The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

Posts Tagged ‘school

iLove the iPad (and always will)

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Courtesy Tim McCarthy, Asbury Park Press

Alesha Williams Boyd of the Asbury Park Press¬†is the latest reporter to uncover the autism community’s love affair with Apple’s iPad computers. Several New Jersey school districts are purchasing iPads for special needs students for the upcoming 2011-12 school year, with a private school requiring families of students to purchase the mobile computers.

The mobility, aesthetics and the ability to install apps to personalize each system are a few reasons why iPads are such a hit for the mentally disabled community. The director of special services at New Jersey’s Marlboro Public School district credits Apple’s product for drawing autistic kids out from themselves. The iPad’s ability to provide a means of communication via screen images for autistic children is well-documented, but thanks to the app market, school districts are also using iPads to encourage autistic people to make eye contact. Even if such applications have a price tag (according to the article, some cost as much as $200), many still consider the iPad a marvel with its $500 list price compared to bulkier, bigger, more complicated devices that can reach four figures.

What about students with other disabilities? Boyd covers that segment in the first few paragraphs, reporting applications allowing students to organize their activities, thoughts and assignments (a boon for autistic children who adhere to routine), and apps that can vocalize text or translate the spoken word into text. Not enough? Settings on some apps can be adjusted to the type of touch students produce, and can also be rigged to challenge students to exercise their motor skills with different forms of touch.

I doubt this will be the last time iPad and autism blend in the same article, but future media coverage could become stagnant if future versions of the iPad aren’t considered revolutionary for the disabled population. Coupled with similar abilities from the iPhone and iPod Touch, Apple’s sister products, stories on the benefits of these devices will find difficulty creating new flavors for an audience that follows autism news via the Internet, where geographical boundaries are neutralized. However, the primary reason for future media coverage that could repeat itself is all about the audience.¬†Similar stories to find a place on this blog originated from Houston and the Twin Cities area, so to assume New Jersey residents would know of those stories would be unwise. While this means using a search engine for stories on autism may produce carbon-copies published in different outlets, local organizations aren’t worried about similar coverage outside their market.

However, Boyd does show her readers the iPad’s potential outside of the autism community, where most media coverage in this topic is focused. Truthfully, the advantages of the iPad aren’t any major revelation these days, but Boyd does answer the call for communities who may feel overshadowed by autism coverage. Examining the benefits is useful beyond informing the audience for Apple’s sake. Since Apple releases new editions of their products on an annual basis, viewing its impact across multiple facets may assist them with improvements for future editions through app technology or hardware components.

I had to learn to communicate through more traditional computers since touch-based technology was far from wide use growing up. I can’t say I’m more or less fluent with computers than autistic kids who use iPads are, but I can predict school districts will eventually saturate their special-needs students with iPads when budgets and resources allow for the opportunity, and you can bet I’ll follow the news coverage generated from the implementation.

Written by TheSportsBrain

August 23, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Autistic students become “teachers”

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Justin Evans, with assistance from an autism aide at Colfax Elementary School, highlights his shared interests with non-autistic classmates during a presentation. Photo by Jason Bridge.

OK, so adults still teach full-time, but Michael Aubele of Valley News Dispatch found three autistic students at Colfax Upper Elementary School who shared their autism spectrum disorder with their classmates. The school, along with other school districts in the Alle-Kiski Valley in Pennsylvania, are involved in sponsoring events for Autism Awareness Month, which wraps up this Saturday.

The three autistic Colfax classmates, just like almost every other student, were nervous about their presentations because their lectures broke traditional routines (autistics are very routine-oriented). One student used an iPad to showcase his interest in Dr. Seuss, and his autism support teachers regularly use the iPad to communicate with him. Their fellow classmates embraced the learning lessons because they increased their overall understanding of autism spectrum disorder. One student interviewed by Aubele said she wasn’t aware of autism’s range of severity prior to the presentations.

Aubele’s story is short and doesn’t quote any sentences when he refers to his interviews, but give him credit for finding a pair of fellow students to gauge reaction to the information shared by their autistic classmates. Interviewing children is tougher than adults and even teens who are subjects of many other autism stories, so not seeing many quotes from them isn’t a surprise, no matter what restrictions were placed on story length. Complicating such an interview is the story’s subject; adults have spent hours upon hours and are still dumbfounded on many facets of autism. Now throw in a much younger face with much growing to do. Fortunately, as Aubele shows, no hairs need pulling when approaching kids for interviews. Stick to the simple questions, such as what they knew before and after a presentation and what they thought about it.

Although surmising a deadline for this story isn’t achievable, Aubele could have played up his third-person narrative with the autistic students and their classmates to a greater extent. How much did the autistic classmates believe their peers understood their disability? What goals did they have for the presentations? How well did they get along with classmates before they opened themselves up in this fashion? The story’s short length doesn’t allow much development for such ideas. However, Aubele’s story illustrates the reduced fear of sharing sensitive material about students that can increase their vulnerability. The mentality when I attended elementary school was silence in hopes that no one would think the disability exists. Unfortunately, autism and other disabilities don’t work that way. Gauging what would be different had I attended in this social environment is impossible due to too many changing variables, but Aubele’s piece could ease worries other parents or teachers may still have about revealing differences.

Autism and felonies meet up in the panhandle

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After The Autistic Journalist recorded its biggest month in web traffic since the site was launched (over 900. Not a ton, but 300 above the previous mark set in April this year), activity keeps rolling for the month of October. A family is upset at felony charges filed against of their 11-year-old autistic boy in the Florida panhandle, claiming the school he attends used him as an example to avoid cuts for school resource deputies.

