The C Word

I have debated writing about this, but you know me, I tend to just put it all out there, so here goes. 

You may have clicked on this post to figure out exactly what the ‘C word’ is or maybe you are a loyal follower and tend to read whatever I dribble on about. 

Either way, here you are. I am sure you have a couple of guesses as to what the ‘C word’ is but it is certainly not what you are thinking!   

The ‘C word’ has caused me many nights of lost sleep. And for many parents of children with learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities and neurodiverse brains, I’m sure I am not alone. 

It’s the dreaded Curriculum.

The (Prescribed) Curriculum is “the education plan for the majority of students … and the first option for all students. It includes all of those courses prescribed and approved by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and listed in the Program of Studies.”

Or in other words, the detailed plan of what our children are learning in school from Kindergarten to Grade Twelve in each individual subject.

Unless you are an educator, I am guessing most people have never looked at or read in detail the Curriculum.

Let me tell you, it is very detailed! 

If you would like to check it out, you can find the complete Curriculum for Newfoundland and Labrador here.

Now, back to the dreaded Curriculum and my sleepless nights.

Let me paint you a picture. 

It was the end of Kindergarten and I was asked to attend a meeting with the Guidance Counsellor and Tyson’s Instructional Resource Teacher (IRT). We talked about the support he would need for the next year, what a surprisingly great experience Kindergarten had been and then the topic of the Curriculum was brought up. 

Although happy as a lark to sit in the classroom with his peers, he was not able to keep up with the content of the Curriculum or the speed at which it was delivered.   


As I sit there, I hear the words “alternate programming”, “implications for graduation”, “a big decision” and “time to think about it”.   

Hold on a minute! Did I hear right? Were we talking about graduating from high school as Tyson was finishing Kindergarten? 

I agreed that Tyson could not keep up with the Curriculum and that a program delivered at the speed he could keep up with was what he needed. 

I agreed that a program designed for him and his current learning abilities would be best. 

But are we talking about high school now?!?

Also, I needed to sign a document to indicate I understood that Tyson would not graduate with a high school diploma.


I remember coming home with my little notebook and starting to second-guess the decision that I did not officially make (yet). 

I had written:

  1. Prescribed Curriculum 
  2. Modified Prescribed Curriculum 
  3. Alternate Course(s) or Program
  4. Alternate Functional Curriculum (4 domains)  

One piece of paper with huge implications.   

A family member said “but he is only in kindergarten; they don’t do much in kindergarten but play. I think it’s much too early to make this decision.”   

Enter all the self-doubt in the world. 

I could picture this grown-up version of Tyson, all tall and handsome with his beautiful curls questioning me as to why I did not believe in him.

A couple of days later I wrote the school team an email and said we were not ready to discuss alternate programming for Tyson at this time. In the back of my mind, I wondered what was the right decision for Tyson but I just couldn’t wrap my head around making a life-long decision now for a child that was 5 years old.

Back when I was in school, there were probably all sorts of options for students then, too, but all I remember was the regular academic class and, what we called back then, the special needs class. Some kids spent most of their day in the special needs class and others just “went out” for certain subjects. 

Did I see that perhaps Tyson would be better suited to this type of learning environment? Absolutely. 

Had I realized that this would mean he would not graduate with a high school diploma? Absolutely not!   

Working on counting in Kindergarten

Enter Grade One 

Tyson was still not able to keep up academically as was made abundantly clear by his 1s and IEs (insufficient evidence to evaluate) on his report card. But I so desperately wanted to hold on to that peer interaction he was having in the classroom that we made no changes to Tyson’s Curriculum.

Tyson spent his Grade One year on the Prescribed Curriculum with accommodations. His accommodations included assistive technology (communication iPad, Chromebook) as well as alternate setting and breaks. He spent most of his day with his classmates but did receive some additional teaching time from an IRT for Math and English Language Arts.

In Grade Two, we had another discussion about Tyson’s education and we thought that perhaps trying him on a Modified Prescribed Curriculum would be our next step.

A Modified Prescribed Course (MPC) is “a course that maintains the intent of the provincially prescribed curriculum. However, specific course outcomes are changed, deleted, added or extended”. (Note: no more than 50% of course outcomes can be altered.)

