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169488_content_or_discontentMiss A writes about a student she has who is being tested for Asperger’s. She has had some difficulties with him lately. I responded:

Just curious…how much do you know about Aspregers? It is similar to autism (both disabilities are different levels of Pervasive Development Disorders).

While the student may be using the disability as a crutch, it is very likely that the group work that he has to do in biology is very different from the group work he does in history. That being said, the situations may be completely different in his eyes.

As far as coming up with a different assignment, I think it is your obligation to do this as an educator.

I have a student this year who is a Jehovah’s Witness. She does not march in parades or play Christmas music as a part of her religious convictions. All we have been doing in band class for most of November and December has been Christmas Music, as well as football game and parade preparation.

I could take the easy way out and tell her that she has to sit there and be quiet while the other students play. I could tell her she has to play it or else she will get a zero. What I chose to do is have her write a paper about a composer, and then she spends class time working with the other band director in the band office.

Is it inconvenient to accommodate her religious convictions? Yes! Is it right to do so? Yes!

So what if the problem is not really a religious problem?

Well, you are faced with the option of forcing the student to do group work, which he has clearly demonstrated (whether officially diagnosed or not) that he does not do well. Otherwise, you could assign him to do the project on his own.

Could he work on it at home, perform it on video, and not have to get up in front of the class to present? Would that still accomplish the same basic goal for him?

Then I posted another comment:

Man, I’m missing it today. Another addition…

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not sing or perform religious songs according to their religious convictions. Members of the Church of Christ do not generally sing religious songs with instrumental accompaniment. These are generalizations, but could very easily be why this student refuses the assignment.

JW’s also do not celebrate holidays or birthdays or pretty much any calendar observances.

And in reference to Margaret, I love music and songwriting, but I despise group work with a passion. I seemed to always get stuck with people who were lazier or less-informed than me and I ended up doing a bulk of the work. This never seemed like a good deal to me. :)

So I’m curious how many of my readers actually know much at all about Asperger’s or Autism or Prevasive Developmental Disorders of any kind. I happened to write a couple of papers on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) for some of my education classes in college. My mom also happens to be an expert in the subject.

See also  Six Music Classroom Management Strategies

We had an inservice on Autism this school year and I was amazed at the negative feelings many of the teachers had about autistic people. Many of them held it in the same esteem as ADD. They basically assumed that it is one of those phony diagnoses that doctors and parents come up with to excuse the abnormal behavior of children.

Joel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

Joel Wagner
Joel Wagner (<strong><a href="">@sywtt</a></strong>) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. <strong><a href="">So You Want To Teach?</a></strong> is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

37 thoughts on “Asperger’s

  1. I have taught two students with Aspbergers (in the general ed classroom). Both had bipolar disorder as well. And, both were completely coddled by their parents, which exacerbated the behavioral problems. So, it’s hard to tell which behaviors were actually caused by the Aspbergers.

    I think many teachers are apprehensive about working with Aspbergers kids because often times, the kids have other diagnoses which interfere with learning. The two I had did NOT belong in the gen ed classroom, and disrupted class constantly with wild tantrums. Because they were so adverse to completing assigned tasks, they needed one-on-one assistance almost constantly or else they would get nothing done at all.

    Both girls were adorable, and very sweet at times. I enjoyed them immensely, once I got to know their personalities and quirks. They were highly intelligent and extremely stubborn, and those two qualities together can result in amazing accomplishments.

  2. I’m not very well-versed in autism as I haven’t had any experience (student teacher) but in one of my education classes we talked about how people with autism (undoubtedly some of our students) have used YouTube as a portal to self-expression and communication. Granted, Asperger’s is not on the extreme end of the autism continuum. However, I can’t believe that teachers are discounting it as a legitimate diagnosis. Then again, that might just be my inexperience talking.

  3. Correction: I meant SECOND LIFE, not YouTube, as a portal to self-expression. There are videos on YouTube that show this…I think that’s where I confused myself.

  4. I’ve known a few people with Aspberger’s Syndrome, myself. One of them managed it so well that I never realized he had it in the first place – I had no idea until he became valedictorian of his high school class and had a newspaper article written about him.

    Two of the people with Aspberger’s that I know are excellent writers, despite their difficulty in understanding language at anything less than a literal level. While it was difficult to communicate with them verbally, if you gave either of them a pen, they could make it sing.

    I’ve only worked with one autistic student on an educational level. It was a bit confusing at first, but once I realized what was going on, it made sense. I just had to get used to not making eye contact, not expecting verbal confirmations (he would follow directions exactly, but wouldn’t respond with a “right” or “okay,” like other students), and understanding that he was not looking at me, so I had to communicate with simple verbal instructions rather than through gestures (“Find the mass of the blue test tube,” rather than “Find the mass of that test tube over there.”). After a couple days, he started to really open up – actually coming to initiate conversations with me, rather than hiding out in the back corner of the room.

