At this time of year, when Individualized Educational Plans are discussed and recommendations are offered about the coming year, parents are often unsure about optimal placement for their children affected with ASD.
If assigned to an Exceptional Student Education classroom with disruptive students, will their child copy the behaviors, in order to gain attention? Is being exposed to a great deal of ‘stimming’ a cause for concern? Will nascent speech be nurtured in a more neuro-typical classroom or ignored in a apraxic group? Are there youngsters who will become friends or others who promote bullying?
This is the conundrum faced by the parents of many of our recovering patients. The medical side of autism and ADHD is my primary concern. However, one family insisted that I voice my opinion regarding their 5-year-old’s upcoming formal classification. I agreed to assist by speaking with the appropriate school staff, including the teachers, administrators, school psychologist, and therapists.
For the first 20 minutes or so, each professional detailed, “hyperactive,” “lack of focus,” “easy distractibility,” and academic performance issues.
“What is your opinion, Dr. Udell?”
My answer, “It sounds as if you are describing the child’s immaturity.”
I expressed that the majority of medical professionals who heard these concerns would most certainly recommend stimulant medications (e.g. Adderall, Ritalin); if not now, then within the next few years. “Oh, no, Dr. Udell,” was the answer. “That’s not what we meant!” Regardless of staff intentions, most pediatricians, child psychologists, psychiatrists and child neurologists give the knee-jerk response – meds.
Be realistic about what goals YOU expect in the next school year. For young children, speech acquisition and play are the most important skills. Occasionally, no school is likely achieve these goals, and parents should consider other options (home with appropriate therapies).
The school is expected to document progress in fine motor skills (e.g., drawing, writing, cutting), group activities (circle time, following directions) and academic skills (letters, colors, reading). Will your child “make it” in that environment, or are those the biggest weaknesses?
Auditory, visual and sensory processing difficulties need to be addressed in order for children to succeed in a neuro-typical setting. Extra attention outside of school (OT, PT) can provide significant benefit.
The proven therapy for behavioral difficulties is ABA. Disruptive conduct cannot be ignored in a neuro-typical classroom, so any behavioral resources that the family can provide are paramount. Habits (such as face and hair ‘touching’) that appear “cute” in a toddler, may be unsettling in a 6-year-old, more-than-troubling in a pre-adolescent, and out-of-order in a teen.
When the teacher says, “Look at the chalkboard,” Junior has to respond appropriately. Kids need to look like they are attending, even if they aren’t. Often, the situation is quite the opposite – the child is listening, but adults misunderstand.
In the best of circumstances, most children who are recovering from their ASD would do best in a neuro-typical classroom, with pullouts for extra services and tutoring, and a shadow to redirect. Obviously, that requires significant resources and the school’s cooperation. However, the need for stimulant medications would be greatly reduced.