A five year old, probably with Asperger's Syndrome but as yet undiagnosed, boy stays home after being voted out of his class by his classmates at the behest of his unapologetic teacher. Like the case of the woman harassing her daughter's depressive friend via MySpace, this case is unfathomable. In fact, when I read about this last night, I didn't blog about it. I just didn't know how to respond to an example of such callous disregard and stupidity.
My son has Asperger's Syndrome and he is indeed a challenge in the classroom--not because he's a behavior problem but because he just requires extra help to stay on task, understand the assignment and decide what to do next. For a young child with Asperger's Syndrome, the classroom is an overload of stimuli. So, depending on the school's philosophy, the child might end up in Special Education with the mentally retarded and behavior problem children. The only problem is that the children with Asperger's Syndrome have normal I.Q.s. and are often underestimated.
Teachers are frustrated because they have other children in the classroom that need to be taught. A lazy or immature or stupid teacher takes it out on the child when the problem can only be resolved with the school administration and parents. A good teacher manages and some dedicated teachers give extra time and view the special child as a challenge to be helped.
Parents are frustrated. If they get their child diagnosed, it often means medication and lowered academic expectations causing the child to fall behind. The average Asperger's child graduates High School with a second grade education. In fact, around sixth grade, many of these children fall irreparably behind but not for lack of intelligence. This is a towering educational failure with life-long implications for the child.
What many of these children need, but rarely get, is one-on-one intensive intervention in the early educational years gradually phasing it out as the child grows. This is expensive, true. But it is far cheaper than having a child on life-long disability because he hasn't been taught the skills to work and get through the day.
The Barton's, like many families, didn't get their child diagnosed until the child is in school and they're still working on it. The infant and toddler and pre-school development of the child is uneven but normal enough to not raise flags with parents and pediatricians. Stick the child in an over-stimulating environment where constant demands are made and suddenly, everyone knows something is wrong. This is a traumatic time for parents. It is an upsetting one for teachers. No one likes to bear this news.
Another thing to consider: many five year olds are emotionally immature or developmentally uneven. Some can read. Some can't. Some can count. Some can't. Some can sit still. Some can't. Kindergarten isn't about heavy duty academics, so how is this child "disrupting" the education of others as some have suggested?
Wendy Portillo, the child's teacher, put Alex Barton a five year old, in front of his classmates and asked each child to say something that annoyed them about the child. They then voted whether or not to keep him in the class. Only two out of the fourteen children voted to keep him in the room, but the children are five and hardly have an understanding of what they were being asked. Imagine, for a moment, a teacher doing this to your child. It is cruel beyond all comprehension.
Melissa Barton, Alex's mom, was just lucky that her son is verbal enough that he could tell her what happened. Many children with Asperger's and Autism, including my son, have great difficulty with expressive language. Something like this could happen to an Autistic child and his parents would never know.
The challenge of educating bright, but developmentally different children, is not going away. For whatever reason, the numbers of these children are still increasing. Parents, teachers and school districts need to stop living in denial.
I saw one teacher comment saying that parents should "take their own medicine" and be responsible for teaching their own child. Well, I did that this last year with my son. The modifications made for him here at home helped him learn, but I still had to pay my taxes so the "normal" kids can go to school. Implement vouchers. Now. I would gladly pull my child out of public school for the rest of his education, but the way it stands now, my only choice is to educate my son on my own dime while paying taxes so teachers can teach the "easy" kids. The teacher needs to decide whether she supports her own union. Vouchers and educational reform would be a solution to this. Choice. Parents could vote with their money. No doubt, schools and teachers that catered to special kids would pop up. Now, this is a way to put democracy in action, teachers. Voting is great when the person being voted on isn't the teacher. That's just a little too uncomfortable.
Bottom line, I hope Ms. Barton sues the teacher and the school. This outrage is just the most extreme version of a system that teaches to the mean and is inept at educating those who fall outside of a very narrow normal.
More at Joanne Jacobs via Instapundit. The comments are illuminating. As are the comments at the link above to the local newspaper.