    It seemed as though once he knew that I understood and respected his way of doing things, he was willing to work on expanding his comfort level. (Really, though, isn’t that true for all of us?)

    Your fellow teachers believing that autism or Aspberger’s Syndrome is some kind of made-up excuse for bad behavior is rather surprising, I must admit. As I mentioned before, I’ve got friends with Aspberger’s, and no one is more frustrated with their conditions than they, themselves. I’ve seen them break down, almost to the point of tears, with feelings of inferiority or shame at not being able to do or understand things that seem to come so easily to others. And these aren’t kids with pushy parents who are looking for special treatment at school – I’m talking about grown adults, with jobs and families and mortgages.

    But, hey, just like with AD(H)D, evolutionary biology, climate change, and the moon landing, I guess there are always going to be skeptics.

  5. I teach self-contained special ed and all 6 of my students have severe autism. I didn’t know much about it before starting and it’s impossible to know everything. Even if two kids are both low-functioning, they will be completely different. One might look you in the eyes and one might not.

    You can’t generalize with saying “all kids with autism avoid eye contact” or “all kids with autism don’t like to be touched”, don’t have social skills, are constantly tantruming or stimming…. it’s just not true. Of course, a lot of them have these characteristics, but each kid is totally different, just like those without autism.

    Teaching students with severe autism is also very different than teaching gen. ed. students. The entire physical structure and work structure should be different in order to accommodate the students’ disabilities and weaknesses due to the autism.

  6. I read the original post and it made me sad. Kids with Aspergers (a disorder on the Autism spectrum) are an interesting bunch. Basically the “social issues” divide them from their peers. They don’t have outward signs–no wheelchairs, no crutches, no palsys, no scars, but they are handicapped. To not make accomodations for them is like asking a kiddo in a wheelchair to fully participate in gym class.

    Is it a teacher control issue? I just don’t get why EVERYBODY has to do the same thing. I teach gifted elementary kids and have had Aspergers kids over the years. If they wanted to work alone, they worked alone. If the project was creative and they wanted to do formal research paper that’s what they did. What difference does it make–as long as they learn the material. I feel like screaming—there are a lot of people who teach that don’t like kids. Finished harping, N.

  7. Thank you, Joel for addressing the issue here. I appreciate that you thought enough of this to comment and then solicit additional responses. I’d like to address so of the comments made.

    1. I like children. As a matter of fact I love them. However, I don’t like some of their behaviors. I am not a teacher who coddles kids. I don’t sugar coat things. And this does NOT make me a bad teacher. At the same time, I am one of the FAVORITE teachers at my school. Most of my students love me and my class. Those that don’t are lazy and don’t want to do the work that education requires. Just because I AM NOT the traditional, hugging, coddling type of teacher this does not make me unfit to be in the classroom or to work with children. I AM NOT A BAD TEACHER because I don’t do things you would. I teach URBAN HIGH SCHOOL TEENAGERS not elite third graders.

    2. I was not trained in my teacher prep program to meet the needs of special needs learners. However, I have learned in my short time how to meet the needs and accommodate students. As a matter of fact, SPED department loves to have their students in my class b/c I do so well with them. These are students who often come back and say they miss me and my class. I have helped these kids learn, built confidence in them . . . so SPARE ME the “how dare she not accommodate a SPED student.”

    3. I never said that Aspbergers was not a real disease or something he made up. What I said was he was using it as a crutch to do what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it. I understand a lot about the condition and the issues associated with it. I am aware that this student is probably at GENIUS level! His IQ is probably 10 times higher than mine. He probably knows more than I do about world history. I know that this class is probably meaningless to him and it’s pointless for him to be there. But the fact is that he has to be there. However, I can not let him come to class and dictate what activities he will do for the day. If I let one do it, I have to let all. Why not I just change the structure, the curriculum and state mandated objectives and say to my kids: “You pick the topic, the activities and every body do whatever the hell you want.”

    4. Keeping in mind my previous points, I AM NOT equipped or skilled to teach gifted students. So, I honestly do NOT know how to meet his needs. He has no IEP at this point and the SPED department has NOT given me instructions/counsel for handling this student. At this point, he is still NOT their responsibility and they do not recognize him as a SPED student. Therefore, they “technically” can’t modify and accommodate him. They are working with him simply b/c they recognize issues.

