Dealing with the public school system and educators can be challenging. Knowing how to advocate for your child with high-functioning autism can be difficult at best especially because much of the child’s disabilities may be “hidden”. These hidden disabilities, the ones that are not readily seen by adults can be acutely realized by the child’s peers, and are apparent to the child’s parents. Educators who do not understand the nature of autism often offer objections to requests by parents for the child to receive additional or specialized help. These are the most commonly reported “objections” that parents receive.
Your child was fine when talking to me
This response is not only heard from educators but also from doctors and psychologists unfamiliar with autism spectrum disorders. Autism experts agree that these children tend to be very comfortable around adults. In fact a child with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome tends to be in their ideal situation when talking with adults—especially one-on-one. But, have they observed the child with their peers, and in multiple social situations?
He/She can do the work, they are just lazy
The idea that the child can do the work, but just doesn’t want to, or is being lazy is a very common misconception. These children tend to be able to do the work some of the time, which is what the educator uses as “evidence” to support their idea that the child just does not “want” to do it. However, the inability to consistently perform is typical of the disorder. This is not “willful.” Children with this disorder have gaps in abilities, and get easily overwhelmed by demands. A stressful or overwhelming day can hinder the child’s ability to perform.
Your child is not being picked on
He/she may falsely believe that they are being picked on, and that the children in class may actually like them. But misunderstanding social cues is typical of the disorder. Even if they are “misinterpreting” cues does not mean that the child is not in distress. Additionally, teasing or bullying may be occurring when the educator is not looking.
Your child needs to participate in mainstream lunch and recess
Asserting that the child needs to learn to “cope” by tossing them into overwhelming situations can cause more trauma. For many children on the autism spectrum, the social and sensory demands of a typical public school lunchroom can be overwhelming. Once the child is overwhelmed, he/she will not be coping or learning.
Your child is doing “fine” in class
Children cannot be categorized as doing “fine” solely on receiving passing grades. What is their definition of fine? Children with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome tend to be of average to above-average intelligence and often have the ability to pass tests and/or read above their grade levels. This does not mean they do not have unique challenges, or are not overwhelmed and distressed.
Your child is happy in school
Your child may appear to be happy in school but when he/she gets home, they are out of control. Children of this type can frequently hold it together during the day just long enough to get in the front door. A child who has exhausted all their reserves during the day trying to avoid punishment or embarrassment will often “fall apart” when they get home. Meltdowns, tears, aggression, and difficulty completely homework assignments are just a few of the results.
Parents, teachers, and doctors unfamiliar with autism may have many of these same misconceptions. Helping your child get the assistance they need to succeed can be challenging, but if you are armed with answers yourself you can advocate more effectively for them.