like having Little Man go back to that independent private school is a bad idea. It's clear that they have no interest in dealing with his needs and treating him sensitively. If they choose to use the Montessori thing as an excuse, then either a) Montessori isn't the best fit, or b) (and more likely) they suck.

I can't imagine sending a kid to a private school with educators and administrators who are that incapable of communicating. I always thought that people at such places were supposed to provide more support because they are private institutions. Oops, guess I was wrong.

This school sounds totally uninterested in meeting you and your son's needs and I can't imagine it working out. Maybe I'm wrong, but it sounds like a bad place to learn in this situation.
I have a daughter with autism, she is 16 now, so she's at the other end of education journey. Our other two typical girls went to a wonderful private school in our town, but the school had no willingness to make any accommodation for our special needs child, or really any child with real special needs. Since they have a selective admission process, they have all the cards on this issue.

At this point, I think that's basically, "a fact of life". Only the public schools will step up to the challenge of educating and caring for special needs kids, or private schools that provide for them exclusively. Our child now attends one of those private schools, the incredible New England Center for Children.
I'm so sorry this happened. That teacher doesn't know what she is missing by rejecting your son. I feel sorry for her that she only sees problems and not opportunities.

I'm glad you have found a school for next year. I wish Little Man luck in the future. Behavior is the biggest bug-a-boo with autism spectrum disorders, IMHO. It sounds like Little man may avoid those.

Don't discount public school. My nephew has Aspergers, disgraphia and behavior problems. It was rocky the first few years but he is in middle school now and doing better - he's learning. My niece has an autism spectrum diagnoses and she is in kindergarten. Her school has her in kindergarten for half the day and in a class for autism spectrum kids the other half (very specialized special ed to deal with socialization issues/attention issues, etc.). She is thriving. I know they are lucky to live where they do though. Other school districts in our area(San Antonio, TX) don't have the resources they are receiving. It pays to shop around a little. My sister moved into this school district because of their reputation dealing with autism spectrum kids.

You are an amazing advocate for your son. Good luck!
The educational system in this country is broken in so many ways. You are a great advocate for your kid, and a great role model for the rest of us. I am so sorry you've had to go through this -- it shouldn't be this hard.
Hello Liz,
I'm very sorry for the problems this school is presenting, and I want to commend you for your response. I hope you find a great place for your son this fall.

That said, I do want to respond to some of the comments by other posters re: private schools.

When I lived in Denver, I sent my son to a private Catholic elementary school. I did so because he is very, very bright (a population of kids that seems to be underserved in public schools), and I didn't live in a very good neighborhood. My kiddo could not have had his abilities challenged in a school with many children who were still struggling to learn English.

I made a choice to do what was best for my child. The majority of the school's student were Hispanic, which was typical for the neighborhood, and nearly all Catholic. My son was neither, a bit of a double minority. But the school, and the kids in the school, had a real focus on academic achievement. I believe that school instilled the discipline in my son to do his homework, every day, and that the culture, in which kids who did well at school were as "cool" as those who did well at baseball, was the best place for him.

I think it is wrong to assume that the choices made by parents of children with spectrum disorders and other problems are all made for the benefit of the child, and that decisions made by parents who choose to send their children to a private school are motivated by racism or classism or some other less worthy value system.
Thank you for sharing this, Liz.

The compliment to the hotel staff says as much about you as your reluctance to turn a daily life challenge into a media circus.

Cheers to you.
Surely, they should have reconsidered the consequences of throwing the child of a lawyer under the bus, not to mention the child of someone involved in disaster recovery... clearly, they are underestimating your combined resourcefulness.

I think you're right about the diminishing returns of a law suit. And would you really want him to go there under those circumstances, even if you won?

However, I'm betting that you could write something to whomever it is that certifies Montessori schools (including your dismissed plan for a shadow that you would have paid for). In fact, I started googling Montessori schools, and there was nothing for licensing, but quite a few hits for "certification." Answering a query from said body, or having to be re-certified would certainly consume a considerable amount of time and resources.

As you say, the real goal is to keep them from being able to do the same to other children who come through their door... after you make sure that your son is getting his own needs met. About that I have no doubt that you will be successful.
@Regana--Thank you for saying what I was going to say. There are good and bad private schools just as there are public schools, and most of the parents who send their children to private schools do because they believe that it's the best school for their child. There is no one-size fits all "best" model of education.

(I also take offense that private schools are these supposed bastions of racism and classism--the largest provider of private elementary and secondary education in the United States is the Catholic Church, and if you go into most inner-city Catholic schools, you'll find that most of their students are 1.) non-white and 2.) middle-class to poor. In a lot of the schools, the majority of the students are not Catholic--their parents send them to Catholic schools, though, because they feel their kids get a better education there.)
My son has sensory integration disorder (or at least that's the current diagnosis) and his kindergarten has also given up on him without a fight. They can't throw him out totally (it's a legally mandated facility), but they make us bring him later and take him earlier than everyone else so he doesn't disrupt the morning and noon gatherings. They also seem to expect we should be there with him - not cvaring that we have to, um, work during those hours. They totally don't do anything for him. We're not paying for education, we're paying for babysitting.

