As a special educator and an advocate for students with disabilities, I was disappointed and offended by the July 11 article on autism titled "Failure to Cope." The title should have warned me that the contents and tenor of the article would be depressing, yet I was also excited to see the subject of educating students with autism as a cover article. After reading the article I feel compelled to write and let you know that I think you blew an excellent chance to inform and put to rest the fears of countless educators and members of the general public, not to mention parents of young children recently diagnosed with autism. My disappointment in the article was on so many levels, it is difficult to know where to begin.
The title, cover illustration, and Linnea Due's description of the typical stereotypical behavior of people with autism, I'm certain, only solidified the fear and ignorance of people who have had no contact or relationships with people with autism, and offended those of us who do have these relationships. It seems incredible to me that in an area that has so many educators and programs that are successfully and joyfully serving students with special needs in integrated school and recreation settings, that Due seemed to only find educators and therapists who were angry, scared, or exhausted by their work with students and their families. There are countless therapists and educators whom I know personally who would discount most of the depressing, negative statements made by her sources.
Yet the greatest insult in the article was the picture she painted of parents, which was overly simplistic and very offensive. She continually offered descriptions of parents by therapists and administrators as "angry," "fearful," "in denial," and "grieving" over their child who would never be normal. I don't believe any of those sources has the credentials nor the right to judge or interpret the actions of these parents. The parents with whom I have worked to develop educational plans for their children are strong advocates for their children for one very good reason: Their children, like most children in elementary and middle school, cannot successfully advocate for themselves. It is important to remember that students with disabilities were only guaranteed the right to any public education 26 years ago (public law 94-142). Parents are now advocating for their children to be included in general education classes, and for teachers and assistants to be trained and willing to implement constantly changing interventions and technologies so that their children will have a level playing field with their classmates. All of which is guaranteed by federal law. It's very similar to the fight for integration and equal education of African-American children.
It also is really unfortunate that you tossed away the chance to share stories of hope about these children -- stories of children who are loved by their families and friends for who they are; stories of parents, administrators, and educators who are working collaboratively to integrate these children into our classrooms, afterschool programs, and summer camps; and stories of the remarkable gifts and talents children so easily labeled as "failures" and "hopeless cases." You should leave subjects like this to publications that want to inform and inspire, rather than fanning the flames of hysteria over the issue of rising cases of autism.
Name Withheld, Via the internet
What is wrong with Linnea Due ("Failure to Cope," July 11)? Can she research the Internet? Why does she refuse to report that the cause of massive cases of autism is the dumb medical habit of fifteen vaccinations to a baby at one time?
Donald Guilian, Via the internet
In your story ("Failure to Cope," July ll), you do what every reporter seems bound to do: comment on how the special education kids are robbing the regular education program.
With Bush in the White House, federal help probably won't gallop in on a stallion anytime soon. So we're left with a lose-lose situation, in which the devastating needs of some kids subtract from the needs of others (when special education "borrows" from the general fund, that's less money for band instruments and computers and books and maintenance). What no one seems to ask is why a child with a health problem (in my son's case, a motor-planning disability that affects speech and writing) is forbidden speech and occupational therapy from medical insurance. Why is this all falling on the school district? That is the question, not how to stop these children from breaking the bank.
And please, don't forget that some of these children do progress and move into the mainstream and into satisfying lives. At any rate, they are human beings, and deserve whatever is effective for their progress. My son did have a one-on-one aide for kindergarten and first grade (among other things, he spends six half-hours a week out of the classroom, which is done during instructional time for the other children). They are withdrawing some support in second grade, and I expect he will leave elementary with nothing other than some handwriting accommodations and a little social support. He also has a gifted IQ level, and will probably be a rocket scientist (not kidding) some day. What he is getting now is ensuring that he learns to speak (still working on articulation at seven-and-a-half) and that he does not become so frustrated by his difficulties that he tunes out on school before he gets a chance to reach his strengths.
Please, please reach for some balance and reporting of what works in the future when you do this kind of story. I ask that you not use any identifying information for the sake of my son's privacy.
Name Withheld, Via the internet
I am writing to correct a piece of information included in your recent article about Tom Clyde and the Transparent Theater ("Room with a View," July 11).
In addition to Insurrection: Holding History, ACT was also the producer of -- 14: An American Ma(u)l in March of 2000, the second play in Robert O'Hara's trilogy. That world premiere production was part of the regular ACT Conservatory's MFA. season, which has been dubbed by the local press a "well-kept secret for theater-lovers in search of hot new acting talent and interesting scripts...." We'll be producing another premiere in October, Marc Blitzein's No for an Answer. Come and check it out!
Barbara Hodgen, Conservatory Administrator, ACT
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