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Special Ed: I Don’t Get It

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Photo Courtesy of

I’m really confused. Shocking, I know, but it does happen.

Ted is in a special autism classroom. He is six, functioning somewhere around a four year old in most cognitive endeavors. Beyond his developmental delays, the largest obstacle to Ted’s academic and social success is his extreme behavioral problem.

Of course, the special autism school with its ABA-based principles, specialty teachers who really understand that autism is a spectrum disorder, and the incredible IEP, FBA and BIP assigned to Ted have really made a significant dent in his completely inappropriate and maladaptive – not to mention aggressive and dangerous – behaviors.

Not really.

But I digress.Ted finished kindergarten this year and is an incoming first grader. He has mastered precisely zero academic goals of a typical kinder. Rather than count to 100, Ted has only mastered counting to the mid-teens reliably. He cannot give correct personal information, such as our name, address and phone number. Cannot read, although he recognizes approximately 30 site words – if the staff would mold his feet to the fire. His writing skills are well-below grade level, as he is still around prewriting levels. Recall, cause and effect, vocabulary…I can go on and in about his academic deficits.

My question is, then, why would the powers that be promote him to first grade. If he hasn’t mastered the kinder goals and material, what is the point of exposing him to material way above his level. Presumed competence aside, this makes as much sense as putting me in a master’s level quantum physics class. If he cannot grasp rote counting, the idea of exposing him to addition and subtraction seems like a waste of everyone’s time. Expecting him to sit and listen to this material may in fact, exacerbate his behavioral problems at that time, simply because he has no idea what is being said & therefore is bored.

I imagine this deficit snowballing to the point where he is a fifth grader still doing second grade work, and expecting him to sit through long division and sentence diagraming. Perhaps that example is a bit extreme, but you get the idea.

i would love your input. Please, if you understand this line of thinking (promote no matter what), pled explain it to me. I don’t get it at all. I can’t see how this is in my son’s best interest.

Help a special needs momma out, would you?


Kelly is a Navy wife and mother to three children; 17 year old NT, 6 and 5 year old boys on the spectrum; and, a perfect-to-her beautiful baby girl. Kelly has been featured in a collection of essays on special needs children entitled, “Wit and Wisdom From the Parents of Special Needs Children.” She can also be found at, and as a guest blogger throughout the blog-iverse. In her spare time, Kelly is the Blog Master for, and member of, the Military Special Needs Network Executive Board. You can contact her via email at

5 comments on “Special Ed: I Don’t Get It

  1. Misty @ Meet the Cottons
    September 3, 2013

    I have to ask you some questions. is his autism classroom made up of only kindergarten age students? is he in the autism classroom exclusively? what kind of goals has the school put on his IEP? in KY we have a department called Protection & Advocacy and my daughter’s advocate says that the purpose of special education is to have my daughter college or career ready upon graduation and that she is a first grader first and a student receiving special education second. that isn’t exactly how things work in the real world, but ideally this is how things would be. my daughter doesn’t have an autism diagnosis, and spends her school day between the regular classroom and a resource classroom. we chose to repeat kindergarten and it was the best decision we could have possibly made. if your son’s autism classroom is made up of children from many grade levels, there probably wouldn’t be any change in his coursework if you had let him repeat kindergarten this year. i have to say that my impression of special education is to float students through the school system without really pushing them to learn the things that neurotypical students are pushed to learn. if i didn’t expose my daughter to the things her same-age peers are doing, she’d never learn them. i know she’s able, and i’m going to challenge her even though some things are very difficult for her. but, she has to “learn” if she is going to be college or career ready. does your school nit-pick about your son’s handwritting? i’ve said many times, i don’t care how well she writes as long as she writes, and i don’t care how she holds her pencil so long as she’s writing!

  2. The Person Next to You
    September 3, 2013

    Well, we homeschool, so our learning environment is a little different, but I have pondered this same issue.

    When my son is not quite understanding the concept behind a lesson, I feel it is my job as his teacher to try to find a different way to present the information in a way that may be more conducive to how his mind needs to receive it.

    I can tell you that we did addition of single digits for almost 3 years, peppering in different math concepts as we went. Now he understands very well, and we’ve moved on. But, it took some patience and creativity to get to that point.

  3. Kelly
    September 3, 2013

    Did he meet the goals and objectives of his IEP? Is he making progress according to his individualized plan? Most likely, that is what they are basing his advancement on. It is very difficult (in most states) to retain a special needs student. I know, it’s frustrating…

  4. Todd R. Hill
    September 3, 2013

    You’re not confused, you’re just measuring oranges with an apple ruler. In special education, Grades have very little to do with actually meeting the schools guidelines, but meeting individual goals and guidelines of the specific student. In fact, Special Education is called that, not because the students are Special, but because the Educational Metrics and Methods are special. Ted is special, but for that matter, so is my daughter, Sophie. However, she does not need Education to be tailored to fit her needs because she falls between these make-believe lines we refer to as “normal”.

    Therefore, she is expected to achieve the same goals and learn the same concepts as other children in her social-age group. This is “regular” education. Ted has other needs. He cannot be placed in a cookie-cutter environment. He needs a different type of teaching, a different learning environment and different rules. It is these changes and alterations to “regular” education, that define it as special. It is possible for him to actually graduate with a Diploma, and still never be able to truly function past a fifth grade level. It will however be a disservice to deny him the success and confidence building of graduating, simply because he cannot do what the other kids can do.

    These so called “normal” kids are so pathetically pandered to, that they receive trophies for “participation”. If a perfectly healthy kid with no issues can get a soccer trophy for just sitting on the bench all year doing nothing, If inner city youths can get diplomas with no skills whatsoever and facing no hardships other than poverty, then I see no reason why Teddy can’t have a diploma without passing Algebra.

    Given Teddy’s issues, why make it worse than keeping him in Kindergarten for extra years? How might being a 15 year old third grader affect him later?

  5. The Person Next to You
    September 3, 2013

    Wow, Todd — great points!

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