Just a week into classes in Acadia Parish, Louisiana, Xavier Gresham was sent home from school with an absurd warning from administrators — that he needed to “get his autism in check.”
Gresham’s mother, LaKesha Peters, told the local news that her son had been sent home from his school, South Crowley Elementary, after being disruptive in class. His early dismissal from class came with an ultimatum from the school too. Either Gresham would get his autistic “behaviors” in order, or he would be home from school permanently — with a suspension for the entire year.
If you’re at all familiar with the regulations dictating how schools are supposed to provide education to students with special needs, this probably sounds grossly illegal to you. Gresham’s in-class verbal outbursts are a manifestation of his autism, and the school is supposed to be providing help for him to be able to manage that behavior. A warning to knock it off or he’ll be kicked out is not, generally speaking, the kind of “help” the authors of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act had in mind.
The problem, though, is that the school has never actually evaluated the little boy to be able to assign him an autism diagnosis. Gresham has such a diagnosis from a doctor already, and his mother says she’s asked the school repeatedly to give him an assessment so that he can get the help he needs in classes. But the school keeps turning her down, because according to them, Gresham is “too smart” to need special education — which is a great thing to say if you want to prove you are totally unqualified to make assessments about how special needs work.
Autism is a disorder of communication, social interaction and repetitive behavior. It has absolutely nothing to do with how able a child is to absorb information and everything to do with how well he can deal with the setting in which that information is being presented. A school refusing to evaluate a child on the spectrum is the equivalent to putting their hands over their ears and shouting “la la la” at the top of their lungs — they’re only pretending the situation doesn’t exist. But it does, and the child is the one who has to deal with it, instead of the adults who should be helping him. No one’s denying that it can be difficult for the other children in the classroom to deal with disruptions, and I understand the limitations of school financing. But it’s absolutely the school’s responsibility to help a child on the spectrum to integrate, whether that means training for his teacher or a support staff member or any other solution available to them. And “go home, Xavier, you don’t get an education” is not a solution.
For parents whose kids are sharing classroom time with children who have special needs, it’s important to help them understand what’s going on with their classmates. Talk to them about how important having a schedule can be to an autistic friend, why that child becomes frustrated sometimes and why they talk out of turn so much.
And if you have those classmates over for a visit to your home, it might be helpful to keep smells and loud noises to a minimum to avoid overstimulation. Children with autism can use all the allies they can get — especially when there’s no one willing to advocate for them in the school administration.