I know how furious you feel. Bet if you were in the position to donate a library to the school they'd change their tune pretty quick. Hang in there.
Wow. I commend you for all you are doing and considering doing. This is a shocker and you have laid out your experiences so honestly and admirably. I hope you do go to the media. This is something that is happening all over the country I am sure. And spectrum stuff is here to stay, so people better get used to it. I know. I live in the Bay Area. And it is everywhere.

Thank you for sharing this story. I was greatly moved by it.
Oh Liz. I so feel your frustration. I've been mentally gearing up for two weeks for an "intervention" meeting where I suspect they're just looking for a reason to kick my son out of school. I had a really creepy meeting with the principal. I won't go into it. But I've decided that if it goes as badly as I supect it might, I find comfort in blogging about it.

Oh yeah, and did I mention I have to do this whole meeting in French.

I can't even imagine having the strength to blog about it. Total kudos for that.
Welcome to my world, Liz; I'm very sorry you have to be a member.

My children are 13 and 10. Both have "issues." Neither gets what they need (although my son gets more, because he has severe ADHD and thus, as a potential "behavior problem," gets a lot of attention). I could tell you dozens of stories, both my own and of other disabled kids we know. (e.g., the girl who doesn't get to go to recess, because there is no wheelchair access to the play areas.) But I'm sure you've heard them all, or similar ones.

The situation is simple: if your kid is a square peg, you're screwed. It doesn't matter if your kid is (what they call these days) Gifted and Talented, or "disabled;" they're screwed. There aren't enough services, trained teachers, willing administrators, and people who care. It's really that simple.

Are there *any* trained teachers, willing administrators, and people who care? Sure. But not enough. And the few that are around are frequently prevented by others in the school system (lawyers; school board members; heads of districts; other teachers; principals; what have you) from doing anything "extra."

Be prepared to hear a lot about how what the school offers already will be adequate for Little Man. Be prepared to hear about how they don't have enough money, or teachers, or supplies, or the correct training. Be prepared to have a guilt trip laid on you about how Little Man can't be allowed "to slow down the whole class." Be prepared for a whole lot of tears, and anger, and frustration. Talk to a psychiatrist--not for Little Man, but for *you*--to get some Klonopin, or Paxil, or something, because St. John's Wort simply isn't enough. Be prepared, Liz.

I am sorry for you, very very sorry. No one deserves this, but as diagnostic tools get better, and more children are diagnosed with "disabilities," and *whatever* is causing the increase in autistic children continues to hang about, more and more parents are going to be in your situation. And it sucks rocks, believe me.

(Bitter? Me? Noooooooo. . . )
I don't have a child myself so I feel I can't contribute too much to this discussion but Liz, I just want to say what an incredible mother (and person) you are and I think the battle you are waging will benefit everyone involved; not only other parents who are, or will be going through this. but even the closed-minded administrators who are trying to thwart you. I don't know what else to say - I wish you luck - my heart goes out to your whole family.
I am at the other end of the journey, and have learned a tremendous amount advocating for two of my children, one with Asperger's, one with serious learning disabilities. I completely understand your frustration, because I have lived it, but there is another side, and it is important that parents of special needs children understand that other side, too.

Advocating for a child with special needs is not simply about demanding what you want. It is also about providing and paying for what you want.

It is difficult, expensive and occasionally unpleasant to meet the needs of a special needs child. If the school is not legally obligated to meet those needs, why would it elect to do so? It wouldn't. So when you are dealing with a private school, you cannot demand, you must negotiate. They don't owe these services to you or your son.

Do you want your child to have an aide? Then pay for it. Why should the other parents subsidize your child's aide? If that's what your child needs, and you can afford it, shouldn't you provide it?

Having paid for an aide in a private school, I am well aware of what it costs. I also know that being willing to pay for that aide showed that we were ready to meet the school more than halfway. The other accommodations we requested were granted without any problems, and everyone benefited. My son got the aide and got to stay with his peers. His teacher was free to teach to the whole class. The school did not have to divert money from average students in order to meet my child's above average needs.

If you can afford private therapy, you should provide it, as a supplement to what the school is willing to provide. No school system, public or private, can meet the needs of a child in the same way as a private therapist, nor should anyone expect otherwise.

You need to be aware that when you demand something for your son, you are demanding that something else be taken away from other children. You need to understand that it is not unreasonable for a school to refuse to reallocate resources so that your son will get more and other children will get less. You need to do your part, financially, to limit the impact on the school and on the other children.

