"Autism & Memoirs of an Old Maid"…C'hele's Story

August 17, 2013

Autism, Developmental/Physical Disabilites and School Inclusion

It is a known fact that for anyone who has Autism, Down Syndrome, or other developmental disability, that a good early education is vital.  Early Childhood Education and continued support within Elementary schools play a HUGE role in the cognitive, sensory, social, communication & academic development within these individuals.  I give huge kudo’s to those teachers and support staff (ECE Educators, EA’s and Specialized EA’s) who work with these individuals in thier younger years.  It is anything but easy.  I’ve worked in these fields so I know first hand of the challenges.  Not only do they have to teach, they have to contend with so much behaviour and implement behaviour programs on top of everything.  It can be a tough balancing act.  My preference however is working in high school.  High schools have very different programs and they vary within each school.  The school where I work,  focuses highly on academics within the whole school body.  This includes Resource Rooms.  In our Resource Department, we have students divided into two large groups: 

1. High Incidence students which include: ESL students, students with learning challenges who are on “adapted” not “modified” programs, students who mainly display “behavioural” challenges (this would be the students who are capable of learning but have not much guidance from home.  Drug dealers, students who regularly come to school high on drugs, bring alcohol to school etc.).  Students who have Aspberger Syndrome would be included in here too unless they have other learning challenges/lables that inhibit them from being in a regular academic program full-time. Individuals with physical disabilities (wheelchair/CP students) who have mild learning challenges are also included within this category.

2. Then we have our Low-Incidence students.  Students who have moderate to severe Autism, Down Syndrome, students with aggressive MD, Prader-Willi Syndrome, FAS/some FAE, Double Cortex Syndrome and other Severe Siezure Disorders, and students with other rare genetic disorders. 

The challenge for me, why I prefer to work in high school?  Is because the school in which I work, being strictly academic there is alot of behavioural issues and I specialize in behavioural modification.  There is also the challenge of attempting to squeeze in teaching life-skills, social skills, communication skills.  There is no program in our school that teaches our students these vital skills.  Technically, is it not our job as support staff to have to do this.  But we do it because we want “all” our students to be as sucessfull as possible when they reach adulthood.  None of our resource teachers know how to implement these programs.  So our Specialized EA’s do it silently despite the high burn-out rates. 

Why?

Because we love our kids for the amazing human beings that they are. Each and every one of them.  We think about thier future as they reach adulthood. This is why many of us choose, despite many of us having a teaching or psychology degree, to work as an Educational Assistant.  We bypass all the administration crap and we get to work more 1-1 with our students. 

So my question is: Can anyone answer me “WHY” full inclusion in academics for our Low-Incidence and some High Incidence students should take complete precedence over Life Skills? Over Social/Communication Skills?  Over replacement behaviour difficulties?

Is it wrong to split the day?  Half the day academics and the other half in Resource teaching the other vital life-skills?  Resource students should be individualized.  Perhaps split up the high inc., and low inc., students into two seperate programs.  As long as both low & high inc. students can read, do basic math, use a calculator, tell time, know how to write and such?  Those are vital life-skills.  Is it, unless the student show’s particular interest or talent, necessary to stick them in Chemistry class? Literature class? Political Sciences?  We have individuals who have Down Syndrome in these classes.  Very low academically, who display major behavioural problems?  What are they learning, really?

At the end of every school year in June, our support staff department sit together to reflect on the past year. We especially reflect upon the students we’ve worked with for five years and have just graduated.  What did these students take with them?  Will they remember all the skills we tried to squeeze in, with them into adult-hood?  Believe me, our hearts ache, when we think about some of them we feel may not be successful.  But we always hope. 

It’s incredibly hard not to let anger over-take us though.  Especially when a student whom I’ll call “R” who has finished his “thirteenth/over-aged” year and will not be returning to school.  When I walk with him for the last time to the bus stop outside, “R” turns around to look fondly at the school with tears in his eyes then looks at me and says: “What am I going to do without you guys?”

