"Mainstream" refers, in common parlance, to the ordinary, the usual; to that which is "middle of the road," common to the general public; to "the prevailing current of thought," as in this example: "his thinking was in the American mainstream." In Autismland, "mainstream" often comes to mean "inclusion" or, more precisely, inclusion in a general education classroom setting, following the notion of the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Charlie has less than a month of being 8 years old. He has been in some kind of educational program for over six years, the majority of which have been spelled out in his IFSP (Individual Family Service Plan) in the St. Paul Public School District and, on turning three just as were leaving Minnesota for St. Louis, Missouri, in the first of his many IEP's. At the start of Charlie's education in his home ABA program we thought of "mainstreaming" as a sort of goal, as the end-product of all the ABA, speech therapy, OT, music therapy, gymnastic classes, swimming lessons, and on and on.
Charlie at four was in a "preschool handicapped class" and moved into a self-contained autism classroom where he flourished under a dedicated, compassionate, ABA teacher. When Charlie was five, the word was not "kindergarten" but another self-contained autism classroom in a public school district. At seven and a half, while in the same kind of self-contained placement, "mainstreaming" in music and library were added. As Charlie approached his eighth birthday last spring, Jim and I requested that he no longer attend these--leaping out of his chair and crying and the like were happening too much--and sought a private placement in an ABA school. And, since Charlie started at his current autism/ABA school in December of last year, he has again flourished, to the point that two weeks of Spring Break have been one week too much and that the June closing of the school has seemed, well, a tragedy.
The lesson we have learned from these past several years of educating Charlie is that we definitely know in what setting he learns best, by the smile and the peaceful, open look on his face, in a highly structured school using the most up-to-date ABA teaching methodology with strong doses of speech therapy, occupational, physical therapy integrated in his days. Mainstreaming is the right choice for many ASD children, but not necessarily--not right now--for Charlie.
But if Charlie's schooling is not to be in the mainstream, the broader scope of his education is in the ocean--in the swirl of waves and water the world over, its depths--and the creatures and the life in those depths--unknown.
In New York City, with my parents.
Charlie woke up early, had breakfast, and had his shoes and socks on by 9am. My parents had planned to take a 10.30am train and Charlie started to look nervously at the door and the floor. We did a dot-to-dot puzzle and some hand-strengthening exercises sent home by the school OT. We did Lesson 9 of Edmark and he got one wrong (later, in the evening, he got 4 out of 8 wrong--I suspect Charlie's concentration is more attuned in the morning.) We read Polar Bear Night with me emphasizing "and" and "the," two sight words that Charlie has been working on discriminating (with difficulty). He played the keyboard as my dad finished breakfast and, yes, he leaped to put on his jacket and to hop into the car to go the train station, calling out a fast "bye Mom!"
They got into Penn Station and then took the A train all the way up to 125th Street by accident, and then back to 83rd street. Then they walked, stopping in Central Park, 2 1/2 miles back to 33rd Street. Along the way, they went clothes shopping (Charlie's least favorite part) and waited 45 minutes in line to ride the ferris wheel at Toys 'R' Us. My mom told me later that she wondered if it was the right thing to do and it most definitely was. Charlie smiled when they inched forward and let out the occasional yip, at which sound the woman in front turned around.
She was in line with her daughter, who has autism, and she suggested a counting program to help Charlie with the wait ("worked great!" my dad reported). Charlie hung on through the crowds and another child throwing up behind them ("his mom kept saying 'it was the ice cream!' my mom said). When asked whether he wanted to ride E.T. or a car, Charlie said,
My parents treated Charlie to sushi (and he treated himself to their salads). The lunch place was very crowded and they first were sharing a table; when another one emptied, my mom said, "Charlie, let's get that empty table."
And Charlie did as requested, and thereby staked his claim to a small piece of New York real estate.
I would say, this kid is learning to navigate his way in the stream--the mainstream and the bigger currents--of life pretty well.