Friday, October 17, 2008

Md. school creates classes for Asperger's students

September 7, 2008 - 2:34pm

GAITHERSBURG, Md. (AP) -When children who have behavioral quirks or who are lacking in social skills are also bright and capable, schools tend to assign them to regular classrooms.
But that can lead to student meltdowns when even little things go wrong.

Montgomery County has several programs to address one of the most vexing problems in special education: What to do with a child who is disabled, but capable of work at or above grade level?

At Diamond Elementary School, students with Asperger syndrome, a developmental disability on the autism spectrum, learn in special education classes the skills they need to successfully transition to mainstream classrooms. It's one of the few Asperger's education and development programs in the nation at a public school.

Robyne Barth's 10-year-old son, Alex, has Asperger's. But he is a sociable and accomplished student at Diamond.

"I couldn't see my child as anything. I couldn't imagine him having a normal life," said Barth, of North Potomac. "And now, my child has a personality. He's funny. I can see him as an engineer. I can see him as an architect. I can see his life."

Diamond's program educates 15 students each year to cope with their disorder and to help them move to regular classes. The school has two teachers and four assistants dedicated to the task.

Seven years ago, the school system wanted to help the more than 1,000 students affected by autism by offering assistance at Diamond, Sligo Creek Elementary School, and Tilden and Montgomery Village middle schools. The help is available to any of the 137,000 students in the system - and participation should rise since the autism population increases each year by more than 17 percent.

Anne Arundel County also has a program designed for students with Asperger's, or high-functioning autism. The county school system has teamed with a private special education school to help autism-spectrum children move into regular classes at two schools, Severn River Middle and Severna Park High.

James Ball, a behavior analyst in Cranbury, N.J., said Diamond's program "should be looked at as a model program" because children with Asperger's "are a unique breed of kids, and they do respond to a variety of unique teaching strategies."

Diamond challenges students with Asperger's to raise their hands, not scream, when they need something. And if a student's efforts to succeed in a normal class are met with a hectic day, the student can retreat to the books, board games and toys in the Asperger's classroom.

Children receive rewards for good behavior and even fill out a contract laying out the social skills each student will work to learn.

Staci Daddona of Gaithersburg has seen the change in her 7-year-old, Justin. Before entering Diamond's program, he obsessively opened and closed doors and repeatedly flushed the toilet at home. At school, he ignored his teacher and fellow students to play with a top - all day, every day.

But he's now in some regular classes and is beginning to recognize when he's anxious and unfocused on schoolwork and social skills.

"When he starts to stand up, he'll press on the desk, because he's trying to calm himself that way," his mother said. "And she'll say, 'It looks like you need a break.' And that happens before he throws a pencil, and all the things that happened last year."


Information from: The Washington Post,

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


Anonymous said...

Now,Jennifer,didn't we, YEARS ago, approach Mr. Richmond about that very idea? (CCPS providing a regional school for autstic students staffed by teachers that specialize in autism) Though neither of us have austistic children, we, by listening to parents and staying abreast of current issues, saw the need. He, on the other hand, took it nowhere. CCPS missed the boat. How many tax dollars will we now have to spend so that autistic CCPS students can be transported half way across the state for an appropriate eduation? If I had an autistic child, that's where I'd want him educated. Just goes to prove we did have vision and our data and instincts were spot on. Others prefered to lobby politicians and focus on the stars.

Margaret Young

Jennifer Abell said...

Yes I do recall. According to my notes that was in 2005. November 2006 I asked about the status and was told the expected grant for $3M didn't go through. December 2006 I was told we would have one within the next five years...we still have two more years :)

LegalBeaglette said...

Can you provide an update on this, Ms. Abell? We're at that "two more years" mark to which you referred...

Jennifer Abell said...

Just wanted to let you know I didn't forget. I will be inquiring about this at the next Board meeting

LegalBeaglette said...

Your notes from today's board meeting:

Autism Education Update - Charles County autism program at Matula Elementary for Pre-K and K; MIT = Multiple Intensity Teaching. 6 children currently enrolled; Later integrated into inclusion program; Hope to expand program to middle and high school in the future.

6 students? In Pre-K & K? And only at Matula?

It took five years to do that, and CCPS hopes to expand it "in the future." (I should diary this for...10 years?)

Any idea how many autistic students are enrolled in CCPS?