THE OTHER EPIDEMIC
Recently, I wrote of a relatively positive experience in dealing with our local school system. For the first time, the movers and shakers in the system (as opposed to the principal and teachers who have supported us for awhile now) met with my wife and me, and actually seemed interested in cultivating a partnership to provide my son with the best possible opportunity to advance.
I remain cautiously optimistic about this year, but progress is agonizingly slow. Our son is getting more attention on the basic services the school is used to providing (i.e., a little speech therapy and a little sensory integration). The more intensive therapies autistic kids need are still absent, but there are definite signs that we might start seeing them. All in all, our experience is a little better than it was last year. Sadly, that little bit better beats the experience many other parents across the country are reporting.
Why do most school systems do such a bad job teaching autistic kids? In part, it’s money. Delivering the intensive therapies our children need costs money, and many systems are already stretching every dollar (although many waste more than they stretch). In recent years it has just been easier for schools to deliver minimal services and see which children can improve on their own. Those who can’t find their own way wind up in segregated classes where they won’t distract the typical kids. Special autism classes fill a real need for kids that aren’t ready for an inclusive setting, but too many systems use them as a final destination.
It would be interesting to see how many kids could successfully stay in inclusive settings if they received the therapies they need on an individual basis. For some children, that means ABA, Greenspan for others, Verbal Behavior for some, and RDI for others. Instead, most schools cling to a one-size-fits-all philosophy, and they institute one-size-fits-few programs that incorporates very little from any of the above-listed programs.
Tina Giovanni writes a terrific blog called Autism 911. Tina is a teacher with years of experience working with autistic children, and she brings a unique perspective to the discussion. Recently, she used a very descriptive phrase for the attitude of too many school systems: “the epidemic of denial.”
It’s too true. As long as schools can deny there’s a problem of immense proportions, they can redirect their resources in other directions they may feel will reap greater rewards. In the meantime, our kids don’t get what they need to learn to function independently.
I’m still not sure how serious our local school system is about being partners in our son’s development. We’re determined that he will stay in an inclusive setting, and that he will progress both academically and socially. Although the change in attitude by the system has not been as complete as we would like, there has been enough movement that I am willing to assume that the administration is acting in good faith. And isn’t that ironic? A school system that has its resources stretched because of Hurricane Katrina is finding a way to bend and stretch a little more, while other systems across the nation are still finding ways to deny.