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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.