By Meghan Vivo
Children with special needs like autism and Asperger’s are supposed to get appropriate services and accommodations to help them succeed in public schools. Unfortunately, it often ends up being the parents’ responsibility to advocate and recognize if a school is under-serving their child. In extreme conditions, this may mean 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 and autism, 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 Alpha Smart personal computer or note-taker to help them take tests more successfully.
- 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 believe they have a behavioral problem or lack academically skills.
Tips for Parents of Children with Asperger’s and Autism to be Successful in School
If your child’s academic needs aren’t being met, Shriver-Blake offers the following suggestions:
Don’t Be Afraid to Make a Fuss
Chances are you know more about autism and 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 the information and request needed services. Start with your child’s teachers or guidance counselors, and if that doesn’t work, talk to 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 Your Child’s Needs
As a parent, you are uniquely qualified to know what’s best for your child. Be involved in your child’s education so you know the source of their struggles, whether it be learning differences, social anxiety, bullying, or even having embarrassing handwriting.
Know the Alternatives to Public Schools
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 help teens with Asperger’s and autism 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 thorough assessments and modifications suggested through Individualized Education Plans. The school accurately evaluates a child’s learning and knowledge based on measures other than standardized end-of-grade tests.
If you’re looking for a new school for a child with autism or Asperger’s, ask yourself these questions:
- Are the teachers trained to specifically deal with children with Asperger’s or autism?
- What is the average IQ of students at the school?
- Are most students there because of behavioral issues?
- What is the classroom’s student-to-teacher ratio?
- How is each student’s progress evaluated?
- How do teachers deal with behavioral interruptions?
- Do teachers and staff address the student holistically?
Children with high-functioning autism and Asperger’s are smart and capable. But, as a teen, your child may not know how to navigate the school system to get the special education services they need. Be your child’s biggest advocate and teach them how to stand up for their own needs.