Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dollars and Sense

Yesterday was the day I finally realized, without a doubt, that the administration of our school corporation has issues far worse than a lack of dollars to spend - they have a lack of sense that permeates their decision making ability. Even worse than a lack of sense, I now believe that "the suits" are far more concerned with standardized test scores, athletic programs and a constant CYA vigil than they are about the students they are charged with educating. It leaves me with a very heavy heart and a disgusting taste in my mouth.

Let's start with some background: From kindergarten through 4th grade my son suffered through school, begging to be home schooled. I received multiple phone calls each week describing behaviors like hiding under desks, stuffing himself into cubbies and tantrums that were self injurious. I was told "his day is shot, just come pick him up" at least 3 times a month. Teachers refused to let him attend field trips if I or his father didn't come along. When I visited to have lunch with him, I would sit in my car and sob as I observed recess after lunch; my son sat alone by a trash can playing with his "friends", the bugs, or sometimes would swing, again all alone.

I began asking questions about autism when he was in first grade. "Oh no, no, no, no. He's far too smart to be autistic....He needs more coddle him too much...." And so I followed the advice of the building administrators, because they knew what they were talking about, right? They wanted my child to be happy, healthy and well educated, right?

By third grade I had had it. We had been seeing a child neurologist who diagnosed my then 8 year old with OCD, and began talking about Asperger's syndrome as a real possibility. In he summer between 4th and 5th grade he was officially given a medical diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

I immediately shared this with the staff at his elementary school and was immediately met with fierce resistance. I began nothing short of a war to have the school conduct an educational evaluation. Finally, when the principal's request for yet another meeting to discuss my son's "behavior" was met with my reply of "Our attorney has advised me to not meet with any staff without her present", I got my requested evaluation - and I got it FAST. Nothing makes administration move so quickly as hearing the word "attorney" :)

Enter my son's guardian angel on earth, the school corporation's autism consultant. She called me the first day she went to observe and has been diligent in her communication with me since. It took her very little time observing and interacting with him to make an educational diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. She was with me for the grief, the anger, the tears. She came to IEP meetings during her maternity leave so that I had someone on my son's side. It took about 12 minutes for my son to completely trust and love her. It took me about 12 minutes and 5 seconds. I KNEW without a doubt that she was truly invested in seeing my child succeed, and my trust in her saved the school corporation a lot of money. She "talked me down" from the edge of suing the corporation more than once.

Fast forward to yesterday: I received the news that the autism consultant position has been eliminated through budget cuts. I was devastated, angry, sad and scared - I still am reeling. How are we going to navigate the rest of middle school and then high school without her?

But, thank goodness, there is room in the corporation's budget for 2 new positions in the central office! Why, they have been such a huge help so far, with 2 more people there I can only imagine how services for students with autism will be maintained and enhanced! (In case you didn't catch it, the previous statement is dripping with sarcasm.)

I have never asked, nor investigated, what the autism consultant salary was -I've only been convinced that it was nowhere near enough. Whatever the number was, it will be dwarfed by the cost of independent educational evaluations, attorney costs and other various outside resources that parents will now have to demand the corporation pay for in order to receive the educational and psychological services guaranteed to students with disabilities through federal law.

How's that for Dollars vs. Sense?

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