A bit about... whatever's on my mind. ;)

A bit about... whatever's on my mind.  ;)
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Friday, May 16, 2014

The Moral Issue of Tipping

This morning while brushing my hair out, I noticed it was time I set up an appointment with my favorite local hairdresser.  Like many women I like to keep up on the cosmetic aspect of my hair, adding highlights and low-lights throughout the year.  Occasionally I will do a whole new look, dying my hair some adverse color or chopping it all off. 
Parting my hair in the mirror, I noticed how much my natural hair color had grown out.  As I looked down at my face I could see the stress start to form.  My eyebrows moved closer together and wrinkles begin to appear between them.  There was obvious stress in my face about scheduling an appointment.  Even though I love my hairdresser, all I could think about was the cost of getting another trim and touch up of my low-lights.  The initial cost, although I consider it high, isn’t what was bothering me the most. It was the expected tip at the end of service.  The amount you give to your hairdresser to say; Thanks, great job!  Like the seventy dollars you just handed over for the cut and color wasn't enough?
 Now I don’t mean to offend any Hairdresser’s, nor do I have anything against them.  I feel the same when I go out to my favorite local restaurant.  The waiters and waitresses may be great at filling up my drinks and meeting all my consumer needs.  Although after paying the tab (which is very rarely ever what I would consider a reasonable amount), I am again expected to reach into my pockets and pull out more money.  Have We the People discovered a way to conjure up money out of thin air, just for tipping?  Do I just not know this secret?  Last I checked we were in a recession. 
Now I understand that in some cases, like that of waiters and waitresses, most are not even paid minimum wage.   The act of tipping has given businesses an excuse and/or reason not to pay their employees even the bare minimum wage allowance, because their employees can claim tips.  There are many articles found online for employers to figure out if they have to pay minimum wage or if they are able to pay less.  In one of these articles it states: “If your employees earn tips from customers, you may be able to pay them less than the minimum wage, as long as what you pay them plus the tips they actually earn add up to at least the minimum wage per hour worked” (Steingold).  Is this fair?  Is any of this fair?  Is it fair for the employer, employee, and customer?  I don’t think so.  Now for me this is a morality issue, right vs. wrong.    
I recently watched a TED talk; The Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives, by Psychologist Jonathan Haidt.  Now I am not talking about Liberals vs. Conservatives here, but in this particular talk Haidt discusses the findings of a question he posed, “What is morality and where does it come from?” (Haidt).  Now morality is what I’m talking about.  Haidt and a colleague of his, through research found five basic foundations of morality; Harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, in-group/loyalty, authority/respect and purity/sanctity.  He describes these as “…the sorts of things that people talk about across disciplines…that you find across cultures and even across species” (Haidt).  These five foundations according to Haidt are what we use to make all right vs. wrong decisions in our lives. 
I believe two of these five foundations apply here: the first is fairness.  Now fairness is described in the Merriam Webster on-line dictionary as “treating people in a way that does not favor some over others” (“fairness” def2).  An example would be if I gave five dollars to a neighborhood boy for raking up leaves one week, and then gave 5 dollars to another neighborhood boy the next week, for doing the same chore. They received the same amount of cash for the same act, making their pay fair.  The second foundation is tradition.  Tradition is defined in the Merriam Webster as “a way of thinking, behaving, or doing something that has been used by the people in a particular group, family, society, etc., for a long time” (“tradition” def1).  An example of this would be how on Thanksgiving Day, we Americans, have turkey every year and have done so for generations; making eating turkey on Thanksgiving Day a tradition.  
I believe that in this case of tipping, the moral foundation of fairness trumps the moral foundation of tradition.  Tipping in businesses was once a tradition built on supporting and caring for those whose service work was not compensated by their employer.  It created a fair society in our labor force.  In today's society however there is no need for it, as laws demand all employees to be compensated fairly.  Thus, I am suggesting, the tradition to give tips in businesses should be done away with. 
A simple Google search on tipping shows there is a common confusion with when, where, who, and what amount is appropriate to tip.  An article in Business Insider states that there is “significant disagreement about how much to tip for even common services” (Roth).  This article goes on to say:
you know you should tip your waitress. But how much should you leave? Some people claim that 10% is adequate. Others claim that 20% is standard. But I suspect that most of us learned to tip 15%, and to give more for exceptional service. (The wikipedia entry on tipping currently contains the bizarre claim that “18% is generally accepted as a standard tip for good service”.) Which amount is correct? (Roth). 
What is the most surprising after my research, is that we as a society still feel the need to tip some, while not the need to tip others that make the same or less an hour.  According to an article in the Huston Chronicle, the average U.S. hairdresser makes “$12.72 per hour” (Locsin).  According to another article from the same chronicle a CNA makes “an average wage of $12.22 per hour” (Banach).  So am I to conclude that as a society we have a greater appreciation for those who pamper our beauty, than for those who care for us?  Even when we are unable to care for ourselves?  These men and women literally wipe our butts when we are not capable of doing so.  Yet no website I looked up on tipping suggested we give them an extra penny for this service.  Though it was suggested we give the local Hairdresser a 10-20% tip. 
Is it fair to anyone to carry on a tradition, something that our society expects of us, when this tradition/expectation doesn't make sense?  This is an unfair tradition.    Are the people who care for you not as important as the ones who feed you, or make you feel beautiful?  Why should a simple hair treatment take more out of my pocket then someone who bathed me and cared for my health? 
