When it comes to finding the right schools for kids with challenges like autism, often it's not bullying by other kids that we have to worry about; it's bullying by adults who just don't understand how these special conditions affect kids. One mom made that heart-sinking discovery when she enrolled her son with autism in a small, private Catholic school.
"We couldn't think of a better place for our son," Diane Lang writes in a heartbreaking blog post, "How Do We Determine the Worth of a Child?" Lang believed the school's Christian values and supportive community would provide exactly the environment her son needed, "where kindness and compassion were paramount." Over time, though, it all fell apart.
Lang's son was increasingly excluded and sent home. Teachers sent her notes and letters that betrayed a complete lack of understanding of autism's symptoms, not to mention a lack of compassion in general. She includes excerpts from some of these letters -- and they could bring you to tears. Lang eventually pulled her son from the school.
We asked Lang to tell us a little more about her experience, why she told her story, and what she hopes will come from sharing it.
The Stir: What was your goal in sharing your story? Did you just need to vent, or are you hoping the school, teachers, or parents could learn from it and possibly change? Are there any outcomes you’d want to see, if at all possible?
Lang: After reflection, I realized that the school simply wore me down last year and we left because of it. I should have fought back then, but I didn't have the energy because of the daily calls from the school. The resentment and bitterness I've held in since last spring have fueled a new fight.
Most of all, I want the teachers to recognize their lack of compassion and see that sometimes they need to step outside of the box for the good of a child. They need to educate themselves on behavior and how to correct it instead of just shunning the child. What does that teach the typical children? The other parents, for us, were never an issue. They valued my son's differences and were glad to have their children exposed to him.
The Stir: What’s the biggest thing you’d like moms to take away from this -- both moms of autistic children and moms of typical kids?
Lang: I want moms to know that we need to stand up to mean teachers and administrators. Even typical children are occasionally exposed to a teacher who crosses the line; throw in a learning disability or stubborn behavior and the teachers may just give up entirely -- if the students and parents don't give up first.
The Stir: Has the school responded to your post?
Lang: The school administration has not responded, but there has been an outpouring of support from students' families. They know my son and are shocked and saddened to know the things that were said about him.
The Stir: Do you see the lack of compassion among the teachers as a leadership failure from the top, or do you think some adults are just resistant to understanding the needs and perspective of kids with autism?
Lang: I don't necessarily see this as a top-down issue. The principal, in fact, made an attempt to integrate my son, and the year before last, my son had a fantastic teacher who "got" him. Some adults are absolutely resistant to understanding the needs and perspective of kids with autism, ADHD, and any other round peg that won't fit in their square hole.
Have you experienced similar problems with the adults at your children's schools? How did you handle the situation?
Image via Diane Lang