Meeting the needs of a special needs child ought to be a partnership between parents and school. Parents demanding, and the school complying is not a partnership. Parents need to get creative helping the school to meet the child's needs, and providing as much outside professional support as possible.

Ask yourself what you are willing to do to partner with the school in meeting your child's needs. If you are not willing to do any more than demand that they will be met, I can assure you that they will not be met, and the one who will suffer will be your child. You might get a lot of mileage out of righteous wrath, but that's not the goal. The goal is to meet your child's needs. Figure out what you need to contribute to getting those needs met, and then offer it. You might get an entirely different response than what you have gotten so far.
Amy, you need to read before you comment from on high, as is your wont. Liz is perfectly willing to pay for her son's shadow. That's not the issue. The school doesn't want another adult in the classroom - and apparently, doesn't want the boy there either.
Sorry about your being upset and angry - rejection does that to us. Sort of takes us down to our inner depths and brings back pain from our past and present.

Mom always knows best - so whatever path you and your husband take - we are all behind you. My biggest fear is that this negative emotional turmoil will spill over onto your son who is an angel.

My wife works as a teacher assistant in a public school - if the student is not acting out - hitting - beating - biting - swearing - what's the harm. Just as a suggestion talk to your local public school - stop in and visit with the principal - get there read on what they can do for your son hopefully you will pleasantly surprised.
My brother is dyslexic and spends one of his five class periods in a special ed class. In no way do i feel this is giving him sub standard education.
Pardon me, Dr. Tuteur, but my experience--and the experience of many contemporaneous parents--is that schools don't *want* to work as a "partnership;" they want to slot your child into whatever programs are available, and for you to shut up about it.

Your child can't participate in recess because she's in a wheelchair and the school doesn't have wheelchair access to the playground? "We don't have the funding for wheelchair ramps at this time. You can bring it up with the board." Your child would rather miss entire days than be 3 minutes late, because being punished for being late causes public humiliation and enhances her depression, while missing a whole day has no consequences for her? "She needs to get here on time." Your son does much better in a pull-out environment in math, but the school insists he go into the mainstream classroom anyway "because we don't have the budget for another aide" (and *refuses* your offer to *pay* for an aide, or to hire a private aide).

Further, I am disappointed to see you say, "You need to be aware that when you demand something for your son, you are demanding that something else be taken away from other children." This is simultaneously a waste, and a cop-out. A waste, because it denies education to children who could--if some effort was made--contribute to our society as a whole. And a cop-out, because in public schools, they are required by law to provide an "individual education plan" for special needs children for the purposes of a "fair and appropriate public education" (FAPE), whereas in a private school, if they don't plan, schedule, and budget for special-needs children, they are planning poorly. What you said is perilously close to the the typical method that schools (and school boards) use to try to drive a wedge between parents of G-T students (who *also* don't get enough support!) and parents of special needs kids.

My family has paid to send teachers to week-long training programs; we've purchases supplies, including text books and training materials; we've offered to donate our own personal time; we've offered to pay for an aide; we've offered to hire a private aide; we've sent our children to neurologists, psychologists, and psychiatrists (and have gone ourselves). And the vast majority of parents that I know with special needs children have done the same.

Schools districts keep lawyers and law firms on retainer to deal with parents of special needs children. Schools fight you tooth and nail when you propose changes to IEPs. Schools win 95% (or more) of final hearings (does anyone really think that parents of special needs kids are wrong *95% of the time*?). School administrators go to special events where they learn how to deny parents services "legally". Publishers send out books on how to deal with difficult parents of special needs children.

And no, I'm not making *any* of this up.

No, Dr. Tuteur; my observation is that it is almost always the schools, school administrators, school boards, teachers, or some combination that is not really interested in working "as a partnership," no matter how much effort the parents put in.

Am I sure that some special needs kids get their needs met? Absolutely. But as for the rest? No, not even close. Nuh uh.
Douglas Moran:

"What you said is perilously close to the the typical method that schools (and school boards) use to try to drive a wedge between parents of G-T students (who *also* don't get enough support!) and parents of special needs kids."

And it happens to be true. That's the point.

Schools have limited budgets. The money comes from the taxpayers. In our town, 25% of the budget is spent on the 12% of children who have special needs. Is that fair? Why?

Is it fair that parents who can afford to pay for special services demand that the taxpayers pay instead. Why?

I am an expert on the fact that schools can be obstinate, recalcitrant and even counterproductive. Nonetheless, I try to keep in mind that they are daily being forced to do more, for more children, with less staff and less money.

Special education is an unfunded mandate. The schools are legally required to provide it, but no one is legally required to pay for it. Practically speaking, that means that for my child to have extra services, something has to be taken away from someone else. In certain cases that is justified, but it is something that parents of special needs children should not forget.

As a parent of four children, two with special needs, it has been my experience that the children who are shortchanged in school are the AVERAGE children, not the special needs children. The law gives parents of special needs children tools that other parents do not have. It allows us to advocate in ways that are not available to other parents. It allows us to commandeer resources that are not accessible to other parents.

