Name: margalit
Location: Massachusetts, United States Professional writer, educational advocate, opinionated ultra liberal mother of 18 year old twins, living life in the slow lane due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Lincoln-Sudbury parents meeting report

I didn't go to the Lincoln-Sudbury meeting because I don't live in the towns served by the school, but I have been very interested in this story since the stabbing last week. My fear then was that the parents would blame the child that allegedly committed the crime, John Odgren, because he had Aspergers and is on the autistic spectrum. And sure enough, plenty of questions regarding Aspergers have arisen in the media, and on local blogs. One of the more harmful statements came from the head of the New England Center for Autism, who categorically stated that kids with Aspergers are not violent. Not only is that untrue, but it does a severe disservice to the Aspergers community.

Not every Aspie is violent. That certainly is true. But frustration is a side effect of serious inability to deal with social issues, facial recognition of emotions, and an inability to recognize one's own emotions. Kids with Aspergers often cannot understand basic non-verbal communication because they just miss so many of the social cues. Frustration often leads to punching walls, putting fists through windows, and hitting. Anyone who knows an Aspie kid has probably seen this behavior.

When Aspies get older, they aren't only dealing with social ostracism and their own inability to pierce the social aspects of high school, they're also dealing with the frustrations of puberty. That is one volitile mix, one that can lead to some pretty severe consequences.

Odgren was in a special program for kids with emotional issues. It is a closely supervised program and is headed by a psychologist. The classes are small, the program isn't necessarily integrated into the main school community. Most kids that attend programs like this don't go outside the program their freshman year, some never do anything in the main school at all. The programs are segregated physically from the mainstream.

Many public high schools have programs like this. Both of the school in my community do, and so do many of the neighboring schools. Some programs are for kids with emotional disturbances, some are for kids that need alternative education in order to graduate. Some take kids on the autistic spectrum, others do not. Some programs are for the physically handicapped, the blind, or the hearing impaired. But special education programs are almost always within public high schools. In Massachusetts this not only saves a lot of money for the school systems, as they do not have to pay for private placements in theraputic school, which are extremely expensive, but it also fulfills Massachusetts laws regarding inclusion.

Tonight, at Lincoln-Sudbury, parents questioned why this program was allowed in their school. This was the thing I was most fearful about, that it would jeopardize a successful program due to fear. I understand the fear. I certainly empathize with the parents who don't necessarily understand why a child with such severe problems was in this school setting. I don't either. Why wasn't he in a theraputic setting? Was it due to economics, as it so often is, or was it because Odgren had never before exhibited any aggressive signs?

It has been stated that his hyperfocus was on death, weapons, and forensics. But how many other kids are focussed on those topics and don't commit murder? It isn't fair to assume that just because a child is in a special education program means that he can't be trusted. And that seems to be what the angry parents are implying.

Life is so hard for kids on the spectrum. Any kid in a protected special ed program has enough on his plate without having to worry about whether or not his program is going to be abandoned. This discussion isn't going to just be at this school. It's going to be at our schools, at the Franklin schools, the Brookline schools, the Belmont schools, and any other schools that offer a public education to special needs kids with emotional issues. In MA we have extra protections for Special Education that other states do not offer. But IDEA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, states that children with special needs are required to recieve FAPE, a free and public education, just like every other kid in America. Every kid.

I'd be happy if people could remember that and not want to put these twice exceptional kids away in hiding like they did back in the 19th century. We've moved past that.


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Blogger yellojkt said...

My son was at Lincoln Sudbury two years ago for a band competition and now the school is in the news. It's a small world.

26/1/07 7:39 PM  

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