School will be starting soon, and if you have a school-aged child on the autism spectrum, that will often mean working with the school in a much closer way than most parents will have to experience. Central to this is the Individualized Education Program (IEP), which is supposed to be developed with equal input from your child’s teacher or teachers, special education teacher or teachers, the administration, and you. Your child’s teachers are then supposed to get a copy of the finalized IEP so they know all of the modifications and accommodations they are supposed to supply.
Most parents just leave it at that and assume the teacher is doing what he or she is supposed to do. However, you need to be aware that this is often not the case.
Just because your child’s teacher is nice and seems to like your child or “tolerates” your child’s behaviors, that doesn’t mean he or she is actually following the IEP—or even understands it. For example, Daniel is supposed to have small group accommodations, especially for tests. However, we noticed he was failing all his tests. When we asked if he was being tested in a small group, the teacher told us she makes sure she’s right next to him when she’s administering the test. But that’s not the same thing as administering the test to Daniel in a small group. Not even close.
That happened this past year. Another thing that happened this past year involved our eldest child, Melina. In her case, we needed her two teachers to fill out some documents so we could have Melina tested to see if she may have Asperger’s. She has several autistic traits—something common in siblings of autistic children—so we wanted to find out if she was on the spectrum, not quite on the spectrum, or what. The doctor gave us two questionnaires to give to each of her teachers. When the deadline to get them back approached, we received a single questionnaire, filled out by both teachers together, and with entire columns circled.
I emailed the teachers and told them they were supposed to each fill one out, and that to me the way they filled it out by circling entire columns of answers suggested to me they weren’t taking the questionnaire seriously. I cc’ed both teachers and the principal, so the latter could know what was going on, but ended up in a pretty heated back and forth via email with her teachers, one of whom insisted that it wasn’t necessary for them to fill out the surveys differently. Of course, the fact that they both gave quite different answers on their surveys when they finally did do them separately proved otherwise, and I have to wonder to what degree their not taking the request seriously resulted in Melina being diagnosed as not quite on the spectrum, but close.
Parents need to be aware of the degree to which teachers may not take the autism diagnosis seriously, not follow the IEP, ignore problems, and blow off parents’ concerns. People who don’t face these sorts of things are themselves quick to dismiss these things taking place, arguing that teachers have so much to do, and so forth. Yes, but when it’s your child not getting the education or the treatment he or she deserves and is owed, I promise you that you’ll be the first one at the school door.