We started with the core subjects of English Language Arts and Math. Although certain objectives of the Curriculum were removed, Tyson was still expected to conquer 50% of the outcomes.   

Throw in COVID and home learning, we quickly realized that MPCs were not the best fit for Tyson.

(Nothing like playing teacher for the day to make one come to certain realizations!)

Shortly after, I was listening to a presentation at work. 

(Just to give a little context for this next story: I work in the Discipline of Genetics (Faculty of Medicine at Memorial University) and on Mondays, at lunchtime, we have a journal club. This is an opportunity for researchers and students to present either their work or a hot topic in the literature. Our journal club had recently merged with Cancer and Development and so some of the talks were outside of my background knowledge.)

I joined the talk a few minutes late and missed most of the introduction.

I don’t remember the title or the student presenting.   

What I do remember is that I felt like the presenter was speaking another language. Honestly, I could not understand the majority of what he was talking about. 

At first, I was a little taken aback that so much of this presentation was going over my head but then I remembered that I did not have the necessary background to follow along and comprehend exactly what he was talking about.   

And then, it dawned on me. 

Is this what Tyson felt like when he was in class? 

He was still working on addition but his classmates were learning about multiplication. 

He was still struggling to physically print his name and his classmates were writing sentences. 

I had insisted on keeping him in an environment where learning was either very difficult or impossible. 

Poor little mite. 

And it was all about me and my feelings. 

And my guilt.

It was on that day that I finally had the courage to accept that Tyson needed additional modifications to suit his learning. 

We then decided to switch Tyson to “Alternate Courses” for Grade Three. 

What exactly is an Alternate Program or Course?

An alternate course is “a course that replaces a prescribed subject area or high school level course. An alternate course can be curricular (curriculum significantly different from the student’s current grade level) or non-curricular (outcomes that support student skill development).”

For Tyson, this means that a specialized educator (like an IRT) writes the objectives for his Curriculum based on his current knowledge and goals for the year.

For example, in Health instead of learning about the dangers of recreational drugs, Tyson may be working on street safety and common street signs. In Math, instead of working on multiplication, Tyson is learning two-digit addition and subtraction.

It is still very much academic-based but tailored to him.

Tyson continues in Grade Four to be on an Alternate Program for curriculum-based courses. He completes all courses in an alternate setting with an IRT and other classmates that require extra support.

And although I am at peace with our decision now, I don’t want to downplay the magnitude of getting there.

It took us over three years to set Tyson’s education path on an alternative plan.

There is unfortunately no crystal ball that can show us the future.

I don’t know if this grown young adult is going to be standing in front of me asking why I didn’t believe in him.

All I do know is that we made the best decision based on the little boy in front of us now.

And I don’t feel like I am holding him back anymore on a future that could have been but instead, we have set him free to learn and grow to his full potential.

It has been hard(er) sharing this part of our story but I thought it was important because there may be another parent out there struggling with thoughts and feelings about their child’s education. Hopefully, by being open and transparent it has allowed room in your mind to help sort through your feelings.

And for completeness, I just wanted to comment on the 4th option which is the Alternate (Functional) Curriculum.

This programming is based on 4 domains: career development, personal development, independent living and functional academics. And each domain is further divided into strands: Career Development (personal management, career exploration and awareness, career preparation and experience); Personal Development (citizenship, social development, communication); Independent Living (personal care, domestic skills, money skills and safety skills); and Functional Academics (reading, numeracy, writing and technology/computer skills).

You can find a copy of the Alternate (Functional) Curriculum Provincial Guide here.

Tyson’s Snack Cart in school. Innovative way to learn money, counting, addition and subtraction! Teachers have to be the most innovative people on the planet!

Published by Amanda

My name is Amanda - welcome to my personal blog. I have been married for 15 years to my husband, Mark and together we have two lovely boys - Lincoln and Tyson. This blog is an expression of my thoughts, feelings, and everyday adventures raising a child on the spectrum. It is my hope that it will give others a glimpse into the life of an autism mom.

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