Last fall I enlightened Amigo's resource teacher as to how his Asperger's affects his educational needs. Recently we've determined (insert curse words of choice) that there are at least two other teachers who need the same mini-course in autism that I gave her.
The team teacher (special education teacher working with the regular English teacher) completely missed the boat when she helped Amigo pick out a novel for his independent project. She offered him several choices, and out of those he picked The Dead Father's Club. This looks like a good novel, but it's absolutely not right for Amigo to read and interpret independently. Why? Well, read my initial email for yourself:
"I am concerned about the choice of novel for Amigo's project. I can see it may be a variation on Hamlet, but on the surface it looks rather violent. We work hard to steer Amigo away from anything that may spur negative self-talk or depression or other related problems, as he does not filter emotions well. He may not interpret and 'read between the lines' the way he needs to in a story this intense. I'm willing to get a print copy to read before making a final judgment. Do either of you know the book well? Have you read it or worked with a student on this book recently? Maybe you can put my mind at ease -- or confirm my fears."
Her reply got on my nerves because I worked hard to sound respectful even as I was expressing my concerns.
"I actually helped him pick the book out. I have never read the book, but didn't think it looked or sounded inappropriate, since it looks like the author uses humor throughout the book to keep it less serious."
Oh, great. She took it personally and objected to my objection, despite that fact that she hadn't actually read the book. I immediately ordered a print copy from the library (he'll use the audio book, as it's not available in Braille), and read it myself. I did not force him to change books - this time.
The next episode in the continuing saga of "What does autism mean in a classroom, anyway?" occurred in the same American Lit class over the choice of a novel. We asked that Amigo not read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" or participate in the class discussions.
Disclaimer: I am not a censor. In fact, I am on my own school's library book challenge committee. If a parent objects to a book on our school shelves, I am in a position to examine the complaint and help make the decisions. I've let Amigo read many books that have been banned from some library shelves. I look at the quality of literature and the value of it in relation to his emotional needs.
Children and teens with Asperger's often have maturity levels that defy logic. They can be very grown up in some ways, and seriously delayed in others. A book like Dead Father's Club, which includes a boy attempting to murder his uncle on his ghost father's orders, is not good for Amigo, a teen who doesn't infer well or read between the lines. The dark humor of this book, the failed attempts to murder his uncle, and the Ophelia-like character complete with suicide attempt will not make sense to him - and he won't know it isn't making sense. Cuckoo's Nest, with its institutional setting and the fragility of the patients, scared the heck out of us. We provided the teacher with a stronger rationale this time and insisted she find him an alternative.
- Amigo is emotionally and socially too immature to process the themes of sexuality and implied racism.
- He will have a difficult time filtering through the foul language and will likely adopt it.
- Amigo has problems with understanding suicide and tends to use suicidal talk as an attention-getter.
- Amigo’s inability to understand satire and rhetorical comments will cause problems in his proper understanding of the nature of McMurphy’s disruptions, which the character primarily does for his amusement.
- We’re concerned that Amigo will identify with the other patients, which will reinforce his own feelings of inadequacy.
This time our request was honored. The teacher was still a bit defensive, telling us that she had led in-depth discussions with the class and carefully set up the novel, but she respected our request and allowed Amigo to read and report on a different novel (The Red Badge of Courage).
These situations underscore the need for an active member of Amigo's school team, an autism expert who consults regularly with the other staff. We parents shouldn't have to make requests like this. We really, really shouldn't catch flak from from unknowing staff. And now the coordinator for special education wants Amigo re-evaluated to see if he still "qualifies" for services under educational autism? Good Lord, woman, don't you get it? He's not being served now!!