The title of this post is something I never thought on or dwelt on up until yesterday. Yesterday morning I rode with TouchPoint's Ann Schad to a presentation at a school. First, I must say that the school we visited was awesome in the fact that they truly wanted the information and the questions they asked showed their passion. Anyway, on the ride over, Ann and I were talking about schools and the vital need for the school systems to have the best understanding of the spectrum as possible. During this conversation Ann mentioned to me a situation at a high school in the area with a student who has straight A's, but is catastrophically behind in every aspect of socializing. The parents, and her, have tried to get the school to think that, perhaps, the student has Asperger's and to that the school said, "There's no issue here, he's a straight A student!" and to that Ann said, and I love this quote, "It's not all about the grades."
I think back to myself and I think if I were young today I might fall into that same issue the student mentioned above is having. My parents heard the same thing each parent-teacher conference, "Well, your son Aaron doesn't associate or socialize well with other students, but maybe he's just smarter so don't worry about it." For many years my parents didn't worry about it only to find out the true diagnosis when I was 20.
Right now, and you may disagree with me, I don't know if I can fully fault the school systems on this. Yes, they should know about the spectrum and yes, they should know that intelligence is not a factor when diagnosing, but the level of awareness and understanding isn't at that point in which all in the world understand. Let's look at this from someone who is ignorant of the spectrum; with most things in life a diagnosis is not a positive. If a child can't sit still or keep attention on something it might be ADD. If a child constantly defies authority and argues every point it might be ODD. With each of those there are clear signs and perhaps the classroom is disrupted by the behaviors. However, for a student with Asperger Syndrome who is making good grades chances are this person is going adhere to the rules. That being so there most likely will not be any disruptive behavior and since there is no seemingly adverse behavior, in the school's eyes, we might just be looking at the model student to them so why would they want to even open the possibility that they would need to give a diagnosis?
This is a topic that needs to be addressed now! On paper these students may appear as if they are the model student, but underneath the numbers and GPA's there is a major struggle going on. The student mentioned above barely makes it through the day and by the time he returns home he has constant meltdowns. The school, however, doesn't see this therefore there is no issue. Once again this shows the struggle that the spectrum has because we don't have those obvious markers that other developmental disabilities have. With that being so, I must say again at this point in time I can't put 100% blame on the schools. In five years maybe, but we still have a long way to go before everyone knows what the spectrum is and the challenges we on it face.
So, to close, we do live in a society where everything is by the numbers. Turn the news on and chances are at some point you will see how well the stock market is doing. Did a movie succeed? Well, they will look to the numbers for that. Is a student doing good? As with the first two examples, the answer, to the schools, lies within the grades. People are more than that though. When grades are the only way to determine how well a person is doing they simply become a number. Those on the spectrum may need more help and assisting them in the school years will help over the course of the lifetime. This isn't an issue that we can accept answers of, "Oops, we missed that, sorry." because there can be so much potential in these students, but we got to get them through school first. In five years, or less, I hope this is a non-point and we'll simply remember a time when we struggled to get our voice out there and get people to understand what the spectrum is and what it looks like. I hope in five years, or less, we can look back and remember the days when some schools thought that good grades ruled out Asperger Syndrome and I hope there will be a day that every school system in America, or the world for that matter, realizes that "it's not about the grades" when it comes to the autism spectrum.