Most Effective Environment

3 Apr

Lately in the sweep of IEP meetings I have been to and parents I have been talking to, it is becoming more and more evident to me the damage done by the idea of “Least Restrictive Environment.”

I have talked to parents who were made to mainstream a child only to watch their child fall apart in front of their eyes. I have talked to parents who had a child who made great strides once a child was mainstreamed. I have talked to people who struggled to find a mix between a cross-categorical classroom and a mainstreamed one and are fighting to keep solutions they’ve created viable.

Least Restrictive Environment, while intended to give children who could be mainstreamed has, in fact, caused as much harm as it  has good. It has put school districts on the defensive for every child not mainstreamed and as a result, has “the team” recommending mainstreaming for many children that simply cannot function in that environment. It also pressures parents into making choices they know are not right for their child.

My child is currently in what is considered the “most restrictive environment,” a special education classroom with only autistic peers.  But it is where she needs to be. We were lucky, our entire team was on board 100% and we struck gold on our first dig. But as I continue to listen to other parents, I realize just how charmed our placement really is.

Least Restrictive Environment assumes that all special needs children can be served in an educational setting with their typically developing peers. This is not the case. Children with severe sensory needs will need sensory breaks every few minutes which could be a total disruption to the classroom. That is just one example of many. Some cannot handle being in such close proximity to other children as well. And some kids can do well for a period of time, but then need things outside of the other classroom.

Instead of Least Restrictive Environment, which puts schools under pressure to put kids where they don’t belong and parents to make decisions they know will not work, we should be focusing on the Most Effective Environment. By tailoring the child’s environment to what the child needs, will ensure that children who can be mainstreamed will be and that children not ready for full mainstreaming will be in an environment where they will have the best chance at success. Of course, adopting this theory means that we have to change federal law. And, unfortunately, many disability rights advocates will oppose the change because they will believe that difficult, but manageable cases will be shunted  back to special ed. My response to that is technically it already is happening. When a difficult case presents, even if it is extremely manageable, schools will do whatever they can to remove the child from the classroom. A good teacher and supportive IEP team is what makes the difference in those cases.

The initial law requires that we force false truths upon our children. It makes good teachers betray what they know will help children they care for. It makes parents make heart breaking decisions we just should not be faced with. The idea of focusing on each student as an individual sounds daunting but in the long run will be easier than just shoving all students where a law that cannot take into account the scope of disabilities out there today tells them they have to be. And that benefits no one.

(Steps off her soap box.)

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