I have spent untold hours arguing, negotiating and threatening various people in various schools. I know what this is all about. But I don't believe that anyone owes it to me or to my children. And I don't believe that we are entitled to throw average children under the bus in order to get extra services for our children. We are members of a community, and we ought not forget it. Our children are not the only children in the system.
So it's better to throw special needs and G-T children under the bus so that school districts can hire football coaches for the high school at $70 grand a year, and so the high school can replace the artificial turf, that they just put in 4 years ago, with natural turf?

Right. Spare me.
Douglas Moran:

"So it's better to throw special needs and G-T children under the bus so that school districts can hire football coaches for the high school at $70 grand a year, and so the high school can replace the artificial turf, that they just put in 4 years ago, with natural turf?"

You still haven't explained why taxpayers should divert their money from their children to pay for your child. I understand that you think it is owed to you, but I want to know why.
Liz, what a compellingly written piece. I want to hear what you finally decide to do and what school you choose for your son.
Sorry about the way you and your son have been treated.

I was just talking to a parent yesterday whose child has learning disabilities. When she enrolled at Montessori, they told her that she had to take her child off an IEP as a condition of enrollment. Now that same student is failing and being told she asks for help too often, and the Mom has no IEP to back her up.

I am disturbed by these and other stories from the posters here. I am a special education teacher in a high school program for at-risk students. I have taught many spectrum students, and students with other behavioral and emotional problems, and love them all. I have seen them succeed. I know special education is an unfunded mandate, and difficult, but I also know that no sped teacher I work with would suggest that any of our children don't belong at school. We are underpaid and overworked, but our students largely succeed. We make partnerships with families and other teachers. 80% of my students have families below the poverty line, so they cannot afford paid services, but we figure out what we can do, and we make it work. It is not always the best possible situation, but we see students learn, grow in vision and skills, and mature as a result.

As a parent, I understand why the best thing for you and your son might be to find another educational setting. But I also strong think schools that react this way should be held accountable. Staff in schools like this may also need some kind of professional development to allow them to see how they could offer services to students with special needs. In the end, saying a child may not come to school because of a disability is discrimination, as reprehensible as anything around the time of Brown v. Board. I do not blame the schools entirely; an unfunded mandate to people who have not been adequately trained is also an unfair situation. However, this practice of refusing enrollment or services needs to stop.

I'll get off my soapbox now.
Dr. Tuteur, are you saying my son or daughter has less of a right to learn to read, write, and perform arithmatic than other children because she's dyslexic? Or that a normally-developing child has more "right" to athletic facilities than Little Man's to learn to read? Are you saying that schools have a right to decide what level of education a particular child should receive?

And the answer to your question is simple: it's the law.

And tv
Well, Liz, it sounds like you have an excellent handle on the situation, even if things aren't going the way you want them to. You're clearly very well-informed and as best I can tell, you're making great decisions. Little Man is lucky to be your son.

As far as the school goes, I doubt I can help you much. I went to public school, so I have no experience with private schools, and my parents were the ones who so frequently had to fight tooth and nail on my behalf. (They went in to my school and raised hell quite a few times.)

What I can tell you is this: keep fighting, because you're right. When I was in third grade, I was such a behavioral problem at school that my teacher (one of the worst people in the district to carry that label) and the principal, among others, sought to convince my parents to have me institutionalized. My parents refused, and history now confirms their good judgment. It is very hard to raise a kid with an autism spectrum disorder, even one who, like your son and myself, is very high-functioning. You'll have to fight many times, but in the end, like your son's classmate says, "It gets better."

I promise you, it really does get better, even though it's never easy.
Liz -- I'm so sorry this happened to you so early in your journey. It happens to just about every family with a child with AS at some point, but to happen so soon and so unjustly must hurt really bad.

We were lucky. Our son attended preschool at our local JCC. They loved him. He loved them. The teachers there were the ones who raised the red flag and suggested that our son be tested. When he was diagnosed, and was eligible for our county special ed preschool, the JCC begged to keep him. So he stayed there and we layered on speech therapy and OT delivered by the school system and social skills classes that we paid for privately.

I want to offer two observations. It seems to me that you've already decided to walk away from the school, and I think that's wise. Forcing them to accept a child they don't want and don't value would be setting your son up for failure. And you want him to thrive, not just survive.

The second is more delicate. I know exactly where you're coming from with your fears about public school special education. But please please realize that the people who talk -- a lot -- about their public schools are the ones who are disappointed, angry, pissed off. And for every one of those, there are many who are pleased, or at least OK, with the education and services their children are receiving. Do you have to stay on top of it? Yes. Do you occasionally have to stand your ground and fight for what you think your child needs. Absolutely. But mostly you'll find hardworking staff -- teachers, administrators, couselors -- who "get" your child. They'll understand where he's coming from, and know how to get him where he needs to be.

