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New Brunswick Autistic Students Need Flexible, Alternative Learning Options

Posted Jun 22 2010 2:38am
I am shocked and disappointed to read the CBC report that a Moncton, New Brunswick grandmother, who is also a government social worker and exectuive director of the Greater Moncton Family Resource Center has pulled her grandson, who has Aspergers, out of school to home school him  after finding that he had been sent repeatedly to an isolation room.  After visiting the isolation room herself, the grandmother  described what she saw:

"So I had to take care of him one night and he was having nightmare … I thought something was wrong," LaBelle said. "That night he threw up and he was very anxious the next morning."   ...

LaBelle said she went to the school with Jean-Michel and she saw the room, which she described as "the little jail." There are three walls bolted to the floor and a door, which is held shut when her grandson is inside.  There is also a small window so his teacher's assistant can make sure he doesn't hurt himself."

The article only mentions two options for the student at the Moncton school ... the regular classroom or the jail like isolation room.  It is not clear from the article whether other options were considered and discussed with the boy's parents or grandmother. As the article points out the New Brunswick Department of Education has long had a policy of regular classroom education for all students::

"For years, the Department of Education has had a policy of classroom integration, which means students of all abilities are placed in the same classroom."

I have long been a critic of New Brunswick's inclusive education policies as  an autism representative at Inclusive Education forums.  The absolute, everyone in the classroom approach does not work for all students with autism spectrum disabilities. Alternative, flexible arrangements are necessary which recognize the need for some students with autism to receive instruction from autism trained aides in quieter settings.  Common areas of the schools can be used to ensure socialization takes place.  To insist on an everybody in the mainstream classroom all the time fails to accommodate the needs of some with special learning challenges and behavioral challenges.  When the only alternatives are the regular classroom and jail like isolation rooms some children with autism disorders will suffer.

As a father of a severely autistic boy with intellectual disabilities I, with my wife, asked for my son to be removed from the mainstream classroom early in his grade school years. He was coming home with bite marks on his hands and wrists after spending the day in a classroom with students who were learning different material then him. They were learning at a much higher level and using different instruction methods.  Just the number of people in the classroom can be overwhelming for Conor.  

Conor has been educated since then in separate, quieter areas at school ... not in jail  cell like rooms.  He has received instruction from teacher assistants trained at the UNB-CEL Autism Training program and he engages in activities in common areas of the middle school he now attends. In the swimming pool, the gym, the kitchen and the library he encounters other students and staff.  I take him to and from school every day.  Other students regularly approach him and say hello with big smiles on their faces.  Staff are very friendly with him.

It is disheartening to see that schools in Moncton are offering autistic students a choice between the regular classroom and jail cell like isolation rooms.  Autistic students and their families should be offered alternative learning arrangements like those provided to my son and other students in the Fredericton area where they can learn in separate, decent areas with properly trained instructors and visit common areas of the school for specific activities including the mainstream classroom for specified periods if that is within their capabilities.

Whatever the full set of facts it seems clear from the article that no effort is being made to accommodate the student's need for accommodation of his disability.  School officials are simply reacting to specific situations instead of trying to figure out alternatives that will help the student have a positive learning experience. 
Students with autism disorders in Moncton deserve learning options like those  provided to my son here in Fredericton.

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