Amy Brooks has 6 children. One of which, Jacey, has Autism. Amy says, "any other typical child they're going to notice if they don't go to the same school as their peers, why not?" It was never a question: Jacey would go to the same school as her siblings and peers. In Vaughn all the classes are considered inclusion, since there isn't a separate special education classroom. Yet, Jacey was a unique addition to the mainstream, being the first child with Autism that many of her teachers encountered.
Jacey's Kindergarten teacher, Michelle Neumann, remembers, "I was a little nervous at first about all the changes that we would experience here in the classroom like different people getting involved coming in and observing". However, they quickly learned Jacey is still just a five year old kid like any other despite her diagnosis of Autism. Neumann says, "in kindergarten you have so many different needs and so many kids at different levels".
It was just a matter of catering to Jacey's special needs. Neumann says, "there's no one method to work with any child". So the adventure began. Neumann says, "we didn't have the exact answers, so it was like trial and error". That's how the teachers learned the key to unlock Jacey. Pam Fryberger, a paraprofessional aide at Vaughn school, explains, "to get her to walk up the stairs, she likes My Little Pony, so it's like let's walk up the stairs and we go up the rail, help the pony get up the stairs".
Positive reinforcement and rewards help Jacey stay on track. Fryberger says, "you have to think outside the box to get something that's new and exciting that she'll want to do to get her to comply". She adds, "she's like every other student. Some days you have to trick them all".
Neumann explains, "it's just challenging to work all the pieces together and to make sure that you're giving everybody attention". Thanks to the advantage of having three teachers in one classroom, everyone gets the attention they deserve. Fryberger says, "we don't just help Jacey, if another student needs help we step in and we want to help every student to succeed". Six year old, Kenzie Allen, says, "I don't care if she has a teacher with her". Kenzie adds, "I get just as much help as she does".
One fear of mainstreaming students with special needs is that they will be treated differently by their peers. Amy says, "I'm sure they (her peers) notice that she's different, but the difference is that they help her". Amy adds, "it's the adults and older kids that see the differences and judge".
Jacey's friends did notice a difference. Kenzie says, "she has another teacher to help her". Kenzie tells us it's "cause she's not focused in school yet". Yet, it apparently doesn't matter. Kenzie says, "she's like one of my best friends". She adds, "I like Jacey just as much as my other friends".
Inclusion classrooms offer students a variety of new experiences as they interact with their peers. Another paraprofessional aide working with Jacey, Stephanie Buhler, says, "it helps them learn about working with different types of children".
It's a mutual beneficial relationship between Jacey and her peers. Kenzie says, "we read together like partners and when she misses a word I say nope, sound the word out". Buhler says, "Jacey is actually an excellent reader so she helps out the class". Fryberger adds, "sometimes we have to slow her down because she's getting way ahead of our students". Jacey's friends help her with social learning. Neumann says, "seeing how things are done in the classroom, slowing down with her work, and sitting down in her seat".
In the end, Jacey just gets to be a kid. Amy asks Jacey "are you different than Kenzie and Harley or are you the same"? Jacey replies, "I'm same"!
Jacey is now considered at the high functioning end of the spectrum as her communication and academic skills continue to soar. Tomorrow in our final chapter of this series, we'll explore the various therapies that provided Jacey the tools to get where she is today.