Please do consider sending him to your public special needs preschool. Ask to go and observe some of the classrooms. Find a classroom and teacher you like. Accept whatever speech and occupational and social skills therapy they offer, and fill in the gaps privately.

And I know you'll do this anyway, but I want to remind you to start your journey into your next school -- wherever it is -- with an open mind. The very best situation is one where you and your husband will be part of a team (actually leading the team) of teachers and therapists who are all trying to help your son. You *need* them to like you and want to help you. You really do.

And one last piece of advice -- pour yourself a nice glass of wine tonight. You deserve it.
Fine, Amy. I will explain to you why tax payers money should be diverted.

Because the right specialist will go into a class to help your kid end up helping all the children. My son's occupational therapist has adjusted all the desks in his classroom and re-organized the classroom not to only to make it easier for him, but for all the kids.

Before he arrived they were suffering from desks that encouraged bad posture and the resultant loss of energy. Before she arrived the poorly organized classroom was slowing down all the kids, not just mine.

We are negotiating with the schoolboard for software that will not only make it easier for my son to work on computer, which he needs to do, but will introduce all the kids in his third grad class to computer skills.

Our strategy is to re-design the class to make learning easier for him, and everyone. I would never be able to afford this kind of intervention on my own. But because my son is eligible, through Canadian medicare, for a publically funded O.T she can do all this.

Kids with LDs and high functioning autism are better served by better designed classrooms and with the technology they need to compensate for their problems. Shadows are important, but I think shouldn't be used as the only solution.

When parents decide to just pay for shadows instead of demanding better equipped, more inclusive classrooms they end up entrenching the problem.
Douglas Moran:

"are you saying my son or daughter has less of a right to learn to read, write, and perform arithmatic than other children because she's dyslexic?"

First of all, please call me Amy.

No, I'm not saying that at all. What I am saying is that your child is not entitled to an unlimited portion of school funds at the expense of other children. Maybe you want only an extra $2000 a year for your child, but if the school system is spending $5000 per pupil per year, that extra $2000 has to come out of their allocation. Moreover, there are parents demanding residential placements that cost $100,000 per year. A lot of students have to be deprived of a lot of things to come up with that $100,000. I cannot find an ethical justification for insisting that lots of children with average needs should do without so one child who could benefit from a residential placement can get it.

Maybe it's easier for me to see the implications because I have children who don't have special needs as well as those who do. Giving something to one child means taking something away from another. That's why, whenever I can, I pay for services out of pocket.

It is a zero sum game. It's all good and well to advocate for your child, and believe me, I am among the staunchest advocates of all, but the rest of the people in my town do not owe my child tens of thousands of dollars of special services if I can afford to provide them on my own.

In addition, a child who is disruptive deprives other children of the opportunity to learn. Everyone wants their child to be "mainstreamed," but that might not be in the best interests of everyone else in the class. The other children are not props that exist to support your child's life. They are individuals in their own right, and their needs cannot and should not be ignored.

So it has nothing to do with whether your child has a "right" to learn to read. It has to do with whether your child has the right to read at the expense of all the other children in her class. They have rights, too.
I don't want to bogart this post, but there are countless stories about men with LDs who grew up to invent the technology and the services they needed to make their lives easier. Everyone benefited from their innovation. So I have no patience who people who characterize other kids, or their own, as drains on society. When the environment is improved for those kids, it's improved for all.
Liz - I've done a decent amount of outreach education in the Arlington area public primary schools ( Glebe, Hoffman-Boston, as well as a few others) and I have to say that they all did an incredible job of accommodating a wide range of special needs, both in the regular classrooms as well as in special ed classrooms. I wouldn't hesitate to put any of my kids in those schools - special needs or not.

I agree that schools need to be held accountable for such blatant discrimination - but also that it's nearly impossible for families to take that task on. Life is already challenging and full enough without adding the burden of fighting with a school administration just to make a point. I mean, once you are told so blatantly that you are not welcome - who would want to their child to go there? But, somehow there needs to be accountability.

What about advocacy groups? I wonder if there is an ADA children's association of some type that might challenge such things.
Juliet Waters:

"When the environment is improved for those kids, it's improved for all."

That's baloney. The $500,000 per year that comes off the top of my town's school budget for the 5 residential placements the town pays for benefits only the child and his family. It provides NO benefit to anyone else.

It is this attitude, that services are owed to your child or that other children "benefit" by having services taken away from them and given to your child that gives all special-ed parents a bad reputation.