Oh, my, God.  I’ve been punched in the guts with his words.  A huge hug for him from me and I say “you know where we are if you ever need us. Anytime, and don’t be to proud to do so”. “R” has incredible difficulties accepting his challenges and just wants to be like everyone else. He is an extremely proud individual.  So much so, it will definitely affect him later in life.  I struggle not to burst into tears myself and we get on the bus. I wish all our kids a great summer and tell them so.  There are five of our students who’ve gradudated and will not be returning.  Walking back to the street I face the bus.  I look at the faces of the students not returning.  The looks of combined sadness and fear are imprinted on them deeply as they gaze out the bus window at me.  Like a typical mom, I cant just walk away from the bus.  As the bus pulls away, I stand there waving until I cannot see the bus anymore.  Then I run back to the school, run into the staff washroom and cry.  I cry because I will miss them and I cry because I witnessed thier fear of the future and I worry like hell.

“All individuals with developmental disabilites have the right to an education and inclusion to regular schools”.

But “when” will people learn?  Balance is the key? Full inclusion for Low-Incidence students “will not heal them” of thier disabilities. I hear this alot from people who have autistic students or parents.  I have personally heard a teacher in all of her arrogant glory, claim that “I’m going to make them (her students) not Autistic!”  Those students?  One of them had to go to a school that specializes in severe autistic behavioural problems, another had to go into a care home, and my daughter? Well, if you’ve read this blog enough, you’ll know.  She’s come along way with support from myself and her grandparents. And that teacher? Terrorized my daughter.  To this day she fears that woman and hates her. For “years”, I’ve had to work hard building my daughter’s self-esteem and work on convincing her that not all teachers terrorize as that teacher had.  Anyhow, I digress.

So what do you think?

I’ve spoken with some people who believe that all low-incident students and students who will not attain a diploma in high school,  be in full-time specialized schools that focus on social/communication and life-skills to prepare them for adulthood. Some believe that providing at least twice weekly field trips to a regular high school whilst in these specialized schools provide enough inclusion with thier peers.

Some people believe that part inclusion within high schools are best in order to gain the best of both worlds (academic and social/communication/life-skills).

Others, believe that full-inclusion in schools for low-inc. students or students who will not attain a diploma are best.  

Another thing of importance to add:

I believe it “vital” that programs be created in high schools for typical (regular) students for credit, to work with special needs individuals.  1-1, peer to peer work.  This would benefit anyone who intends on working with special needs individuals, for those working towards a Psych. degree or counselling diploma/degree in the future  etc. Working on educating others in high school should always be included as people, especially those who are high functioning autistic/Aspergers, are almost always misunderstood and shunned as “wierd”.  Those with “invisible disabilities” always fall to the way-side and fall into some “grey area”.  Special attention to these individuals should be mandatory without humiliating them.  Regular students are still “frightened” of people with disabilites.  More work educating them needs to be done.

I have been advocating for such programs within schools. Due to lack of funding and perhaps ignorance on the importance of such programs, my expressed opinions fall on deaf ears.  Programs such as this, are always a win-win situation on both sides.  Both individuals learn from each other directly with teacher/EA direction from a distance.   What better way for these students on both sides to learn?

Sometimes the simplest of ideas are the best ones!  In the past, I have worked in only one high school who had such a peer to peer program in the Resource Department.  The first and last of such programs that I’ve seen.  It was both amazing and fascinating to watch from a distance, the kinship and connections made by both A-Typical and Typical students.  Friendships that lasted throughout thier whole high school years.  And many of the regular students who signed up for this program, went on after school to recieve thier counselling diplomas or degrees. 

On a parting note: When special needs individuals feel accepted in society, they find the strength within themselves to become more independent and don’t fear asking for help when needed without appearing “help-less”.  With a healthy self-esteem, people with disabilites are anything but help-less.  But they do require support without demeaning them.  And the rest of society?  When the fear is taken away, and we accept and support people with intellectual and physical disabilites?  We become better and more evolved human beings.  Its as simple as that. 

What are your opinions?  I welcome and respect all comments!

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2 Comments »

  1. Basically wished to state I am just thankful I came on the web
    page!

    Comment by social marketing tutorial — August 31, 2013 @ 21:34

    • You are always welcome here. I thank you for taking the time to comment!

      Comment by C'hele — October 3, 2013 @ 09:07


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