Monday, November 13, 2006

New Brunswick Schools Punish Autistic Children for Being Autistic (2)

In an earlier post I commented on schools in the UK and New Brunswick punishing autistic children for autistic behavior. The attached article from the Daily Gleaner tells the story of two such children, one in Fredericton, and one in Campbellton. We need Teacher Assistants and Resource Teachers with autism specific training to work with autistic children. Some are in fact being trained at this time at the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program but more are needed.

It is time that schools and educators in New Brunswick recognized that autism is not just a different personality type; it is a serious neurological condition that requires specialized learning techniques in order for autistic children to learn and function. Failure to provide the autism trained personnel results in failure for autistic children. Such failure has been described by a UK professor who recently completed a study of inclusion in UK schools as being tantamount to abuse. Blaming the children themselves for that failure adds weight to the professor's abuse allegation.

Mom: System fails autistic children

The Daily Gleaner/David Smith photo

Tanya Michaud and her 14-year-old autistic son, Skyler Michaud, look through some school books at their Durham Bridge home recently

Tanya Michaud is struggling to keep her son in school for the second year in a row, but it's not because he doesn't want to go.

"Skyler loves school, but right now he's at home doing nothing," Michaud said. "He's been taken out of yet another one."

Skyler Michaud, 14, has Asperger's syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.

He's intelligent and high-functioning, Michaud said, but he likes structure and consistency. He can become aggressive if his daily schedule is changed.

Because of this aggression, Michaud said, the school system doesn't want to deal with her son.

"He does fine in class as long as he's given time to settle into a routine," she said.

"I don't understand why he's being shuffled around. The constant changes are very hard on him."

Elementary wasn't a good experience for Skyler and neither was his first exposure to middle school, Michaud said.

He was taken out of Devon Middle School and moved into Nashwaaksis Middle because he was lashing out at others, said his mother.

Nashwaaksis officials refused to comment about their experience with Skyler stating they are unable to discuss individual students, even with the parent's permission.

"I had to fight to get Skyler a teacher's assistant," Michaud said. "But as soon as he got one, he was fine."

Skyler has since moved on to Leo Hayes High School, but he is encountering the same problems he faced in middle school.

"Even though I sent them a doctor's note telling them what to expect, they still weren't prepared. At first, there was no (teacher's assistant), and it's been nothing but environment changes and shuffling around since.

"So he's been very easily agitated lately."

Recently, Michaud received a call from the school because Skyler was upset and needed to go home, but she couldn't leave work to pick him up.

Michaud said Skyler was handcuffed and escorted home by the school's police officer and informed he would not be allowed to return to Leo Hayes.

"I cannot comment on one specific individual, but I can say that every attempt is made to provide for every student in their local school," said Kevin Pottle, principal of Leo Hayes High School.

"Any situation where we deviate from that, it's not done lightly and it's certainly done because we feel it will better serve a student."

Pottle said moving a student out of a school is a last resort. He said they don't move students without a good reason.

"Sometimes the school environment doesn't work well for a child," Pottle said.

"There's an energy when you walk into our school, and for most it's great, but for those with challenges, in particular autism spectrum disorders, that energy might not be a positive one."

Colleen Irvine and her daughter Morgan, 9, are having the same problems in Campbellton.

Her daughter has Asperger's and has not been in school since the middle of October.

"Her school is saying they can't control her behaviour and have exhausted their resources," Irvine said. "You're not supposed to try to control the behaviour, but look at what's causing the outburst to begin with."

Irvine said the school has told her Morgan is "assigned to home," but still hasn't had time to settle into a routine.

"She was given a supply teacher who had no teaching degree or training in autism," Irvine said.

Michaud said her son is now supposed to attend a tutor-assistance program at Fredericton High School.

The program is meant to provide a way for him to catch up while working his way back into a school environment.

"He's supposed to go to FHS after that, but I live clear out in Durham Bridge and we have no way of getting him there," Michaud said.

"I've been told they have no intention of returning him to Leo Hayes or finding transportation for him to get there."

The worried mother said she feels the responsibility of her child's education is being shrugged off because he is more of a challenge than other students.

Harold Doherty, Michaud's lawyer and the former president of the Autism Society of New Brunswick, said he's hearing this same complaint from parents throughout the province.

"Generally, the needs of autistic children are not being met," Doherty said. "There's almost 1,000 autistic kids in our schools and we might have 15-20 people trained to work with them."

Doherty said if a school is prepared, it's possible for children with autism spectrum disorders to attend without major problems.

He said the government promised to train more people to deal with these children. If the promise is kept, he said, there is hope for families such as the Michauds and the Irvines.

1 comment:

Maddy said...

I wish there were better statistics for comparison between the UK and the US. We're always dithering whether to stay or go back.
Best wishes