    5. None of you understand the dynamics and history that goes along with this child and my classroom. When he came to me, I had no idea he was different. It wasn’t until he told me that I knew it. I can’t go into detail, but if you’re not there you do not understand. And if the SPED teacher agrees with me on my rationale, especially since his story changed several times as to why wouldn’t do the assignment. I’ll can say this, every single day he comes to class, he has a reason that he needs to leave. Most days, he collects the assignment for the day and heads off the SPED room. Not ONE of the assignments has ever been completed. As a matter of fact, I heard from the SPED teacher that every day he goes there he spends the entire time on the computer. You gather from that what this means. And lets not talk about the fact that I’ve been told several times by the SPED teachers he is NOT their responsibility, yet. And to stop “letting” him come there. Do you know they’ve actually brought him back to class?

    I have bent and bent and bent and what we ALL know is that he is trying to play me and the system. And he knows what he is doing. Yeah, I recognize that he has a TRUE condition causes him to have issues. But I am not his parent and I will NOT stand for somethings. He CAN NOT have it his way 24/7. Miss A’s classroom is not Burger King. I accommodate, believe me I do it over and over and over again. But don’t jump to conclusions because YOU DON’T know me. (Uh-oh, the sista-tude just came out) I will never be Suzie Teacher, putting me in a box, and this doesn’t make me a bad teacher.

  8. Miss A,

    I never intended to give the impression that I think you are a teacher who doesn’t care about your students. Over the last year and a half, I have come to know that you love and respect your students tremendously.

    My point is that this disability is quite dissimilar to what many people perceive it to be. As someone who is well acquainted with the Autism Spectrum of disorders, I can personally attest that situations may seem way different to a “normal person” than they do to one who is debilitated by the disorder.

    Again, I do not have any intimate experience of the situation, nor do I truly understand the history you have with the student. None of the other commenters here do. Nor do I think they were hinting that you are unqualified to teach. Nancy’s comments come close, but keep in mind she does not have any firsthand experience and is merely passing judgment on her reading of the situation, not you personally nor your specific situation.

    I think because of the rampant ignorance (not a bad thing, but lack of knowledge) regarding the issue of Autism, many of us who are well-acquainted and have made ourselves familiar with the disorder get upset when people make blanket statements about it, as though the generalizations were universal.

    Miss A, I know you love your students! I know you have their best interests in mind. That is why I want to challenge you to learn a little bit more about it.

    It’s amazing that as I read through the lists of symptoms, and think about the people I know who have ASD and the symptoms fall into place.

    Hang in there! Keep working, and keep pursuing excellence!

  9. Through the years I have had several students with Asperger’s and other autism spectrum disorders. In addition to inservices, I have tried to educate myself on the subject.

    Some of my students have had more difficulties than others with participating in the group aspect of class. One poor student just could not get words at all everything he thought and heard was a giant movie in his head. We tried to help him learn to pause and rewind his movie in order to process the information from class as well as seeing interpersonal relationships.

    Most of the time, my Asperger’s students are very bright and definately want to do well. The most helpful tool I have found this year is to give plenty of wait time to allow my students to process their thoughts, and to remove pressure of time and quantity. For instance, make-up work in my class consists of a 100 word essay for each class missed. With my Asperger’s students, I ask them to set a timer for ten minutes and only write for that length of time ten minutes is approximately the length of time it would take my other students to complete that assignment.

    The most difficult things I have had to come to terms with are patience with behavior issues I am not used to having at my grade level, personal space, coaching appropriate behavior, and getting past what I think is necessary in my class to allow the students to really succeed.

    I think the patience is where many of us falter. It is easy on the intellectual level to accept the possibility that students need help. I see my colleagues getting frustrated with one particular student because he needs permission to do anything and he has an extremely slow processing speed. He needs lots of time to think and process and he asks tons of questions without some of the social skills that others his age have. It’s easy to say he needs patience and guidance, it’s harder to live it day in and out.

    I agree, many parents often coddle their kids to the point of inhibiting them. But, people with Asperger’s often have these issues irregardless of parental influence. (Now, my student with the running movie was convinced he could not go to the bathroom or wipe his nose without his mother, but that’s another issue!)

  10. I just read all the comments and discovered that the student originally being discussed is gifted. I teach at a school for GT students, and am in my master’s program for GT. There is a lot out there for twice exceptional students – gifted students with learning disorders.

    May I ask why the student is not on an IEP?

    Have you considered putting him on a behavior contract or using tiered lessons which would allow him to do work at closer to his level while still addressing the needs of the other students? I know I personally have very little tolerance for people wasting my time (his probably perception of the class given your statements) and I do not have Asperger’s :) Is there a way to show him you honor him and respect him as a person?