I am extremely grateful for the services and accommodations given to my children and the extra time and effort the teachers have invested in my children. The results show in their improved performance and I hope that the teachers and support staff feel rewarded by that. However, I don't kid myself that it benefited anyone else's kids. It's didn't; it took resources away from them.
It's sad to say, but that is why/how many private schools remain private. They can tell you to get your things and leave and no one is going to make a big stink about it. I do know many public schools (espcially in my school district) get a plethora of resources for special needs students. I have students who have all type of things (many of them refuse to use them for fear of ridicule) to assist them in the learning process. One of my friends has a son with Downs Syndrome and Autism and she was able to send him to the public school with the best program and resources available to accommocate his needs.

I am not saying all private schools are bad, but you may want to look into some public schools who can accommodate you son's needs. I pray that it works out for you all.

Rated because we need to be more aware of special need students.
First off, I want to thank everyone for thier support and their comments. I've been out all day and I am overwhelmed. Thank you.

I won't respond to everyone individually...if I leave you out it's not because I don't appreciate your words. I do. I'm just limited in my resources to respond.

Some general responses: Many folks have been telling my that Little Man is lucky to have me for a mom. Thank you for believing in me. I'm doing the best I can, but I will also make mistakes. And I may not know which are the mistakes until later.

Some clarifications for people: At this point, my plan isn't to return to this school. I have found a new preschool for Little Man for the fall, and I am happy with the choice we have made. For those who want me to go to the public school system, my county does not have a general public preschool, only a special needs public preschool. Until he gets to kindergarten, most of my schooling options for LIttle Man are private, not public, which is no different from the choices available to all parents in my county. I am still considering public schools for Kindergarten, but that is one or maybe two years away.

Jon, I have to say that you are not the first person in the community to suggest this. And part of the reason the legal option is even still on the table is because of this reason. I am very aware that I have an opportunity to help more people than just me. I'm just trying to figure out the best way to do it.

IrritatedMom -- THANK YOU. I actually am in conversation with an educational advocate and understand their value. I'll keep you posted.

Edgar, you'd be surprised to learn that in this situation, the people who have been the most supportive in this situation have been the other parents. Yes, private schools have significant issues, and yes, not all of thier success is about true merit. But there are still some significant benefits to the right private school, especially in an age where public schools are increasingly focusing on rote memorization as opposed to actually teaching things like critical thinking skills.

annette, thank you for doing your bit for Texas.

Mary, I am of two minds about private schools vs. public schools, I see the strengths and weaknesses in both. I don't think it is a question of better as a general proposition so much as what is better for each student. As for the validity of the spectrum, one thing you should remember is that a diagnosis is not a destiny. What we know now with repsect to high-functioning individuals on the spectrum is that with the right therapies and enough time, they do quite well, becoming indistinguishable from thier peers. The trend is that yes, more people are on the spectrum, but the spectrum is becoming less of a stigma. At some point, we're all going to be part of one big spectrum, and normal is going to cease to exist altogether, just varying degrees of spectrum.

Amy, you've misread my post -- I was fully prepared to pay for the shadow my child needed. I do expect to put forward my own resources (since I am lucky enough to have them) to care for my child. But responsibility is a two way street -- I have a responsibility to do as much for my child as I can, and educational institutions have a universal responsibility not to discriminate based on disability. No one gets to shirk their responsibility. Yes, we demand a lot from our schools. And yes, increasingly that means pouring resources into kids who have special needs. But we don't do it because they "deserve" them. We do it because that is the kind of country we want to be, one that does not let people slip through the cracks just because they are disabled, because too many of those kids actually have a lot to offer.
Amy, just a few things:

You say that "everyone" wants to mainstream their child, and then you complain about residential placement. For one thing, "everyone" doesn't--I know plenty of special-needs parents who don't--and your own comment about residential placement contradicts that.

Second, if different services or a better IEP were provided at the regular school, there wouldn't need to be as many home placements. I have know several people who have gotten home placements, and they only do it as a last resort. (I would add that home placement in Eanes ISD in Texas doesn't cost anywhere near $100,000 a child.)

Also, I'm not sure you read my entire post. My family *has* paid, to the best full measure of our ability. I worked two jobs at once to pay for it. I sent my children to psychiatrists, psychologists, learning specialists, neurologists, and (when I had to) private schools. So I would appreciate you dropping that particular line of argument. (And quite frankly, out of the dozens of special needs parents that I know, I only know of [that's "know of;" not "know"] two families who didn't do something similar. Raising special needs children--especially autistic children--is a strain on the family's time and resources, no matter *what* schools do or don't do. And honestly, it's pretty insulting for you to imply otherwise.)

You make think FAPE is unfair, a bummer, takes from the rich and gives to the poor--I don't know and truly, it doesn't matter. Because FAPE is the law. I think a lot of the income tax law is bogus, but I pay it. The Texas "robin hood" property tax laws drive me crazy . . . but I pay them, because I'm not prepared to say that my child is more deserving of funds than the poor child across the tracks simply because my child isn't poor. It's the law, Amy.

