The controversy over the bullying of a child in a Cherry Hill elementary school class for students with autism is just beginning and many outraged parents and professionals have responded in comments to the 101.5 website
and the nj.com website. These media outlets deserve due credit for their coverage.
I am drawn to interest in this shameful episode by the similarity to one aspect of my own experience as a parent. My then 3-year-old son had just been diagnosed by Hackensack Medical Center with infantile autism. Now this happened almost 30 years ago, but the caring professionals at Hackensack had given my wife and me information that led us to COSAC, now Autism New Jersey. The chief issue after diagnosis is educational placement and our local school district, as was more common at that time, was giving us the only option of a school inappropriate for our son’s needs. Without the information provided by COSAC, we surely would have made a misguided decision. We brought a tape recorder to our IEP sessions, in an attempt to remember all the confusing terminology. We did nothing illegal, but a lot of inaccurate and downright ignorant statements by certain members of the child study team were recorded and subsequently referred to in the subsequent due process legal hearing in court. The ultimate decision by the judge was in our son’s favor, but that did not stop him from labeling me and my wife as “unethical and reprehensible” in the judgment because of our taping. The outcome was well worth being wrongfully castigated by a public official.
Stuart Chaifetz’s episode is much more troubling but he is also taking criticism for his method of exposing abusive and perhaps criminal behavior to his son. It is good to see the outpouring of support for his act born of desperation, desperation that many parents of children and adults with autism feel daily. Autism New Jersey has had discussions with Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Senator Dawn Marie Addiego on the subject of bullying children with autism and the possibility of proactive legislation. Chris Gagliardi, a member of Autism New Jersey’s Self Advocates Advisory Board, is employed on the Assemblywoman’s staff.
Autism New Jersey’s Connecting with Autism: A Blueprint for Lifetime Support addresses the need for formal teacher training — quality, effective teacher training. Teachers must not only demonstrate the skills to teach a task, but also must demonstrate concern for the rights of children, youth and adults. Autism New Jersey recently published Autism for Public School Administrators: What You Need to Know. This FREE publication is designed to provide those of you who are superintendents, principals, and special services directors with an increased understanding of students with autism spectrum disorders and their unique learning needs.
This is what the autism community can take heart with: the remarkably active and successful advocacy of parents, family members, self-advocates and professionals is working in 2012 America. Despite all the funding difficulties and scarcity of resources, advocacy is alive and helping to change the landscape until “what is new becomes the norm” for people with autism and their families. Autism New Jersey is connected: spread the word.