Is Retention the Answer for Autism and Developmental Delays?

Is Retention the AnswerFour hours. That’s how many hours it took to complete our son’s IEP meeting today. This marks our longest meeting yet. Yes, we went over reevaluation results and completed his annual review, but that’s not all, folks. The school felt we should also discuss retention.

They tell me my son has a low average IQ and is perfectly average academically everywhere else except for written language and that he has severe deficits in expressive, receptive, and pragmatic language. But, because his functional skills are so low, despite his academic skills being average, they want to retain him. The regular ed teacher actually told me that I should really think about the fact that he’s had accidents at school when I make this decision because 2nd-grade kids can be really cruel. Low blow. Really low blow. It felt like a slap in the face, honestly. I must really be a horrible mom for allowing my child to move to another grade level if he has occasional accidents, right? 

And no, let’s not call it retention…”because he was never really IN the 1st grade.” Seriously?! What the hell was he in all year?! Never-never land? He could almost read on grade level all year until he took one test and he bombed it, so that means all the sudden that he can’t read, so that must mean something. And then his math skills are pretty damn class to grade level, but he has trouble with multi-step problems (like most kids I know, actually). But because he was in an SDA classroom, he wasn’t in the 1st grade and the time he spent out doesn’t really count, and the fact that he could read ALLLLL of the 1st grade sight words means nothing. Yes, he got exposure to the 1st grade CORE curriculum really late. No, he didn’t get the Social Studies and Science stuff in the 1st grade. But I know from my experience teaching that these are things he can pick up on grade level because he’s smart. And as far as Science goes? My kid does Science at home all the time anyway. He’ll whiz right through it. I have no problem helping him with anything he needs help with at home. 


retention versus promotion in schools

Promotion beats out retention.


So I said to them, “I’m not holding my kid back because he has Autism.” Everything they described as reasons for retaining them were characteristics of Autism. Will he suddenly not have Autism next year? Will retaining him mean that he won’t have deficits in functional communication? Will retaining him mean that he won’t have difficulty with organization? Will retaining him mean that he won’t struggle with his handwriting? In my experience, children with Autism struggle with these things their entire lives. Does it get easier with time? With interventions, it can get easier, but retaining him won’t mean he changes next year. They want to retain him so that he “gets used to the school routine before the rigor of 2nd grade.”  I don’t believe they’re going to hop right into things the first day of school. He’s already got all of the 1st-grade sight words down. He already knows first-grade math. They basically want to make him redo things he already knows just so he can learn routines? I’d rather not dumb things down for him. Yes, he has trouble with word problems and comprehension. That’s because he has severe deficits in his language skills. That’s being addressed by doubling his speech/language services. 

Not only does it not help to retain children, but “children who were retained either do not show higher achievement, or sometimes show lower achievement than similar groups of children who were not retained.”  They are also much more likely to experience problems in adolescence, such as peer problems, disliking school, behavior problems, and lower self-esteem. They are 5-11 times more likely to drop out, and retention had a negative impact on all areas of achievement for students, including reading, math, writing, and oral language. What do they suggest for students who are struggling in school, either behaviorally or academically? Well, neither retention nor just social promotion are suggested, but rather promotion plus interventions, such as frequent parent contact, instructional strategies, language and social skills, progress monitoring, early reading programs, school-based mental health programs, tutoring and mentoring programs, etc., to help grow the student while they are in their current grade level.

So, at my son’s meeting, while we put together this IEP where we provided him with an inclusion teacher in the math class and in language arts, provided him with a resource teacher for writing, provided him with 45 minutes of social skills a day, OT services, and Speech services two times per week instead of once per week, we were doing precisely what we should do for him. We also added visual supports within the classroom to help him stay on task and organized. Those are the types of things we do to help him. Not retain him. And if he struggles, we meet again and come up with more strategies. Yes, I realize the work it requires on the school’s part. I teach. I work with special needs kids. It’s work. But, retaining my child because he has Autism and his functional skills are not age appropriate will not help him. If we did that, we would just need to discuss this retention this every year.

[bctt tweet=”Is retention the answer for #autism and developmental delays? What THIS mom thinks!” username=”embracespectrum”]

Have  you ever had someone suggest something you felt wasn’t good for your child, like retention? How did you handle it?

David, J. (2008, March 1). What Research Says About… / Grade Retention. Educational Leadership:Reaching the Reluctant Learner:Grade Retention. Retrieved June 11, 2014, from

Moreno, A. (2012, January 1). DOES RETENTION (REPEATING A GRADE) HELP STRUGGLING LEARNERS?. . Retrieved June 11, 2014, from


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    • I have not come to a resolution. In fact, I got an email from the principal last night stating further that he did not get a real chance to experience the first grade since he was in the SDA classroom most of the year and did not get to be in a “real” social studies and science classroom at all. They keep piling on what they feel are valid reasons for holding him in 1st grade and telling me he wasn’t “really” in the first grade to begin with. Well, he was in the extended content standards for the 1st grade, so he was exposed to 1st grade content, even if on a shallow level, so he did get some of the material. And he’s not dumb. So if they will just give me a packet of things to work on with him over the summer, I’d be more than happy to prepare him academically.

      • That doesn’t sound it. It sounds like they are pushing for another year of first. I don’t think retention is the answer unless there is something to be gained from staying back- something that needs to be learned academically. It doesn’t sound like this is the case for your son. Good luck!
        Shell recently posted…Dads Aren’t Puppy Dogs: Pour Your Heart OutMy Profile

  1. I found your blog through the “Pour your heart out Wednesday” feature on “Things I can’t say”.

    If you ask me if I believe in fate or karma, I’ll tell you I don’t know. But…not one hour ago I was sitting in an office with 2 teachers after some testing that was the first step in establishing an IEP for my son who was adopted last year with some delays. I’ll refrain from saying I was double teamed but that’s what I felt like.

    I can’t compare my situation to yours, not really. You have a ton more on your plate than I do. But, I needed to read what you wrote today. I stood up for my child today and I needed to read about how another strong mama does the same thing and takes the measure that you do to educate herself. I felt like kind of an ass when I left the meeting because I was pretty pushy…I know I left with something they didn’t plan on providing me.

    I can live without popularity points from the teacher. Thank you for your words. Fate & karma aside, this was incredibly good timing.

  2. I’m so sorry you feel this way. This is a though thing to go through. I do hope I don’t face something like this ever in my life, I think I wouldn’t be able to handle it well. Who knows.

    Something that has always stuck to me is that education is not a one-size fits all kind of thing. I even remember Einstein quotation “Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

    Education should not be a place of shame.

    Hugs mama.
    Nadia recently posted…When In Doubt, Do Not YellMy Profile

    • I used to have that quote as part of my signature for work. I believe in it absolutely. It’s tough, really. Things people have said have made me question myself off and on, but then I always go back to the same decision. I’m unwavering in my support of what’s right for my child. I do not believe they are out to get my child or that they want to do wrong by him, but I think that they ARE WRONG in their line of thinking.