A recent IEP meeting made it apparent that ignorance is only bliss from the perspective of the ignorant. For the rest of us, ignorance is torture. And, for those individuals on the autism spectrum, ignorance is disastrous.
The principal of a local school attributed the social and emotional struggles of my client to his refusal to complete his work in the classroom, resulting in reduced time with his neurotypical peers in preferred activities. Not to the diagnosis, which is predicated on chronic, lifelong social and emotional delays. Rather, to his volitional choice to avoid work because, admittedly, the work is hard.
During these meetings, I often pick my battles, judiciously deciding what and when to advocate. As I listened to the principal make this comment, I watched the faces of the meeting members around the table: some nodded in tacit agreement, others looked at the IEP, and my client’s mom bowed her head in resignation. Before I knew it, my mouth tried to end the torture my ears were enduring: “I cannot condone such a statement….” With better odds than you can pick a Chiefs’ loss, you can surmise the nature of the response to my comment.
I have thought long and hard about what to write about this incident, which ruffled my feathers more than a little. Here are some thoughts:
· School culture is defined at the top. When that culture is pro-special needs, the principal and, more importantly you, the parents, trust those who are qualified to carry out the day-to-day struggles and joys, challenges and successes. When that culture is wary and litigious, a watchful, yet useless administrative eye is often involved whom no one wants to disagree with, even if harmfully incorrect.
· Asperger’s disorder is clearly still the hidden diagnosis, as Dr. Temple Grandin often states. Lawyers and legal advocates won’t solve these situations. They will simply close the doors more. Only information opens the doors. The need for school-wide training of all individuals on AS is still, if not more than ever, imperative.
· I often like to think that when a family has asked me to be involved with a school, the situation will improve. Typically, this is the case. While this situation left the bitter taste of failure in my mouth, I struggle to imagine what would have happened had I not been present. Sometimes, there needs to be a scapegoat, someone who is willing to openly disagree and stand up for these kids. Parents, you do it all the time. I, for one, want to give you more help.