by Connor Kimball
Do you know anyone with autism? Do any of them go to school with you? Are a few your classmates? While people may think that they’d never see an autistic child in a public school setting, this is actually fairly common. Autism is a mental disability that can hinder someone socially, verbally, and sometimes locomotively. However, each person is affected differently, so it can be hard to pinpoint. You may not realize it, but you just might have an autistic classmate.
High School is a very active place, full of opportunity and achievement. It is also a place where social function can be important, whether its having friends or speaking in front of a crowd. This is where autistic children can begin to languish. A common characteristic of autism is the inability to make sense of facial expressions, which leads to miscommunication, and a lack of understanding a person’s intent and emotion. This can lead to classmates taking advantage of an autistic child’s inability to know of their intent. Thus, bullying can occur.
Luckily, there are school programs that help these autistic children, with something known as an IEP (Individual Education Program) which are tailored to fit the child’s needs. I used to have an IEP, which consisted of having a Neo, a kind of typing device, and extended time on important tests. The IEP’s benefits differ per person, and provides from a classroom assistant, to getting some sort of object to mess with to help you cool down.
In Huntingtown High, there are two teachers/staff members that deal with these programs. Mrs. Morton, the Senior Vice Principal, and Ms. Cleary, who has a specific class consisted of these children. Upon speaking with them both, they agree that one major issue found between autistic children are the social interactions that are so vital to high school life.
As you can see, with a socially impairing disability, high school can be a major hindrance, causing great emotional negativity. The inability to socially function is frustrating, and only leads to more and more problems. The best way to help these students is to befriend them, and listen when they speak. Not all autistic children are to have their hands held all throughout life, though. Some need help while others don’t. I fall a bit into the latter, but this is only because of the help I’m getting.
Its sad that not all schools have a program to aid students with autism or IEPs. In these environments, they are usually sent to a school that is specifically tailored to help those who can’t function within a typical high school environment. Another large problem that can occur is caused by having staff meant to aid these students, but are not made aware of how. This can lead to, for example, putting a child inside a bag to calm him/her down. Or even put into an empty, quiet room and held there against their own will.
As you can imagine, getting children under control using those methods typically ends in a lawsuit, as it can cause traumatic damage to the child. While this may not seem like something that someone would get traumatized over, but for children with Autism or other learning disorders, being stuck into a bag or forced into an empty room without leave can be very, very disturbing.
Thankfully for us, the staff and teachers that deal with these students know exactly how to handle these students and keep them under control. This allows our students to go through their normal classes and clubs without needing assistance from teachers and/or other adults.