A medley of current special education headlines paint a grim picture. In a national survey, special educators report that they are carrying a maximum caseload with diminished support and that it is increasingly difficult for them to deliver free and appropriate education as mandated by law.
Compounding the problem is the fact that federal education officials are allowing states to reduce spending on special education on a case-by-case basis. Last month, Alabama and New Jersey were granted waiver requests from the U.S. Department of Education, allowing these states to trim their special education spending to the tune of $9.2 million and $25.6 million, respectively, with South Carolina and Iowa eager to follow suit.
All the while, teachers are under major pressure for their students to perform well on standardized tests. Federal dollars depend on it and in some states, teachers’ salary and contract renewals are at stake as well. To compound matters, autism rates continue to soar, placing even more strain on an already taxed system.
As of late, mainstreaming children with autism seems to be another cost cutting trend. And while it is common knowledge that mainstreaming can be very beneficial, that’s only true if it’s done right. A recent survey of teachers found that while they are largely in favor of including students with autism and other developmental disorders in their mainstream classrooms, they believe these kids typically are not prepared to succeed in that context. This means that most teachers are putting the burden for inclusion entirely on the child, prompting the survey taker to remark that a values clarification is in order for them.
Without the knowledge and skills to accommodate a child with autism in the mainstream classroom, teachers can become frustrated and even angry with them, resenting the time they take away from the class at-large. More often than not, a child with autism is treated as a behavioral problem and parents are left at a loss to explain to the teacher that he or she is punishing symptoms of their child’s autism, not willful misbehavior.
I recently had to withdraw my son from his first year of high school and home school him because of this very
scenario. While I told his teacher over and over that managing his anxiety was priority one, she focused on compliance and academic production. She responded to his escalating anxiety attacks with escalating punishment, until it made him physically ill. When confronted, she told me that she didn’t have an aide and she couldn’t teach her class because of my son. When I complained to school officials about the dearth of autism training amongst even special education teachers, I was told there was no money for it.
I actually think teaching educators about autism could be done in a very affordable manner and it might be more a matter of them seeing that it is in their own best interest to have a truly inclusive learning environment. My next move is to try to persuade the interim school district leader of my notions.
She claims to be open to parents’ concerns. We shall see.
* More than 30 percent of fathers of grown children with autism experience symptoms of depression so severe that they warrant clinical attention.
* Fathers of adolescents and young adults with autism experience high levels of depression and are pessimistic about what the future holds for their son or daughter, much more so than dads whose kids have other disabilities
such as Down syndrome.
* Like mothers of autism spectrum children, fathers experience higher stress and that stress remains constant even as their children age.
This is the first time researchers have specifically studied how dads cope as their autism spectrum children get older. While the mitigating factors such as the child’s behavior, how many children in the family have a disability, the father’s age and the mother’s well-being did factor into responses, fathers of children with autism still suffered more than those with other disabilities.
Extrapolating from my previous posting about the financial toll autism takes on moms, it’s not difficult to surmise some of the reasons for this phenomenon. Fathers of children with autism work more hours than other fathers to take up the slack for their hard-pressed wives, so the pressure on them to provide for their families is
enormous and during this hard economy, potentially crushing.
And as the study on moms established, services for autism are fragmented and unequally covered by insurance, accounting for the findings relative to other disabilities.
Adolescence is a time of stress for all parents, but for parents of children with autism, abstract fear of the future now becomes palpable.
It’s a well known fact that resources for young adults with autism are scant, so adulthood rarely signals the end of
a father’s financial burdens. Pessimism is understandable given the unrelenting pressure and the contemplation of what will become of a child after the parent is gone. Even in my posting about grown autism children clustering to live independently, it was the parents,
(i.e. largely the dads) who put up the money to establish and maintain their child’s housing.
And this is just the financial angle. While there are support groups for autism dads, finding the time for them can be
problematic and men are more socialized to just soldier on. The resultant emotional isolation can easily foster
depression and if they look to their wives and see someone suffering from the burden of the daily care of the child,
the father cannot help but be affected as well.
This study is just the tip of the iceberg about autism dads and as one of the researchers put it, “This is the first step to drawing attention to dads, we need to get away from just looking at moms.”
With summer rapidly approaching, it’s a good time for parents of children with autism to give extra thought to their safety.
According to statistics, drowning is the leading cause of death for children and adults with autism, with many of these incidents occurring during wandering-related episodes, so it is very important that parents and caregivers be extra-vigilant during this time of year.