Now one solution I see to create fairness in this, would be to tip everyone; waiters/waitresses, CNA’s, Hairdressers, editors, bus drivers, cashiers, sightseeing dogs… you get my point.  Tipping everyone would be counterproductive.  In short, my pockets are not in favor of it.  Instead let us quit tipping those who already have a wage.  If we quit tipping, employers would be forced to pay at least minimum wage, prices would be fairer and our society would make a tad bit more sense.  Less stress would come from the workers and consumers.  Everyone would know where they stand, how much they are bringing in and how much they are handing out. 
Through writing this, I hope I have been able to convince a few.  Until everyone is in agreement with me though, I guess I better print out the suggested tips on Business Insiders; “This Is How Much You Should Tip for Every Service” (Roth).  And I had better make that call to my hairdresser, these roots of mine can’t wait.

Works Cited
Banach, Amanda. "How Much Does a CNA Make an Hour?" Work. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2014.
"Jonathan Haidt: The Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives." TED: Ideas worth Spreading. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2014.
Locsin, Aurelio. "How Much Does the Average Hair Stylist Make?" Work. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2014.
Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 01 Feb. 2014.
Roth, J.D. "This Is How Much You Should Tip For Every Service." Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 23 Aug. 2012. Web. 02 Feb. 2014.
Steingold, Fred. "When Must Employers Pay the Minimum Wage?" Nolo.com. NOLO, n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2014.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Last Part of: Public school and Autism Spectrum Disorder: Does it meet the Needs?

To me, no, the public schools are not meeting Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) needs.  Many parents like I have chosen and are choosing to pull our kids out of the public school system despite the financial restraints, the belief that homeschooling causes a lack in social skills, and the assumptions that parents just have false expectations.  What has led me to ultimately believe that the schools are failing to meet, not only my children’s needs but all those with ASD, is the disturbingly low percentage rate of those with ASD receiving diplomas, the extremely poor outcome of ASD adults after public school, and my highly unacceptable personal experiences with ASD in the public school system. 
I previously mentioned that I have two ASD boys and am homeschooling the oldest one.  There are others like myself who after seeing one or more of our ASD children struggling in the public school system have chosen to quit working full time in order to pursue other options for our kids, like homeschool.  We do this despite the fact that we may have to pull a great deal more money out of our pockets than we did when our children were receiving free services in the public schools.  In order for our children to have a better learning experience and a brighter future many of us have accepted having a tighter budget.  I have found that although my budget is tighter, I do not have to pull a great deal more money out.  I have been able to find services that not only accept my medical insurance, but also provide my child with a higher quality of these services.  William, my oldest who I homeschool, is doing far better with these services then he ever did in the free services provided through the public schools.  Because of this I have found living on a lower income, worth it.  So no, to me at least, free services are not a reason to keep your struggling ASD child in the public schools. 
You do not need to go to school to learn the important social cues and appropriate behavior to succeed in life either.  There are other ways your child can interact with peers and those of all ages to learn these skills.  I personally have implemented a manners program in our homeschooling and we are involved in a group where we get together at least once a week with other homeschoolers.  We meet this group at parks, field trips, and at academic fairs; here social skills can be learned.  And there are other opportunities; my child plays daily with our local neighborhood kids, we go to the theatre together, we go shopping together, to visit friends and family, to museums…  Every interaction with another person during one of these events is an opportunity to guide, direct, and reinforce good behavior.  You do not need to go to school to gain social skills; there are social opportunities all around us.  I believe that with the right guidance ASD kids, not in a public school, can succeed socially.    
I find it rude that others believe parents, like me, just have false expectations.  I ask, Is it false expectations from parents or just low expectations from the school?  I know my child to be bright and capable of learning.  If he is not progressing in the system, should I not want change from it?  This to me is simply an excuse schools use for not meeting ASD needs.  
I believe if public schools were meeting the needs of ASD children the percent of those who graduate would be higher.  I want to remind you of a statistic I mentioned earlier, that according to Forbes magazine “about 56% of people with autism graduate from high school” (Walton).  Of all the students I know (and I admit that I only know a small fraction of those with the diagnoses) I believe them all to be capable of keeping up with their non ASD peers and earning a diploma.  I know for some it takes a lot more work than others, but with what I have researched and those I do know, I believe they all are capable of it.  I would like to remind you that I am not the only one who thinks this; on the Center for Education’s website it states that, “the majority of students with disabilities should be able to perform at grade level and graduate high school with a regular diploma” (Ulrich).  Many of those with ASD appear to be regular people who happen to have some rather unusual quirks, though these quirks are what causes them to struggle and excel in areas the average Joe would not.  ASD kids are capable of learning and they are capable of progressing academically.  Forty-four percent of ASD pupils don’t get to wear a cap and gown.  That is too high of a percentage for a group of kids who have the ability to gain the knowledge needed to earn a High school diploma.  This statistic shows me that the public schools are not meeting ASD pupils’ needs. 
                I believe in order to know whether something is working, one looks at the outcomes.  Another statistic I had mentioned previously from the top ASD advocacy organization, stated that “recent reports indicate unemployment and underemployment together hover around 90 percent for adults with autism” (Autism Speaks).  Ninety percent is a very large amount for any group of people.  As a mother of ASD children this bothers me.  As a taxpaying citizen this bothers me; who is going to care for this growing number of ASD adults to live?  These results are not satisfactory.  How is it that these kids capable of one day providing for themselves, are not?  The only answer I can come up with is that they are not being taught the skills they need to succeed prior to graduating and entering the world. 
