Ultimately, my fears about the Montessori program turned out to be founded. It was NOT a good fit for the Menininho. After the first day he began telling me that he cried all day, though he couldn’t tell me why. He would BEG not to go back to school. It would be the first thing out of his mouth in the morning and he’d bring it up all week long. After a couple of weeks of this I called the director and set up a meeting. We’d never seen him this upset about something.
Now, the director had told us her child also has high-functioning autism and that they’d gone through the Montessori program there. That’s a big part of the reason we sent M to her school. When I came to the meeting, I was introduced to M’s *new* teacher. Between when I’d called and our meeting, the director had moved him to a teacher with a smaller group, and the teacher had moved her group to the back of the classroom. “Previously his group was in the part of the room with the most foot traffic, and that seemed to bother him,” the new teacher told me. The teacher also told me that she’d created a “no-tears” sticker chart, where M would put a sticket for each period of the day he got through without crying (with no punishment for crying). We also agreed that he’d be allowed to do a preferred activity (coloring) when upset to help him calm down, and that the school would give me a list of transitions during the day so I could write a social story (the director had observed M was having the most trouble during transitions). They seemed to really understand the autism issues.
I left the meeting feeling very impressed! Mark & I had thought about pulling M out immediately but we really wanted this to work for him, we didn’t want to send him the message he could just quit anything, and we were under the impression that at least one child on the spectrum had done well in the program (the director’s child).
A few more weeks went by, but we didn’t see a big change. M was crying a little less, but was bringing home reams of coloring pages, so clearly he was still frequently distressed. He didn’t appear to have any attachment to any of his classmates. I’m not saying I was looking for him to have friends, but he memorizes names quickly and so we expected to hear at least some of those come out in conversation.
Last week, Mark & I made the decision to withdraw the Menininho from his school. We felt like we tried what we could to help M acclimate, but at this point he’s clearly not ready for a traditional school setting (as opposed to his mixed special needs/typical peer classroom during the school year). I was worried the director or teacher might feel bad, so when Mark broke the news I suggested he reiterate that we appreciated how hard they’d worked with M & that we’d try again next summer.
Well, when Mark told the director this, you know what her response was? “Oh, my child didn’t do well here, either. They hated it!” We couldn’t believe it! I can honestly say we probably would have pulled M out sooner if we’d known that. She deliberately misled us! That totally changed my opinion of the school and we won’t be trying M there again next summer or any other time. We’re feeling pretty mad and betrayed, like they didn’t actually care about M at all.
I’m glad we gave it a shot though. There are a couple of positive things we can take away from this. First, when we meet as an IEP team in the fall Mark & I can use this experience to show that M. really is not where other kids his age are yet. And second and most importantly, I hope that M will realize that his Dad and I listen and respond to him when he’s hurting.
What about you? Have you ever had to abandon a school or other activity because it really just wasn’t working out for your child?