Awareness of High Functioning Autism Lacking in Schools


The seemingly endless reports of unethical and opportunistic individuals related to autism seem to be occurring on a regular basis and where there’s money to be made, there will always be those who are willing to take advantage of the misfortunes of others.

I myself received a rude entry into the world of autism and because of a scamming therapist, my twin sons lost the opportunity for early intervention. Their diagnoses of Asperger’s Syndrome and high functioning autism didn’t come until they were in the fourth grade. Through my tears of grief, I also felt relieved that they would finally be in an appropriate program with a teacher who knew what she was doing. 

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case.

After transferring to a school with an inclusion program for autism, the first thing my sons’ new teacher told me was that she didn’t know anything about Asperger’s, but she would Google it when she got home. Their social skills consisted of one period of playing a board game they could never finish by the bell. To make matters worse, the primary function of their classroom aide was to make my kids produce as much work as their neurotypical peers, raining down punishment if they didn’t. 

I found out that special education teachers in my state are not educated in autism, nor are the teachers who host children with autism in their mainstream classes. And, of course, neurotypical classmates have no preparation for having a person on the autism spectrum in their midst.

Today, my boys are in their first year of high school. One is doing okay, but the other is struggling. His school week is punctuated by spectacular meltdowns, leaving him humiliated before his teachers and peers. 

It’s the same story year after year — glazed looks at the mention of best practices for Asperger’s, power struggles with teachers who don’t know what they’re doing and constant efforts on my part to assure that his condition is helped instead of exacerbated. 

A breakthrough may come in the form of a DVD entitled, "Intricate Minds: Understanding Classmates with Asperger’s Syndrome." It is available at elementary, middle and high school levels and designed to help neurotypical kids understand and appreciate their classmates with Asperger’s Syndrome. Peppered with facts about the disorder, most of the video consists of children speaking openly and poignantly about what it is like to have this high functioning form of autism. While their stories are different, the common yearning for acceptance and respect is very clear. 

Although geared for students, this DVD is also an important training tool for all adults who encounter children with Asperger’s and high functioning autism. It can be adapted for families, schools, counselors and health care professionals to help raise greater awareness about their peers who struggle with these disorders.

My suggestion is that "Intricate Minds" become part of the curriculum at my son’s high school – both for his teachers and his classmates. The DVD is now in the principal’s inbox. As a very tenacious advocate, I’m determined to sweep the sensory and emotional land mines from my son’s school environment so he can reclaim his self image as a capable and sociable young man.


19 Responses to Awareness of High Functioning Autism Lacking in Schools

  1. Ray Nelson says:

    I agree 100%. Even with the diagnosis of High Functioning Autism we have had to constantly re-educate and refocus our IEP team for our son. We hear “but he can do that.” We constantly have to rebut “He can, but he needs support to do it consistently.” There is a huge misunderstanding of what “high functioning” means, and I think it has something to do with the unique and individual nature of autism. We know 2 other little boys with HFA, and they are not high functioning in the same areas nor in the same ways. They need different sensory supports and have issues in different areas. There is no one size fits all with autism. It takes acceptance and patience to teach to it. Good luck.

  2. Susan says:

    Thank you very much for your comment and good wishes!

    Susan Moffitt

  3. If the school system is lumping all Students on the Autism Spectrum into one classification, academic level, educational status, the Parents need to emphasize that the law requies Individualized EDucation plans, FAPE at LRE, inclusive and/or least restrictive environment.

  4. Kym Grosso says:

    Great article. Too often “autism programs” within the schools are run by principals and teachers who do not have expertise in autism. This should not be tolerated. As a result, kids with HFA/Aspergers do not truly receive FAPE…social skills and behavioral issues are not properly addressed. Many times schools only focus on the academics not appreciating how social skills are essential in order to succeed both at school and work…and eventually independent living.

    We consider ourselves fortunate in that our son’s current middle school program is excellent and actually addresses social skills with a daily class. He is Aspergers, and they do a wonderful job at teaching his academics as well as focusing on social skills and his involvement in extracurricular activities. Unfortunately, the program was not good at the elementary level…where a principal actually admitted to parents that although he ran a school with an autism program, he had no expertise in autism. Not acceptable.

