Public Education Turns a Blind Eye to Kids With Autism
20 years ago, we didn’t know much about Autism. Kids with Autism or Asperger’s syndrome were misdiagnosed, often put in mental hospitals, or just seen as plain “weird.” But now, we know a lot more, enough to recognize its prevalence. In fact, 2-6 out of every thousand kids are diagnosed with a form of Autism, according to the National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke. Compare this to kids born with Down syndrome, who are at about 12 for every 10,000 births.
If you don’t know much about Autism—here are the basics:
· Asperger’s is a high functioning form of Autism
· Severity ranges from social awkwardness (but normal, independent functioning) to the inability to use spoken language.
· Autism is generally characterized by a preference for being alone, lack of empathy, and lack of response to verbal instruction.
Autism and Down syndrome are very different conditions, those with each exhibit unique symptoms. However, in terms of straight numbers---Autism is more prevalent. So then, now that our society can recognize the prevalence of Autism, why are Autistic kids not accounted for in the public school system?
You may be thinking: “Well yes there is a place----the special education classes.” Yes, public schools do offer special education. But this is NOT a place for someone who is Autistic, especially someone with Asperger’s syndrome. Why? Well, many of the kids in these classes are very low functioning, many of them are completely uncommunicative and some are even violent toward teachers (of course, they are unaware of the repercussion of their actions and not malicious in their intentions). Putting a child with a form of Autism who is higher functioning than his peers will cause the child to regress and mimic “incorrect” conduct seen in these classes, such as infant-like behavior. This is detrimental to a child with a disorder in which communication already presents a serious challenge.
On the flip side, kids with Autism cannot thrive (or even stay above water) in regular classes----especially since budget cuts have left many public school teachers with more students than they can handle (Many class sizes hover close to 40). Autistic kids need extra attention and teachers with that many students do not possibly have the time to help a child with a learning/social disability.
So they need extra help? Like an aid or teaching assistant?
Yes, a teaching assistant would be ideal. But for the school districts, this solution poses a problem---it costs money. Oftentimes, parents undergo lawsuits in order to get the proper care for their children. But in this recession, how many people have the money or time to spend on a lawyer and battle the formidable beast?
School staff actually often misdiagnoses students or downplays their disability in order to avoid providing the (costly) provisions.
A truly amazing woman (who I will not name) informed me that while formerly working for a public school district in California, she would sneak to the parents’ cars (after conferences between the parents and the school district discussing the needs of the child) and place notes on their dashboard, letting them know where to get the necessary help for their child----she couldn’t say this in person because as an employee of the school district, she was often forced to tell parents that their child was fine, and extra services were unnecessary.
The sad reality is that many kids with Autism are not given the resources to thrive and therefore, have the opportunity to live relatively normal lives. With social skills groups, speech therapy, and extra attention in class, many of these Autistic children could progress to levels previously unimaginable. But if you can’t pay for these services on your own, and you can’t get it from the government through the public school system, than I guess you’re shit out of luck. And anyone can see that lack of success in school could severely hurt a child’s self esteem, possibly leading to depression and thoughts of suicide.
Presently, many bills are being drafted/voted upon that would provide families of Autistic children with the proper occupational therapies. Please research what bills are being proposed in your community and send your support.
I can say from personal observational experience that, although there is no cure for Autism, these therapies have the potential to change a child’s life around completely. I have seen a child go from being completely nonverbal, violent, and fit for special education classes, to developing into a successful high school student with a B average (on his own!), a great sense of humor (a HUGE feat as Autistic kids take things very literally), and an impressive maturity. But, that was achieved by the family’s own investment towards services mentioned previously.
I think that every child should have that opportunity to grow, regardless of their families’ financial situation. Don't you?
Check out the following link too; it really highlights why most families of autistic children need some sort of financial assistance to avoid bankruptcy:
The "Is This Real Life?" Column, Samantha Salis:
Sam is a Psychology Major and Political Economy Minor at UC Berkeley. She is a dedicated young woman, ambitious and sharp as a whip. Our dear Samantha tutors high schoolers and works at a Psychology lab at UC Berkeley. Even with this busy schedule, Ms. Salis creates the time to divulge to us her insider perspective on the world around us, backed with thorough research. Enjoy!