There is a community who welcomes ASD adults who are unable to live completely on their own.  This community, Marbridge, holds trainings for their ASD individuals on life skills and job skills.  They have expressed that “At Marbridge, we believe young people with autism can become self-determining adults, capable of competing—and winning—in the competitive workplace. Time and again, they prove us right” (Marbridge).  Marbridge has shown that with the right education, these kids can flourish, holding down jobs and progressing in a career.  Yet that education isn’t happening on a nationwide level and as a result a large percent of ASD adults are not meeting their potential.  I believe the percent of those unemployed and underemployed would be much lower if the public schools were teaching these ASD kids the skills they need to make it in life as taxpaying ASD adults.  As of right now this outcome of ninety percent of adults not working or under working, shows me that the public schools are not meeting ASD needs. 
To my disappointment I have not found any statistics on the percent of ASD homeschoolers, charter school students or private school pupils who graduate.  I had wanted to show the percent of those who graduate and what these ASD adults are doing after receiving a diploma or the equivalent of one.  Although I did not find any of these statistics on ASD kids not in a public school, I did find numerous accounts on websites and forums from other parents, who like myself, have pulled their kids out of public school, and with much relief discovered that their ASD student is happier and progressing faster.  I asked on one of these ASD homeschooling forums if anyone wouldn’t mind writing me a short message for this paper about why they chose to homeschool.  I had several parents respond, all with words that reflect what I have written here.  One mother, Andrea Plante, messaged me that she “opted to homeschool because public school just doesn't offer what our kids deserve. I can change her (referring to her child with ASD) IEP till the cows come home but it will never change the system.”  Another Mother, Nicole Largy, said “I haven't pulled my son out of public school yet but I am seriously considering it. I'm fed up with our school system.”  These parents, like myself and many more out there, love our ASD children and it hurts us to see our children struggling unnecessarily.  When the schools are not meeting our children’s needs, we see no other choice, but to try an alternate route.    
My personal experiences from having two ASD children in the public schools have led me to this belief that the schools are not meeting ASD needs and have given me ideas for how they could do better.  Last year in our local public school, my oldest child William, was more days than not coming home overwhelmed and his homework would usually end in tears.  I have always been an active parent with the schools, I know the teachers and principals, and I have a good relationship with all the staff.  I attend parent teacher conferences, Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings, and have even called meetings to be held.  I believe the staff for the most part really do care and try to offer the most they can, however the schools are just not set up in a way that can fully meet the needs of ASD students.  These kids are not learning at an appropriate pace and not moving on successfully.  The public schools I believe would have a much easier time meeting these students’ needs if they had better training for all staff on ASD and hired specific ASD classroom aids for each class with an ASD student.  These aids would need to be in addition to normal classroom aids, having someone who can work one-on-one with just the ASD children.  William, I believe, would not have come home so overwhelmed if he had had the help of an ASD classroom aid.  I do not believe the way they do it now is working, pulling children out of their main classroom to work on specific academic areas they struggle with.   My youngest, Richard, is beginning to fall behind in areas as well now and I believe it is due to pulling him out of his mainstream classroom.  An in-classroom aid would be a more fitting alternative and something I plan to bring up during his next IEP meeting.  I do understand that children need pulled out for specific therapies, like speech therapy and occupational therapy.  Though having an aid would dramatically change the amount they are taken out and meet their needs more proficiently, being able to help them in the classroom.  I believe this additional aid in the classroom will raise the number who graduate and raise the percent of ASD adult’s employed.  This in turn helps the schools to better meet ASD students’ needs. 
By writing this I hope I have shown the gaps, got you thinking, and perhaps even talking.  Whether you agree with me or not I hope you are more aware of ASD in our public school system.  If any of you have ideas that would provide a better education and brighter future for these kids, please share them.  Share these thoughts with your local public school’s principals, administrators, and teachers.  My hope is for our public schools to truly be meeting these kid’s needs.  I believe that when the public schools are meeting the needs of ASD, the graduation rates will raise, ASD adults will have an improved employment percentage, and overall the ASD experiences in the public schools will be better.  Let us keep the conversation going, no change will happen if we simply stop it here. 
(Written in May of 2014)
Works Cited
"Autism Residential Care at Marbridge." Marbridge Group Homes for Autistic Adults, Programs for Adults
with Autism Residential Care, Jobs For Autistic Adults. Marbridge, n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2014
Largy, Nicole. Reply to group post. 23 Apr. 2014. Facebook group page “Homeschooling with Autism
Spectrum Disorders - A place to share and support”
Plante, Andrea. Message reply to post. 23 Apr. 2014. Facebook group page “Homeschooling with Autism
Spectrum Disorders - A place to share and support”
"Strengthening Support for Adults with Autism." Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks, 04 Aug. 2012. Web. 06
Apr. 2014
Walton, Alice G. "Living Life With Autism: Has Anything Really Changed?" Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 30
Nov. 2011. Web. 05 Apr. 2014.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Part three of: Public school and Autism Spectrum Disorder: Does it meet the Needs?

Many of these same parents and caregivers who initially chose to place their Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) child in the public school system, end up just a few months or years later pulling them out, placing them in a charter school, private school, or homeschooling.  To them what first seemed to be a comfort has turned into frustration.  The support and education their child was receiving in public school was not what they would call good enough.
These parents/caregivers and many others with them believe the public schools do not meet the needs for an ASD pupil to succeed  and primarily focus their argument on unacceptable statistics, lack of services, and poor quality of programs.
