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My child has joined a ‘mainstream’ classroom but is struggling. What can help?

August 26, 2011 15 comments


Today’s “Got Questions?” response again comes from Simon Wallace, PhD, Autism Speaks director of scientific development for Europe

The U.S. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires schools to include children with disabilities in the least restrictive classroom settings that are possible. At the same time, studies show that different levels of so-called “mainstreaming” present different benefits and challenges.1 And parental preference often varies.2 So the first question to ask yourself is “what type of school placement is the best for my child?”

For instance, you have the option of full inclusion, with all classes taught in a mainstream environment, or partial mainstream, with some proportion of classes taught in a more supportive setting. I also encourage parents to keep in mind the potential advantages of a specialist autism school. Making these decisions should always involve a consultation between parents, teachers and the pupil with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Beyond teaching support, we know that bullying and social exclusion affects the mainstream-school experience of many children with ASD. A recent survey estimated that 44% of children with ASD have been bullied.3 Bullying, in turn, can lead to an increased social isolation and mental health difficulties. Another study suggested that the support of classmates is very important to making the mainstream experience a success for the student with autism.4

One method for encouraging peer relationships is a technique called Circle of Friends, where the child with ASD is at the center of a peer group. This group periodically works on specific goals. Another method, which avoids such a strong focus on the child, is to work on social skills in private or with a group of other children with ASD.

Of course, teacher training remains pivotal to supporting the success of children with ASD in a mainstream classroom. Federal law requires that teachers make reasonable adjustments to their teaching strategies and classroom environment to accommodate the needs of pupils with disabilities. In particular, teachers should be encouraged to adjust the content and delivery of the curriculum, to consider the sensory needs of the pupil, and to welcome the input of both parents and special-needs students when planning their educational programs.

Here are some useful resources, along with references to the studies I mentioned:

Resources:

1. The Autism Speaks School Community Tool Kit
2. The Asperger Syndrome/HFA and the Classroom chapter of the Autism Speaks Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Tool Kit
3. Bullying and ASD: A Guide for School Staff (UK)
4. IEPs, iPads and Bullies: 10 Tips from a Dad Who’s Been There, a recent Family Services blog from dad James Vaughan

References:
1. Full inclusion and students with autism. Mesibov GB, Shea V. J Autism Dev Disord. 1996 Jun;26(3):337-46.
2. Parental perspectives on inclusion: effects of autism and Down syndrome. Kasari C, Freeman SF, Bauminger N, Alkin MC. J Autism Dev Disord. 1999 Aug;29(4):297-305.
3. Bullying among children with autism and the influence of comorbidity with ADHD: a population-based study. Montes G, Halterman JS. Ambul Pediatr. 2007 May-Jun;7(3):253-7.
4. Inclusion as social practice: views of children with autism.  Ochs E, Kremer T, Solomon O, Sirota K. Social Development. 2001;10(3):399–419.

Got more questions? Please email us at gotquestions@autismspeaks.org. Thanks.


In Their Own Words – Public vs. Private School Debate: Do the Math

September 24, 2010 33 comments

This “In Their Own Words,” is written by Glen Finland. She is the author of “Next Stop,” a memoir about raising her autistic son to adulthood and learning to let go.

Last year my autistic adult son David wrapped up twenty years of education, ten of them spent in private school, the other half in public school. And, hindsight being 20-20, here’s what educating a high functioning autistic son like David taught me. It’s simple mathematics: Send your kid to public school and keep your money in your wallet. You’re going to need it for what happens next—because what happens next is the rest of his life.

Parents of a young adult with special needs face an unending management of another person’s life over the decades ahead: housing, transportation, insurance, clothing, food, job coaching, medical expenses, and, of course, quality of life expenses like entertainment, vacations, and even pets. Think of how far the tuition fee of a single year of private school could go toward taking care of some of these expenses down the road. Now multiply that figure by twenty. The numbers will tell you if it’s a wise investment.

In public school with a good IEP, the services are free. They should be; you’ve already paid for them with your taxes. Your child will also learn in less of an isolated bubble—and yes—be forced to toughen up a bit by facing the real world struggles of life in the quicker moving mainstream. Don’t expect runaway success there. In fact, be prepared for regular bouts of failure. But no matter how painful the lesson, down the road your child will be that much better equipped for the the daily slights he’s sure to incur—those careless, casual assaults on his spirit that he will face simply for being differently abled.

For example, it has come to my attention that my 23-year old son is now a heavy tipper. These days he drives a 54-mile roundtrip each day to his job as a custodian at a federal office building outside the nation’s capital. He’s a good driver, but when he stops off for coffee along the way, he might pull out a $20 bill to pay for a single cup of java, then walk away. His generosity is not because he’s got such deep pockets; it’s because he wants to avoid the impossible math involved in the exchange and, even more, the eye contact that goes along with it. Whose pocket that leftover chunk of change ends up in is totally dependent upon the scruples of the particular cashier. It took me months to figure out where all his change was going and how to remedy the situation with a few five dollar bills, but these are the kind of real world surprises that continue to sneak up on us every day. This reminds me to be careful about who I allow to “keep the change” when it comes to planning ahead for my son’s future.

You know, it’s true what mothers have always said about the time with our children: “The days go by like years, and the years go by like days.” So go ahead and let your child ride the big yellow public school bus for now. It’ll do him no harm. And that way he can count on your really being there for him once school lets out for good.

“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to editors@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

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