Autism: Missourians Deal with the Myths and Challenges
(St. Charles, MO) – It impacts an increasing number of Americans and not everyone understands it.
It’s not a disease. It’s not a terminal illness. It does change the lives of those touched by it, though.
According to Jeanne Marshall of Touch Point Autism Services, the condition impacts more Missouri families than in other parts of the nation. “In Missouri now, it’s one in 72. The national numbers are one in 88 and that’s what you often see advertised but, in Missouri, it’s one in 72 and one in 46 for boys.”
So, what is it?
Marshall says it’s “a neurobiological disorder” that impacts how the brain works. That can affect learning, communication and social relationships. Autism can be detected in a child at as early as 18 months.
One of the challenges to understanding Autism results from the fact that there are no universal symptoms. While social abilities and communication abilities are often affected by Autism, that effect could look and sound different with each person.
That means parenting changes for families with an autistic child. “Typical parenting,” Marshall explains “what you and I learned from our parents, doesn’t necessarily work with children with autism.”
Learning how to work with the condition quickly is crucial to the rest of the child’s life. In some cases, Marshall says, autistic children who get early and intense help could end up going through school “undistinguishable from their peers.”
That’s a best-case scenario, of course. What about the majority of autistic children and their education?
Missouri’s public schools are still searching for all the answers to that. As research unveils more about the condition, education is still trying to adapt to what is known and the needs of these children who learn differently than others.
According to Dr. Julian Bukalski, the school system isn’t always getting the job done for children with Autism. “I think that there’s a lack of resource and a lack of education in a lot of schools. I think that most schools do the best they can…but, I think, a lot of times, they haven’t been put through, for example, an Autism therapy class that would educate them about the best way to handle some of these manifestations of Autism.
“There’s a need for more training. I think there’s also a need for more supplies, more therapy equipment, and what we know about these therapies is changing relatively quickly.”
Bukalski is the vice president of the Missouri-based International Coalition for Autism and All Abilities.
The organization’s president, Emily Malaby, is also concerned about other approaches some schools use to deal with autistic children. She says some schools dismiss them between an hour and a half-day earlier than their peers because of their special needs status.
To her, that’s a clear violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
“Along with the training for educators and everything else, we also need to realize that these laws apply to students with Autism just as any other different ability.”
Malaby wants to see autistic children in the same class as other students their age, while having the extra help they need with them.
She and Dr. Bukalski point to research that indicates more effective learning by special needs students who are “mainstreamed” through placement in standard classes.
But what about the other children in the classroom? Would that harm their education in the process?
Malaby and Bukalski say no. Dr. Bukalski acknowledges that it may not be a typical approach of education, but he thinks it could be beneficial to everyone.
“It’s really important for other children to learn how to interact with the autistic. If your child grows up in a tolerant environment, in which there is somebody different in that classroom…that has a social benefit for those other 28 kids.
“That’s part of learning, too.”
Malaby adds that it’s good practice in a society with an increasing number of Autism diagnoses.
“They’re going to be working together someday…everyone is going to have to work with their differences.”
Their recipe for educational success: education of parents and teachers, empowerment for families and advocacy to set up an effective education plan for the children involved.
If that’s done well, they believe, future grownups may not be as different from each other as they were in grade school.
On the web:
Life Skills/Touch Point Autism Services: www.SoonerEqualsBetter.com
International Coalition for Autism and All Abilities: www.ICAAonline.org