A significantly lower percent of those with ASD graduate High School than the national average.  In a recent article written by a contributor for Forbes magazine it was stated that “about 56% of people with autism graduate from high school” (Walton).  According to the Washington Post, the national graduation rate is “75.5 percent” (Layton).  That is a large enough gap in percentages to concern parents with ASD children.  On the Center for Education’s website, a report done on special education states that “the majority of students with disabilities should be able to perform at grade level and graduate high school with a regular diploma” (Ulrich).  So these ASD students should be graduating if they are able to do the work and keep up with their peers.  The only reason to conclude why they are not then is because the public schools are not meeting their needs to succeed in the system.  Holding a high school diploma significantly raises the chances in one’s life for a better future.  With a diploma you are less likely to be unemployed, more likely to work above minimum wage, less likely to live off of public assistance programs,  and are less likely to go to jail.  All of these very good reasons why parents are concerned with the public schools not meeting their children’s needs to gain a diploma.
There is also much worry in the fact that those on the Spectrum after graduation are struggling.  The same article about those with ASD from Forbes magazine informs us that “a study last year looked at a group of young adults over the long term to see what they did after high school. About 18% were employed, and 14% were in college” (Walton).  These percentages are too small.  The world’s leading organization in Autism advocacy, Autism Speaks, states that “recent reports indicate unemployment and underemployment together hover around 90 percent for adults with autism” (Autism Speaks).  That is too many ASD pupils who are not meeting their potential.  Employment is important in order to be able to function on one’s own in society and attending college can help these kids to gain jobs that better fit their abilities.  The majority of those with ASD are capable of continuing their education and holding down a job.  They have the ability to be able to provide for themselves and by doing so they would not have to rely on tax payers to care for them.  ASD persons are known to be friendly, honest, intelligent and dedicated workers, though they are lacking the skills they need to continue their education and gain jobs that fit their abilities.  All these statistics can conclude that the public schools are not providing the necessary skills for ASD pupils to succeed after graduation. 
Many times in public school those with ASD find themselves to be the main targets for bullies.  ASD students’ natures tend to be much more timid and as a result make excellent targets for bullies.  A news article written on Huffington Post reads that a study “done on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education, shows that 46.3% -- or nearly half -- of young men and women with ASDs are victims of bullying” (Mustich).  This same article goes on to say that “the victimization statistic for adolescents on the spectrum is far higher than the 10.6% estimate for teens without ASDs” (Mustich).  So a much higher number of those with ASD are finding themselves the target of bullies, being ridiculed and intimidated into doing things they do not want to do.  Not the social experience any of us want for our kids.  This is why many through tears and frustration have pulled their children out of public school system and why many believe the public schools are not meeting ASD needs.
There are many who believe that the services received by the public schools are not as beneficial as the services one can receive outside.  In an article written by a mother of an ASD child entitled “How My Autistic Son Got Lost in the Public School System”, this mother explains that "not everyone would have the right background or the right attitude to deal with my child” (Mackin).  Many like her have seen their children go through similar experiences.  And after taking their children out of public schools and placing them into therapy elsewhere have noticed a huge difference in the speed in which their children make improvements.  Even though their therapists may have had a degree in Speech therapy, they were not familiar with ASD characteristics.  Understanding what effects your student allows you to come up with better techniques for teaching them in a more effective way.  Without this knowledge the students can become lost, resulting in a poor quality of education and not meeting the pupils needs to succeed. 
It’s no surprise that with the economy in the shape it is budget cuts have been made that directly affect the ASD education in the public schools.  Last year the Texas Education Agency made an estimate for this year that “up to $51 million in federal money could be slashed from special-education programs and $65.4 million from Title I, a federal initiative that aids low-income students, along with cuts to teacher professional development, career-technical programs and English language acquisition classes” (Schneider).  These budget cuts mean teachers being laid off, which results in bigger classes, and then in turn that causes a poorer quality of education.   With not as many teachers to teach, it is harder to meet individual needs.  Because of this many of those with special needs, like those with ASD, are slowing in progression academically.  Also because of these budget cuts special services for those with ASD, like occupational therapy, are down grading.  In many rural areas these services are already gone, taking essential resources away from the students.  Without these services/therapies those with ASD are unable to learn important skills that can help them to overcome their disabilities.  Without these learned techniques academics are harder to grasp and life will be more of a struggle for them.  This is something many parents and caretakers share frustrations over.  These lack of services are making it to where the public schools are not able to meet ASD children’s’ needs.
The No Child Left Behind Act and Common Core were meant to improve the children’s’ education, but instead have caused a down grade in the quality of schooling they receive.    The Atlantic recently published an article by Professor Katherine Beals, the author of Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World.  In this article she states that “Though most Common Core goals are abstract and schematic, collectively they constitute a one-size fits-all approach that, in practice, has severely straightjacketed America’s special-needs students” (Beals).  She is saying that the common core teaches only one way, that there isn’t room to alter the teaching in any way to fit a child who has disabilities and one way teaching is hindering those with special needs.  She goes on to say that,
“Even before the widespread adoption of the Common Core, it was already increasingly rare for even the most intellectually unusual children to be exempted—whether by acceleration, remediation, or placement in special classrooms—from the course of study followed by their cognitively typical peers. The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act had schools focusing away from the most academically advanced students (and requires no special programming for them); the 2004 re-authorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act required children with disabilities “to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum.” Increasingly, it’s the general curriculum for everyone. And now that this general curriculum is being shaped by dozens of grade-specific Common Core standards, and that teachers (including special-ed teachers) are increasingly expected to align each day’s lesson with one or more of these standards, there’s even less room for remediation or acceleration” (Beals).
