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?