What are schools going to do in response to the rise in Autism spectrum disorders?

Science has issued a statement that I'll bet doesn't surprise a lot of teachers, day care workers, or parents. 

More kids have autism than we thought.  New research suggests that 1% of all kids in the U.S. are included in this group. That includes 1 out of every 91 of our kids.  And it's more likely to be our boys than our girls. 1 in 58 boys now have this label.

And we know there are estimates that 1 in 20 kids have sensory processing disorders more specifically.

Taken together, this means that every teacher can easily find him or herself with one of these children in class.

Granted, the labels are becoming wider and less specific as the spectrum grows according to the Doctors at the Eide Neurolearning clinic and authors of The Mislabeled Child.  But they note that this label opens the doors to help.

But they also note that giftedness often occurs alongside autism spectrum disorders including sensory processing disorder (formerly referred to as sensory integration disfunction).

Thankfully, researchers are amassing tools and techniques for understanding how the brain functions as Drs. Brock and Ferrette Eide display on their amazing blog.

So what does this mean for public school systems already financially strapped and trying to meet so many children's needs already?

Our children have unique physical, social, and emotional needs

In many areas they excel and can easily become bored in a classroom setting if they are not challenged in an appropriate way to meet their learning style.

But the environment (lights, sounds, smells, having to sit for so long, having people too close in their space) can create an unforgiving environment. And that can lead to agitation, meltdowns, and unintended bumping into people or things.

And in some areas they need remedial help, particularly in tasks that involve handwriting or perhaps spelling or math for some children. 

I've heard occupational therapists bemoan the pressure to make boys engage in handwriting at such an early stage in their development. 

That sentiment is also reflected in common homeschool wisdom that often delays the introduction to handwriting (especially for boys) until much later than in traditional education systems.  And yes, our boys still learn to write!  They just pick it up when they are ready and we all avoid the frustration of those interim years of trying to push them to write when they weren't physically ready.

So here's some abstract conceptualizing about where I hope the education system is headed for the benefit of all children, not just those on the autism spectrum.

  1. View each child from an asset-oriented perspective.
  2. Identify each child's unique strengths, challenges, learning styles, and interests.
    1. Conduct individual assessments every year and starting before kindergarten (based on real and current scientific understanding of the brain.)
    2. Work with parents to identify education goals for their own child
    3. Create individualized curriculum plans based in parent input and formal assessments
  3. Create small flexible classroom structures to allow kids to be together when heterogeneity of students is helpful and divided when homogeneity is needed.
    1. When doing group activities such as clean-up, it helps the "disorganized" kids to be able to follow the cues of the "organized" kids. (Many of our sensory challenged children have high IQ's but score low on sorting and classification tasks.)
    2. But when the sensory challenged kids need to let loose, then a learning session in the gym where they can bounce balls for math might be a better use of time for them while their classmates do seat work.
  4. Institutionalize classroom environment changes that could help a large number of children to reduce negative stimuli, but also allow for each child to have modifications for his/her own unique needs.
  5. Measure standardized testing results based on each individual child's progress from year to year.
    1. Do not assume that success is equivalent to a child being at a certain place at a certain time.
    2. We don't expect kids to crawl, walk, learn to ride a bike, say their first sentence, get their first tooth at a specific set time. We accept the fact that developmental milestones normally occur during a wide time span. Kids are different.
    3. So why do we insist that certain educational milestones all have to occur at the same time for every child? "We need more 8 year olds in Kindergarten" according to this Principal!
    4. And why should we insist that every child be at the same level on every subject.
    5. Why do we need grade levels at all? It's for the convenience of the system, not our children.
  6. Educate the whole child.
    1. Recognize that boy (or girl) energy is good.
    2. Serve really healthy (not fake healthy) lunches and frequent snacks understanding
    3. Remove barriers and support children meeting their physical needs to eat, drink, move, use the bathroom, etc.
    4. Bring play back into the classroom.


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