  5. Alex says:

    I have to say my expierences were far better than this, although I do find that such extra periods are really best spent working on assignments from other classes. Many of the teachers I had throughout midddle school were very amiable and treated me in quite the way I found to benefit me the most with one exception. That is the amount of work. It’s seems that they are unable or unwilling to decrease the amount of work or change the type. Their were a few excpetions, but now in my first year of highschool I find that the teachers expect me to the exact same work as anyone else and in the exact same way, they just give me a longer time to do it. This helps only marginally. Also, to put it quite lightly although the teachers are often accepting the administartion seems to take every chance to make my school experiance (and surely for others like me) as difficult as possible.

  6. Susan says:

    It’s amazing that even with laws on the books, FAPE continues to be a huge issue, and that in this era autism teachers can have no education in autism. I think this will only change when coalitions are formed, or autism societies take up the fight. I’ve had no luck as an individual making any difference.

    Alex, glad you’re in a good district! I know what you mean about the work load. With a great deal of effort I’ve been able to negotiate shorter papers and essays, but that’s about it. In junior high especially, the autism support people were only concerned with making the inclusion kids get all their work done. They sent me scolding messages constantly when my son’s work wasn’t turned in, which I certainly didn’t appreciate. Kids on the spectrum are more vulnerable to stress and anxiety and I don’t think it’s right to have equal demands made of them.

    thanks to all for writing…

    Susan Moffitt

  7. Bob Fortman says:

    Such ignorance in our previous school system left my daughter who is high functioning, scraping plates, washing dishes, cleaning gum off the bottom of desks, doing the physical education program’s laundry, sweeping and mopping floors…all “in preparation for a career.” No academics. She was 14. Needless to say, she is no longer in that school system.

  8. Katie says:

    I am a teacher that is trying to get the other ESE and general ed. teachers to be very familiar with ASD. I work in a school with many wonderful teachers that are willing to do all they can and am looking for resources for workshops and ways to educate the teachers so willing to take it in. I would love to know how to access Intricate Minds.

  9. Susan says:

    Here’s the address:

    http://www.coultervideo.com/video/114/intricate-minds-understanding-classmates-asperger-syndrome-dvd

    Thanks for writing and educating the educators,

    Susan

  10. Mary Blynne-Jones says:

    The answer is to teach children with autism in a way that respects their learning differences: Small classrooms, skilled teachers, experiential, project based learning. Attention to their sensory needs. Cohorts of students with similar skills, with opportunities for social interaction, facilitated, throughout the day.

    Inclusion is a joke. Neurotypical kids learn differently than most kids with autism, whose core deficits are not addressed in a classroom for neurotypical students. How many of your kids are given white boards and told to doodle so that they don’t interrupt class? That is a travesty. Then their assignments are modified and they don’t get full credit for the classes.

    The answer is to implement the private school model, for kids with learning differences. Better to be included for the long haul, and provided the supports needed to flourish for the long haul, than to pretend that these kids learn the same way and waste the time that they could be addressing their myriad needs intensively.

    Parents have been sold a bridge to nowhere with the “inclusion” model.

  11. Susan Moffitt says:

    Couldn’t agree more.

  12. Ronna Glickman says:

    I am the parent of a 20 year old son with PDD/NOS. After 15 years of horrible schools/teachers/education, I finally found success for my son, Andy in a typical high school with a special education class.
    With the help of the principal, staff, teachers and students, my son excelled!
    We made a 10 minute documentary which outlines his success.
    There will be another documentary,due out in the fall, which will be longer.
    I am very interested in going around the states, showing the video, and teaching schools and teachers how to be successful with these types of children. As a teacher myself, I have had many students in my class within the autism spectrum and no education as to how to reach this child. If I didn’t have a child with autism, I would not have known how to reach him.
    It blows my mind that over the years none of Andy’s aides were allowed to have access to his IEP because the school wouldn’t let him; so I allowed them to read it and explained what it meant. We all know that our children on paper are so different than what the IEP reads.

    please contact me at Homec1@localnet.com for more information

  13. Susan says:

    thanks for writing.

  14. Shelly says:

    Agree with more awareness. Like video.

