At Brighthouse, we listen as prospective new parents and students tell us about their past experiences at other school settings. Students share heartbreaking stories of how they have been  mocked and called names like “stupid, idiot, dumb, weird, lazy, and useless” by adults and other students. They have been labeled as a problem student, bad kid, irritating, and this label is shared with other adults in the school. They report being yelled at, screamed at, walked out on, and cursed at by teachers. They explain that teachers have thrown things at them like pencils, erasers, notebooks, binders, or other handy objects. They describe feeling humiliated, anxious, numb, and broken. They describe being crushed repeatedly by this treatment and how they’ve struggled for years with lack of motivation, depression, and shutdown. This abusive treatment is deplorable, and while our children are protected by rights, they are children who do not have the ability to advocate for themselves or leave an unsafe school setting.
We know that a lot can happen in a year. While it is granted that schools have been under unprecedented stress and strain these past few years, our system is showing signs of breakdown when our children are treated this way. Our very bright and capable children are suffering.
Nationwide, the rate of Autism diagnosis has been increasing. As of 2021, Autism is diagnosed at the rate of 1 in 44 births (CDC), and 1 in 250 people have Asperger’s (Asperger/Autism Network). This means that in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana there are over 6000 people diagnosed with Autism. Our highly capable students are at risk of high school dropout, lifetime debilitating anxiety and depression, or suicide when instead they could be thriving. Researchers estimate that 44% of people with Autism have above average intelligence (Autism Speaks).
Therefore, this group scores “too high” for full resources and are placed in mainstream classrooms. In the classroom, students rarely receive their IEP accommodations, and they are unable to advocate for themselves. The teacher may not recognize the needs of Autistic students because symptoms such as “bad behavior” can mask capabilities, or capabilities such as overcompensating can mask symptoms.
People with Autism are characterized by weaknesses with social skills, showing little emotion, poor communication skills, fixation on a topic, repeated behavior, and high aversion to change among other sensory overstimulation challenges (WebMD). They also can have strengths or “superpowers” with higher IQ, unique humor, honesty, fairness and justice, desire to connect, excellent memory and focus, organization, and attention to detail (Asperger/Autism Network). These are people who are twice exceptional (2e); they have ability and disability.

Remarkably, in most school settings, students with Autism are viewed through the lens of only their limitations or because they have average to above average IQ they are viewed as though they have no learning differences at all. Thus, they are either subjected to very low standards or unrealistically high expectations or both.

This is due to the masking interaction between capabilities and symptoms. More significantly, they are being taught by someone who does not have the expertise to truly help students with Autism. Additionally, the mainstream classroom teacher would need to have an expertise with 2e students who have ability with disability.
To appreciate the challenge level of educating students with Autism more fully we need to examine what Autism is and how it shows up in the classroom. One of the most common characteristics of a student with Autism is that while they can have above average IQ, they can lack social skills or the ability to see events from another point of view. For example, they can blurt out thoughts during lessons in class that come across as disruptive, rude or disrespectful to the teacher even though the comment could have been on topic. In these kinds of moments, the student is making a deep connection and a superpower of higher-level thinking has been activated.
The teacher, however, can become affronted and respond in a harsh manner because the behavior is seen as disruptive. If the teacher does not realize that this “blurting out” is part of Autism and indicates the onset of learning, the teacher may become even more annoyed as the behavior may happen repeatedly. A teacher who is trained in twice exceptional students would utilize a positive reinforcement strategy to shape how and when the student contributes thoughts or comments in class, edify the student for the contribution, and sometimes take up the train of thought offered by the student.
Another Autistic characteristic can be stubbornness coupled with expert-sounding rationalizations and the seemingly inexhaustible ability to argue a point to the death.
This behavior most often appears when the student is being asked to do a less desirable task or to change something. For example, the student may not want to do a math test and when pressed to try working a problem, argue with the teacher. The argument is started to distract, deflect, and get the student out of taking the test. Of course, if the teacher was not aware of this tactic, they might engage in the argument which they would find exhausting and futile. The Autistic student is committed to his goal of getting out of the test and has a superpower of tenacity and perseverance. A teacher trained in 2e students with Autism would know to pivot the student’s tenacity toward taking the test, promptly intervene by minimizing the student’s rationalization, teach them how to voice their feelings appropriately, uphold very clear boundaries, artfully redirect the student towards the task that they were trying to avoid, and give choices toward a desired outcome. Thankfully, the student’s ability for commitment, reasonableness and truthfulness causes them to realize that they have been met with a successful and fair intervention. They will usually start the task at this point.
In school settings these are just a few of many behaviors that require specific strategies to teach the student to become more socially appropriate and to teach the student to focus their energy more productively. Teacher credentialling programs to not educate the teachers how to have excellent classroom leadership skills, recognize and implement interventions on the fly, or how to implement individualized instruction with this group of mainstreamed special education students in the classroom. They also do not learn deeply enough about Autism. There are several subcategories of Autism: Asperger’s, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Rett Syndrome, Kanner’s Syndrome, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. Twice Exceptional teachers are more equipped to teach this segment of the school population. Based on the Autism prevalence statistics stated earlier, 46 autistic students could be in a high school and 44% of those (20 students) would be mainstreamed because they are high functioning (Autism Speaks). This number has increased every year for the past 30 years and is expected to increase even more in the future. In junior high or high school, a teacher would have about 1-2 Autistic students in half of their classes. It is hard for teachers to keep track and deliver on accommodations, not to mention that it is very rare for a teacher to expertly utilize specific Autism strategies.

At Brighthouse, we recognize that the children in our community are at great risk. Nearly 85% of people with Autism never move out of their parent’s house (Disability Scoop), nearly half of 25-year-olds with Autism never hold a paying job (Autism Speaks),  40% spend little to no time with friends (CDC), nearly two-thirds of children with Autism between the ages of 6 and 15 have been bullied (Autism Speaks), 7% of children and 26% of adults with Autism have depression, 40 % of children and teens with Autism have anxiety, and almost 50% are diagnosed with chronic sleep problems. Only 5% of people with Autism ever marry, and adults with Autism who marry often find it difficult to stay married; research puts the divorce rate at about 80% (Autism-Help).  

            Isn’t it time to find another alternative to school, another chance for your child to thrive, another outcome to beat the above statistics, find a place to succeed and to live a happier life? Isn’t it time to call Brighthouse? A lot can happen in a year!

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