    That is often crucial both for gifted students and for students with Asperger’s (and many other issues). In fact, gifted students who are not challenged in class are often behcaior problems – that is worsened if the student is male. Gifted students with learning disorders tend to do much worse in classes than other groups of students, even lower functioning students. They also tend to have a much lower self-image. So, some of his behavior problems could stem not from the Asperger’s but from the unadressed giftedness. The good news is that often when this is addressed in class the behavior problems clear up.

  11. I’m so glad you are having these discussions. Teaching is such an important contribution to society and it gets more challenging each year. I have been involved with the field of autism for almost 35 years and know we need lots of education about the subject due to the rapid increase.

    I have an adult child on the autism spectrum and worked with children with ASD before my children were born. I learned Applied Behavior Analysis very early. I am a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, but the greatest teachers have been the kids. Right now I work with kids ages 2 -11 teaching language and social skills. I teach kids to talk and older kids the rules of conversation and social skills. My husband is a gen ed 6th grade teacher with 2 Aspies this year so I have a pretty unique perspective. We also have a 12 year old challenged with Asperger’s. Middle school through the eyes of Asperger’s is an interesting trip.

    As a parent, I appear over protective and have fought that battle for years within myself. It’s funny how I’m not so overprotective with my non ASD kids. The struggle and the effects the child has on the parent create interesting dynamics. I feel I am constantly on a detective mission. My child, who appears very smart and literate, can not tell me what happened in the classroom. He went to state in science competition last year and can’t understand his science teacher this year. It’s not the subject matter, it’s the group instructions. He also takes everything very personally because he doesn’t clearly understand that the teacher is not speaking specifically to him when she says to the class, “It’s your fault you are doing poorly on the tests because you are not studying” This makes no sense to him. He is studying. Now he has to decide if he needs to study more or give up. He chose to give up because his World War II obsession is calling. He knows the material; he made a fairly good grade and he is confused.

    I think ASD is one of the biggest challenges teachers will face for the next decade. I have so much to say on the subject that I don’t know where to begin. I applaud all of the teachers who are trying to understand and make a difference. I am full of ideas and potential solutions and would be glad to serve as a resource. Sometimes a very simple idea can have a huge impact. My husband went back to school to complete his teacher certification 3 years ago. He chose autism for a paper and was told by the professor that it is so rare most of the teachers would never see it. He chose to educate his class anyway.

    I am also planning to do some training sessions for teachers over the next year and would value your input about what would be the most helpful.

  12. I read a good book this summer and I would recommend it to teachers. It’s called Look Me In The Eye by John Elder Robinson. John is the brother of Augusten Burroughs (Running with Scissors) and is an adult “Aspergerian”. (his word) It gave me a good idea of what it is like to have Aspergers—you should read it.

  13. You said”I despise group work with a passion. I seemed to always get stuck with people who were lazier or less-informed than me and I ended up doing a bulk of the work. This never seemed like a good deal to me.” I strongly agree. Math and Social Studies are the worst. All I know is that Aspergers is a mild form of autism(according to my math teacher, who was talking about a former student who the sche thought might have it. I also know that there are many wierdos in the G/T program.

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  15. I have Asperger’s kids every year. I have 5 (in gen ed) this year. From my perspective, it isn’t rare at all. Here’s what I do:

    1. They’re all different, so I have to spend some time figuring out what their quirks are. Are they literal? Are they OCD-ish? Do they have trouble in social situations? I’ve had kids whom I could not expect to grasp more than the basic plot of a novel and those who were brilliant critical readers. Some can’t do grammar to save their lives; others are instant experts.

    2. When I figure it out, I don’t ask the kid to do what he cannot. I find another way. If their brain isn’t wired to figure out metaphors in reading, I find a way to get to teach them that standard aurally or whatever works.

    3. Some kids are enabled by parents to a crippling degree. That’s much harder to deal with, but basic behavior management works best. Mama may allow that at home, but I do not. I wish this didn’t take a ridiculous amount of time.

    4. FWIW, I don’t buy the whole “If I let one do it, I have to let them all” line. I have kids doing different things all the time. Nobody in my class has it easy (and my students range from Down Syndrome to GATE in the same HS English class). If the kid is a genius, give him different (not more) work.

  16. Hello! Regardless of what the teacher in question decides to do, I’m very encouraged that here’s a staff member who WANTS to find out more and then use that information as it would apply in her classroom.

    Autism is tricky. I have two children who are autistic. One is 13 and in public school. He’s obviously language-delayed and the staff is *wonderful* with him so far. The other is 8 and has been educated at home since age 6.


    Well, because this little child can speak, and read and write. Has a high IQ. Therefore he “must” have been manipulating staff with his running away and trying to hide. The solution is to NOT give him an aide to help him with transitions, etc. but to lock him in a closet and call it a “safe room.”