This means that for years now the programs that have been put into place have caused it to where those with special needs are not able to receive alternate teaching methods and accommodations.  This slows down ASD children’s’ progression.  If they are not able to receive lessons adjusted to fit the way they learn, they are not able to learn at a similar pace as the mainstream.  Students being forced to learn in a way that doesn’t resonate with them, causes them to struggle in even the most basic and easiest lessons, that otherwise would have come easy to them.  This results in unnecessary stress and frustration, causing students to think learning is a horrible tortures thing.  Having these poor quality of programs in the public school system is not what you would call meeting the needs of an ASD child to succeed. 
                Parents and others who care about the present and future of these kids with ASD have a hard time overlooking all of these issues in the public school system.  It is truly upsetting to see the low percentage of graduates and the low percentage of those employed as adults.  And the amount of these kids being bullied is heartbreaking.  It is also frustrating to see the services that are not working with the student’s disabilities and the programs these kids need that are being slashed and downgraded.  With all of this it is no surprise they choose other options for schooling their ASD child, believing that the public schools do not meet ASD children’s’ needs to succeed. 
(Written in April of 2014)
Works Cited
Beals, Katharine. "The Common Core Is Tough on Kids With Special Needs." The Atlantic. Atlantic Media
Company, 21 Feb. 2014. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.
Boser, Ulrich. "Special Education: A Better Perspective (full Report)." Special Education: A Better
Perspective (full Report). Center for Public Education, 15 Oct. 2009. Web. 06 Apr. 2014.
Layton, Lyndsey. "High School Graduation Rate Rises in U.S." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 19
Mar. 2012. Web. 04 Apr. 2014.
Mackin, Amy. "How My Autistic Son Got Lost in the Public School System." The Atlantic. Atlantic Media
Company, 03 Jan. 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2014
Mustich, Emma. "Bullying And Autism: Study Finds Almost Half Of Adolescents With An Autism Spectrum
Disorder Have Been Victimized." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 06 Sept. 2012. Web. 26 Apr. 2014.
Schneider, Elena. "Special-Education Programs Steel Themselves as Cuts Loom." New York Times, Late
Edition (East Coast) ed.Mar 22 2013. ProQuest. Web. 10 Apr. 2014 .
"Strengthening Support for Adults with Autism." Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks, 04 Aug. 2012. Web. 06
Apr. 2014
Walton, Alice G. "Living Life With Autism: Has Anything Really Changed?" Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 30

Nov. 2011. Web. 05 Apr. 2014.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Part two of: Public school and Autism Spectrum Disorder: Does it meet the Needs?

When parents and caregivers of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) children first learn of their child’s diagnoses they instantly begin to feel overwhelmed.  Right away these parents/caregivers begin researching and immediately realize that in order for their child to succeed academically and in life, their child is going to need a lot of extra support.  This extra support includes things like:  Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy.  Upon realizing this questions begin popping into these parents/caregivers heads.  Questions like:  Will I be able to find the help my child needs, will I be able to pay for all the extra services, will my insurance cover any of it, and will my child need to attend a school other than a public one.  Public school can actually be a huge stress reliever, especially when money is a concern.  Public school is not only free, but by law has to provide for those with special needs, administering special therapies and having teachers who are trained to work with those who have disabilities.  This is why a large group of parents/caregivers choose to send their children to public school; they have hope the schools will meet their children’s’ needs without putting them in a financial distress.
Many believe that the public schools are able to meet the needs for an ASD pupil to succeed.  These people who do so primarily focus their argument on better social skills, false expectations from others, and the services provided by the schools. 
Better social skills is referring to ASD children being more successful in picking up on social cues in a public school setting verses a non-public one.   They believe that their behavior is more positive and appropriate for any given situation because they attend a public school.  Examples of these skills are knowing when on a playground for recess you can run, talk loudly, and play.  Although in the classroom during a lesson you need to sit still, be quiet, and listen.  That one does not push his way through a crowd, but instead uses manners, and politely makes his way through.   In a study done at the University of California with ASD students of the age of seven and eight it was determined that “parent and teacher agreement on child characteristics ratings tended to be similar while differences between parent ratings of students in public and non-public school settings found more behavior problems and poorer social skills for students in non-public school placements compared to public-school settings“(Blacher et al 469).  So those ASD children who show similar traits to one another taught in a private setting, like homeschooled students, tend to show more negative behavior and poorer social skills than those in a public school setting, making public school the better option.  This is important to know because no one wants a naughty child or wants their kid to associate with a problem child.  So by doing the better job of teaching appropriate behavior and good social skills, public schools are meeting these ASD students’ needs.  
Social skills are so important in one’s life, these skills lead us to making connections in appropriate ways with others, forming a friendship.  Without these skills we would struggle to survive and function in society.  Knowing how to behave in a certain situation guides and directs where one goes in life.  In another report that supports this same study done at the University of California researchers “Lyons, Cappadocia, and Weiss (2011) found that elementary students who were fully included with their typical peers had higher levels of social skills and more friends as compared to students in a more restrictive environment” (Blacher et al 471).  In a public school setting ASD kids are much more likely to make friends, than those in a homeschool environment where social life is limited, due to the setting being more private.  By being in a place like public school, where there is a large amount of peers, they have the social opportunities to learn these higher skills, and in turn gain close acquaintances.  These friendships allow them to have a more fulfilled life.  Having friends, means they are not alone and have a network to support and guide them through troubled times.  They are less likely to have depression and less likely to act out.  All showing that having these higher levels of behavior/social skills help those with ASD to navigate easier in life, benefiting them in their relationships, academics, and in future professions.  Concluding that by having an environment which can better teach these correct and proper ways of getting along in society the public schools are meeting the needs of ASD pupils to succeed.
