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Treatment of Autistic Children Says a Lot About Our Failing System

If I had to assess the effectiveness of our education system in one sweeping statement, it would be that our system is concerned with process over people.

What we must remember is, we are not only teaching human beings, we are teaching the next generation of citizens. The method in which we teach them and the way we treat them will have a dramatic impact on their view of the world. If we treat them with respect and empathy, they are more likely to grow up to be decent and generous people. If we treat them as guinea pigs the outcomes will not be as positive.

That’s why our system has to change. Programs and policies which are designed to avoid lawsuits rather than achieve outcomes have to go. As does the notion that children with disabilities can be put anywhere the budget bottom line dictates:

Autistic students are being told they can no longer attend specialist schools because their language skills are assessed to be too high in controversial year 6 tests.

Parents say their children, many of whom have attended autism schools all their lives, will be unable to cope and vulnerable to bullying if forced to go to a mainstream school.

Some have resorted to desperate tactics such as threatening to go to the media or applying to have their children reclassified as having a Severe Behaviour Disorder rather than autism so they can remain at autism schools.

Janeane Baker, whose 11-year-old son William has been at Northern School for Autism since prep, was horrified to learn her son no longer qualified for funding to remain at the school because he had passed a language test. ”It doesn’t matter that his mother has worked in the mainstream education system and knows that he would never survive there,” Ms Baker said. ”It doesn’t matter that his highly qualified teachers have never thought he would be able to be integrated. He can speak; therefore the government obviously thinks he is cured. They are very wrong – autism is for life.”Ms Baker had tried to integrate William with mainstream peers at junior cricket and Scouts but he got bullied because he was ”just that little bit too left of centre”.

Instead of treating this issue as a process dependant on academic evaluations, we must see this as a human issue. If children with disabilities are more likely to thrive in specialists schools we must do whatever we can to make sure that option is available to them.
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2 Responses to “Treatment of Autistic Children Says a Lot About Our Failing System”

  1. John Tapscott Says:

    My dissertation for a Special Education degree canvassed that very issue with respect to students with intellectual disability. If the work was valid it indicates that some students thrive in Special Education classes, while others appear to do better in the mainstream with appropriate support. The deciding factor was not the degree of disability but a whole range of factors: personality, effectiveness of support, teacher training and attitude, management issues, and many more that were beyond the scope of the study. Basically “horses for courses”. The study was conducted against a backdrop where the government of the day had signalled its intention to do away with special classes in mainstream schools, for students with mild intellectual disability. At the same time the criteria for determining mild intellectual disability was revised in terms of IQ, which immediately “cured” the disability in a number of students; i.e. they no longer qualified.

    While working as a visiting teacher for students with autism in the mainstream, I observed much of the same. That is to say, many of my students were thriving in the mainstream. They were well accepted and understood by their peers and their teachers and their whole experience of school was positive. However, there were also some of these students that would have definitely benefited from inclusion in a special education class or school. At the same time I also believe the existence of a special education facility where students with special needs could be catered for on a part time basis would be of great benefit. Indeed such a facility would be of benefit to mainstream, “normal” students who needed a bit of extra help on a short term basis.

    I am led by my experience and study to conclude that it is time we did away with the quasi-medical, deficit, model with all its jargon and opted for a purely educational model, where each child is considered on purely educational grounds, i.e. What skills and knowledge does this child already have? Where does this child need to go? What are the next educational steps needed, in which direction? This, then, needs to be followed by the application of sound principles of instructional design.

    There is no room in education for totalitarianism. Each child is unique and one size does not fit all. Bean counters are an important part of the education system but who said their part is paramount?!

  2. Grant Holey Says:

    New findings published in Pediatrics (Epub ahead of print) by the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Center for Autism and Related Disorders reveal that 70 percent of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) who have a history of severe language delay, achieved phrase or fluent speech by age eight. This suggests that more children presenting with ASD and severe language delay at age four can be expected to make notable language gains than was previously thought. Abnormalities in communication and language are a defining feature of ASD, yet prior research into the factors predicting the age and quality of speech attainment has been limited. –

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