Managing Editor's Note: I'm noticing a trend in articles about autism, like the one below in the LA Times" of condescension and dismissal.
Look at the words of this psych expert below, 'children with autism "know how to push every button known to God,"'. Roll that around your brain for a moment. There are times when I haven't been sure my kids know what their mouths are for - honest to God - and an expert is accusing our kids of "pushing buttons" as some kind of excuse for placing a child in a box as punishment? The fact that the child often seeks a quiet space on his own doesn't excuse using his safe place as a punishment. Imagine if a professional said, " Yeah, those cancer patients with their constant puking, they sure know how to push buttons, don't they? And those dippy peanut allergy kids all anaphylactic shocky and wheezey? Real pains in the ass."
I've been accused of not loving or respecting my kids the way the are because I want to (eyes darting left and right) "cure" them of their autism. Fact is, the world is going to start hating people with autism because of the lack of medical attention to treatment, the acceptance movement that has done precious little to make our kids more acceptable and the COST to society. You start affecting someone's pocketbook, they take notice. People are already pissed off and stressed out about their dwindling finances. Now ask them to pay a couple of million over the lifetime of a person with autism and see what happens.
I don't believe our kids should have carte blanche to interrupt a classroom, especially if mainstreamed. But the anger toward kids who are on the spectrum horrifies me. Read the comment thread on the article. It's nauseating.
I noticed similar comments about TJ Lane, the boy who murdered three students in Chardon, Ohio a rural suburb of Cleveland. TJ attended Lake Academy, "an alternative education program offering a unique approach to formal education for students who are experiencing serious challenges in meeting expectations within traditional school settings. Many of the students attending The Lake Academy are considered “reluctant learners” and may be struggling with a variety of individual problems, such as: substance abuse /chemical dependency, anger issues, mental health issues, truancy, delinquency, difficulties with attention/organization, and academic deficiencies." Commenters in Cleveland are asking why a boy who had to attend a "special" school was even allowed to step foot in a public school. I understand the anger toward him and make no excuses for his actions. But the call to segregate/remove students who are different could easily capture many of our own kids (who are not violent or severely mentally ill) making them pariahs in education and by logical assumption, the workplace that follows school.
I anticipate a very rough future for our loved ones.
I started karate classes last Fall. It's supposed to make me a bit more zen than my usual type A self. Part of our code states, "I shall not use my skills outside of the dojo except in the most extreme circumstances." I look at what's happening to kids on the spectrum and I ask, "Define extreme..."
When Kim Rollins' son asked for a pair of scissors to take to school a few weeks ago, she was heartened that the fourth-grader, diagnosed with an autism-related disorder, was excited by a class project.
No, Sage Rollins explained, he didn't need the scissors for a project. He wanted them so he could cut a window in the cardboard box his teacher sent him to sit in.
Sage, 10, told her that his teacher at Ronald Reagan Elementary School, in the southwest Riverside County community of Wildomar, sent him into the box when she became upset with him. Before that, she forced him to sit in a darkened supply closet, according to Rollins.
"I was outraged. I was insulted," Rollins said from her home in Wildomar, near Lake Elsinore. "I cried when I heard.
School principal Nori Chandler told a Riverside County Sheriff's Department investigator last month that Sage went into a closet on his own, when he wanted "quiet time," and was never sent by the teacher. Sage also told the deputy he went on his own when he needed a quiet place.
The principal told the investigator that a district counselor provided a "decorated large cardboard box" for Sage that was placed in the back of the class, to provide a refuge for him when he had sensory overload, according to the investigative report, a copy of which Rollins gave The Times.
The box, about the size of a large television, was turned on its side, allowing Sage to use the open flaps as a door.
The deputy who investigated the allegations "failed to find any evidence of criminal wrongdoing," and the case has been closed, said Deputy Joshua Morales, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Department. The investigator's report said there did not appear to be any intent by any school employee to mistreat or abuse Sage.
Although she taught Sage in a mainstream classroom, Sabrina Beth MacFarlane has a state education specialist credential for working with special needs students. She has been placed on paid administrative leave by the Lake Elsinore Unified School District and was not available for comment.
"Appropriate personnel action has been taken, and the matter is under investigation," said district spokesman Mark Dennis. "We're taking this matter very seriously."
Rollins' attorney filed an administrative legal claim against the district and the teacher, a likely precursor to a lawsuit. The claim alleges that the isolation was involuntary, punitive and caused other fellow students to ridicule her son.
Using isolation as a punishment for a child with autism-related disorders not only is wrong, it is ineffective, said Ron Leaf of Autism Partnership in Seal Beach, which consults with school districts about teaching children with the disorders.
If the child knows that by acting out, he or she will be given a time out, the child may misbehave intentionally to avoid a stressful situation, such as a challenging lesson or participation in an activity, he said.
"What happened there is wrong in every which way," Leaf said.
Rollins said her son told her that the teacher had sent him to the closet or box for "time outs or when she was mad." She also said that her son went into the closet or box on his own as well.
"If he can get away from the person who is creating a meltdown for him, he would run and hide in the dryer," Rollins said, not being literal. "So the fact that he thinks the closet is a good thing, it means nothing to me."
Clinical psychologist B.J. Freeman, an autism expert at the UCLA School of Medicine, said children with autism "know how to push every button known to God," making it crucial that teachers have the temperament and training necessary to instruct students. That's especially important when students with special needs are placed in a mainstream classroom, Freeman said.
Read the full story and comment thread at The LA Times.
Kim Stagliano is Managing Editor of Age of Autism. Her new novel, House of Cards; A Kat Cavicchio romantic suspense is available from Amazon in all e-formats now. Her memoir, All I Can Handle I'm No Mother Teresa is available in hardcover, paperback and e-book.