Those who believe the schools are meeting all the ASD needs, also believe that those who don’t agree with them have false expectations.  In an article written by two psychologists, David Gold and Thomas Stacy, for the Child Welfare League of America, they state:
Two points about special education are widely misunderstood by the public. First, the purpose of special education is to help students already experiencing significant difficulties in the education system, not to prevent students from experiencing difficulty in the first place. The second misconception is that the special education system is supposed to provide whatever services are necessary to ensure the best education for its students.
This is not the case. Rather, the role of special education is to provide the necessary services to ensure a good or adequate education for the student. Special education isn't supposed to provide a Mercedes-Benz education. It is mandated, however, to provide the educational equivalent of a Honda Accord (Children’s Voice).
So they are saying that the public school system’s special needs department is meant only to help those children who before attending, notably struggled academically.   That parents and caregivers should not expect the public schools to provide their ASD children with the best available academics out there.  By law all that the schools are required to do is provide a decent education and by doing so are meeting the needs of the students.
These people also feel that with the low percentage of students on the spectrum there isn’t enough of a need to implement other programs that would only be catering to a few students.   According to the group The Future of Children, at Princeton University, it was reported that in 2009-10 school year there were only “13.1 percent” of students receiving special needs services and only “6 percent” of those had a diagnoses of ASD (Aron and Loprest).  Six percent is a very small portion of students for schools to spend extra money on getting resources, implementing new programs, and adjusting the way they are teaching.  Many feel that the current education ASD students are being provided with by the public school system is good enough.  They receive therapy from specialists who also work with other diagnosis’s and provide teachers with general special needs degrees.  By providing these special services the public schools are able to meet these kid’s’ basic needs, without adding to or changing the way things are done.   So this small percentage of ASD Students are able to succeed and have their needs met without making any adjustments to the school’s workings.
They also argue that when the needs are not being met it is the parent’s fault.  Psychologists David Gold and Thomas Stacy go on to say that when the special education system is “Used appropriately by parents armed with an understanding of the system and a good working relationship with the school, special education can be an invaluable resource for many children, including those diagnosed with learning disabilities, mental retardation, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism” (Children’s Voice).  This suggests that if the schools are not meeting the needs of a child, it is because the parents do not understand the system and are not as connected with the school faculty as they should be.  When parents are actively engaged with the schools, attending meetings, learning about options in the system and keeping communication lines open, their children’s needs are able to be better met.  So it is the parent’s lack of involvement and communication that prevents the schools from meeting their child’s needs, otherwise the schools would have their needs met.
These people also believe the public schools are meeting the needs because of the special services provided for children with disabilities.  Psychologists David Gold and Thomas Stacy inform us that “Special education students may also receive specialized therapy from one or more school-based professionals--often called related service providers--including school psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, and speech and language therapists” (Children’s Voice).  So the public schools not only have teachers with specific degrees in teaching those with disabilities, but also offer other experts to help in specific areas that can increase academic progress.  It is very rare and very hard to find so many services under one roof.  The Adams’, parents of a recent ASD graduate named Bridger, like many others agree that by offering this network of specialists the schools are meeting ASD children’s’ needs.  In a news article about their son graduating and entering the world, reporter Carissa Wolf says “In 10 years, Adams' son, Bridger, matriculates through the public school system that has buoyed him and the family through the initial diagnosis and years of special education. But schools give children like Adams' son more than a home to learn. The buildings house experts in her son's diagnosis and specialists who know how to turn delays into adaptations and disabilities into abilities” (Wolf).  So by receiving all of these great resources of specialists and the services they provide, their ASD student was able to learn how to work around his weaknesses in order to meet the standards needed to succeed.  Many others like the Adams’ feel the same way, that the schools are meeting their children’s’ needs to succeed.
With all of these things in mind, an ASD child having better social skills, parents being active caretakers, and special services being provided by the schools, they believe the public school system is meeting the needs for any ASD child to succeed in the public school system.  Giving those parents who are overwhelmed by their child’s recent diagnoses of ASD, a place of comfort. 
(Written in March of 2014)
Works Cited
Aron, Laudan, and Pamela Loprest. "Disability and the Education System."  - The Future of Children -.
Princeton Bookings, 2012. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.
Gold, David, and Stacy Thomas. "Navigating Special Ed." Children's Voice 12 2005: 28-30. ProQuest.
                Web. 2 Apr. 2014 .
Lauderdale-Littin, Stacy, Erica Howell, and Jan Blacher. "Educational Placement for Children with Autism
Spectrum Disorders in Public and Non-Public School Settings: The Impact of Social Skills and Behavior Problems." Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities 48.4 (2013): 469-78. ProQuest. Web. 1 Apr. 2014.
Wolf, Carissa. "Graduating into the Unknown." Boise Weekly: 11. May 2012. ProQuest. Web. 2 Apr. 2014

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Public school and Autism Spectrum Disorder: Does it meet the Needs?

Part one of four:
I am the mother of two boys, both with the diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  As an activist for my children’s education, I have dealt frequently with the public school’s special needs resources.  I personally believe that the public school system does not have the necessary accommodations and resources to meet the needs of an ASD student. 
