Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Educating autistic children "just takes a good teacher"

CNN is continuing to soften its news focus with a series following a family who includes an autistic child. Autism is a struggle for many families, and its rate in the United States has skyrocketed. According to the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons: (PDF)

As shown in Figure 1, the number of children aged 6 to 21 with autism in U.S. schools rose steadily from 5,415 in 1991-1992 to 118,602 in the latest published Department of Education report for the 2001-2002 school year.

Autism can create daily challenges if not outright burdens on a family. Witness the Bilson family, subject of CNN's series:

This is the high-pitched, ear-shattering sound of a 13-year-old girl. More accurately, it is the sound of a frustrated, irritated, very loud teenager with autism.

[...] Marissa and her tantrums rule the household. 'I don't want to hear her screaming and tantruming, so we pretty much let her do what she wants,' Bilson says. Keeping the peace means that, when it comes to Marissa, the rules are different. She is allowed unlimited time on the one family computer. She is allowed access to her siblings' rooms and possessions. She is allowed to eat dinner at the computer instead of the family table.

I simply cannot perceive the exhaustion of living with an autistic child. It demands an incredible degree of energy and patience, and I admire any family raises such a child. The compassion of the parents and the understanding of the siblings would wear down many a hardy soul.

My admiration for such families is matched by my contempt of outsiders who offer bromides in place of solutions. An autistic child, as you can see, is challenging enough at home, much less in a classroom of 25 others who each deserve learning opportunity. So after reading the sympathetic portrait of an autistic family, we're going to get a call for smart, effective solutions to educating autistic children, right? We're going to see similar sympathy for the child's teacher(s), aren't we?

Dr. Ronald Leaf, co-director of the group Autism Partnership believes we have set the bar too low for what we think children and adults with autism can do. 'They are highly teachable,' he says. 'You just have to have a good teacher.'

Oh, that's it! I just have to be a "good teacher", and everything will magically fall into place. So a child is given over to tantrums at her home, allowed to flaunt any rule, and run amok in a household of five by her parents. But if she doesn't do well in my classroom of a couple dozen students who all deserve an education, perhaps the only place where she is expected to conform to any rules, it's because I can't even manage to be just a good teacher.

Every kid who comes through my doorway gets educated. Point simple. Not all the same way, but they're all going to get educated, even if so-called autism advocates are mouthing idiocies in place of policies, and snottiness in place of strategy. Thanks for the help.

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