In the news today is an article with some of the worst examples of autistic child abuse I've ever heard of.
Special Education Teachers in Trouble for Autistic Student Abuse
Now I know that there are worse things being done to autistic children (see Observations and Findings of Out-of-State Program Visitation Judge Rotenberg Educational Center) but the difference is that it's fairly obvious what the programme at the JRE is. The abuse reported today was being committed by trusted special education teachers.
If you put your child into a center like JRE, you will (hopefully) have checked the place out and have made a conscious decision to treat the child in that manner. I'm not saying that it's a good thing - far from it - but parents who institutionalise their children should have very good reasons and more importantly, they should feel responsible for supervising their child's treatment.
In the case of the mainstreamed child however, it's more a case of "fire and forget". Parents help their children get ready for school, pack their bags and send them off. For the most part, those children are then out-of-sight, out-of-mind until school finishes.
We trust that the school system will look after our child. Sure, we are responsible for checking the school out but other than that, we can't be responsible for the mood swings or psychopathic tendencies of its staff. Ultimately, we have to trust the school and this kind of trust is akin to the trust placed in doctors, priests and lawyers(?).
From a parent's point of view, it raises some concerns about who you can trust. I'd love to know if the parents had any suspicion that things were going wrong - I suspect not - at least, not in the first two cases. In the third case, the teacher was a repeat offender.
What can we, as parents do?
This is the big question. Obviously we can't go around placing suspicion on every teacher. We have to learn to let go and trust our educators - otherwise we become helicopter parents. Being a helicopter parent isn't just about social perception - it's also harmful to the child, if not academically, then at least socially.
How much contact with the school is too much? How much is too little?
I don't think that there's any sensible benchmark, it would vary from child to child, teacher to teacher and incident to incident. It makes sense to suggest that more time needs to be spent in communication with the teacher in the first term than in the later ones but beyond that, we need to be guided by our (generally uncommunicative) children's feelings and actions.
The Introductory Letter
Here's a method of contact that I'm quite keen on, although I've not been as diligent in the past with my own children as I should have been...
At the start of the school year, write an introductory letter to your child's teacher telling them all about your child, his strengths and weaknesses, both social and educational. Make sure that you include contact information for yourself and your partner and offer your assistance.
Tell the teacher that given reasonable notice, you're happy to be included on excursions with your child.
Even better, consider putting the letter, or a copy of it, permanently in your child's homework diary. Of course, if your child is a teenager, you might have to ask your child for permission.