    I wish I were kidding.

    So I sympathize with the parents who “overprotect” or “coddle” at home. You bet I do. Our situation is a bit extreme (I admit that, hopefully this is not the “norm” to have to deal with), but people don’t seem to understand WHY parents go along with some of these quirks that autistic folks have.

    They have a lot of them, most of the time. They don’t go away. You HAVE to pick your battles to stay sane. Please try to understand that. Another thing that I want to mention is that in my experience, children “can” do something one day and “can’t” another. And that does not necessarily mean that the child is faking. For example, there have been days that my son Elf can handle crowds or noise and seems ok, and other times he is NOT ok with it. Perhaps the crowd is different. Perhaps he feels safer in an auditorium with his mom than at children’s church with just other kids and the pastor. Sometimes we can’t figure out why and Elf can’t tell us, even though he is able to speak. He just knows when something is “too much.”

    I hope that my comments are helpful and in no way second-guessing the good intentions of all involved. I wish that we had had kind, well-intentioned staff when my son was in first grade. I would not trade homeschooling my younger children for anything, but I’d like to see schools err on the side of accomodation whenever possible.

  17. Mrs. C, I hate hearing stories like yours – I have a three year old son with autism (recently diagnosed in November) who will be entering preschool next month, and although I have high hopes for the special ed program (his special ed administrator even taught my own special ed class in college and is a wonderful lady), I worry that we might encounter problems with districts who don’t know how to deal with children with autism. (We won’t have your problem, unfortunately; our son is almost entirely nonverbal. That doesn’t minimize our worries, of course.)

    I will wholeheartedly agree with you that understanding Asperger’s or any form of ASD is about getting to know the individual student. There’s a reason that we use ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) more frequently than PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorder): it really is a spectrum, and no two individuals with ASD will be the same. You can understand stereotypical behaviors, learn strategies to help with some of the deficiencies (like poor verbal or social skills), and so forth, but you have to individualize instruction to some degree. Fairness in the classroom is not always about giving equal tasks; it is sometimes about giving students an equal chance to succeed, and clearly a student with Asperger’s will need a different way to demonstrate learning than his or her “typical” peers.

    I really hope educators become more educated about autism; there is a large amount of misinformation out there, and we all need to understand how it impacts learning for those affected and what we can do to change the classroom climate so that it can be productive for these individuals as well.

  18. G. Broaddus, I am encouraged in that these are children who would have been institutionalized 40 years ago. My own 2-y-old “Woodjie,” is pretty much non-verbal. I’m not sure I want him diagnosed, have you looked into what “Child Find” means?? Ok, that scares me. Maybe we will lay low and never report him to anybody. I don’t like the idea of him being tracked or the state trying to intervene for his “best interests.” Districts stand to gain a lot of money by educating these kids.

    FWIW, though our district has a WONDERFUL preschool. Just great. I wouldn’t hesitate to send my child there, except for the fact that the schools are all connected… sharing info and stuff… I really don’t want my child sent to school in elementary. But that’s another fight for another day. If my dh and I divorce over something like that, I’d have to go to work and then the kid would still have to go to school LOL! So… never say never. But bleh.

    Back to the child in question on the post… I do wonder if he just isn’t an effective negotiator or if he’s figured out he can milk the diagnosis or what. It’s SO HARD to know in borderline cases and I do wonder if there are protocols in each class or etc. I’d hate, if I were the teacher, to have to go justify to every parent why this kid gets his way here and not that kid, etc. I guess it’s the same with IEPs and the teacher can’t really divulge that info either.

  19. G. Broaddus makes an incredible point.

    Fairness in the classroom is not always about giving equal tasks; it is sometimes about giving students an equal chance to succeed

    That’s golden there. I had always been under impression that fair and equal were the same thing. When we would complain about something being unfair, one of my high school teachers was always ready to remind us “the fair is in Dallas in October” (Remember I live in Texas).

    But equality is often unfair. Fairness is often unequal.

    I am thoroughly impressed by the quality of many of these responses. I really hope everyone who has commented on this has subscribed and is following the discussion!

  20. Thomas Jefferson once said “There is nothing more unequal, than the equal treatment of unequal people”. In a truly differentiated classroom what is fair for one is not always fair for all. I, too, was struck G. Broaddus’ statement of fact!

  21. Mrs. C: I have to say, I never have to justify anything. As long as all children are “feeling the burn” at whatever level that is for them, all is “fair.” I have some very funny stories about fellow students suddenly figuring out that “there’s something with” a certain AS kid. In general, my students understand that some kids have IEP’s, etc. It’s all in the school culture. The only students I’ve ever had trouble with on this point were new transfers, and they learned the lay of the land pretty quickly.

