Tuesday, August 5, 2014

My daughter is right

My daughter likes to ask me about my job and sometimes she “helps” me find solutions for my clients’ behavior problems when I present her with hypothetical situations. One of our “case analyses” was about a student who is placed in a regular classroom in middle school because the only autism class is not suitable for his academic level. The problem is that the pace and curriculum of regular education is way over his head, causing this student a great deal of frustration. This in turn leads to frequent outbursts: crying, screaming, throwing objects, dropping to the ground and refusing to move. All this is very disruptive to the classes he attends and leads to countless meetings to try to fix what is broken. And I’m not talking about the student, but about the system.     

My daughter said he needs something in between the low autism and the challenging typical education class. I think she is right. The problem is no such thing exists in the public school system, at least not in the student’s area.

In previous blogs I talked about NBC television show “Parenthood” because one of the families in the show has a child on the autism spectrum. They faced the same problem, no classes that can fit their bright but behaviorally and socially challenged son.  In one of the last season episodes, fed up with being called to school endless times because of behavior problems, the parents decided to create their own school despite all the hardship it involves.

The point is that we don’t have to accept a reality that precludes these children from accessing a learning environment that will allow them to be successful, which in turn condemns them to a state of recurrent punishment (angry school staff, frustrated parents, exclusion from the social life of school, etc.). As stated by Don Baer (1970), “Not to rescue a person from an unhappy organization of his behaviors is to punish him.” Let’s commit to rescuing these kids. We can create a different reality.
I think we all can agree that being “special” is not the fault of these children. They need help the same way a blind or a deaf child needs. With the right assistance, most of these kids can have a happy and successful school experience, which for sure will be crucial in developing productive members of society. The benefits of this are enormous and probably a good topic for future blogs.

So, what can be done? At this point I have to admit I don’t have all the answers.

I don’t accept the argument that there is no money. I’ll submit that the resources spent (wasted?) in managing the problems that the current situation involves could be redirected to create appropriate classrooms and curriculums for these precious children. I’m talking about money spent on all kinds of ineffective therapies, all the time spent in useless meetings, all the frustration, etc. There are also non-profit organizations that receive money from foundations dedicated to this population which could be an additional resource.

In my opinion it is a question of will and commitment to a solution. Let’s stop the laziness and let’s put our minds together to find solutions rather than managing a broken system.
My daughter is 11. What would it take for us, grownups, to arrive at the same conclusion she did?

Daniel Adatto, MA, BCBA

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