Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Monday, June 02, 2008

The Self-Fulfilling Behavioral Prophecy

Today's conventional wisdom, as expressed by the mass media, has it that autistic children can be expected to display major behavioral problems and to be disruptive in class. Thus, many people assume that they belong in segregated classrooms where they will not bother anyone else.

As a consequence of this assumption, although the schools generally have been moving toward greater inclusion of children with disabilities, the trend as to autistic children has turned sharply in the opposite direction. Ari Ne'eman of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network recently discussed with New Jersey legislators the federal statistics on education of children with disabilities, which show that at least 39% of students on the autism spectrum ages 6-21 are educated in segregated settings in New Jersey schools. The rate of segregated settings for autistic students ages 3-6 in New Jersey is an alarming 58%.

It's just not true that autistic children cannot be educated in the same classrooms with their non-autistic peers or that their presence in the room prevents others from learning. Yes, they have behavioral differences, but that does not necessarily mean that they will be disruptive in classrooms with teachers and aides who have had proper training and who understand their differences. In addition, strict enforcement of anti-bullying policies can go a long way toward reducing the anxiety that is often the root cause of behavioral problems. And it's not always the autistic kid who is more likely to misbehave—after all, when was the last time you saw an autistic student taunting other kids because they weren't popular?

When children of a minority group are routinely segregated from others and are treated as if their very existence is a burden to society, they may come to internalize these attitudes and to feel that they are no good. Such children, especially if they are bullied, are likely to hate school and to decide that they may as well act up whenever they feel like it because everyone expects it anyway. In this scenario, which unfortunately is all too common, the negative assumptions and expectations found in the school system have created a self-fulfilling behavioral prophecy.

We are moving in the direction of two separate and vastly unequal educational systems: one for the "normal" children who are expected to succeed in the classroom, and one for the autistics who are thought to need behavioral interventions—instead of a meaningful academic education—to prepare them for a lifetime of being obedient wards of the state.

Our children deserve better.



  • Amen! Very well said.

    By Blogger Niksmom, at 7:16 PM  

  • I agree with most of this, but I am not clear on what you are saying about segregation and bullying. Are you suggesting that autistic students are more likely to be bullied in a segregated setting?

    By Blogger VAB, at 7:54 PM  

  • Niksmom: Thanks!

    VAB: I meant that kids who are bullied are more likely to feel anxious at school and to have behavioral issues that are related to their anxiety. But as you mention, some kids are indeed bullied because they are in a segregated setting; for instance, they may be called "retards" every day when they walk to and from the special ed classroom.

    By Blogger abfh, at 8:04 PM  

  • When I was in the independent study classroom, which is pretty much for people in special services, I was told that I was a disruption for silently spinning in my chair in the last five minutes of class when all my work was done anyway.

    Also in this class they expect everybody to be working all the time for an hour and a half straight, and if all your work is done and they confirm this, then they tell you to work ahead, and even if you're worked ahead and read twice as far in the book as the rest of the class, they make you keep working without breaks.

    It's insane and completely disregards people's attentional difficulties and alternate learning modes. Even "normal" kids are given the study tips to take short breaks every so often.

    Whereas at a regular classroom, in the last five minutes you commonly see people lining up at the door, chattering and chattering away.

    And WE'RE supposed to be the distractions.

    I mean, really, why do they tell you to stop rocking in class because it distracts everybody, when everybody else is talking about things unrelated to school, and generally being "off-task".

    By Blogger geosaru, at 8:13 PM  

  • I am not sure whether I would want any child educated within the current systems that prevail in most countries that pass for education.

    I did not find mainstream education pleasant, I am sure it damaged me in many ways but I think in one respect at least autism was an advantage in that it prevented me from being socialised into "knowing my place" via the hidden curriculum.

    Too much of what I see in these arguments about where kids are best placed proceeds from the argument that there are not deep structural flaws in the education systems before one even addresses matters of segregation or inclusion.

    One cannot just fine tune the edges one needs to make radical changes and indeed start with the education of the teachers.

    Well I would say that situated in the School of Education wouldn't I :)

    By Blogger laurentius rex, at 5:12 AM  

  • I agree with this completely.Very well said:)

    By Blogger Lisa *leelee*, at 10:49 AM  

  • While I do agree with every word your said, I think it is also worth mentioning that a child like my son's sensory issues make it very hard for him to be fully mainstreamed. The noise level in a typical 1st grade class overwhelms him and then he cannot do his academic work well. However, he is mainstreamed for part of his day and does well (he's got an aide with him) and I am very lucky that he is at a school and within a great program that has really embraced him.

    By OpenID dancingmom, at 4:06 PM  

  • On the other side, I believe my autism was ignored for so long because I was "well-behaved" and academically advanced. Apparently "well-behaved" means being in an almost constant state of sensory-overload induced shutdown. I would finish my work as quickly as possible and then put my head on my desk and shut out the world.The only problem they saw was that they had to get my attention to move to the next activity. But they thought that was just daydreaming.

    By OpenID lingsmurf, at 11:39 AM  

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