  15. Lisa Miller says:

    help please,my son is high funcational,he just eneterd high school this year and as already given up,the scholl is no help he is in an inclusion class and they are starting to call him behavior cause he will not complete is work,well he cant do the work so that is y its not completed…they have told me he needs to man up and take responsiblity for his homework and his school work,after fighting with the school they have now decided to move him to a resource class,where the children are completely disabled,being my son is aware of what is going on around hin,he now fefuses to attent school,says he doesnt belong in that class,however he also knows he doesnt belong in the other class,so where do i go from here ,can anyone direct me,iam so heart broken they have brokin is spirt and i dont know what to do at this point to help him

  16. Susan says:

    You son must have an IEP, or at least a 504. He is entitled to accommodations under the law. His homework load should be lessened and he should be able to turn in his work by the end of the grading period w/out penalty. One of his electives during the school day could be a study hall so that he can get work done before he goes home for the day.

    What I ended up doing w/my high schooler who is in similar straits is having a dual enrollment where he is homeschooled for part of the day and then goes to the school for his electives, in this case, Videography and Drama. Being in school for things he loves works.

    Good luck to you. The school has responsibilities to adapt to your son, not the other way around.

  17. Jackie says:

    Hello, my names Jackie I’m 19 and I was recently diagnosed with high functioning autism. I lived my whole life being told that I was strange, that I was different, that there was “something wrong with me”. I went through years of therapy for illnesses (such as manic depression, bipolar disorder, ect) that weren’t even there. When I was finally told I was autistic, I cried. I cried not because I was sad, but because I was overjoyed. I was never so relieved as to hear the words “You have high-functioning autism”.

    I am socially inept, very uncomfortable with physical contact (eye contact counts), and I have a hard time grasping humor, yes that’s all true. But I also have a mind as sharp as a pin, although it may not appear that way to others. I see the world in a different light, I notice more than the average person. I pick things up quicker than most. I can read my surroundings. My senses are heightened. My world is extremely clear to me.

    So why do you speak of autism as if its a burden? I have been this way my whole life, and it hasn’t always been easy. Especially growing up, seeing as no one (not even my parents) understood me. But I would not trade the mind I possess for that of any “neurotypical” person. AFA/Aspergers is not a disease, it’s a blessing. Nothing is perfect, but people with these minds are damn close in my opinion.

  18. Susan says:

    First, thank you so much for writing and sharing your story. I love reading about your experience and your perceptions.

    I am the first to agree that Asperger’s is a blessing. My twin sons with Asperger’s are awesome individuals who I am proud to know, much less parent.
    The burden of Asperger’s lies with the outside world, to the neurotypical population who don’t get it. My kids have suffered greatly in the school system and the world at large from the ignorance of others. Teachers running Asperger’s programs aren’t even trained in it and cause a great deal of unnecessary suffering consequently. One of my son’s fourth grade teachers told me he was a failure in his classroom and would be a failure in any classroom in the city. All this because my son won’t make eye contact with him, or take notes in class. Dyslexic, he remembers everything he hears. I was so mad I transferred him to another school where fortunately his new teacher adored him and modeled extreme respect for him to his new classmates. Then when he got to middle school it was tough again because his new special ed teacher didn’t know what she was doing, and was hell bent on normalizing him. She had him write a long essay on what it’s like to be disabled. His response? “It’s like having brown eyes…” I was bursting with pride…

    Good luck to you and thanks again for writing…

  19. Sylvia says:

    Thank you for this article. My 3 year old son was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism today and to my disappointment I have been told that he does not qualify for their services because of the fact that he is highly functional. He’s highly intelligent, he has a strong language skills and can communicate however there are some issues in the area of behavior, control as well as the repetitive speech and actions. They agreed that I have been overwhelmed and I seriously need some assistance with my son. They only thing that they can support me with is schooling which they insist he attends an LAUSD school, which I’m totally against due to past experiences. Right now I am seeking a private school for my son, I am presently unemployed and can’t start working again until he is in a proper education setting that meets his requirements. Reading your post confirms my biggest fears on teachers being properly trained/educated in this area. To me sending him to public school, he will be in special ed with children who may and may not have the same developmental issues that he does. Does anyone have any suggestions for me? I am really at a loss right now but I am fighting for my son.

    Thank you and God bless,
    Sylvia

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