As a social experiment, wouldn’t it be wonderful if teachers decided not to refer their students for 12 months to an occupational therapist or speech pathologist? Wouldn’t it be interesting if they had to provide for the child and adjust their teaching to cater for the special needs of these children instead of relying on specialists to do that for them.
Just wait a minute! Aren’t teachers catering for children of special needs already?
Of course some are, but many aren’t. Here are some questions I have compiled for you to determine whether or not your child’s teacher is relying too heavily on a specialist:
1. Is there evidence that your child’s teacher is in regular contact with the specialist?
2. Is their evidence that your child’s teacher follows the recommendations based on the child’s assessment evaluation?
3. Does your child’s teacher blame a lack of progress solely on your child’s learning difficulty?
4. If you have ceased sending your child to a specialist has the teacher shown signs of giving up on your child and blaming a lack of progress on your decision?
This might seem harsh on teachers but believe me it happens all the time. Parents are put under pressure to have their child farmed off to a specialist with concerns over attention, comprehension, processing, integration, coordination etc. The parent then has to pay for a costly assessment. The assessment is not unlike a trip to the orthodontist. The orthodontist will almost always see a problem worth fixing – an imperfection that can always be adjusted with a stint on braces.
So too, a speech and occupational therapist will always see scope for therapy. There will always be a recommendation to fix this or manage that. Should the child not be eligible for Government funding, the parents would be pressured to pay for the services of a specialist. The going rate for an occupational therapist for a one hour weekly session is about $500 a month (from personal experience). If the parents refuse to pay, often the teacher will secretly accuse the parents of being selfish and putting money ahead of the interests of the child.
The truth is many specialists are called on, not because there is a major need for therapy, but for the teacher to defer responsibility. No teacher should be allowed to pressure a parent into such a move without first demonstrating a meaningful attempt at accommodating the child within the classroom.
It seems to be that this is a boom time for specialists. The scale for measuring learning difficulties has been expanding, new disorders are being invented overnight and more room is being reserved for this ever increasing ‘spectrum’. I once questioned a psychologist for pronouncing that a student of mine was on the spectrum when I didn’t feel it was warranted. His response – everyone can fit on the spectrum in some way or form. What does that mean? If everyone is on the spectrum, how is that fair to people with autism and low functioning Aspergers? Their condition will surely be undermined if they have to share a spectrum with you and I!
Be very mindful that teachers, like other professions, are prone to short cuts and self interest. It is in the best interest of teachers to outsource their students to specialists, because it means that any lack of progress can be blamed on a ‘disorder’ or processing issue rather than the teacher’s ability to cater for the student.
Of course not all teachers are like that and some students clearly require specialist intervention. There is no doubt about that. But this scenario does happen, and it does happen regularly.
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