My frustration with regards to Khaled's schooling is no secret on this blog. I have posted about my encounters with child care and my helplessness in trying to assess if preschool is a good idea for him in the first place.
Well the way we are going, by the time I come to any conclusion he will be too old for preschool!
Below is a ward map of Toronto. We fall in ward 3. There are roughly 25 licensed child care centers in our ward alone. Some wards have more. To date I estimate I have contacted every child care center in wards 3, 4, 5, 11 and 13.
Here is what I think so far.
Child Care Center
(Also known as Holding Pen)
This is a place that will care for your child mostly full time (usually 7 am to 6 pm). Some will do part time care, but this is difficult and is usually only available through understandings with other families who also attend the center. They will force your child in to rooms based on their chronological age. Regardless of their aptitude or abilities. The teacher to child ratio is worse than the inmate to warden ratio in most modern prisons.
With any luck you will find a center that will feed, water and clean your child and keep them safe from physical harm. You could be one of the unlucky ones and end up in a place where the psychological torture may require years of therapy in later life.
This is similar to a day care, but most like a real school. They have full and part time programs and their full day is equal to a full school day (9:30 am to 3:00 pm mostly). They like to operate according to some philosophy or the other. This could be oxford learning curriculum, co-op school, good old Maria Montessori (see below).
Some of them place a lot of emphasis on "fun". I don't know how much learning is going on with a guy sitting there strumming a guitar while children run wild in diapers.
Your level of functioning in these centers is determined solely by your behavior during a ritual known as "circle time". Circle time is the nursery school equivalent of group torture. If you do not behave, your humiliation is witnessed by others in the group who were well behaved at the time and a status difference is instantly created. Now that little princess of circle time will stick her tongue out at you every time she sees you, to constantly remind you of your failure.
They too will class children according to chronological age, but staff to child ratios are slightly better (1:8 or 1:15). They are mostly terrified of the word "special needs". There are exceptions. Getting a place in the exceptional ones is like trying to get a lower middle class Pakistani kid in to an Ivy league university.
Montessori and others
These look fantastic at first glance. Children are allowed to mingle with various age groups, therefore "developmental" model rather than a chronological one is encouraged. They lay a lot of emphasis on their unique individualized program for each child. The staff in these schools believe strongly in their teaching methods. They will listen to you, they will welcome suggestions, they will convince you that they really believe in their ability to teach your child. They tout amazing success rates. They will give long monologues about the effectiveness of their method. I think some of these stern old ladies may have a secret collection of crosses. They remind me of missionaries.
I come from a poor developing part of the world of brown people. People there don't like missionaries. They used to kill them. Although for the last few decades they have been living in peace together allowing them to build churches and schools. I have heard however that things are changing again.
The problem is that after the age of 6, there is no educational institution (i.e. public school boards) that will follow their highly successful methodology. I don't know why. Maybe because the kids start learning too quickly and this does not allow for mindless "fun". God forbid the school day become shorter or the little monsters know everything they need to know before they are legal drinking age?
Because Khaled is autistic, there is a fourth option. A new breed of preschool has surfaced. These are so called "ABA" based preschools. Some of them combine NT kids with a group of autistic kids, while others only have special needs children. ABA, sigh. Adult in child's face giving instruction after instruction, I just don't know. Yes we need it for Khaled, but all the time, to that extent? I don't think so. I don't want some automaton, franken-human. I just want a thoughtful child who can read and write, to some degree of success.
There are many other curriculums that have proven effective for children with learning disabilities like reading mastery, direct instruction, PT and such. No one uses these because they work. This statement makes sense in public school system speak.
So although it appears that I am spoilt for choice, in reality I am just stuck between a rock and hard place. Considering Khaled's current behavior in the preschool he goes to once a week for just two hours at a local school (temporary program run by the city), I may have shot myself in the foot by telling all these preschools about his autism. He enjoys himself and functions really well there. Often it is hard to tell him apart from the other children, who are all 2 to 3 years of age.
I thought disclosing his disability may help him get the learning opportunity he deserves and staff may be able to understand him better. The opposite seems to be happening. It's my first child, its our first year with the autism label, so I will forgive myself for being so naive.