When Autism Awareness Truly Fails….
I have been wanting to write this post for a few days but haven’t had the energy. However, despite my lack of energy, I feel it’s very important to write this because what has happened to my family and Elliott in particular, really does affect more then just us. In fact, I think this has effects all of us within the Autism and special needs community.
As I have previously shared, Elliott was barred from transitioning from pre-school to kindergarten at the school he attended last year. You can read some of the back story in When Schools Discriminate. Since that post was written, the school has once again denied Elliott access not because of any issues or behavioral problems. Instead he is being barred simply because he carries with him the label of Aspergers.
How has Autism Awareness Failed?
I have been very vocal about how and why I think Autism Awareness is broken and what we can do to fix it.. Basically, the administration of the school has erroneously lumped all kids with Autism into one group. Not only to I feel this is wrong but it’s also unfair, it stereotypes and it’s grossly inaccurate.
Believe it or not, I do understand where they are coming from. However, they are dead wrong in the way they approach this issue. The school is not currently set up to handle kids with more profound developmental delays and I understand that. However, just because a child is on the spectrum doesn’t automatically mean they are going to be a problem. Thinking that way will have the unintended side effect of promoting ableism within schools and other organizations. This has come out in various ways. One of the things I was told by the person who made the final decision not to allow Elliott to continue attending was that he was trying to rebuild the school’s reputation and so we are selecting kids we know we can teach. Again, I understand what they are trying to do, however, I don’t agree with this blanket approach at all.
I explained the concept of a spectrum disorder several times and in as many different ways as possible to help bring better understanding to the decision making process they have employed but to no avail. I explained that Elliott does not need an IEP or any form of special treatment. I also explained that simply because a child is on the Autism Spectrum does not mean they are the same as another child on the Autism Spectrum… In fact, every child is different and in some cases like Elliott, he is more enhanced then hindered. Elliott has the advanced vocabulary and intelligence but none of the social awkwardness that often times accompanies this disorder.
However, all the school cares about is the word Autism. I was told that if Elliott hadn’t been diagnosed with Aspergers he would be welcome to attend. My response to that was, Elliott would still be the exact same person with or without the Aspergers diagnosis. Elliott should not be judged solely on the basis of a single word but instead on who he actually is and how well he had actually done the previous year.
It’s also important to note that the school knew about Elliott’s diagnosis when he entered preschool last year and had no problem then. Elliott did extremely well last year and had no problems at all. In fact I was told be his teachers on several occasions that they don’t agree with this diagnosis and that they just simply love Elliott.
So what now?
Part of the reason I’m so upset about this, besides the obvious appearance of discrimination, is the way they went about doing this. We met back on July 8th to discuss Elliott’s future and respond to the first letter we received telling us that Elliott would not be allowed to return. I thought I had educated the educators about how profoundly dynamic Autism is and how each and every single child is different. Apparently that fell on deaf ears. I was told that they were going to look at Elliott again and also meet with Dr. Pattie (Elliott’s psychologist), who incidentally is an independent educational evaluator. Dr. Pattie said Elliott would have absolutely no problems at this school and that he would probably one of the best students there.
However, they never met with Dr. Pattie and Elliott was never given a fair chance. I firmly believe we would never have even heard back from them if we hadn’t kept trying to follow up. We received an email in reply to our request for information about a week and a half before school was suppose to start. I don’t think they were ever going to reconsider Elliott and it was all lip service meant to placate us.
After the email we received at the last minute, informing us that Elliott would not be allowed to return we spoke with the principle at Gavin’s school. Elliott has been enrolled in Summit Academy for kindergarten this year. This is a great school and I know Elliott will do great. They reason it wasn’t considered in the first place was because it’s a private charter school for kids on the spectrum and kids will ADHD. Elliott simply didn’t need any of the benefits that this school provides it’s students. Please don’t take this as me having any issue with Summit Academy because I don’t. I love this school and they have been such a godsend to Gavin.
With only a week to find a new school and our local school system being a complete disaster this was our best option, at least for kindergarten. There is still chance that Elliott has ADHD so maybe this is for the best. He’s also dealing with some OCD right now. He is washing his hands constantly and is very preoccupied with germs. Summit Academy will be great at working with Elliott to overcome this. While I still believe it’s best for Elliott to be mainstreamed, I have the utmost confidence in Summit Academy. Besides it’s only kindergarten and this will give us a year to figure something else out if we need to.
To the educators of our children.
I just want to say that not all schools practice this type of stereotypical discrimination. Many school out there like Summit Academy for example, are absolutely amazing. We also cannot expect every school to be equipped to handle every special needs child as that would be unrealistic. However, kids should be evaluated on an individual basis.
There will always be ignorance in the world and that includes in the educational systems as well. This is why we need effective Autism Awareness. Schools should not be allowed to hand pick students in order to protect their reputation or test scores. They certainly shouldn’t be allowed to take a blanket approach to denying access to their school based solely on a diagnosis without first evaluating the actual child. Autism is different for every single child and adult. While this particular situation affected Elliott it really affects all of us.
This situation shows just how much ignorance and misunderstanding it still out there. We cannot allow this type of thing to happen and that’s why I wanted to share our story. I have not decided whether or not to release the name of the school yet. Part of me feels I should take the higher road but part of me thinks they should have the spotlight shone on their admittance policies…
Please evaluate the child and not the diagnosis. Everyone is different and lumping everyone together is archaic, ignorant and inaccurate.