Any ideas for dealing with classroom assignment for my sister with Aspergers Syndrome?
My sister is turning 10 years old Thursday and entering the 5th grade in a few weeks. Due to her Aspergers diagnosis, she has had a difficult few years at school. Last year, she befriended a student that transferred in from out of state. This new student, Hannah, had previously went to a school that had a high number of Autistic and Aspergers children in attendance. Hannah has been such a wonderful help to my sister and at times she is the only person who can really get through. For example, when the classes went to have their teeth sealed by a visiting dentist, Hannah was able to convince my sister to allow the Dentist to seal her teeth! We had struggled with simple dentists visits for years! The problem is that we were informed just last week, that the two would be placed in separate classes for the upcoming school year. This decision was made after a group meeting between the teachers and principal specifically about my sister's situation. They decided that it would be in my sister's "best interest to create opportunities for her to display greater independence at school." This is a shock to us all, as the principal had previously stated at the start of last years class that Hannah and my sister would remain together because it was providing a comfort zone for my sister and helping the teachers as well. Needless to say, my sister is devastated, and we are confused. We find ourselves preparing for a difficult school year. Any ideas?
I'm thrilled to hear that your sister has been able to establish a solid friendship with a student her age. Many children and teens with Asperger's Syndrome struggle to connect and relate to their peers, preferring to spend time with younger children. It has clearly been a positive for your sister and Hannah, and I am excited to know that Hannah is helping your sister adjust to challenging situations.
Given that the school principal had previously stated that your sister and Hannah would be matched in the same class, I think that that your family should return to the school personnel and request that the situation be reconsidered.
Depending upon what the situation was like for your sister before she and Hannah became friends, consider documenting all of the events and difficulties she had in school before Hannah came into her life. For instance, many students with Asperger's Syndrome experience frustration, anxiety, and sadness in the classroom because they are confused by the assignments and peers. Many have meltdowns and fail to stay organized, get their assignments done etc. What was your sister's track record "pre-Hanah"? If it was checkered with difficulty, make a list of the differences in school experience pre- and post-Hannah.
I would also document the growth that your sister has experienced since Hannah (such as the dentist situation). Essentially, you want to lay out a clear case for how Hannah is helping your sister to better manage difficult situations and grow into new areas.
I do think that it is important that you and your family prepare for the possibility that the school personnel may refuse to make the switch. If this is the case, your family can manage this. Mourn the disappointment and then do your best to muster a positive attitude for your sister. Reassure her that she can manage the classroom without Hannah, and she can still spend time with her during recess, lunch and after school. Work with her to further develop her coping skills in the classroom and do your best to anticipate difficult moments that she may face, helping to prepare her. There is obviously much more involved in preparing her, but her teacher should help you and your family to develop a plan for her.
L. Compian, Ph.D.