As I’ve stated in a previous
article, Project Lifesaver ( http://projectlifesaver.org
) fits individuals with a lightweight tracking device and trains teams to successfully recover them when they get lost. The cost of this service is twenty-five dollars per month for maintenance of the device, although sometimes the services are rendered for free. With the advent of the diagnostic codes, insurance would likely cover it as well. If your child is at risk for wandering, consider availing yourselves of this excellent resource.
Law enforcement agencies recognize this as the best technology available and that employing it significantly improves the chances for a successful outcome when searching for a child with autism or other vulnerable individuals who wander.
Children are able to slip out of the house or yard in the blink of an eye, so consider printing flyers to educate your neighbors on your child’s tendencies and how to contact you quickly, especially if they live near water.
It is also a good idea to ask those neighbors to lock fences around their pools
and/or cover them when not in use.
Sign up your child for swimming lessons as early as possible and keep them in life jackets until their aquatic skills are well established. Check with your local community center pools and see if they have a special
population programs. I was able to enroll my son with autism in a private class at the same rate as a group class due to his diagnosis.
If your child gets invited to a pool party, risk being impolite by asking the host if an adult with lifeguard qualifications is supervising the event. Try to always attend yourself — no one will watch your child better than you. Too many drowning tragedies have happened in this context. And of course, don’t leave your child unattended, even briefly if water is in the vicinity.
On the bright side, swimming is a wonderful and beneficial activity for children with autism and some of their happiest and most carefree times are spent in the water. Capitalize on their love for water and help them to become safe around it.
Confusion? Durbin was assigned the "05" suffix despite performing last.
In what could be reminiscent of the 2000 presidential election, there has
been some Internet chatter about a potential American Idol voting controversy
involving James Durbin and Lauren Alaina and the possibility that some votes
intended for Durbin were accidentally funneled to her instead.
Typically, when the Idol field is narrowed to a handful of contestants, they are
required to sing multiple songs in the same night. As a result, contestants are
assigned several phone and text numbers for voting purposes and those numbers
are usually given in sequential order based on appearance.
For example, if there are four remaining contestants and someone performs first,
that person would usually sing their second song in the fifth slot, and the
suffix of the voting numbers would be based on the order of his or her appearance (i.e.
866-IDOLS-01 and 866-IDOLS-05).
However, for reasons unknown, American Idol producers decided to re-arrange
the order in which the contestants performed their second songs on Wednesday
night, forcing James Durbin’s performances to be the first and eighth of the
evening. However, the phone numbers assigned to James did not correspond to
that order. Instead, his voting numbers ended with "01" and "05."
Because of this discrepancy, some are now speculating that Lauren (who was
assigned the "08" suffix) may have received some of James’ votes, skewing the
final results in the process.
While all of this is pure speculation, it does make one wonder if there was
at least some confusion in the minds of voters who were not fully paying
attention to the numbers assigned at the end of the show. Granted, that is
responsibility, but clearly this does create some intrigue, particularly since
Lauren was nearly eliminated last week and up until this week, James had never been in the “bottom 3″ or in danger of being eliminated.
Additionally, it is worth noting that when voting by phone, a generic confirmation message was given and did not indicate who was actually voted for.
What do you think?
UPDATE: May 15, 2011 – Since we originally ran the story above, many
people (on this site and others) have indicated that they either had difficulty
voting for James and/or experienced abnormal activity when attempting to cast
their votes. Please forward this story along to others and also share any unusual
voting experiences below.
The mismatch of voting numbers and the contestants’ order of appearance, as described in the
original article, along with the large number of voting complaints, should
warrant a closer look into this situation.
UPDATE: May 17, 2011 — American Idol Executive Producer Nigel Lythgoe spoke out publicly on Monday with “So You Think You Can Dance” judge Mary Murphy, only partially addressing the voting
issues surrounding James Durbin. He only spoke about the re-arrangement of the
singing order last Wednesday night, but failed to address the legitimate concerns that
have been raised on this site and elsewhere. Additionally, Lythgoe jokingly
referred to some Idol fans as "morons" and "meglomaniacs."
Really, Mr. Lythgoe? Wow. – READ ABOUT IT HERE –
A recent University of Pennsylvania study confirms what autism families already know – autism results in substantial underemployment and loss of income among mothers.
Healthcare costs associated with the disorder are only part of the reason. Mothers take lower paying, more flexible jobs to be available for their child. But the primary issue is that the system for caring for
a child with autism is so fragmented that mothers are required to act as case managers for their children in a way that doesn’t happen with children that have other disorders. Advocating for their child’s health needs and education becomes an autism mother’s de facto, full-time job.
Among the study’s findings:
Mothers of children with autism spectrum disorders were 5 percent less likely to have a job than the mothers of children who had other chronic health problems, and 12 percent less likely to have jobs than mothers of healthy
Mothers of children with autism spectrum disorders earned about $6,300 less annually than mothers of kids with other health conditions and $11,540 less than mothers whose kids were healthy.
