We finally had Oliver's IEP meeting. I'd been trying to get it scheduled since April. The school district has been calling me and sending letters asking that we enroll him so they could hire an aide. First, I said, I'd like to have an actual IEP draft so that I know what kindergarten would actually look like for him. Second, I'm not at all sure that we want to enroll him this year. Or ever. But we're taking that one step at a time so I left that part unspoken.
On Thursday we saw a draft of the IEP and asked to take a look at the classroom and meet the teacher. If you've been following along you might remember that we had pretty much decided that Oliver is definitely not ready for school this year. But in the interest of thoroughly weighing both sides of the issue I wanted to go through the decision-making process with an open mind. Luckily for us the next day was the last day of the ESY program and we could go over in the morning and have a look. We were encouraged to take Oliver with us.
When we arrived at the school on Friday morning Oliver wouldn't get out of the car. He obviously remembered the building from his short stint in pre-school two years ago. He was all smiles and laughter and someone who didn't know him well would have thought he was just being mischievous. But this is rather how Oliver shows nervousness and fear. I offered him a piggy-back ride and he agreed. When it came time to visit the classroom, which is located in a trailer -- um, that is, learning cottage -- at the rear of the building, Oliver agreed to take my hand and walk the hallways. As we got closer to the exit his pace slowed to a stop. I offered him another piggy-back ride and when I bent down to let him climb on he turned my body so that I was facing the opposite direction. His message was loud and clear. Don't worry, I said, I won't leave you here. We're just visiting and I'll stay with you the whole time.
The classroom itself was very noisy when we arrived. Everyone was talking and it took me a few minutes to fully take it in. I'm not sure what I was expecting but in all honesty I was completely shocked by what I saw. The room was divided up into small booths and each of the four children in the classroom was paired with an adult, each pair in their own work area. They were working on discrete trials of the kind I'm familiar with.
Touch nose. Touch shoulder. Good job. Do this. Touch nose. Good job.
Every time the child responded correctly he was given a small piece of candy. I stood nearby and watched one pair working and felt so saddened by how clinical it looked and sounded. And then I noticed that the young boy was sitting very close to the back wall and that the heavy desk was pushed so close that it was touching his little body. A rolling cart of drawers was blocking his only exit from the desk. Looking into all the other cubicles I saw nearly the same set up in each space. The children had no freedom of movement.
I looked over at Oliver who had found the one bin of fisher price toys along the wall. He is a boy of spirit, my Oliver. He laughs and cries and feels things profoundly. And he is a boy of movement and strong will. He would never be at home in a classroom such as this. It would break him. And part of me wondered if maybe that is what it was designed to do.
Leaving the classroom I thought to myself: I don't care if Oliver never learns to touch his head. I won't go to any lengths. I want him to have a good and happy life, yes. But most certainly not at the cost of his spirit.