The most important fact at hand: I adore my students, love them like they are my own children and want what’s best for them …
Another important fact: My stress level lately is already about an inch away from the breaking point
Problem: My classroom is not technically called an “autism” classroom – on paper it is a classroom for students with moderate intellectual disabilities (MOID). However, all of the students in my class have been diagnosed with autism. All but two are served in special education with an autism eligibility and those two are served as SDD (significant developmental delay) but will be most likely changed to an autism eligibility when their SDD label expires – for one that is this year, for another it is next year). Only two of them have IQs that fall in the “moderate” range of intellectual disabilities.
The teacher of the class (me) has her master’s degree in autism and is working on her PhD in autism. Though I am certified to teach MOID, I don’t have a degree in it, I simply took the test and passed. So technically I have the basic knowledge required to teach such a class. My passion, however, lies in working with kids who have autism.
History: When I was hired, I was hired to teach a MOID class, which I did for three years. My fourth year, we had 8 or 9 kids with autism being served in the MOID classes and I tried to convince the “powers that be” that we needed an Autism program in the county … kids with autism need different instructional strategies than those with intellectual disabilities, and they also need very structured environments and specific behavior interventions that aren’t necessary with kids who have IDs. While they wouldn’t call it an autism class or create a program, the administration did allow me to have all of the kids with autism in my class. So for three years, I thought I had somewhat won. For all intents and purposes, I teach an autism classroom. When kids transfer from other counties where they have been served in a self contained autism class, they are put in my room. At their IEP meetings, the coordinator touts me as an “excellent autism teacher”, and extols the virtues of my class and how it is geared specifically towards students with autism, etc. Basically they describe it as an autism class. But on the paperwork, where we indicate placement, I once wrote “self contained autism class” and was told I couldn’t write that, I had to just write “self contained classroom” and not be more specific. Now a child with an emotional or behavioral disorder gets placed specifically in a “self contained E/BD classroom”, a child with a severe intellectual disability gets placed in a “self contained SID classroom”, etc. But my kids get placed only in a “self contained classroom”. So *technically* they can be moved to a self contained MI class, E/BD class, MOID class, etc. and still be in compliance with their IEP. Which is bullshit, but who am I? I’m just the teacher and I have to do as I’m told. It hasn’t been a problem because they’ve been in my class so I’ve just done it.
Now to the issue I’m faced with now. My class is full – I have 12 kids which is way too many. The MOID (the “other” MOID) class is full with 11 kids. So we are getting another MOID teacher. And the “powers that be” have decided that we will divide the three classes up by grade (k-1, 2-3 and 4-5) which seems like it makes sense. However, now the kids with autism are going back into true MOID classrooms. Which first of all, I have several students in my class who have MI or SI IQs and should therefore be placed in a MI or SI class if they aren’t allowed to be in a specific AU program. Like I said before, only two of them have MO IQs. And second of all, the way a MOID classroom is structured and the methods used to teach kids with MOID are NOT appropriate or successful in general with kids who have Autism.
Let me clarify ... there are many many many kids with milder forms of Autism who are perfectly well served in general education classrooms, resource rooms or classrooms for children with mild disabilities - even some that do well in MOID classes. And obviously a lot of it depends on the teacher, too. However, most of the kids in my class have already been *tried* in other classrooms and were eventually placed (in other counties or states) in a self contained autism classroom because their IEP teams decided that they needed the specific structure, instructional strategies, etc. that can only be effectively implemented in a class specifically for kids with autism. And I *know* these kids very well ... and I feel like I know what's best for them, and while I'm not saying they should all stay in MY class (I totally agree that my class is too huge and should be split), I wholeheartedly believe that they need to be in a class specifically geared towards autism in order to achieve their full potential. And on that note, I also know that IDEA (the federal law) requires that we offer only an "appropriate" education, not the "best" education ... and though I disagree with that concept, anyway, I honestly don't think it's appropriate at all for most of these kids to be put in an MOID classroom.
I realize that my class is technically called an MO class but most of the parents were led to believe their children were being placed in an autism class. At the IEP meetings for the kids who transferred from other counties in which they were served in an autism-specific classroom and at their transfer IEP meetings, no one informed them that their placement was being changed – I was touted as a “great autism teacher” and the classroom was described as an autism classroom even though the paperwork designated only a “self contained classroom”. Same for the ones coming up from pre-k, they were led to believe their child was being placed in an autism classroom. As for the kids who were in MOID classes and then moved to my class when I begged, they have made VERY significant improvements since being in the autism classroom that’s not called an autism classroom but really is an autism classroom. One is talking and wasn’t before – two have made extreme improvements in their behavior that everyone has commented on and expressed amazement at.
We have specific E/BD program for kids with emotional and behavior disorders because we, as a county, recognize that they need specialized services and instructional strategies as well as behavior programs that aren’t appropriate for other students and therefore must be administered in a self contained E/BD classroom when their needs can’t be met in a general education classroom. For kids with moderate to severe behavior disorders, we never try to place them in a moderate or severe ID classroom, because we know that’s not where they need to be served.
I realize I’m rambling, but I am really torn here. I have been told flat out that the decision has been made. There will be no autism program in the county, the kids will be put into MOID classrooms and I will teach one of those classrooms. I am certified to teach a MOID class but don’t have anything other than a basic knowledge of strategies and methods to do so. I don’t *want* to teach a MOID class, I want to teach kids with Autism. That’s what I’m good at … that’s what I’ve studied … that’s what I love. So my quandary … do I stay where I am, keep fighting to get an autism program, stress myself out even the administration to do what I know is best … but seriously risk the chance of the stress killing me, either figuratively or perhaps even literally … or do I abandon these kids that I love so much and go to a neighboring county that already has an autism program, teach and do what I know I’m good at and help other kids that I don’t know yet but will certainly fall just as much in love with. And feel guilty and selfish for leaving the 12 in my class right now to be screwed by a county who doesn’t understand what they need. And leave their parents to fight the fight … when many of the parents are single parents who have neither the time nor the resources to do so. And what about the two families who MOVED across the state specifically to come to our county to have their child put in my class? How can I just leave them?
So … if anyone has ANY advice, I’m open to it!! This is truly a heart-wrenching decision that I have to make and I don’t want to!!!!
I am going to continue to try to talk to the special education director about it, but I’m pretty much convinced that it’s not going to happen, certainly not before the fall. I feel like everything I worked so hard three and four years ago has just been completely undone. And I don’t know if I can watch these kids in a classroom across the hall knowing I could be helping them but am not being allowed to … ya know?