Full Disclosure – Part II: The School

Call me rigid and inflexible, but I think all children on the Autism Spectrum should be identified as autistic in their educational plans. Additionally every teacher involved with the student should know that they are autistic.

Parents and professionals have told me stories of administrators wanting to use other identifications in the educational plans of a children with ASDs. These other identifications include speech impariment, ADD-HD, emotionally disturbed, or just about anything but autism. Parents and professionals heard a variety of reasons including:

  • “You don’t want to label your child for life, do you?”
  • “The label is not important. In this school district we focus on the individual needs of the child, regardless of the label”
  • “Since your child’s speech has improved, he no longer qualifies for special education because of speech delays. We need to change the identification on the IEP. How about ADD-HD?”
  • “He doesn’t look autistic”
  • “Autism is just a fad”
  • “If we label the child as autistic, the parents will want an ABA program”

Administrators made all of the above statements regarding children who were previously diagnosed with an ASD. While these statements outrage me on so many levels, for now I’ll focus on only one: They hinder the disclosure of the student’s autism to school staff.

The US Federal Government sponsored a publication several years ago with guidelines for educating students with autism. One of the guidelines was that students with any ASD should qualify for special education under the category of autism. The state in which I live recently published guidelines as well. Guess what? They said the same thing.

I’m going to give the administrators the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are not trying to withhold services (play along for a moment) or otherwise harm the child. Regardless of the reason, the effect of identifying an autistic child with a different disability is that it hinders disclosure, particularly for those students educated in the mainstream setting.

This leads to the obvious queston. How can teachers effectively educate a student with autism if they don’t know the child is autistic?

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7 Responses to Full Disclosure – Part II: The School

  1. elmindreda says:

    “If we label the child as autistic, the parents will want an ABA program”

    That one did unfortunately sort of have a point. I do agree with you on the subject of labels, however.

  2. Brett says:

    Following on a bit of a rant that’s been brewing in my mind, I would extend the reach of your last question to be: How can teachers effectively educate a student if they don’t know the child?

    It is true that autistic kids are quite a bit different from most kids, but all kids are different from each other. Assuming they all fit the same mold just because they don’t have a “label” or IEP does them all a dis-service. (But that is for another rant.)

  3. Shawn says:

    How can teachers effectively educate a student with autism if they don’t know the child is autistic?

    Effective education is certainly more complex than a label. However, I think recognizing that a child has an ASD is one of the foundations that should always be in place. Every child is different but I hate to think that a child with an ASD, educated in a mainstream setting, could go from year to year without each teacher knowing that part of the child’s uniqueness is due to autism. It can take a long time for a teacher to learn how handle behaviors common with ASDs such as rigidness in routines, social difficulties, sensitivity to environmental factors, etc. A teacher will approach these differently if he or she recognizes autism rather than blaming the behaviors on “acting out”.

    A correct “label” does not provide a map for an effective education, but it is a factor that points a teacher in a specific direction. We might as well point them in the right direction.