The boy, Terrauce Jones, allegedly struck an assistant principal with a binder after becoming upset about allegations of hitting another student. He then went to the prinicpal’s office, attempting to kick her after she tried to calm him down, then threw a soda bottle at her direction a short time later. The family questioned the decision-making, wondering why there was no attempt to restrain Jones by putting him in a room until the family showed up, while the school district contends every effort was exhausted before calling in law enforcement.

Jones’ autism has been controlled through medication and supervision since he was diagnosed at age 2. His family approached the school about home schooling Jones because of difficulties transitioning to middle school, being around more students, and bullying. School officials said he was too smart and accommodations would be made, and his medications were adjusted. Jones’ family said he suffered an outburst this week because he was low on medication.

There are some parallels here to the story I discussed about a North Carolina restaurant, where two sides speak on an issue. What’s different is the school district providing their side of the story while the other side believes the decisions made in the incident could have been chosen more deftly. This story marks the second time a news outlet has reported felony charges against autistic children since I launched the site, and both times, the charges were a result of mental outbursts that quickly turned physical. Such emotional reactions are no surprise in the autism community, but the inability to predict an autistic person’s mental volatility will create a possibility of an outburst. I’m not sure how charging autistic kids with felonies will help, although school districts cannot give autistic students a free pass either. It’s worth noting that the deputy who arrested Jones didn’t know about his autism until after the fact, and he said he would have supervised him until his family arrived had he known in advance.

The catalyst lies with mainstreaming autistic children in educational environments. The strategy is not a poor one, especially if an autistic child has no learning difficulties or superior skills in some cases (thank you Wheel of Fortune :-P). However, side effects follow, including the problems I listed above. Other children generally aren’t aware of autism and its symptoms, and the lack of understanding can contribute to social problems on both sides.

Regarding coverage, there are several ways to handle a crime story. When a mental disability is factored in, the focus generally shifts to a story about a potential lack of understanding without addressing the larger issue of an increasing population of autistic people and those with other mental disabilities. There’s little coverage on the estimated growth of autistic people in the years to come, while news outlets frequently cover the future’s potential problems with a growing overall population. However, felonies charged against autistic children are not established patterns and will stand out in the news because of their rarity. Journalists may want to explore the facet of autistic students in mainstream classrooms and examine how classmates can better understand why others are different and cannot control those factors. Not all children are bullies, and even knowledge may not change behaviors of those looking to make trouble, but there are ways to explain all disabilities to children in ways they can grasp, even if they do not fully understand.

Written by TheSportsBrain

October 1, 2010 at 1:25 pm

A story somewhat familiar.

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According to the Associated Press, a former teacher in an Indiana school district is being sued by the mother of an autistic boy who has severe peanut allergies. Anita Young accused the teacher of trying to feed her son a peanut-filled candy bar in order to make him sick enough to withhold him from a zoo field trip. The boy didn’t eat the candy bar as the wrapper was unfamiliar to him (autistic people adhere to strict routines and rarely pursue items outside of their interests). The Indiana Department of Child Services reviewed classroom aides’ complaints about Trinda Barocas attempting to prevent him from going because of his behavior. The report also includes claims of abusing a 9-year-old girl with Down’s Syndrome. In both incidents, the teacher denied any wrongdoing. County prosecutors and Department of Education officials are currently investigating.

In my last post, I spoke about looking for signs in popular press for shifts in autism coverage. The abuse case isn’t one of them, but unfortunately a somewhat familiar story if you follow the news closely. Rain Man signals this issue well in the film’s climax, when Charlie Babbitt finds himself struggling to adapt to the behavioral patterns and peculiarities of his brother Raymond, claiming his case of autism as made up. The abuse case doesn’t exactly parallel with the film’s plot, but it does feature a person working in education who’s ineffective at handling oddities of the mentally disabled (if the claims are correct). Regardless of the situation, people accused of any kind of wrongdoing often deny their involvement when approached by media (and some continue to do so even if they’re convicted). Those who do lie may cover up the truth as the need to be liked often outweighs the need to be accurate. In criminal/civil cases, accuracy often leads to costly rulings against convicts. Ironically, high costs could be avoided if rules weren’t broken in the first place. Isn’t logic fascinating?

Ideally, the perpetrator is innocent until proven guilty, but because these highly sought stories are combined with some cynicism from the public, people named in such cases are usually guilty until proven innocent (and are still believed to be guilty by cynics afterward, not to mention the hype that follows when the justice systems commits an error and wrongly punishes an innocent person).

There’s a good chance the teacher is trying to cover her hide based on previous problems working with mentally disabled kids. The autistic boy is mostly nonverbal, rendering him ineffective at expressing needs and discomforts through spoken language. Language barriers, often a point of contention in immigration and citizenship debates, can also be troubling to kids who simply cannot do what neurotypicals (and well-developed disabled people) assume is simple. The lack of understanding leads to frustration, and in extreme cases, schemes to take care of the problem.

To say tolerance is needed is accurate, but perhaps an investigation into why a few bad apples find their way in the crop would prove fruitful for journalists. Mentally disabled kids grow up with an early strike in the count. Educators should be required to understand difficulties with the disabled population in order to understand and appropriately respond to episodes not experienced by neurotypicals.

Written by TheSportsBrain

October 11, 2009 at 12:05 am