The autism spectrum one size does not fit all

May 25, 2015 by


Barry Stern

Dear Editor: I’m a parent of a child with autism who has been in the Loudoun schools for seven years. I’m also a former teacher, school administrator, federal and state educational official. Through my consulting practice I know schools throughout the country are overwhelmed by the increasing numbers of children with autism and related neurological disabilities.

These children are difficult to educate. Most have considerable language, social, and attention deficits. Because of their inability to communicate and read social cues, they have few if any friends. Many feel awful much of the time since their bodies cannot naturally detoxify. Their pain oftentimes results in tantrums, head-banging, escaping and other misbehaviors. Yet few teachers know anything about biomedical conditions underlying these – e.g. auto-immune disorder, mitochondria dysfunction, methylization cycle impairment, gut dysfunction, brain inflammation and chemical sensitivity. We haven’t met one Loudoun teacher who ever went to a conference learn about them. Too bad since they would meet some of the best researchers, as well as teachers and parents who are learning about therapies, diets and medications that help autistic children remain healthy enough to learn at school.

Few autism therapists have employed music, art and sports as modalities to help kids want to and learn academic skills. Yet these kids are typically movers who need physical activity to feed back to their brains that their hands and feet exist; toxic metals embedded in their brains and bodies oftentimes impede these sensations. Such modalities require enough space and equipment for sensory integration. Yet children with autism in Loudoun oftentimes get the smallest, least ventilated classrooms. One year our child’s cubby hole was only a few feet from the school’s generator for heating and cooling, not the greatest location for a kid who is sensitive to electro-magnetic radiation.

The autism spectrum is so wide that one size does not fit all or even comes close. Few districts including Loudoun have the talent, accountability systems and openness to parents to effectively educate many children on the spectrum. They cannot show data to indicate whether their programs are getting better or worse. Supervisors often know less than the teachers they supervise and haven’t taught in years if at all. And time of teachers and parents is largely wasted in contentious, endless IEP meetings and mediations.

For all of the foregoing Loudoun and other districts have had difficulty in accommodating the great diversity of children on the autism spectrum. I commend Del. LaRock’s proposed legislation that would enable parents of children with disabilities to purchase services for their child with state funds that would otherwise go to their school district. A handful of states already provide such an option. I hope the next legislative session would increase the funds available under this Parental Choice Savings Account to make it possible to mount serious programs with expert teachers for difficult-to-educate children like mine.

The issue of more state funding for schools should also be debated on its merits. But it is naive to believe these additional funds would trickle down to benefit special needs children more than a program that allows parents to directly control the destiny of their child. Public schools would actually benefit, since they would eventually hire many of the professionals we parents find to reach and teach the most difficult to educate. In effect, we would become their talent scouts.

Letter: Barry Stern

Source: Letter: Barry Stern, Purcellville – Leesburg Today Online—Daily News Coverage of Loudoun County, Leesburg, Ashburn: Letters

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