Good TK/elementary options for neurodivergent kids
A version of this question was asked in a recent Q&A, but my circumstances are a bit different, so apologies for the novel you are about to read:
My son, who just turned 4, was diagnosed with autism (along with sensory processing disorder, childhood apraxia of speech, and general dyspraxia) when he was 2.5. The diagnosis came from a neurologist at Cortica, and while I don’t dispute any of it, I was slightly disturbed by the minimalism of the assessment, most of which derived from parental self-reporting (the in-person part of the assessment was ~45 minutes). Also, at the time my son was almost entirely nonverbal, but he underwent a truly wild language explosion just after 3. He is now *extremely* verbal and communicative in a way that is most often understandable to us and strangers, and he generally makes use of proper grammar and syntax, even in relatively complex formulations.
That said, my son is clearly neurodivergent. For instance, he has been obsessed with letters since he was 1.5 and taught himself to read and write before the age of 3 (no joke). Yet he refuses potty training (will hold it for >12 hours) and is still very happily in diapers. I have absolutely no concerns about his “academic” skills, but he definitely needs support in the social-emotional and self-help arenas.
Just before his language explosion, he was assessed by OUSD and given an IEP that included placement in a special-ed preschool. By this point we had enrolled him in a private preschool in which he was thriving, and so we declined the offer. We are now working to get him reassessed by OUSD, given his significant transformation over the past year. Currently the only treatment he receives is morning ABA therapy five days a week at his preschool. (As an aside, I still am not convinced that this kind of one-on-one “therapy” is beneficial to him, as I believe it sets him apart and potentially slows his development by allowing him to continually ask for help, even for tasks I know he can perform.)
Next year, however, we are hoping to enroll him in a public TK program. I have recently heard horror stories about schools failing to incorporate legally mandated student supports and instead regularly sending young kids home early for supposedly “disruptive” behavior. I have sympathy for the plight of underfunded public schools/educators, but…I am starting to have some concerns about selecting/getting into a school that will meet my son’s needs. Like I said, I’m not especially concerned about academics at this point, but rather the functionality of social-emotional supports and commitment to student well-being.
We are zoned for Laurel Elementary and also live extremely close to Melrose Leadership Academy, which I have always been interested in. Recently, however, I’ve heard about parents not thrilled with MLA’s approach to IEP-mandated services. So I’m curious about two things: 1) I’d love to hear from parents who have experience with special-ed services in either of these schools—what your experience has been and if you’d recommend either school; and 2) if anyone has specific recommendations for other OUSD schools that have well-developed special-ed programs and work to incorporate neurodivergent kids into the classroom community with kindness and respect.