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Volume 3 , Issue 1 Date: Spring, 2003 Topic: Expectations Through Life's Passages

Transition To An Integrated Public School Setting

by Maureen Branconnier

My daughter Nicole was diagnosed with PDD-NOS (or autism for the strong of heart) shortly after her second birthday. We cried, wondered, hated and then planned, how to take the next year of our lives to negotiate for Nicole getting intensive early intervention (EI) - feeling sure if she did she would catch up and go to school with her twin! Wrong. So then we began planning on where to send Nicole to school when she turned three, and moved out of the EI system.

We now know we had a somewhat unique battle on our hands. Lots of families battle for out of district placements but we did not know anyone who had fought against it. While watching Nicole with her twin sister Carly, it became clear to me that Nicole would experience childhood only with other children who could teach her their wonder and curiosity. How does a bubble form, where do the moon and sun go, how cool is it to go really fast on a train? These are all questions never adequately explained or observed by an adult.

The school district was sure Nicole would greatly benefit from a specialty school, consisting of a class of 6 children - equally challenged in communication and socialization. We felt sure Nicole needed to be with other typically developing peers, considered unlike her, normal.

We went to all the schools, saw their programs, wept at each and remained convinced of our decision to advocate for supports being put in place to allow her to function and learn, while still being with the best teachers we knew - her peers.

After lots of heartbreaking meetings, writing letter after letter talking about Least Restrictive Environment mandates, pouring over documents and recommendations from every expert we could get an appointment with, and forming an “agency (corporation)” for the school district to pay for 1:1 services, we were able to convince the school district to “accept” Nicole into an integrated preschool setting on a diagnostic six week IEP (Individualized Education Plan).

It is now four and a half years later, numerous children have been accepted into the integrated classroom, and for some, a substantially separate classroom with typically developing peers has been established. Nicole is now fully integrated into a Kindergarten/First grade program with a 1:1 aide, but is learning to read, write and do math with other kids with the same confusion, frustration and enthusiasm with accomplishment.

We should not have had to fight the battles we did. Yes it is harder to work at including children like my daughter and it would be easier to send her to a specialized school - but at what expense to HER? I always go back to - does an adult truly express the excitement of a bubble, of seeing a rainbow or the awe of a spider web? The best teacher for my child was another child who could share the language and emotion needed to see those things through the eyes of a child.

Maureen Branconnier resides in Danvers, MA, with her husband Roland, and her three children Laura, Nicole, and Carly. She works at the North Shore ARC, Autism Support Center. This article will reflect her experience in transitioning Nicole from Early Intervention to an integrated public school setting.

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