    I don’t know why you didn’t just have the IEP re-written to include a shadow.

    FWIW, these kids DO NOT come with huge amounts of money. And what’s the motivation for getting it anyway? It isn’t like anybody is getting profit sharing or annual bonuses for bringin’ in the SPED kids. These students are the million dollar babies who drive up the cost of education so that people wonder why it costs $11,000/student. It doesn’t. I costs about $3,000 for the average student, but about $50,000 for the kid who has to be in small classrooms, requires a shadow, and needs therapy several times of week. These kids deserve all of that, but let’s get rid of the conspiracy theory about how much these kids are worth and how districts are just dyin’ to have them. They’re budget breakers, not profit makers.

    FWIW, the Asperger’s/GATE identification is really very common.

  22. Lightly seasoned,

    I’m sorry if I offended you. I am mindful of the fact that this is a blog written by and for educators, and that I am a guest.

    My son Elf never had an IEP during first grade. The school, instead, chose to ignore a children’s hospital developmental team’s diagnosis of PDD-NOS, a psychologist’s written agreement with said diagnosis, and ample physical evidence that Elf was unable to acclimate to the standard environment of 27 children/no aide in the class. He was suspended four times for behaviours such as running away and hiding, and that was only in the first two months of school. He had a 504 plan indicating that he would only be at school for three hours per day anyway.

    I guess this 504 plan is cheaper?

    I don’t know.

    All I know is that there are “Child Find” laws on the books, and that my state takes a “census” of all the disabled children district by district. I hear reports through Home School Legal Defense Association about districts trying to test children without parental consent. Perhaps my experience has led me to be overly distrustful… however, my experience has been that you CANNOT BE overly distrustful of this particular school district.

    Anyway, as I said before, so much depends on the staff. My older son (13) does seem to be doing well in school and I am very pleased with his case manager. I don’t know why, since both boys have the SAME DIAGNOSIS from the same hospital and same team of physicians, but G is labelled “autistic” by the school and Elf never was…?

  23. Mrs. C, Aspergers and Austism like ADD are medical diagnoses and not ones made by school districts. As a parent of a special needs child(ren)you have the right to a free and appropriate education for your child. School districts vary on what level of services they can provide (in house) but the IEP is a legal and binding document and you can use it to provide all kinds of services for your child if he has a medical diagnosis or disability. With a special education IEP they “have” to provide accomodations and services. If your son does best in a homeschool environment it is wonderful that you have the where-with-all and the means to provide that.

  24. Mrs. C: I appreciate where you’re coming from. I want to see if we can redirect the discussion to something less critical of a specific nameless district and more productive for the readers of this blog.

    That being said, I would be interested to know whether you have had both children formally diagnosed. I know that can be a tricky issue, since once the diagnosis has been made, you run the risk of having the student labeled Autistic with all of the negative stereotypes that exist (“idiot savant”, “retarded”, “overprotective parents”, etc.)

    So in a way, the diagnosis can be a double-edged sword — both providing necessary services and feeding unnecessary prejudices. Much like the debate on whether or not to immunize children from infectious diseases, this is often a much more complicated issue than it appears on the surface.

    Especially if you know that the school district the student will attend is ill-equipped to handle the disability, the cons of the diagnosis often outweigh the pros.

    Obviously the simple solution from a political viewpoint would be to provide an expert on autism to every school district in the nation. The logistics of that are horribly preclusive, and the odds of getting well-trained autism experts in each district are abysmally low given both the dearth of solid information and the prevalence of misinformation regarding the subject.

    This is where an external consultant firms that can service numerous districts can step in and fill the void felt by many of these districts. Unfortunately, there are not many of these around. But for those that do exist, the market is ripe and now would be prime time to step in and save those districts money by providing good information and possibly even training for the teachers and specialists who work with these students.

  25. Thanks, Joel. Said Kansas City area district is nameless because I have two children currently attending public schools. If you asked me by email privately, I’d be happy to provide salient details, but the internet is a bit too out there.

    “Elf” and G both have the same diagnosis from the same department of the same children’s hospital. Somehow, the school took G’s diagnosis and put that label under why he qualifies for an IEP (at the top of the paper) and Elf didn’t get an IEP. Or, in fairness, we pulled him before they could make things worse and get around to giving him one LOL!