Further, in a country where the government has said, flatly, "*yes*, all children have a *right* to be taught to read," well, asking me to justify why I believe my child has just as much right as anyone's is pointless; the right has been granted. (I could tell you that she has an IQ in the MENSA range, but can't demonstrate it because of her dyslexia, but would it matter to you? Honestly, I suspect not. Which is a shame.)

But you have put yourself in a tough position, honestly. You *have* argued that some children have more of a right to be taught how to read than others, because they are normally developing. In the zero-sum game you describe, there is no other conclusion. (You are also implying that the gifted have no right to learn to their level of ability, either.) Your point of view is very divisive, and not helpful at all, no matter how many special-needs kids you have. You might want to rethink it.
I have found the worst administrators to always be less concerned about doing the "right" thing, than keeping up an appearance of competency. I really feel heartsick about your ordeal. You will find a are WAY smart.....
Liz, My heart goes out to you and your family. We are going through a similar problem with my son's public elementary school (we were recently forced to pull my son out of school-we are now homeschooling). My son has Tourette's syndrome and while we had a wonderful experience with his private preschool which didn't have a lot of experience with Tourette's but were willing to take advice, do research and learn; his elementary experience has been pretty horrible ( lack of communication, immovable/apathetic teachers and administrators). We will be spending the spring searching for a new school for next year while we homeschool. Thank you for this post.

You sound like a wonderful mom. Good luck.
Liz, I'm sorry you had to go through that and if it was me, having no children, I'd be vengeful but you're likely making the best choice and focusing on your son.

However...isn't there a system for rating private schools out there? Methinks a scathing review is due.
Amy, while your attitude may sound like the high road, it's actually small minded and lacking in vision.

Kids should not be in a situation where they are seen as "taking resources away from each other." With more money all schools could benefit from publically funded OTs. All kids could benefit from better designed classrooms. Many "normal" kids have co-ordination problems that significantly limit their potential, whether it's with writing, posture, or athletics.

As well, all kids would benefit from more technology in the classroom, no just dyslexics. And all kids would benefit from smaller adult children ratios, not just kids on the autism spectrum.

Ghettoizing kids into special needs, and especially into wealthy and poor special needs takes the pressure off the schools, yes. But it also takes the pressure off society.

Who, really, would be giving up resources to better fund schools? Bankers? CEOs? Kids are supposed to BE the resource. Not be scrambling around for scarce resources in a society of blatant abundance.
Sorry, one exception. The Montessori kids don't benefit from more adults in the classroom. No one knows why. But they just don't.
It seems like Dr. Tuteur suggests the only way for our educational system to be fair is by exactly equal funding for every child. Nevermind that some children have more expensive needs than others.

What an oversimplistic view of public policy! We live in a society. What's the point of government at all if you're supposed to receive the exact same thing as every other person? Maybe we should cut out the middle man?

Sometimes its in the interest of all of us for some people to receive more in some services than others. Just like it makes more sense for NYC or DC to get more in counter-terrorism funds than say Bismark, ND, it makes sense that kids with developmental or socializing challenges receive services that include more overall expensive staff time. (I must acknowledge here that this isn't even what Liz has suggested.)

If the only measure of fairness is the dollar amount received per citizen, perhaps we should abolish all government agencies all together and each person receive equal vouchers for education, transportation, and military protection.

Yes, the federal government has dramatically underfunded the special education mandate. But that's not even what Liz's post is about. She's talking about a private school and adding her own resources to meet her son's needs--and the school is outright discriminating against her son. Plain and simple.
Skeptic, for the record, I *heart* you.
Amy is totally oblivious to the fact that there all kinds of children with special needs. There are tjhose who require special accomodations based on IDEA, or "other health impairment" and need an IEP, etc. Why would the tax payers's money not pay for them if the same taxpayers's money pays for the other children with special needs: the G&T children, the magnet school children, the AP children, the Honors class children. Are some children mroe valuable than others? So some children could benefit from accelerated classes and more money dedicated to their programs and our "learning disabled", or "autistic" or "dyslexic", etc children could not?
Amy: If you are truly a Doc, time for you to retake that Hippocratic oath!
"incapable of paying attention for reasonable periods of time."

I have a word for that. I call it "childhood."

I just blogged about it.
Many people think that Maria Montessori pioneered an alternative, hands-on educational method for all children, but she was originally known for proving that special needs students, who were deemed uneducable by society, could learn as well as other students. It is ironic and sad that a school which uses her name would use her method as a B.S. excuse to exclude your kid. I have worked with students with Asperger's and autism in MD public schools. There is a lot that can be done. I have seen parents wield an IEP like a up quickly, get a mediator, alienate the school with unreasonable demands. Then again, I know that there are teachers who can't handle special needs children and won't admit their fault in the matter. I know this is hard, but I have seen a lot growth in "disabled" children. I think you are on the right path--willing to research and be logical in place of vengeful. Your son will be fine.
It seems like Dr. Tuteur suggests the only way for our educational system to be fair is by exactly equal funding for every child. Nevermind that some children have more expensive needs than others.

