Autism Watch: 2007

Eleven more years of this?

Posted on: November 17, 2007

In each of my kids’ lives, I’ve had at least one day of ’11 more years of this?’ Maybe it was 8, maybe it was 4, but there was always a day where a school issue arose and it hit me that there were xx years of school left, and with it, xx years of hassle. I eliminated some of it by homeschooling, though this year I do have my 12-year-old daughter in 7th grade at a public school. So far, so good. My oldest graduated last year, and my second child will graduate from homeschool shortly, early. However, my youngest is only in first grade, and after one hellacious trial run at special education first grade, I’ve learned it’s not just the diagnosis of autism that’s the challenge, but the whole system.

Lest I seem unnecessarily negative, let me give you a bit of a run down. Last year, we had a teacher who had no experience teaching autistic kids, in any realm, and by the time we pulled him out before the year ended, we were sorry we hadn’t done it months earlier. We lost a lot of time at work, money on our attorney, lots of hours researching, studying, learning and observing, but mainly, I wondered what memories and fears our little guy was left with. He still sees the offending teacher periodically; I cringe on his behalf, and am thankful I don’t run into her. (And she still has our address and phone number, something I learned is never good — surprise visits and complaints were results of angering her and going to the principal.) We had a crash course that year that what’s the best for our child isn’t always what happens, admin doesn’t always really want to help your child as much as they may want to just shut us up and stop the cash flow, and autism awareness is still in short supply.

So what happened this time? Yes, that’s what I feel like when I tell people. Another problem. An issue “again.” It’s almost difficult to believe, at least in my head, that we could end up with two bad situations two years running, but it’s a reality. We had an aide for my son that we thought was working out. My son wasn’t always happy with her, but he’s not always happy with me even. I don’t know any kid that loves their teachers every single day, so I took what he said with a grain of salt. As an adult, as a parent, it doesn’t take a degree for me to realize that kids do that — they say things in anger, they say things without realizing the implications, and the world is more about them than anything/anyone else. For a kid with autism, this is just amplified. Again, no degree in special education or child development was necessary for me to know that. Maybe I was naive, maybe I was just stupid, but I assumed that one of the basic tenets of working with special needs kids is that you’d be aware that their personalities were affected. However, this aide took it all personally and had extreme expectations for my son. He was to be respectful, positive, non-demeaning and nice at all times. If he wasn’t, she refused to tolerate it. That is a quote. She outright asked me if his rudeness and lack of respect didn’t drive me crazy..and that was probably one of her nicer comments. The conversation digressed from there, and it was quickly apparently that she not only didn’t like my son, but she didn’t understand him or autism in the slightest…and she felt it was within her rights to tell me she didn’t see autism in him at all, only behavioral issues. (Uhm, hello, autism book, research, training 101, anyone?) Not only do I have an excellent memory for verbal conversations, particularly those that are about one of my kids, but my older son (almost 18) provided an excellent witness, so I headed to the office immediately after. He now has a new aide. (I am blessed, this year, with a great district and admin.)

Why am I sharing this? I want people to be aware and alert. I want others to know there is always a need to check in, get to know your child’s aide, stay in close contact with your child’s teacher, and ask questions. And request training. Ask that your child’s aide be trained in autism overall, and more specifically, the details about your child and his/her level of autism spectrum disorder. I had already talked with school staff the week prior to this situation, and I’d been under the impression my child was simply being difficult, the way he is when he gets comfortable with someone. If I hadn’t approached the aide directly, to explain that she can talk to me, I’d not have known all of this. Where would we be then? Blaming my son? Dealing with what? God forbid, being the next case of an aide filing charges for assault if he accidentally had hit her foot when he pushed out his chair?

 That day, I admit to thinking “Eleven more years of this?” I want my son’s school years to be happy and successful. If he was just there for educational purposes, I’d homeschool him but he needs so much more. I do worry now, more than I did. If these special needs aides/teachers have already proven to me, by first grade, that not everyone who goes into this field is equipped for it, I’m scared. Which leads me to my next question, why be an aide if you expect a child to be perfect? Why think your few hours a day with a child qualifies as reason to question the diagnosis nine other doctors/specialists have applied? If someone can’t handle bad attitudes and tantrums, take note: you aren’t qualified for the special education field. If a parent has to worry more about your personal feelings and you forget the needs of the child over your unrealistic expectations for their age, you aren’t qualified for the special education field. If you think a parent is going to agree with you and say “I know, what a brat,” you aren’t qualified for the special education field. And if you get so mad you have to start taking jabs at the child, such as talking about intelligence, you shouldn’t be in the education field, period. Don’t take any babysitting jobs either.

Vigilance is my new motto. (It used to be ‘never pay full price.’ How things change.) I want to be cooperative and understanding towards those working with my son, but bottom line, my son comes first. If someone can’t understand that, well, they either aren’t a parent or pity to their kid(s).

My daughter’s looking for a job as an aide. She’s studying special ed. in college, and she lives with her brother every day. She also passed the test. Poof, she can be an aide….she’ll be good at it, but at some point, the requirements to be an aide should be more. Raise the bar. Accept nothing less for our children.

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1 Response to "Eleven more years of this?"

You are so right about being vigilant…but hopefully the administration should do that for you. As a special educator who was fortunate enough to be able to sit in on paraprofessional interviews, I always asked a series of ‘what if’ questions…”What would you do if a student swore at you, swung at you, etc., as well as the academic issues, and I could eliminate several paras who would be offended by a kid’s bad behavior. Actually, knowing up front what to expect on a bad day convinced many applicants the job wasn’t for them. The ones we ended up with were generally excellent.

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