By Meghan Vivo
Children with special needs like Asperger’s are supposed to get appropriate services and accommodations to help them succeed in public school. But in practice, it often ends up being the parents’ responsibility to recognize if a school is under-serving their child and advocate for their needs, which for some means going as far as suing their school district to get their child’s needs met.
A 2000 study by the National Council on Disability found that, “Federal efforts to enforce the law have been inconsistent, ineffective and lacking real teeth over several administrations. Enforcement is the burden of the parents who too often must invoke formal complaint procedures and due process hearings including expensive and time-consuming litigation to obtain services their children are entitled under the law.”
According to Molly Shriver-Blake, MSW, the program manager at a specialized school for children with Asperger’s, three of the most common problems parents face are:
- Academic difficulties are overlooked. At a very early age, schools seem to give up on children with special needs and begin passing them through the grades without addressing their learning issues. For example, one student at Southeast Journeys is currently in twelfth grade, but tests at a seventh-grade reading level and comprehends at a fourth-grade level.
- Modifications are not granted. Intelligent students are not passing classes because of standard academic evaluations such as end-of-grade tests. Students who struggle with written expression are often considered unteachable instead of being given an AlphaSmart, personal computer or note-taker that would help them more successfully take tests.
- Students are incorrectly diagnosed or labeled. Teachers sometimes treat students with learning disabilities as “mentally retarded” or having “behavioral issues.” These kids are then sent to self-contained classrooms with students who have issues very unlike their own. As a result, they come to think of themselves as having a behavioral problem or being academically incapable.
Tips for Parents of Children with Asperger’s
If your child isn’t getting what they need or deserve at school, Shriver-Blake offers the following suggestions:
Don’t be afraid to make a fuss. Chances are you know more about Asperger’s Syndrome and the applicable federal, state and local laws than many of the staff at your child’s school. Don’t be afraid to share that information and request needed services, first from your child’s teachers or guidance counselors, and then from a dean or principal. School boards will often try to work with you, but you won’t get anything if you don’t ask for it.
Know what your child needs. As a parent, you are uniquely qualified to know what’s best for your child. Be involved in your child’s education so that you know the source of their struggles, whether it be learning differences, social anxiety, being bullied or even having embarrassing handwriting.
Research alternatives to public school. Sometimes advocating for your child in public school may not be enough. Despite your best efforts, public schools may not be able to meet your child’s needs. In these situations, many parents enroll their child in a specialized school for children with learning disabilities or special needs.
Schools like Southeast Journeys work with teens with Asperger’s to achieve academic and social success through small class sizes, experiential learning and social skills training. As a non-public school, Southeast Journeys is able to create an Individualized Learning Plan for each student based on modifications suggested through Individualized Education Plans or academic professionals, as well as a thorough assessment period. The school is also permitted to evaluate a child’s learning and issue grades based on measures other than end-of-grade tests, which more accurately reflect a child’s knowledge.
If you’re looking for a new school for a child with Asperger’s, the following are some of the questions you should ask:
- Are the teachers trained to specifically deal with children with Asperger’s?
- What is the average IQ of students at the school?
- Are most students there because of behavioral issues?
- What is the student-to-teacher ratio in the classroom?
- How is each student’s progress evaluated?
- How do teachers deal with behavioral interruptions?
- Do teachers and staff address the student holistically?
Children with Asperger’s are smart and capable. But at this age, your child may not know how to navigate the school system to get the special education services they need. Be your child’s biggest promoter and they will grow up knowing what they need and how to get it.