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There are no discussion topics on this book yet. About Writers Block. In December of , when Christian was 10, doctors diagnosed him with autism spectrum disorder. And yet, Thorndyke says, the school continued to send Christian to the room, sometimes for the entire day. According to the family, Christian often begged for food or water, or to use the washroom, and was ignored.
Once, he urinated on the floor; he says he was given a mop and told to clean it up. One day, the stress and humiliation became overwhelming. Christian broke down. He wrote on the walls and began choking himself with his hands. Soon after, school administrators called Thorndyke and told her to keep Christian at home. For the next two years, he was bumped from school to school across the public system in Brampton and Mississauga. Thorndyke claims he was asked to leave each institution for unmanageable behaviour.
She says she got so many calls to pick up her son that it became a full-time job. In January , the Peel District School Board told her that Christian would need to stay home indefinitely until they could figure out a new solution. For the rest of the school year, Thorndyke home-schooled him. The board eventually sent an educational assistant to help her. In the fall of , she went to the media to bring attention to her situation.
A few weeks after the story broke, the Peel board found a placement for Christian in an autism-specific classroom of just six students, where trained teachers and educational assistants helped him through the year with minimal problems. In their statement of defence, the Peel board denies all of the charges levelled against them. The Thorndyke case is an extreme version of a far more common story. As more autistic students enter the school system, administrators are scrambling to find the resources to support them.
Ontario school boards are legally mandated to provide special education programs and services for kids who need them. The parents of autistic children have galvanized into a zealous, powerful constituency. Last spring, the warrior parents demonstrated their power. The announcement sparked protests across the province.
Dr. Thorndyke Intervenes
After months of demonstrations, the government retreated. The protests were a harbinger of things to come. People are diagnosed based on whether they exhibit a handful of symptoms, such as difficulty with communication, limited social interaction and repetitive behaviours like hand-flapping. Researchers estimate that there are probably more than genes responsible for neurodevelopment, and the same genes associated with autism are also found in people with ADHD, obsessive compulsive disorder and other neurological conditions.
As a label, then, autism seems at once too broad—encompassing everyone from eccentric professors to people who will need institutional care for the rest of their lives—and too restrictive, cordoning off one corner of neurological diversity and calling it a pathology. For massive organizations like school boards, this diversity makes it difficult to create policies and systems.
A growing number of kids are being diagnosed with autism. In , the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that one in children had autism. A decade later, that number rose to one in In , fewer than 5, autistic students were enrolled in Ontario schools. Now, they number 19, One report found that there is only one special ed teacher for every 37 students with special needs.
Even getting children the psycho-educational assessment necessary to find a placement can be difficult; many schools have an average of six students still waiting to be assessed. And the majority of Ontario school boards spend more on special education than they receive from the government. They have to reallocate funds from other areas to cover the deficit. In the TDSB, students with autism will either be placed in a specialized classroom, with as few as eight students for every instructor, or join a regular classroom.
The mainstreamed kids meet with an Identification, Placement and Review Committee—a group that might include the school principal, psychologists and social workers—along with their parents.
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The committee will help create an Individual Education Plan, or IEP, which is a legally binding document that lays out educational goals and accommodations for instance, extra time to complete tasks or frequent breaks to move around. The IPRC will also determine the level of support a student receives, which can range from a few hours a week with a special ed teacher all the way up to a full-time educational assistant.
The meetings between families and educators often devolve into tense standoffs, with combative parents on one side and condescending educators on the other.
Parents of autistic kids spend their days waiting for the call to come pick their kids up from school. Unlike suspensions, which have time limits and oversights, principals are allowed to deny admittance to students with special needs for safety reasons.
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I n the past, most autistic kids were educated in specialized classrooms, but that method has fallen out of favour with educators, many of whom see it as a way to warehouse challenging kids. Instead, boards have moved toward integrating autistic kids into regular classrooms. Research shows that, when handled properly, having autistic kids in the class can be beneficial for everyone.
In theory, autistic kids learn from their classmates, and vice versa, in an atmosphere of empathy and mutual respect. School can be a confusing, scary place for kids on the spectrum. Often, kids are thrust into a mainstream classroom without the necessary supports to help them succeed. Melnitzer agreed to speak with me on the condition that I use a pseudonym for her daughter.
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When she was in Grade 4, she began having difficulties at school.