    But my personal experience has been (turning this back to the Asperger’s question) that if your child is speech-disabled or needs “special ed,” your primary medical diagnosis is more likely to be believed. Because Elf has a high IQ and is able to focus, make eye contact, read and write… well, everything you could think of that a “regular” kid would be able to do… his diagnosis pretty well made it to the dustbin so far as the school was concerned. When he ran away or caused problems, that was just him being “manipulative.” And yes, they locked him up. I think they reasoned somewhere in their heads that he knows better and so therefore the behaviour was just him being bad. Why else would they not take the medical evaluations of three specialists seriously?

    So that’s why even though my two year old is non-verbal, I’m not sure I’ll ever pursue a “diagnosis.” We weren’t listened to before and it would just serve to label him on their little census. (Those things scare me.) And yes, we’re skipping some of the shots. I had all mine as a child and still got measles as an adult. I just do things like that to bug the medical establishment and wreck their numbers. They told me years ago it was highly unlikely I could have more than one autistic child. Yay, I showed them! :p

    I’d encourage teachers reading our conversation to at least be open to the POSSIBILITY that the kid is not shamming when something comes up. The odd thing is, at least with my children, is that they are able to do some things on some days and not on others in the social arena. Why is that? I couldn’t tell you. But it doesn’t stop me from getting phone calls when G is being difficult about… Mrs. C, is anything “different” at home?

    Which I guess I understand. But look. Same parents of all the kids. We’ve lived in the same house for 12 years. Nothing new and different here. I wish I could help staff like that when they’re at least TRYING to be helpful and figure out what’s going on. I don’t know why G has hard days sometimes and not others.

    I don’t set myself up as an expert, you see. I’m just a mom. Though I don’t know too many other moms with three kids on the spectrum.

  26. My understanding (and thus subject to being wrong) on an IEP is that not only must the child have the diagnosis, but it must be shown to affect the child’s education.

    I teach at a small k-8 school. It seems that suddenly in the 7th grade all these students show up with special needs and get 504’s and IEP’s. Obviously that isn’t true. What happens is that in the 7th and 8th grade (my grades) we know these kids are going out into the big, wide world where their teachers will not accomodate them as well as we do at our school. The younger grades don’t fight for the documentation because frankly, it’s a pain in the you know what. My administration doesn’t know what to do with our team because we fight tooth and nail to get kids documented. Trust me, it is a BIG hassle to have students on 504’s and IEP’s, because legally you must abide by everything in the document which is often quite long and detailed and thus easy to forget, and if you have more than one or two in a class it can be quite confusing. And that doesn’t even get into the documentation that must be done and the consultations with other specialists like speech therapist, etc.

    I have a student who was just diagnosed with Asperger’s. He was diagnosed because his younger brother received his diagnosis a few months back (younger brother is much worse, btw) and the parents recognized some of the symptoms and requested older brother to be tested as well. Now, the teachers brought this child (older brother) up to our student intervention committee in September and requested a 504 for his OCD and for OT because his fine motor skills are that of a 6 year old, not an 11 year old. We were turned down because admin told us his academics were not affected, even though we had documentation out the wazzoo. OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) doesn’t affect education we were told. Never mind that he goes through three pencils an hour. Never mind that he tears holes in his papers erasing them. Never mind that his hands are red and chapped from washing them constantly – which means class time spent in the bathroom. Never mind that homework takes him 4 hours longer than his peers. His academics are not affected.

    Well, younger brother was brought up for an IEP because of his Asperger’s and the teachers in his grade level stated that they don’t see his academics being affected. The truth is, they accomodate him without thinking about it. We have a lot of ASD and other special needs in our school because of the nature of the school. And the teachers are really good at meeting each child where he/she is. So, naturally younger brother was turned down for services. And now we are bringing older brother back up and we are told that his brother doesn’t need services, so neither does he.

    The truly heart-breaking part of this is I just interviewed some of my students for a paper in my grad program. I asked the kids to show me on their fingers how successful they felt in life. A fist = zero, five hands up = as much as possible. Out of 19 students, two of whom have similar diagnoses but are accomodated, this particular student (older brother) was the ONLY child to show me a zero. He said he was waiting for us to kick him out of school for being too stupid. I wanted to cry. This child is soooo intelligent, so funny, so amazing and all he sees in his life is failure.

    Mrs. C. I can empathize with you. It is so hard to see these kids who need so much help and we cannot get them what they need. Even in a small fairly independent school the bureaucracy and “ignorance” (albeit unintentional) of the true needs of these students just keeps tying our hands. And yes, when a child is capable of doing something one day and then the next melts down at the same task it really does look like manipulation.

  27. I saw his at the bottom of an email sent to me from a parent of an Aspergr’s kiddo. “Not every child has an equal talent or an equal ability or equal motivation; but children have the equal right to develop their talent, their ability, and their motivation”.

