It’s frustrating as a parent of children with autism to know there are excellent resources out there but that Indiana schools fail to access them.
In too many public schools, autism is an annoyance, especially at the secondary level. This is partly due to not addressing the needs of students with autism at the elementary level.
If students are reached very early with evidence-based interventions, many of the issues for students who respond to therapy, phase out by the time they are in secondary school. There are certain things a student must be able to do in order to be successful at the secondary level, and one of them is the ability to handle anxiety. Others include being able to attend to a task, take directions that they may not want to comply with, and be able to respond to conflict in socially acceptable ways.
Notice that most of these issues aren’t academic. They are social and emotional. Still, if a child with autism is to be guaranteed access to a free and appropriate education, they aren’t able to access it if they can’t get past the social and emotional piece. Yet, during IEP meetings, schools argue that these are non-academic issues and schools are not required to address them.
What I’ve experienced in Indiana is a lack of genuine compassion and interest in helping students with autism succeed. I’ve also experienced a shameful scarcity of school attention towards helping students struggling above the precarious precipice of diploma track vs. certificate of completion. (I heard a rumor that “no diploma for people with low I.Q.s, etc.,” could be changing for Indiana but I’m not holding my breath.) Too often I’ve been told or have overheard teachers and paraprofessionals say, “don’t bother wasting your time helping that one, they’re taking them off diploma track anyway.”
Special Education teachers burn out because of lack of administrative support. They are given over-sized case loads that result in students falling through academic cracks. They’re not provided with materials, resources, or training for meeting the students’ needs. The mantra is to do the bare minimum of intervention so that schools can legally pocket the rest of the special education monies. Students in dire need of 1:1 aides are not provided them. Instead, one “instructional assistant” or “para-professional” is given to classrooms, and only maybe 1 or 2 per grade if that. No one student is given enough attention and support. Sometimes, high school students still need 1:1 support. Need is the operative word, and is the word that schools interpret any way they wish.
And where is the accountability for special education dollars? Why is our local area program bankrupt? The money wasn’t spent on my twins with autism, I can tell you that. (They are 22 now.) Was the money (millions) spent on teacher training in my school system? No. Was the money spent on 1:1 paraprofessionals for students with autism in my school system? No. Was it spent on administrative conferences and trips? Yes. Why are we not allowed to see how the money is spent?
Special Education teachers are under strict orders not to offer any services outside of the bare minimum. And because teachers want to keep their jobs, they do what they’re told. If you want services, you, the parent, have to bring them to the table. Remember, the school is not obligated in any way to go above and beyond anything but minimum. This is how they interpret and practice “free and appropriate.” Period.
Not all schools are turning their backs on autism. I hope to find these schools and highlight what they’re doing right. (If you know of one, please let me know in the comments below.) But far too many are doing it wrong. Far too many simply don’t care. What’s more important to many schools is keeping ISTEP scores high so they can attract high-scoring students to their schools via the voucher program.
If your student doesn’t make the administration look good, you don’t matter. You’re an inconvenient annoyance. The school hopes parents will pull the student out of school by the end of the year. If the student has already attended X number of days, they get to count the student for the full year and get to pocket the special education monies without spending a dime on support.
Parents are ill-informed of their recourse options. Even though the state law requires that parents be given the “Procedural Safeguards” brochure at the IEP meetings, few parents have the energy to read and digest it. Most of their energy is poured into getting their student through one more day, working their own jobs, and dealing with their other children. This brochure usually isn’t explained by anyone in the IEP meeting. And parents with low-functioning abilities are too embarrassed to have anyone explain it to them.
Here are some resources every parent with a child with disabilities living in Indiana should use:
Indiana Resource Center for Autism. This organization provides incredible training for teachers working with students with autism. Why aren’t all the schools in Indiana accessing this? Is it time to ask our legislators to mandate this training for our Special Education teachers? There are also great resources for parents, including a Lending Library and a few helpful videos:
Another excellent help for parents when working with public schools is In*Source. If you’re not getting what you believe your child needs in school, and every IEP meeting is a war zone, this organization can help you. They provide trained support advocates to go with you into the IEP meeting and help you navigate the laws to get your child’s needs met. I am a trained In*Source advocate, but now that I’m a teacher, am unable to be part of this service. These advocates are volunteers, and are passionate about helping kids with disabilities get what they need in public school. Don’t hesitate to contact them for help.
Other (Sort of) Helpful Autism Resources in Indiana:
The reason I call these “sort of” resources is that they do provide information and fund-raising types of things, but not much practical hands-on help for families living in the trenches. However, I’m not belittling what they do. My focus for this post is for helping parents get what they need for their child at public school.
I love helping parents find answers. What questions do you have about autism, disabilities or accessing public school services? Leave your questions and comments below and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible! Do you know of a school that does autism intervention right? Please tell me so I can feature them on my blog!
My newest book is available now for pre-order at the following locations. I am so excited and the twins can’t wait to meet you! Our Book Talk will be August 3rd at Manchester Public Library. I will post more information as the date draws near!
“Help for Indiana Schools: Autism Resources” first appeared on Karla Akins’ blog at KarlaAkins.com