Families with children with autism spectrum disorders earn an estimated $11,900 less a year than families with children with other chronic health problems and $17,640 less than families with healthy kids. This translates to 20 percent less than families with kids who have another chronic disease and 27 percent less than families with healthy children.
Fathers were exempt from job and income disparity, although they tended to work more hours than dads of neurotypical children.
Overall, The labor market costs associated with having a child with autism are more substantial than with a child with other health limitations and constitute a significant national strain.
Coupled with all this information is the reality that lack of respite care for children with autism is a crisis in our country. While it is truly horrifying and an abomination to read about mothers who take the lives of their children with autism, they can be regarded as the canary in the coal mine of our nation’s inability to give children with autism and their families the support they so desperately need.
I recall years ago hearing autism expert Dr. Tony Attwood talk about how in Australia, each child with an autism diagnosis is assigned a public health nurse to coordinate and monitor the youth’s needs and progress throughout childhood and into early adulthood. The audience stared at him blankly. He was aghast to learn that nothing comparable exists in the United States, a place so wealthy compared to other nations.
In this day-and-age of multiple wars overseas and budget hacking, the prospect of significant improvement in our country feels remote. I don’t how or when the change is going to come, only that it needs to — and soon.
In yet another shocking American Idol elimination episode, James Durbin was
prematurely voted off tonight, despite being one of the most consistent
performers of the season. This is the second time this year that voting results
have produced outrage from Idol fans. A few weeks ago, Pia Toscano, another
strong contestant and frontrunner, was also eliminated in surprising fashion.
Twitter and Facebook are abuzz with cries of injustice. However, Durbin’s early
exit may be a blessing in disguise and history proves that he is in good
Chris Daughtry, a fellow Idol rocker, also placed 4th in American Idol’s Season 5
installment. Daughtry later went on to have an amazing career (which continues
to this day) and is currently the third most successful American Idol contestant in terms of record sales,
trailing only Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.
James will have no problem landing a record deal and we look forward to
seeing him live in concert.
Congratulations, James. You did the special needs community proud.
In watching the Elizabeth Birt Center for Autism Law and Advocacy (EBCALA) as it held its press conference on the steps of the US Court of Federal Claims a few days ago, I was struck by the common message of parents whose children were injured by vaccines which can be summed up with the phrase, “we are for vaccines, but make them safe."
The parents professed belief in the necessity of vaccines, even though they had been granted settlements in the “Vaccine Court” for the heart-wrenching outcomes of their children having received them.
There have been arguments made by some (including on our site) that the Vaccine Court "settlements" were not an admission of wrongdoing and therefore, no conclusions could be drawn from them. However, my personal experience differs from this sentiment.
Twice, I have brought a legal challenge against entities and twice, they have settled. The main reason for a settlement is that the other side knows they can’t win in court and/or wants to avoid adverse publicity. Settlements are, in fact, a tacit admission of vulnerability.
As far as the issue of “has autism,” “causes autism” and “autism-like symptoms," this to me is a lot of semantic parsing. The Vaccine Court is never going to come out and say that vaccines cause autism and the speaking of this kind of legalese only punches up that fact.
But it requires no stretch of the imagination to see that vaccines could trigger genetically-latent autism in vulnerable individuals, nor that a vaccine calamity could aggravate a child’s pre-existing condition.
Dr. Jacqueline McCandless, a luminary in the autism world, offered this advice regarding vaccines:
"Several caveats are that the child should be in good health before receiving vaccines, all vaccines be thimerosal
free * and all vaccines be given as separate components, e.g. M & M & R each being six months apart and boosters only for those testing negative for immunity. Hepatitis B should be given to a newborn only if the mother tests positive, otherwise the child can wait until 4-5 years of age."
It’s disheartening that the vaccine war rages on, when a middle path seems to be so clear. No one wants the resurgence of dreaded childhood diseases, but at the same time, no one wants children with acute sensitivities to environmental toxins to suffer vaccine injuries. However, the entire debate has become so vitriolic and divisive, meeting somewhere in the middle appears to be a Herculean task.
As one of our other authors noted, it’s going to require cleared-eyed members of Congress to walk that middle
ground to get things done but frankly, I don’t have a great deal of confidence in that happening.
After the stunning performance of James Hobley, the eleven-year-old with autism who blew away the audience on “Britain’s Got Talent” with an amazing dance routine, it’s a fitting time to address the benefits of dance for children on the autism spectrum.
The practice of dance is highly structured and very ritualized, a selling point for children with autism. Dance has the power to help unlock the imagination of a concrete thinker and it empowers the dancer to give expression to their inner life, something crucial to children who struggle with other modalities of communication.
