On the last track we discussed Echolalia. This included why autistic children echo, teaching “I don’t understand,” rewording the question, adding questions, giving choices and repetition for its own sake.
On this track, we will discuss the inclusion of autistic children in a typical school setting to help them socialize. Have you ever worked with a family whose autistic child was being mainstreamed into the public school system? Have you ever had to testify in court on the child’s behalf? As you listen to Dr. Lynn Koegel’s account of a court case, from her book, Overcoming Autism, think about how you might respond if called to testify for an autistic child in a similar court case. Dr. Koegel wrote:
The first, and most fundamental obstacle, is that education is an evolving science, and inclusion is a relatively new process. As you are aware, the autistic child is entitled by law to participate in the “least restrictive environment,” some schools do not even have a fully developed inclusive program. Track 10 will provide you with some specific information I provided the school to facilitate their inclusion of an autistic child into the classroom.
Dr. Koegel worked with a preschool child...from a small community in southern California whose parents elected to enroll him in their local preschool where his sister went. They contacted the director of special education to request an aide for six hours a week to help him with communication and socialization.
The director said that if he had autism, he would have to be in their special autism program. He refused to bend on the subject, so it went to fair hearing. Dr. Koegel testified on behalf of the child, pointing out that he was succeeding quite well in the regular education preschool classroom, and that what he really needed was to learn how to interact socially and verbally with his peers, something that this setting would provide an ideal opportunity for.
The testimony of the fair hearing trial gives you a pretty good sense of how unwilling the school was to give the family what they were asking for. Dr. Koegel’s account of her testimony was as follows:
The school’s attorney asked, “Lynn, have you ever worked in the public schools?”
The family’s attorney found it humorous that she refused to call me Dr. Koegel.
I replied, “Yes, I worked in the public schools as a speech and language specialist.”
The attorney asked, “Did you ever work with any children who were in special education classes.
“Yes,” I responded.
The attorney asked, “And did you ever help any of them?”
I replied, “Yes, but back then there weren’t really many children who were included.”
The attorney snapped, “I didn’t ask you that. Let me reiterate my question. Did you ever feel like you helped any of them?”
“Yes,” I affirmed.
The attorney then said, “Lynn, let me ask you another question. Do you testify often on behalf of families?”
I responded, “Not often, but occasionally. Usually the districts try to work out their differences before—“
The attorney interrupted, “Lynn, I don’t want any additional information. Just answer the question.”
The family’s attorney spoke up, saying, “Objection, Judge. If Dr. Koegel doesn’t give her the answer she wants, she harasses the witness.”
The Judge stated, “Please let Dr. Koegel answer the question.”
The school’s attorney tried again, “Let me ask another question. In your court experience, Lynn, have you ever testified on behalf of a family who wanted their child in a special education classroom?”
I replied, “That’s a complicated question. Placement is an individual decision, and I have trained and worked with many teachers and staff who teach in special education classrooms, but in regard to testimony, usually the reason the cases go to court is because the only option the schools provide to the parents is a special education classroom—”
The school’s attorney interrupted again, in a nasty voice, “That wasn’t what I asked. Just answer ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”
The family’s attorney said, “Objection. Judge, if the school’s attorney thinks she knows everything, let’s swear her in and let her testify. She is badgering the witness! If the witness don’t give her the answer she wants, she cuts her off.”
The Judge stated to the school’s attorney,“Please let the expert witness give her opinion and fully answer your question.”
According to Dr. Koegel, this type of questioning went on and on for hours, but several months later the ruling came. The family won everything. Not only did they get the aide in the regular preschool, but the judge ordered that the entire tuition be paid by the school, which was something that the family hadn’t even asked for, and that the school reimburse the family for all past expenses including the previous year’s tuition and aide time. Dr. Koegel and the family had won, but it took a lot of time and effort to fight that battle. It may seem like this scenario was from the dark ages, but it wasn’t.
While schools are becoming more aware of the need for inclusive programs, the public education system is still in a transition period from a time when no children with autism were included in any public education program. Unfortunately, moving forward takes time.
On this track, we discussed the difficulties surrounding inclusion of autistic children in a typical school setting. Dr. Koegel was called on to vouch for an autistic child being mainstreamed into a regular classroom.
On the next track, we will discuss Replacement Behaviors. This will include practicing, self-management, not letting the little things slide and priming. As you listen to this track, think about the techniques you use to treat autistic children who might benefit from learning replacement behaviors.
Why did Dr. Koegel and the autistic child’s family believe the autistic child needed to be mainstreamed into a regular classroom?
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