    – John F. Kennedy

  28. Hey everyone. Great discussion going here. I wish more teachers would have it in a safe environment where misconceptions could be clarified and people wouldn’t be judged for feeling the way they do. Unfortunately, I don’t think many schools have that kind of environment in place. So I guess the blogosphere is the next best thing!

    Just wanted to recommend Rick Wormeli’s book “Fair Isn’t Always Equal”. It is about how to get our head around differentiation and giving kids what they need in the classroom. It has helped me form the “culture” of my classroom as well as instructional and assessment practices.


  29. Thanks for the article. I saw something (I thought it might be in the article you cited since I’d read that article) that contended that anorexia might be part of the Asbergers/Austism spectrum. The calorie counting, exercising, weighing etc. an example of obsessive “interests”. I’ll see if I can find the article online (I think it was Time or US News?)

  30. I’m fairly experienced with Autism having served as an advocate for impoverished inner city people seeking Social Security disability benefits. I was one of the only people willing to accept Children’s cases as they are inherently far more complicated and difficult to prove to agency. I worked with quite a few Autistic Children as well as Children allegedly suffering from ADD/ADHD.

    I typed “allegedly” because after encountering so many cases of ADD/ADHD I noticed that all of the Children were in the same small groupings of neighborhoods. Kind of aroused my curiosity and I began to dig into the matter through their medical records. What I thought I discovered was shocking … damned outrageous is more like it. I went to ACORN seeking assistance and it all came together. The City had intentionally sat on over $4,000,000 earmarked for lead paint abatement and an attempt at accounting for the funds a couple of years after they were set aside revealed that the money had simply disappeared. Bottom line: NONE of the Children I had as clients were ADD/ADHD per se; they were all suffering from lead paint poisoning. Of course, this all came to light after most of them had been on Ritalin for quite some time and greedy pharm. corps disinformation aside, Ritalin causes irreversible damage to the central nervous system over time.

    I wish I could say this situation had a happy ending. It didn’t, and once again the Children suffer.

    Generally, I enjoy working with Autistic Children and it seems I have something of a Gift in this regard. Good for them say I.

  31. I was cleaning out my email in-box this morning & found this link I’d saved few months ago. If you have or know of any students with Asperger’s who are college candidates or ready for that post-secondary transition statement portion on their IEP, this link from Marshall University in WV may help. This program is geared toward Aspies. Granted, it may be too far from home for many, but it also may give you ammo to prod a local university to design a similar program for your student.

  32. I am a nineteen year old (3rd yr) secondary education student (yrs 8-12 ) at the University of Queensland in Australia. I have read the above comments and would love with your permission to use some of your comments as a reference (In which you will be quoted) in a case study /research report I am writing on Asperge’s (Task Outcome: A written Report reporting the procedures for preparing and conducting a face-to-face interview and integrating the outcomes/findings of the interview with the ideas from the academic literature and research.)
    On this blog I have found your opinions to be very informative and would be very appreciative if you could tell me some teaching method’s you have used in the past which have had a positive influence on sped student’s. I am an English Literature and History student teacher and am undertaking Special education classes because I have grown up in a community where I have been “sheltered” in a private school (and am only familiar with adhd) and would like to be rid of my ignorance. I have interviewed a few parent’s with children who have asperger’s and would now like to get some teacher’s opinions possible. Thank you so much for your time!

    1. Holly: You raise some great points here! As a band director, I simply haven’t had a whole lot of special education students. Even the ones that I have taught, the methods would be unlikely to help in most classroom settings.

      So instead of answering this, I’m going to throw it out to the rest of the readers. In fact, I’ve also just posted another article on the site asking for suggestions from readers on this issue. Thanks again to all of you for your concern and help with these kinds of things!

      Check out the other article: Effectively Dealing With Special Education Students.

  33. I have a similar request as Holly. I am a SPED teacher taking a graduate course on narrative analysis which means I’m looking for stories. I plan to analyze stories of regular education teachers’ experiences with having special education students in their classroom. I was wondering (especially Magister L. post #4) if anyone would mind if I used their stories they mentioned above or if anyone would mind telling me their story. The use of narrative analysis allows me to search for meaning in stories. That’s all I’m interested in; I’m not looking to judge anyone’s personal beliefs. You, the teachers, are the experts on what it’s like to have special education students in your classrooms! I think it is so important to get regular education teachers’ views so that improve the quality of education for all students.

    If you wouldn’t mind sharing a story, think about the first student with special needs you had in your classroom. Tell me what it was like from beginning to end. Or think about a student or an experience that is most memorable (whether good or bad).

    I’d greatly appreciate it! I think this is a wonderful website and have enjoyed seeing the willingness of teachers to share.

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