The experience of dance can open up children with autism to the possibility of more connection with others. Social interaction demands being on the same page with peers — something very difficult for a child on the spectrum to achieve. By encouraging children with autism to dance to rhythms, the mirroring of another’s experience bestows the satisfaction of belonging to a group.
Cutting-edge research points to children with autism needing multiple types of stimulation in order to process information. The combination of music and dance help the brain to reorganize itself. In dance, the child processes music, learns movement, performs movement to that music, then repeats it multiple times. The hearing, listening, processing, executing and repetition enable a child’s brain to forge new pathways, engaging both the right and left side of the brain.
One form of dance therapy, the Feldenkrais method, deliberately focuses on the interplay between the brain’s right and left hemispheres.
Moshe Feldenkrais developed a protocol that concentrates on rebuilding sensory and movement systems, specifically through unlearning poor movement patterns. The therapy is gentle, as I can personally
attest to and some children and adults with autism have experienced significant gross-motor, fine-motor,
sensory and relational improvement.
Feldenkrais practitioners who have undergone additional training to work with children with development disabilities have implemented principles of the Feldenkrais for Children with Neurological Disorders (FCND), a unique method that improves the movement qualities and abilities in
Above all else, dance is fun and should be approached in that spirit. As someone with a degree in dance and decades of experience, I do recommend making sure a child’s dance teacher is always warm and supportive. There’s many a petty tyrant in tights who can potentially be damaging to a child psychologically. Additionally, watch closely for eating
disorders (a prime occupational hazard for dancers).
With that said, dance is a wonderful way for children on the autism spectrum to engage themselves and their world.
reported last month, three-year-old Adam Benhamama, vanished during a game
of hide-and-seek with his sister in a suburb of Montreal, Canada. His
disappearance initiated an intensive three-day manhunt that yielded few clues
and no results. Benhamama had autism and was reportedly non-verbal and
Sadly, Adam’s body was found earlier today after someone walking along the Mille-Îles
River called police when the saw what they initially thought was a large doll in
the water. Police came to the scene and later confirmed the body to be Adam’s.
He was recovered a little over one mile downstream from where he initially
This is a heartbreaking story on many levels and undoubtedly, Adam’s parents
and family are devastated. Our thoughts and prayers are with them during this
Drowning is currently the leading cause of death for children and adults with autism, with a large majority of these incidents occurring during wandering-related episodes.
For a free copy of an autism wandering brochure, visit http://www.awaare.org/docs/wanderingbrochure.pdf
(Adobe Reader Required).
Parents of children with autism are painfully aware of bullying, but often feel helpless when it comes to protecting their child in a school environment. Some wise children have taken it upon themselves to address the issue head-on.
Last month in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a group of teenagers testified on bullying in their schools. They described it as a pervasive and urgent problem and not a "right of passage." Demonstrating a high degree of enlightenment, they argued that bullies needs help as well, as they are often contending with violence and chaos in their home environment. In summary, they urged state
officials to approve a statewide bill addressing the epidemic of bullying which passed the house, but stalled in the senate. Opposition to it focuses on the fact it includes protection against harassment based on sexual orientation. What a dangerous and depressing statement that makes.
Another example of youthful activism is Dylan Beckham. Dylan was only nine-years-old and in the fourth grade when he saw his classmate and friend with autism being bullied on the playground. Anguished at the incident, he walked over to the tormentors and told them to cease and that they should be nice to his friend and play with him.
But Dylan didn’t stop there. He met with school district administrators and produced an incredibly poignant anti-bullying video showing children’s physical scars and likened them to the scars of bullying. At the end of the video, he challenges the schools in his city to raise money for autism awareness.
In the three years since then, Dylan has raised over $25,000 for autism causes, appeared on Anderson Cooper 360 as a "Hometown Hero" and now has received a national Jefferson Award, the "Nobel Prize" of public service.
It’s amazing what one young man from Kentucky has accomplished. His is very proud that a former bully from his school now helps and protects a classmate with autism. I have nothing but admiration for these young people and others like them.
All information in this site is presented for support and educational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for medical treatment or visiting a licensed medical physician. Visitors who desire to apply or use any information listed herein are urged to consult with licensed healthcare professionals first. All information is deemed reliable but its accuracy can't be guaranteed.
Autism strikes a family’s heart, soul and wallet. Estimates by The Autism Society puts a lifetime of care for an autistic child at $3.2 million. Autism parents know firsthand the brutal toll to the family coffers of therapies that can run $40,000 to $50,00 per year. Families tangle with insurance companies, invariably ending up with […]