Autism/ASD is a mental condition causing social quirks, sensory disorders, difficulty with language development, and an uneven distribution of strengths.  Children with ASD are not all alike.  One cannot tell if a child is autistic from simply looking at him/her.  Those with ASD are vastly and uniquely different.   While one child may be able to communicate fairly well, having a vast vocabulary and only struggling occasionally with a sound or two, another child on the Autism Spectrum may be completely non-verbal. 
Both of my children have the ASD characteristics I mentioned above, yet my oldest child’s characteristics are much more profound than those of my youngest.  This is where the spectrum comes in; William, my oldest, is higher on the spectrum than Richard, my youngest.  
William, my very serious, brown haired, blue eyed, nine year old, truly struggles with connecting his brain to his mouth.  He knows so much, yet he cannot voice it.  The first time he and I were able to have even a basic conversation, exchanging thoughts in spoken words, he was five.  Most kids begin talking in conversation around their second birthday.  Besides the verbal concerns, he has some extreme sensory issues with ground surfaces.   Grass, dirt, gravel, or any other area you may walk on that isn't flat, becomes a chore for him.  And that sensation of air sweeping across your face and ears, we call wind, is a huge sensory issue for him.  His social cues are off as well.  He doesn't always get or understand why a kid is looking at him a certain way.  Is he smiling because he wants to play with me or because he hates me?  Because of these issues the usual activities most boys his age enjoy (games of tag, riding a bike, playing catch..), are all a battle for him.  So he prefers to play alone and indoors. 
Richard, my hyperactive, blond haired, blue eyed, seven year old, who talks a lot and rarely takes a breath in-between sentences, struggles, but not like his older brother.  Though his speech was delayed, we have been talking in great lengths of conversation since he was four.  The struggles you can see most in him are with social quirks and sensory issues.  Having no personal space, a one track mind, and wanting to touch and feel objects with his mouth, chewing, licking, and tasting them, like babies do when discovering a new toy.  Although Richard has no problem talking with others, he prefers to talk about trains.  This has been an obsession of his since infancy, when he saw his first train outside our apartment’s windows.  Richard’s social cues are a bit off as well.  He doesn't understand while playing with another child, why that child might have paused, signaling to Richard it’s his turn.  Likewise, Richard doesn't know how to stop or pause to let the other child know it is their turn.  He prefers to play next to someone instead of with them.
Both of my children went into the public school system at a very young age, three.  They spent two years in pre-k before starting Kindergarten.  It was because of their diagnoses of ASD that I placed them straight into the public school system, hoping for early intervention.  It has been proven by experts in the ASD field, that early intervention makes for the greatest leaps and bounds in treating ASD.  At first I was thrilled with the services they were receiving and breaks I was getting.  Though throughout the years, as I have met with Principals, teachers, therapists, and other school faculty members, the less satisfied I have become. 
We all meet, at least annually, to set up and discuss an Individualized Education Program (IEP).  An IEP is a legal document with a truly individualized plan for a student with a disability.  Things written in an IEP include accommodations made for the disabled student, such as therapies, disciplinary actions and teaching methods.   Basically an IEP is a plan parents and faculty set up, which in hopes will create the best results in a disabled child’s education.  Providing them with the necessary accommodations and resources needed to succeed.  It is through these meetings that I have discovered both federal and state changes that affect how the schools run.  Some resources that are needed and/or can help a child with ASD that were available at one point, no longer are, and other necessary resources never have been.  
Our economy has changed and with it has come budget cuts in our schools, leaving less money to pay for therapies these kids need.  Classrooms themselves have become larger and the staff and resources smaller.  Programs have changed and changed again.  Especially with the No Child Left Behind Act and now with the Common Core.  Though awareness of ASD needs has risen, accommodations and resources have not.
My experience with ASD, is not only with my own children.  I know and have met a large amount of others with the diagnoses, through the Special Olympics program and Autism help and awareness programs, like that of the New Mexico Autism Society.  I have learned that it is vital in an ASD pupil’s educational progression to have certain accommodations and resources available, which include:  Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, one-on-one learning and/or a personal aid or tutoring, vast ways of teaching a subject, alternative assignments, extra testing time, adjusted testing, social skill support and guidance, frequent breaks, allowance of objects in the classroom to help relieve stress and/or sensory issues.
ABA therapy, physical therapy and a personal aid or tutoring have never been available to my children through the schools.  This has been frustrating, as I believe these help tremendously in academic progression.  I have been able to get William physical therapy outside of public school, through Medicaid.  And I was able to get Richard ABA therapy and tutoring outside of public school, through a state program.  However Richard doesn't need physical therapy and I have been unsuccessful in getting William the same state program for ABA and tutoring, due to it being somewhat of a lottery program.  Though through the public schools they both have been able to receive speech therapy.  Therapist occasionally come into the classroom and work with them one-on-one and as a group.  The therapists also pull them out of their main stream classroom and take them to a different room for one-on-one therapy and group therapy.  Both have been pulled out of their classrooms and gone to a special education classroom for one-on-one and group help in reading as well.  William has received help in math through these special classrooms too.  As the years have rolled by though, the less one-on-one time they have received in these therapies.  And while they have been pulled out, they have missed other lessons and assignments, causing them to have to play catch-up in their regular classroom.  This has caused them to be slower in other areas.  For instance, at first William was only being pulled out for reading.  While pulled out he was missing math lessons in his mainstream class and he began to fall behind in math.  Causing the school to pull him out for help in math and reading.  It is because of this, pulling a child out of their mainstream classes for help, that I don’t believe the current system is working.  William also received an iPad through the schools to help support and teach him in an alternate way.  Though they never showed the teachers how to incorporate it in the classroom.  It became a toy for him as no one used it academically.  This I have seen happen to everyone I know who was issued an iPad for support.  Both William and Richard have had a few successful alternative assignments, with visual cues and sight words and a few different ways of teaching a subject.  It is hard for a mainstream teacher to teach in vastly different ways, when working with a group, they tend to stick to whatever method gave the best results overall and what method the No Child Left Behind Act, or now Common Core, is requiring them to teach.  William and Richard have had extra testing time, adjusted testing, social skill support and guidance and have received frequent breaks.  Richard in one class was even given a special seat with a soft cushion to sit on. This seat seemed to help him stay focused better.  He also received special sensory objects he could chew on, so he wouldn't be placing other classroom objects in his mouth. Like he was with markers, toys, his clothes and classmates.  With William’s Autism he has never needed special objects in the classroom.  And although the schools have had occupational therapy available, my children have never needed it.   