Derek, when I was kid they had a word for that. Let me think a minute.....

Oh yeah.


Hi Liz,
Just got back to find that this has been happening. I have no words other than to say I am angry at them on your behalf, but know that you will take care of this situation.

You have a lot on your plate just now. The universe is setting up some tough obstacles, but I KNOW that you will be the best possible champion for your son within this frustrating system. I hope things are going better? I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. Actually, the truth is that prior to reading this post, I have been praying for you. I will send you a little extra spiritual energy attention in support of your intentions. You will make it work out -- I am confident of your abilities!
While this mother's story is not at all unfamiliar to me as a parent of a child with autism and an educator of autistic children, it is not the only type of story you will read about experiences with educating autistic children.

My son spent his first 5 years at school in a small, alternative program that catered to individual needs. At worst, we may have delayed the discovery of his disability, because the nature of his education was so individualized. He was our only child - we knew something was different, but had never been alarmed until his teacher suggested that we have him tested.

Eventually, at my son's request, we placed him in a private school, in a Jewish community center where he struggled, yet thrived with even more concerned and caring educators. He spent grades 8 through 12 attending a magnet school for the arts ( a public school), where he was offered constant counseling and tutoring through the IEP program, which in our case, was renewed annually. Most of the kids in the IEP program were coping with autism and/or depression and his social group had a high number of similar kids. It seemed that specialization in the arts and autism was a common combination. The care and assistance he got from the Special Ed dept. was a long ways from the typical image most of us have from hearing the word "special". He might not have graduated without those wonderful educators in the "special" dept.

Now he's in his 2nd year at a community college. After struggling a year without help, he gave in, went back to his psychiatrist and enrolled in the school's "special" education program for assistance in organizing and tackling his studies. He has an older cousin who struggled with Asperger's until he made up his mind he wanted a college degree. My nephew is about to graduate from Portland State University where he received incredible assistance from their dept. for students with challenging disabilities.

While I know quite well that IEP and other programs in the schools are to be regarded carefully, I think it unwise to suspect them all. Be involved and watchful, fight for your child's needs and teach them to fight for themselves.
Ouch. I am a Montessori teacher, and head of my (tiny) school.

Ouch. Of course, we have the right to say that we don't think we can serve a child, and I have done that. But, and my peers have posted this all over the web, it is (almost) always, always, always because we love and are committed to the child, but the parents are not interested/committed in giving us/the child the help/support we need to serve him/her.

It is always parents we "fire"...

I had a child on the AS 2 years ago. The parents (very, very young) were not able to see/hear that their child (non-verbal at 3, among many, many other things) needed evaluation. I insisted, and the observers concurred. My main concern was that, since we allow children to work alone or with peer, and she would not work with others, that she needed a more directive environment.

As we are a small town, the only better placement for her (least restrictive environment) was the speech clinic/preschool at a local University. The parents had no interest. I went to observe, and they provide speech and other therapy as part of the day, have a 1 to 1 ratio (with students), have a support group of parents (very impressive to me) and a wonderful director, and was FREE!

I was just about to deny the child enrollment in my program, to force them to consider the option, when they decided to go observe. She went, and is now mainstreamed into the Public pre-K, and is a different child. What a joy!

We were told in our training that parents had to hear 10 comments before they could overcome denial. I know that was true with my son (I think I attacked one of the people who made a friendly comment to me...)

If you want to email me privately, to vent :), I am Mary at

Good luck!
I'm sorry, that was a run-on story with no point. What I meant to say was I applaud you for taking less than forever (not what I did) to get help for your son. It is unusual, in my experience.

It is true the Montessori originally worked with children outside the norm, because she was the first woman doctor in Italy, so, of course, was marginalized in her time, over 100 years ago. I wish you could have thrown that in Director's face, not that it would have helped.

I like work by Dr. Mel Levine, (All Kind of Minds), who focuses on teaching children, parents and teachers what specific gifts and challanges we (all) have, and how to use them. He says we just have to get thru 12 years of school, then we can use our gifts (work nights, use our passion for thrills, work alone or with a posse, only type and use spell-check and calculators, only do research....), without having to be like everyone else every day.....
I am stunned that the Head took this stand. I thought better of those in the Montessori system. The Montessori system is ideal for AS students and they do actually quite a bit of self-directed learning, probably more than your average non AS student.

I do think you are wise to consider your son first and meet his needs and I don't think you should fight to get him back into that particular school. But I do believe that the school needs to be sued. They are committing and getting away with a crime.

As always, your writing is good.
You have a sad story, I'm sorry you had to find out that people are mean the hard way, I really am. You should talk to someone who has a human services degree, he should be able to help you in such a delicate matter. Good luck, be brave!