Strength in numbers makes a difference

Several years ago, the parents in Room 623 formed a parent organization called VAST, Valley Autism Support Team. The intention of the group was to help families get good information on how to provide the best possible care for their children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).

The parents in Room 623 had learned over the years that a single voice is not as powerful as a whole group. Those involved in VAST were families that wanted the most current information available to make good choices for their children. They also worked with other groups to get sensory oriented movies in the community.

Involvement is key to improving the quality of life for children with special needs. It isn’t easy. The time commitment can be overwhelming as the needs of children with autism can be immediate and intense.

Special education is expensive. Often children need services such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, auditory therapy, adapted physical education and Braille for those that are blind. These services can become very costly.

Recently, a Houston Chronicle investigation found that the Texas Education Agency’s enrollment benchmark for special education services of 8.5 percent has led to a denial of services for special education http://www.foxnews.com/us/2016/09/12/report-benchmark-led-to-special-education-services-denials-in-texas.html.

Simply said, the state educational systems in Texas were trying to meet the 8.5 percent special education goal as set by TEA. In 2004, Texas’s special education dropped from 13 percent to the lowest in the country.

By 2015, that magic number of 8.5 percent was met. There is no research to support an 8.5 percent figure for special education.

The news story indicated that approximately 250,000 more Texas children should have been receiving assistance if they figures followed the rest of the country. The article indicates that the TEA has saved billions of dollars by decreasing services to those who need it most, children with special needs. As one teacher in the article states, “It is all a numbers game.”

The fact is for children with autism, intensive early intervention is critical. Having small numbers of ASD students in a classroom along with direct therapy services can make a major difference. Speech, occupational therapy and physical therapy services need to be available for these children and for most, more than a once a week thirty minute time period. Having classrooms of only children with ASD can help focus on the specific communication and social needs of these children.

Unlike some disabilities, an ASD child may initially score a low IQ. Then after intensive interaction with others and proper therapy, the testing IQ’s can and often do change. However, without early intervention, it becomes very difficult to alter the behaviors and learning limitations that become ingrained in a child.

There is “always a concern about over identification in special education”. No one wants to place a child in a program he doesn’t belong in. However, giving better scores to a school if it meets a goal of limiting special education totals to 8.5 percent is not providing an equal educational opportunity for all children. Besides which, there is no research to support such a figure.

It does save a lot of money for a school district to have a lower percentage of special education students. It certainly does not benefit those families who need help with their children who have disabilities.

Families having the courage to speak up is critical though that can be very challenging. Ultimately, parental involvement with groups with similar interests can lend a voice to the voiceless. Educators too, can help lend that voice. With autism affecting so many families, early identification is important along with needed support services.

Pamela Gross Downing, a special education teacher can be reached at downpamg@aol.com.