Autism and Education: The Struggles Continue

Those of you who’ve read my previous articles already know that I was on a quest to make my son’s high school a safe, viable place for him to be. He has Asperger’s, an anxiety disorder and Crohn’s, so he is facing multiple challenges simultaneously.

Last month, I posted an article about “Intricate Minds," a video designed to help teachers and classmates appreciate what it’s like to have Asperger’s. I thought the video would be good for those who my son encounters at school to have a heads-up about his condition. The thinking was this might cut down on the snickering when he’s having a bad day or even help modify a teacher’s approach to him. Having shared this video with my son’s principal, she thanked me and said she’d look into it. I’ve heard nothing since.

My son’s special education teacher is untrained in Asperger’s and has a habit of engaging in verbal confrontations with him. There used to be a long running skit on Saturday Night Live about a guy who goes to a restaurant, orders a fruit cocktail and an anvil comes down on the table, yet time and time again he still orders the fruit cocktail. The way my son’s teacher communicates with him is definitely a fruit cocktail-anvil scenario. 

Recently, my son became upset by having to do a math worksheet he had already done. Instead of shifting his attention or guiding him to a self-calming activity, this teacher took him out into the hall to talk about it, which only flooded him with more anxiety. Pained by the gaping strangers, he totally lost it, whereupon she chastised him for being rude to his teacher. She then called to inform me that he has had yet another “behavioral episode."

Thinking the CAT-kit might help her find a way to access my son’s emotions without inflaming him, I sent her a link about it. Once again, no response.

Increasingly exasperated, I recommended that she read up on Dr. Tony Attwood and avail herself of my considerable expertise because the school was not accommodating my son and he was being set up to fail. 

An IEP meeting that was set for six weeks ago out suddenly got moved up by five-and-a-half weeks. That meeting was this past Tuesday and I can only describe it as an invitation to my own beheading. They invoked my son as being a behavior problem, since this absolves them of all responsibility. I countered that he’s fine when he’s in the appropriate environment but the principal told me that my son needs to develop coping skills to deal with his environment as it is. I’ve been in this scenario one-too-many times, even being forced to take the district to court over their desire to put my son in a behavior program that would only turn him into a behavioral problem. I ultimately prevailed, but it took years of turmoil and instability. 

I can’t count the number of IEP meetings I’ve been to for both my sons. They range from being gratifyingly productive to an absolute horror show. This past meeting fell in the latter category. I ended up abruptly walking out and now I’m poised to sign yet another “Intent to Homeschool” form. 

It’s very disheartening that with all of the autism awareness out there, a school system can be so backwards. Improving special education would take money but they are millions of dollars in the hole. However, simple steps such as requiring special education teachers to attend educational conferences on autism would not cost that much financially. 

Undoubtedly, my story is not unique and these struggles are being played out across the country. Despite a lot of progress in the area of autism acceptance and awareness, my personal experiences are demonstrating that we still have a long way to go, particularly in our school systems.

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Did You Know?

  • * In 1970, Autism affected 1 out of 10,000 children
  • * Autism now affects 1 out of 88 children
  • * Autism affects 1 in 54 boys
  • * 1.7 million Americans have some form of autism
  • * 4 out of 5 autistic children are boys

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