Guest Author - Bonnie Sayers
Now that school is out and my children are enjoying summer camp I can reflect on the past school year without distractions. This was the first year of homeschooling with California Virtual Academy with my son Nicholas, so these few weeks of autism camp are the first break for me since last summer session ended.
Two titles came to mind in writing this article, school safety issues and forcing kids that are severe to participate in school activities. I chose the first one at the last minute.
All throughout the Elementary School years I took my son Matthew to either his classroom or the cafeteria to wait for the autism teacher to escort class to their room. At the first school around the corner from home where we walked each morning and afternoon I witnessed the behavior of the bus drivers and how they engaged with the students. I also observed how the teachers and assistants walk with the students to the bus. I would see bus drivers sitting in the bus listening to music, on the sidewalk smoking their cigarettes and the rudeness to students. I knew this was not something I wanted my children to be subjected to.
The last four years for Matthew required a drive to the school where we parked in the lot and walked into the cafeteria where the special education classes sat together. The kids who arrived via the bus were already sitting with the aides at the tables either eating or being reprimanded for moving about on the benches or watching the pidgeons or just conversing with one another.
To this day I still do not understand why the special education students are made to sit still at the benches while general education students can run amok on the playground before the bell rings. The kids who need that movement the most before having to endure the rigid pace of the classroom are those with autism.
At the previous school the class and adults did a few laps around the playground. I liked being able to observe at various times of the day what they were doing on the playground. This was not possible at the last school since it was farther away. At the first school the cafeteria was next to the special education classroom and the kids who took the bus would bring their breakfast to the classroom to eat and then read or do puzzles before school started while the rest of the school was outside on the playground.
What I do not grasp is how the gates are locked at the schools and parents have a difficult time trying to get on the campus of schools, yet arrive in the morning or afternoon to take or pick up your child and you will see men cutting down trees and mowing the lawn as the children are on the grounds. I find this to be a dangerous practice and one that should be done once school is out for the day.
There was a man painting right on the wall in the cafeteria right next to where the children in special education were eating for one week, and no one was having the kids move to another location. It sure looked like the assistants were having a morning social with each other and not watching children. I watched as kids got up and ran away, and other times sitting there with their fingers in their ears clearly having a stressful time and no adult was there to soothe or calm the student. Other times the kids are playing with spilt drinks on the table and they are not taken to the bathroom to wash their hands. Then when they line up it is clear that they have food particles on their faces and no assistance is given at these times as well.
Children in special education are bullied and ridiculed all the time. They need assistants that will attend to them and not neglect them. The families should also be alerted when maintenance is being done on the school property so parents can be more alert due to the lack on the part of the school staff.
Another issue of mine is when the schools have these festivities and do not prepare the child with special needs or accommodate their challenges. This includes assemblies, plays, festivals and sports events. At the end of the school year I arrived early to wait for my son and walked onto the playground by his classroom and saw many classes formed into circles doing some sort of dancing.
Matthew’s class was taking part since I heard his screeching and immediately saw him in an uncomfortable position trying to get out of doing the circling about with a few classes. He was clearly agitated and it was obvious by his posture that he was scared of the position he was put in. My other son Nicholas was with me since we arrived straight from his state testing location. Nicholas was visibly shaken by seeing his brother being reprimanded by the teacher and a few assistants, all at different times they would remove him from the circle and take him away and make him put his hands behind his back. I was ready to dart across that playground and grab my son out of that mess, but Nicholas was seeing that several students from different classes had turned to look at us and they knew we were his family. Not that they all knew us, but being one of only a few Caucasian families at this school it was quite obvious and Nicholas was embarrassed and refused to go back to that school.
Once they left the classes dispersed to their rooms and Matthew’s went in another direction for a few minutes. I am not sure what they were doing but they finally emerged and then Matthew saw us. I was ready to blow a gasket but wanted to stay calm in front of the students. Since Nicholas had testing that day I stayed near the vicinity and shopped at a Target and needed a watch so I wore a new one I had never worn before. I hardly wear watches due to my eczema and rashes from the nickel jewelry. This watch was a bracelet type that did not stay secure on my wrist so it worked well. Matthew immediately took note of the watch as he approached me and touched it. I was quite impressed that he did this after suffering through that ordeal on the playground.
At the classroom I inquired to what they were practicing for and it was some Spanish festival that would be at 1PM on Friday of same week. I said that I would pick up Matthew at 12:45 and he would not be attending and I did not consent to anymore practicing. I told them that I did not think it was right to have different people dealing with Matthew and to remove him from the circle as that was confusing, and I wondered why no one noticed the way his body was arched and that he was visibly uncomfortable. I proceeded to ask why the practice of making my child stand there with his hands behind his back. He looked like he was waiting to be handcuffed! I was told by his assistant that this is what they do with all the students. I shared my disbelief at this practice and asked that it not be done anymore with my child.
Since school ended I read that horrifying story of a child that was wrapped in a weighted blanket by school teacher and left there to die with no assistance. There needs to be training at the school sites for teachers and aides to grasp what sensory processing disorders are. Maybe they need to take a class to experience it firsthand and then realize that children are suffering in silence due to being nonverbal and no one comprehending the seriousness of these issues.
Other articles to peruse on this site that pertain to school and safety issues:
Keeping Children on the autism spectrum safe
Behavior Support Planning
Educational Autism Tips for Families 71 page resourceful ebook for families entering the school system with a recent autism diagnosis. Find out what issues take place over the course of a school day and meet these challenges head on.