It is because of the lack of, and quality of some of these accommodations and resources, William has fallen through the public educational system cracks, slowing his progression down.  This year after our IEP meeting, it was apparent that he would not have any one-on-one time.  This I believe to be the most vital accommodation and resource in helping an ASD pupil succeed academically.  In each new grade William has entered, the student to teacher ratio has increased, making it harder to work one-on-one.  I knew this would cause his progression to slow down even more or possibly even stall it.  So at the beginning of this school year I pulled him out of the public school system.  I am able to provide William with one-and-one time and with more of the accommodations and resources I listed, than the school is able to now. 
What surprised me the most when I informed the school of my decision to pull him out was their immediate support.  They are very aware they cannot meet his needs and thought homeschooling would be a better option for him. 
Since pulling him out I have seen his progression rise.  I have met many other ASD parents who have also found that homeschooling is the better option for their ASD child/children.  As well I find it sad we can provide them with more at home, than the public school system can.  I am but one person, with limited resources, they have an entire faculty.  And it would make sense that they would have the access to resources I do not, with the funding they receive. 
But with the student to teacher ratio gap widening, I see that it is almost impossible to make accommodations to a student with special needs, even when an ASD child is placed in a special needs resource room, a special education class for those with disabilities only.  In these classes, unless your child’s special need is physically and visually apparent, like those with Down syndrome and Cerebral Palsy, the needs of the less noticeable are usually pushed aside to meet the needs of the more obvious ones.  Many special needs children that are apparently special needs demand a lot more daily task help.  Most ASD pupils do not need assistant with daily activities once in grade school.  They can use the bathroom alone, feed themselves, and do the other necessary day to day tasks needed to function on one’s own.  In these classrooms it is easy for a functioning ASD student to be overlooked.  Many non ASD disabled children cannot do their day to day tasks and daily work without help.  A teacher of these students will usually care for the non ASD child first, knowing that the ASD child will be fine on their own.  I have seen this and have seen many days go by, where the teacher never makes it to the ASD pupil.   ASD experts also advice against ASD students being placed strictly in a special needs classroom, saying they thrive more in a regular classroom.  ASD children are able to successfully co-mingle with non-special needs children and it is actually good for them to do so.  Mingling with other children without diagnoses sets examples for them as to what is and isn’t socially accepted.  It also helps them to grow, to play and communicate with others who know when to pause for a turn or know that when you’re smiling it means you’re happy.  This environment is teaching them.  ASD children have the ability as well to keep up with their other classmates academically.  So there is no need to be placed in a classroom where the academics standards are different and they will be pushed aside to meet the needs of a more severe special needs pupil.
I also see though how difficult it is to provide a student in a regular classroom with outside classroom therapies and not miss anything while outside the classroom.   No matter how much reassurance I have gotten that they won’t miss anything, they do.  Leaving the student more confused about assignments due and falling further behind in their academics.  Through homeschooling William, I have been able to assure he is not missing a lesson.  He is not being taken away from one lesson to work on another lesson, or past lesson, or therapy.  He receives physical therapy and speech therapy through Medicaid.  I can change the way I am teaching a lesson if it is not working for him.  I can adjust the way I test and the timing that he is tested.  I can allow him frequent breaks, give him social skill support and guidance.  Though I am unable to give him ABA therapy.  I am learning more and more on how to teach him, and am having more success than the school.  He is on par with all of his studies but reading now.  And I have high hopes he will be on par with that, within the next year.  He is still Autistic, still has the same quirks, though his education is progressing and at a faster pace than when in public school. 
Richard, my youngest, as he is not as severe on the spectrum as William, I have chosen to keep in the public school system for now.  He loves public school and is progressing with the other students in a regular classroom.  I have been able to get him outside school help, ABA therapy and tutoring, which I was unable to get for William.  I believe this is what has helped with Richard in his progression in the public schools. 
My purpose of writing this paper is to bring awareness, that the public school system does not have the accommodations or resources to truly meet their ASD pupils alone.  Schools need to hire aids for each classroom and teachers need to have the training to teach an ASD pupil.  They need to have all the resources I have mentioned above available, without taking away from their standard academics.  I believe ASD pupils unfortunately are not able to progress in the way that their non ASD peers are without these accommodations and resources.  From my experience the Public school system does not meet the needs for an ASD pupil to succeed in the system.  
(Written in February of 2014)