  4. Valerie says:

    Perhaps the question should really be, “How can teachers SAFELY teach children when they do not know of how autistic children react to stress, loud noises, and other issues?” Many children with autism that are mainstreamed are now held under the same accountability that their regular non-special education students are, meaning; if they tap incessantly on tables, rock in chairs, fidget, or in cases of higher levels of stress they will hide under tables, turn lights on and off, sit on the floor and rock while making noise, even tear things off of walls, or even hit a teacher that is trying to physically return the child to their seat, (which the teachers can now report that the child is being violent and a disturbance in the class, thereby getting the child expelled from the class or even school). As many people have read recently, police have even been called on children as young as five years old! Yes, in Florida a child about 6 years young had police called on him and a tazer was used. Another child, a five year old girl was handcuffed forcfully bent over a car and had handcuffs put on her, for her “behavior” in class. Now I do not know about you all, but to me this is a sign of something very “Hitler like” going on within our schools in regards to the special needs children, the forced mainstreaming into classroom with teachers that lack the necessary training and experience that has lead to such severe cases of abuses of our special needs children. Maybe mainstreaming does work in some cases, and in fact a good friend of mine has her girl with autism in a regular ed program, but it took an EXPERIENCED special education aide to help her with the adjustment from the specdial ed program to the regular ed, and the aide is still a a part of her regular ed due to her knowledge of how this girl reacts to stress. The bad things that can happen to an autistic child due to teacher inexperience, well it happened to us as parents in regards to our only child, a son who at age 11 in 2000 suffered a severe nervous breakdown due to the abuse caused by the lack of education/training/experience by a teacher and her lack of knowledge to his autism. No police were called on our son, though the teacher threatened to do so if he hid under a table or turned the lights off again. Our son was being tested by a private doctor/neurologist for a potential seizure disorder, well this teacher tied him into a chair. Later our son told us that it hurt, he could not breathe and thought he was going to die. He said he got really nervous when a couple of bullies said they were going to beat or kill him if he did not bring three-hundred dollars to school. Since he had a severe speach impairment, the teacher likely could not understand his speech. He told us he tried to tell her. Turns out one of the bullies was a friend of her’s child. Regardless, had he been with a teacher that knew of his issues/needs this would not have happened. Worse happened to our son but that is not for this comment. Want to read what happened to our son there is a webpage dedicated for parents to tell us also their stories of abuse of their children by untrained/uncaring teachers called http://www.endschoolabuse.org

    There were other factors that lead to what happened to our son, but I only type this as to tell parents to be VERY proactive in your children’s school environment and those who will be responsible for them while they are in school. I will say no more of this matter here, and sorry to the blog creator for putting my son’s personal tragedy down, just felt necessary as an example of how things can go extremely wrong when teachers are not trained in the area. Thanks for posting this if you do.

    Anybody with an autistic child knows that there are a variety of issues in dealing with their behavioral manifestations of their internal stresses, and parents learn how to help lesson those stressors. Teachers cannot do this if they are not aware of the child’s needs/issues, as I have said they will simply deem the child a class disturbance, violent and therefore have that child removed with a bad report upon that child’s permanent school record…no consideration to the child’s neurological issues. Stressors can be anything from a tag in the shirt the child is wearing, or the type of fabric, or seems in the clothing (as children with autism tend to be very sensitive to things that touch them especially clothing), certain lights such as florescent lighting, and the buzz sound that comes from them, or from other sources like air conditioners/heaters, a fan, or any number of noises can tend to cause a hightened level of anxiety in autistic children. Crowded classroom where there is a lot of talking or activity going on can cause stress level to rise as well. Again, any parent with a child of autism that has been with the child for a number of years can begin to see the triggers to the stressors and learn ways of lessening those stressors. Only a teacher that is not only trained but experienced should work with autistic children so they are not criminalized by those who lack such. By having an understanding of autism and the related neurological “behaviors” that are only symptoms of the child’s stress and their expression of the stress can help lead to a successful integration with others in the school setting.

  5. Moi ;) says:

    Hi – I just found your blog, am going to add you to my links.

    I think that autism = ABA is not always true. Many of us have children who didn’t need ABA, who weren’t as severe. I got a couple of ABA books, used a few of the techniques, but most of it was not appropriate for my son.

    I used to think the label was negative. It was only until I saw how much money flowed into the school (and less resistance to giving services) when it was used that I realized it was really an important tool.

    We have ChildFind in the US (not sure where you are) and schools are now required, because of NCLB, to Find children with learning and other associated issues. The problem is that NCLB isn’t funded, and the districts will avoid Finding because the money has to go toward passing tests….

  6. Ann says:

    It is about services. It has nothing to do with labels. A parent must advocate for the child. The child must receive the services he/she needs to be as successful as possible. If this means a label of autism (especially if that is what is diagnosed by a developmental pediatrician) then so be it. If administators try to give you a hard time, bring in an advocate (heck, even mentioning an advocate is better than nothing).

  7. Ann says:

    get every accommodation your child needs. come in with a list of them. Speak with an air of authority. Speak about your child as a person and a child. Ask for IEP meetings when you think you need one. they are required by law to give them to you. Talk to the superintendant, if you are getting problems. Let them know that you are educated about the law. The law scares administators and they do not want to get sued.

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