Are Children with Autism Singled OutAre Children with Autism Singled Out?

 

Why do I ask this question?

Because of what happened at my son’s school just this past Friday.

Why is this past Friday important?

Because this past Friday was only a few short days after the latest awful school tragedy, this one in Parkland, Florida. In this version a “weird” “outcast” “loner” nineteen-year-old ex-student walked into his old school and killed seventeen people.

Last week, this latest school-related tragedy was on all of our minds.

Including school officials and teachers.

Including those who work at high schools.

And, rightly so. I had no problem seeing the increased police presence at my son’s school. I had no problem with the emails from the school district attempting to reassure us parents.

It all needed to happen, and I understood it all.

Until…

It became way too personal.

What happened?

My son takes his tests and quizzes, per his IEP, in a testing room.

Except for his math class. My son’s freshman year math class has two teachers. It’s odd, but they are officially co-teachers. Not one teaches on Monday and Wednesday and Friday and the other teaches on Tuesday and Thursday (this was the schedule for my son’s third grade teachers).

These teachers apparently teach together. Now, when there’s a test or quiz, the students who need a testing room space, instead of sending their students to the campus testing room, the room designated for this type of accommodation, these math students instead take their tests in the classroom of the teacher whose room is not being used for the actual teaching of this class.

Their testing room is the extra classroom made available because of the co-teaching situation.

On Friday, my son went into that room with three other students.

He immediately pulled out his phone and began to pull it in so it could charge.

Now, this exact thing was discussed in our son’s IEP, our son’s obsessive need to charge his phone. It was decided in the IEP that the only place he could charge his phone during the school day with in his Resource Lab class.

So, immediately, my son was breaking a rule. One that he knows because he was in his IEP when the rule was established.

The co-teacher asked my son to unplug his phone.

What did my son do?

Well, like many a surly fifteen-year-olds (plus obsessive people with autism) he argued. He did not immediately comply because, well, that’s what surly fifteen-year-olds do, they don’t comply.

Yes, sometimes mine does, but often he doesn’t. It’s the age, it’s the hormones, it’s the autism, it’s whatever. And, he’s not the first student to question authority, either!

The co-teacher insisted and after, maybe, three minutes at most, my son complied.

He put his phone away and began to take his test.

No “harsh” swear words were said, no insults, no threats, and nothing in the classroom was damaged in any way, just a surly teenager being a surly teenager.

Then, what happened?

The co-teacher took it too far.

Yes, that’s my opinion, but hear me out…

My son was taking his math test. The previous situation has been resolved and my son was OVER HALF WAY THROUGH HIS TEST. That’s a bit of time, folks. Maybe thirty minutes.

So, let’s say thirty minutes go by, and what happens?

This co-teacher interrupts my son while he’s taking his test to hand him a referral warning. He orders my son to stop his test and immediately take the referral warning to the office.

Why?

I’ll ask it again…Why?

Why was my son given a formal referral warning? Why was my son interrupted during a test when the situation was over? Why not wait, at least, until he was done taking his test?

Why?

I hate to say this, and I hate to report it…But, after sorting through all of this at the end of day on Friday, my biggest compliant is a child with autism was picked on. He was singled out, and the co-teacher provoked my son.

What happened after my son was given the referral warning and told to go to the office?

He refused to go.

He did not understand, nor could he understand, what the heck was happening.

In his mind, the phone situation was over. It was done. He got surly, he got reprimanded, he finally complied with the teacher, and then he moved on to taking his test.

Over.

Why was his test-taking being interrupted? It’s very difficult for many people with autism to be interrupted during a task, and my son is no exception.

So, there’s the timing issue.

And, then there’s the warning itself.

Of course my son refused to go, he couldn’t understand why he was having his test interrupted and being kicked out of the classroom and sent to the office. What the heck did he do wrong?

Yes, he tried to get away with something that is written in his IEP. Yes, he tried. And, failed. Name a teenager who doesn’t try things like that. It’s one of the very typical things my son does! There’s not a hint of autism in that one!

He got surly/defiant, whatever you want to call it. But, then he complied. He stopped and go down to business. He moved on.

Why didn’t this teacher move on?

My honest answer?

Pins and needles.

I knew from the presence of all of those sheriff vehicles around my son’s school that morning that his high school, like many others within our country, was on pins and needles because of Florida.

I get it.

What I don’t get is the action of this teacher.

He provoked unnecessarily.

Now, did he do it because it’s my son? The kid with autism? The “weird” kid? The “loner?”

I hope not, but I have my suspicions.

It wasn’t just a reaction, but an over-reaction.

And, there’s more…

What else happened?

My son was so upset and adamant that he NOT go to the office, that this co-teacher go on the phone and called his special needs case worker. According to my son, he suggested to the case worker (who was busy at the time and could not some to assist her student) that he call security.

During this call, with my son listening in, he banged his desk. He says he only did it one time.

What worse is my son’s case worker, a professional who works with special needs kids and knows the record of my son and knows that he has no record anywhere of any type of violent-like behavior, this special needs case worker AGREES with the teacher.

Just call security!

Are you kidding me?

My son was provoked, is not extremely upset, and now he’s going to get security called on him.

What do I call this?

Targeting come to mind. My son was unfairly targeted. I’m sorry to say it, but I feel that way.

My son was provoked and then everything that happened after handing that referral warning to him was on the shoulders of this co-teacher and his case worker.

How dare they? Because, well, there was this mass shooting by that weird kid. Here’s another weird kid. Let’s just target, provoke, watch out, keep an eye on THE WEIRD KID.

Am I angry?

You bet. Sounds like it, doesn’t it? But, I feel it’s justified. What the hell are some people thinking? This co-teacher was in my son’s IEP, not the regular team. He was there as the representative of the math teaching team. He was allowed to leave at a certain point, but was he there when it was established that our son could only plug in his phone during resource lab?

Sounds like it since he was enforcing that rule.

Which I have no problem with. Our son was in the wrong by even trying to plug it in.

But, everything that happened after this is on the co-teacher and the school administration.

And, it simply feels like it was a result of a feeling of tragedy in the air, and prevention. A feeling of attempting to be diligent. A feeling of “let’s head this off.” With my son caught in the middle.

This teacher over-reacted, and I feel it had something to do with the temperature of the country, and within high schools in particular.

What can I do now?

I have to be diligent from now on.

I have to listen closely to how people are talking to my son.

And, of course, like I’ve done for fifteen years, listen to how he addresses the world.

But, our kids are different. Our kids are misunderstood easily. Our kids are act in ways that many people do not understand.

It doesn’t mean they’re up to something, on the verge of violence, or even dangerous. It so often is something that’s completely innocuous.

Plugging in a phone.

Or, a co-teacher who went too far.

You decide.

NOTE: This co-teacher, like many teachers over the years, was excused from my son’s IEP when their “turn” was over. My husband and I had gotten into this habit…which will now end. We will no longer be nice about this. All of my son’s teachers will remain the IEP for the duration from now on. The co-teacher was there to “represent” the teaching team. He left after his turn, and the other teacher didn’t even show up. That’s because my husband and I were being nice. NO. MORE. NICE. We have the right to demand that everyone on the IEP remain in the room for the entire IEP, and that’s the way it’s going to be from now on. Sometimes, being too nice bites you in the butt.

Are Children with Autism Singled Out?

Here are some tips on working with students with autism for teachers: 

http://teaching.monster.com/benefits/articles/8761-22-tips-for-teaching-students-with-autism-spectrum-disorders

 

More on Kimberly Kaplan:

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