School - Better or Not?
Probably. Maybe. Or it is bad in different ways.
As students, teachers, support staff, administrators, and others head back to campuses across the United States, I anticipate the annual questions about what to expect. Unfortunately, there are no good or easy answers that apply to everyone.
Be sure you know what your rights and your student's rights are, and are not. They vary by age, type of school, and state. Remember that federal regulations are only minimums, and states can have stricter requirements for providing supports to students with special needs.
Learn what you can about the alphabet soup of legislative requirements and federal programs. IDEA, ADA, IEP, OSEP, OVR, and so on.
Work with teachers and administrators, not against them. Start by asking how to help them help you and your student. What documentation does the school need? What is or isn't acceptable documentation of a disability? What services are available in the district? Take notes and do your homework.
You can know all about the American's with Disabilities Act, the Rehab Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Acts, and all the other "mandates" and still run into barriers in school, at all levels.
Autism affects communication and social interaction, and many autistics have interests and passions outside the norms for their social groups.
Other students, and plenty of teachers, might try their best and still not understand how to deal with the autistic in a classroom. In time, someone so different is either avoided or pushed aside. Personally, I'd rather be left alone and avoided than bullied. I've seen both reactions to autistics in classrooms over the last few years; things have not changed in human nature.
There isn't a good solution for the challenges arising from how autistics interact with others in a classroom. At best, I can offer only the advice to listen to the autistic and communicate with teachers. At the college level, this is complicated by FERPA limitations on teachers, limiting the ability to discuss a young adult with his or her parents. FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), for all its good intentions, can create barriers to helping students with special needs — which goes back to the value of communicating directly with the autistic student.
My university experiences since 2004 have not been great. My social skills have improved, yet not nearly well enough to avoid alienating others. I'm still "odd" enough make others uncomfortable, though I doubt most people could say why. Social skill deficits cannot be legislated or regulated away, and people aren't going to always overrule their instinctive reactions to difference.
I'm sometimes asked how I feel about making autistics act "more normal" through various therapies. I'm ambivalent. Being different has negative consequences in school and at work. Personally, I'd like to be a lot more normal, but what is the best way learn that normalcy?
Maybe the best lesson school taught me: I was, am, and will be an outsider. It was the lesson of the 1970s elementary schools and the lesson of twenty-first century universities.