Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Finding Effective Intervention and Personnel Preparation Practices for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Finding Effective Intervention and Personnel Preparation Practices for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Article excerpt

My path into our profession was circuitous in comparison to the trajectory of many of my colleagues who knew that they wanted to be special educators early in their careers or life. Indeed, as a high school and college student, I not only had no interest in teaching or working with individuals with disabilities, but I had little respect for educators' capacity or interest to serve students with special needs. Moreover, I had near contempt for mental health professionals. I generally perceived these individuals to be buffoonish, to possess little in the way of functional knowledge and skill, and to be far more likely to confuse or worsen a problem than to solve it. This negative preconception was in large measure forged by watching my older sister struggle with her own mental illness. Both at home and at school, I witnessed first-hand the daily frustration of my sister and family caused by the actions and inactions of my public school. While I was a successful student in this same school, teachers and administrators not only failed to attempt to accommodate my sibling's special needs, but also seemingly took steps to purge her from the system.

I also observed the frustrations and endless efforts of my mother and father as they attempted to understand and advocate for my sister, including exploring and attempting what seemed at the time to be every imaginable alternative. It seemed that each new therapist and mental health team advocated for a novel approach or a slightly different twist to an otherwise basic treatment strategy. In some cases, these individuals were able to bring solace to my family and some improvement, albeit typically short-term, for my sister. However, in all too many cases, these so-called "helping professionals" appeared to do more harm than good. One short-lived intervention, for instance, involved my parents being instructed to reflect the "pain" as well as the irrational and out-of-control behavior of my sister. Unfortunately, this was the extent of the treatment plan; that is, they were told to do nothing more than to reflect empathy and demonstrate unconditional acceptance in response to my sister's aberrant behavior. That my parents were repeatedly admonished by this particular mental health team to refrain from applying consequences for my sister's inappropriate behavior, no matter how bizarre or potentially dangerous, as had been previously recommended by other treatment teams, resulted in considerable chaos and confusion for all of us. In hindsight, I am sure my parents considered this particular approach, and other equally ineffective strategies, to lack logic or any other base that would produce desired outcomes. However, in the interests of their child and our family, and because doctors and other professionals were making these recommendations, they attempted each new method with optimistic resolve. Amazingly, my parents gave every appearance of being irrepressibly hopeful and unshaken during the tenure of each new purportedly effective strategy that was used. Yet, at the same time, the blame aimed at my parents from professionals for these system failures and my sister's deteriorating condition that inevitably followed application of the various ineffectual methods must have been unbearable.

My sister was poised in the unenviable position of having a unique perspective on her disability and the therapeutic approaches that were applied. Moreover, she was never shy about candidly sharing her opinion of her treatment. On one occasion, when I was in high school and my sister was at home for a weekend break from one of the many psychiatric hospitalizations that characterized her adolescence, we talked about her "therapies." To this day, I manifestly relive the guilt, anger, and resentment I experienced in response to my sister's description of the interventions to which she was subjected, including her tearful display of the circular-shaped tanned areas on her temples marking where electric shock apparatus had been placed, her description of the memory and skill loss that followed shock therapy, visible bruises from alleged mistreatment, and other graphic reminders of what I could only judge at the time to be barbaric and ineffective treatment of an individual with a severe mental illness. …

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