The number of children being diagnosed with autism is rapidly increasing. The incidence rate within the past few years has gone from one child in every 500, to one child in every 150, and now, according to the CDC, the incidence of kids on the autism spectrum is 1 in 88. It’s beyond the scope of this blog to explain the reason for the escalating number of children being diagnosed, but suffice it to say that the public schools are being called upon more and more frequently to provide services for these children. Sometimes schools can do a phenomenal job in addressing these children’s needs; sometimes not. In particular, meeting the needs of those students with higher functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome can be uniquely challenging because on the surface many of these children look “fine.” Yet, these children have challenges and need help.
School staff can be blinded by the sometimes high intellect or seemingly strong verbal skills some children with either Asperger’s syndrome or high-functioning autism exhibit. Yet, these kids can be exceedingly puzzling. Seemingly competent students fall apart when their rigid adherence to routine is interrupted. Due to sensory overload, the student in AP physics might wind up under the table during a fire drill. Navigating gym classes, lunchrooms, and playgrounds—confusing even for some children without special needs--can be nightmares for children on the spectrum. Homework and class work are also stressors for these children. Some teachers will fault the child on the spectrum who fails to turn in his homework, loses it, or even more frustratingly, simply refuses to do it. After all, these are bright children who should really “know better.” Any and all of these scenarios can result in meltdowns for these children. In worst case scenarios some melt downs are so very badly managed by school staff that the child exits the school in handcuffs escorted by police. Other children will quietly slip under the radar and simply have their needs overlooked.
Elopement or running away behaviors are certainly at the top of the list of most serious behaviors that must be eliminated from the range of behaviors that a student with special needs experiences in school. I have had several families where elopement has been a frequent and tortuous experience. While some have been injured fortunately none have died. For students with autism there is a great propensity to elope from school supervision and put themselves in danger. According to a study just published in Pediatrics on elopement behaviors, 49% of parents reported that their child had attempted to elope at least once. Of these children, 65% had a “close call” with traffic whereas another 24% were at risk of drowning. Children who elope leave their homes (74%), stores (40%), and schools (29%). Researchers were able to compare the rate at which children with an autism spectrum disorder eloped compared with that of their typical siblings. Between ages 4 and 7 (4 being the developmental age when children can be expected to not wander off), 46% of children with an autism spectrum disorder eloped compared to 11% of their siblings. And between ages 8 and 11, 27% of children on the spectrum wandered compared with just 1% of their siblings.
Exclusive Live Webcast Hosted by Education Week on edweek.org
Teachers College, Columbia University, will host "Taking the Election to School: Making Education a Focus of the 2012 Election," a debate between Jon Schnur, education adviser to President Barack Obama, and Phil Handy, education adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, on Monday, October 15, at 7:00 pm Eastern. Teachers College President Susan H. Fuhrman will moderate the debate, which will take place at Teachers College's Cowin Conference Center. The event will be webcast live by Education Week on edweek.org.
A panel discussion featuring education journalists and other experts will immediately follow the debate.
Register free to view the live webcast on edweek.org.
Bill Clinton, in his address to the Democratic convention this month, decried the effects of the proposed Medicaid restructuring on the elderly, the poor, and families with children who have autism, Down syndrome, or other severe disabilities. Clinton, who said that he didn’t know what these families would do under these cuts, asserted that he knew what he would do: “I’m going to do everything I can to see that it doesn’t happen. We can’t let it happen.” We as parents of children with disabilities and those that care about children with disabilities need to vote for the vital interests of our children, and make sure our children with disabilities, who are over 18, register to vote and do vote. Medicaid is just one of the many issues that must be on the radar of voters for this election.Approximately 60 million Americans—including 29.5 million children, 15.2 million adults, 8.2 million people with disabilities, and 6.1 million seniors--rely on Medicaid to meet their health care needs. These numbers include 40% of our nation’s poor, 20% of those with severe disabilities, and nearly two thirds of residents of nursing homes.
Schools are not like private corporations. Governor Romney’s goal to privatize, voucherize, and let the market determine winners and losers is simplistic. The reality is we do not have to wait to project that under his system special education students will be losers. To be clear, I advocate on a regular basis in appropriate cases for students to be tuitioned out to private schools with their IEPs intact, even if that school is more restrictive because it has what the child needs to receive a FAPE.
As a primary part of his education platform, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is proposing a pro-choice, pro-voucher system that will allow parents to choose which schools their children can attend. Romney is arguing that market forces and competition will force improvements in public schools. Additionally, Romney is proposing to allow federal Title I and IDEA funds (which will also likely be cut) to become “portable” for low income and special needs students. These funds would follow the students to any district or public charter school, private school where permitted by state law, or toward tutoring or online courses. In theory, these proposals sound wonderful. Who wouldn’t want their children, both regular and special education, to go to the best possible schools? These proposals, however, could be disastrous for special education students.
As an unfortunate legacy of the now discredited Wakefield “study” in many areas of the country, it has become too common that parents are opting out of vaccinating their youngsters before entering kindergarten. The negative consequences for their children is obvious, but for the school and the community as a whole the results can be quite significant. While some parents are legitimately opting out of vaccinations for medical, religious or philosophical exemptions from vaccinating their children. In the cases where parents have a sincerely held religious belief that prohibits vaccinations, those beliefs need to be respected; that is the small minority of cases. Similarly some children must not be vaccinated, either because they have medical conditions or have had adverse reactions which contraindicate their receiving vaccinations. These children depend upon what is known as herd immunity to protect them against serious if not lethal cases of contagious but preventable diseases. To achieve herd immunity, a critical mass of the population must be vaccinated, usually about 95% depending on the illness being vaccinated against. At this level, disease transmission is contained because it cannot be transferred. Outbreaks of disease, however, can occur in areas where this threshold is unmet, and those individuals who are not vaccinated; e.g., the young, the immunocompromised, the medically vulnerable, or those who are vaccinated but for whom the vaccine is not working, all become at risk.
Given the current environment where the rights of a segments of society to vote is being limited and challenged, it is especially important to examine the rights of people with disabilities to vote. While often an overlooked and ignored segment of society, people with disabilities need to make their voices heard in the political process. As President Bill Clinton expressed in his nominating speech on September 5, 2012, this election will have a significant effect on the health care and educational rights of all citizens but especially the most vulnerable among us which obviously includes people with disabilities. Make no mistake voting for the Ryan budget and overall plan will have a permanent and regressively harmful effect on my clients, my son, families of children with disabilities and many people who I care about. It is time to register all people with disabilities and to in fact vote. We must be active citizens in the political process.