The spectrum of autism ties

Since my “induction” into being a mom of an autistic child, I have studied hard to find the ties that connect autism to us. I’ve researched all ends of the spectrum, from biological, medical, environmental, neurological, and sociological ties. In these 7 years since I have been baptised by fire, I will admit that I am in no way a global expert on autism. I can, however, look at autism globally and see the ties that many people try to make with their theories.

From what I’ve witnessed in our autism community, some actions, attitudes, and axioms are very polarizing. We have a very turbulent community, almost heartbreaking in its non-support of each other as we all cling ferociously to our hypotheses of the cause of autism. We even have a dichotomy within our community of people who want a cure for autism, and those who support “neurodiversity” and are happy with being autistic, claiming it is their essence so why destroy it. I have attested on various occasions of intense debate among all levels of the spectrum, the “cure-bies” (the ones that a cure), the “bio-meds” (the ones who believe that autism is caused by vaccines), the “neurodiverse” (autism is a neurological part of their brain, please accept it for what it is), and those of us who see all sides and just want all of us on the spectrum to support each other.

How can the “outside world” take anything that we say for fact if we are all shouting different messages with varying degrees of intensity, often drowning and cancelling each other out?

In my experience, you need to look at all sides of this issue. It is such a monstrosity that if one doesn’t take time to study each level of the spectrum, he/she would be foolish. I have much family experience with autism from not just my son, but also other family members including myself. (Yes, I have Asperger’s traits as well.)  You could say that not only does autism run in my family, but it gallops. 🙂

So, I take this personal knowledge with me when I engage with my spectrum of autism friends. I try to take a loose end and make a tie with it so that hopefully after I’m finished with all my interactions, I can see a web of support, love, and understanding within my wonderful spectrum.

How would you vote?

I’m going to delve a bit into my own past here to illustrate how much this event has shaken me up. When I was in kindergarten, my teacher, albeit a freshly-graduated teacher, was not very tolerant of me. I say this because I could read when I was three, already knew my shapes, colors, how to write, and easily got BORED in kindergarten. So what do bored kids usually do? Act up or tune out… and I acted up. I will NEVER forget the things she did to me: having the class vote me out a la’ Survivor (this was circa 1975, right when special education was in its infancy), had me referred to special education and labeled emotionally impaired, and held up a paper that I did as an example of what not to do. Sadly, I got this woman again in second grade in a second/third grade split class. The first thing out of that woman’s mouth when she saw me walk into class was “Oh no, not you again.” I kid you not.

So, it is with this that I segue into this horror of a story that I saw circulating through my autism support email lists last week. In St. Lucie, Florida, a sweet looking boy named Alex Barton was subject to his teacher’s bullying. In a move worthy of a reality TV show, she had her class vote this child out of the class. Afterward, the evicted child stated that he no longer felt “special”, and he felt sad. His classmates voted him out in a 14 to 2 vote margin, saying that he was “disgusting” and “annoying”. Alex is currently being evaluated for Asperger’s Syndrome.

What pisses me off so much is that there are teachers that are STILL DOING THIS 33 years later, after I had endured the same thing. I am a college educated woman, I have gone through the training to be a classroom teacher. I’m in graduate school working on my Master’s degrees in special education and reading. NOWHERE IS THIS KIND OF BEHAVIOR ENCOURAGED. The first rule always is “Do no harm.” A fellow blogger, Last Crazy Horn, says that we should follow The Golden Rule. I agree.

Would this teacher, Wendy Portillo, do this to anyone in her family? How would she feel if her students conducted the same vote to see if she was worthy to stay in the classroom in her role as a teacher?

I am so disgusted about this, I could spit blood and nails.

So, with this, I suggest that my fellow bloggers band together and make some noise in support of Alex and his family. At Last Crazy Horn’s blog there is a list of contact information on how to contact the school, the Florida governor’s office.

People can also file complaints at the Office of Civil Rights office at the federal level by using this link here.

Like my friend, Jen, my head is gone, too.

And, as a final thought, please read the poem at the end of my friend’s, Babs, blog about this travesty in education.

Here is more contact information on getting your word out:

Morningside Elementary
2300 S.E. Gowin Drive,
Port St. Lucie, FL 34952
772-337-6730, 772-337-6744
Marcia Cully,Principal

To help you with forming your ideas, here’s the school’s Mission Statement:

“The mission of Morningside Elementary School is to ensure that every
student be afforded a safe and caring environment in which to study
and learn, and that all students be equipped with the knowledge and
skills to succeed.”

Superintendent, St. Lucie County Public Schools
Michael J. Lannon
LannonM @

Principal Morningside Elementary
Ms. Marcia Cully
cullym @

School Board Members:

Mrs. Kathryn Hensley
HensleyK @

Troy Ingersoll
IngersollT @

Dr. Judi Miller
MillerJ @

Dr. John Carvelli
CarvelliJ @

Ms. Carol A. Hilson
HilsonC @

Ms. Wendy Portillo – Alex’s teacher
portillow @

ETA: I have just read that Wendy Portillo has been reassigned out of the class where she was teaching. She needs to be someplace away from kids. Far, far, far away….

Books I want in my professional library

This is not an all-inclusive list. This is just the tip-of-the-iceberg list that I’ve made after being in graduate school for the past two years. All images courtesy of

1. 11e9q7n5wql.jpg Nonverbal Learning Disabilities at Home: A Parent’s Guide by Pamela K. Tanguay. This book has tons of practical information and suggestions for parents who have a child with Nonverbal Learning Disabilities.

2. 01d1k329mzl.jpg Nonverbal Learning Disabilities at School: Educating Students With NLD, Asperger Syndrome and Related Conditions by Pamela K. Tanguay. I used this book as one of my sources for a research paper on NLD, and I fell in love with its practical tips and usefulness for not just students with NLD, but with ALL students.

3. 51hhuzcfgil_bo2204203200_pisitb-dp-500-arrowtopright45-64_ou01_aa240_sh20_.jpg A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I’ve heard her speak and want to know more.

4. 5138syfz2bl_bo2204203200_pisitb-dp-500-arrowtopright45-64_ou01_aa240_sh20_.jpg How the Brain Learns to Read by David A. Sousa. I am totally fascinated by anything related to brain-based research on learning. I have read previous chapters from another Sousa book, and I like how he can explain things very simply.

5. 51ymfc2wa1l_bo2204203200_pisitb-dp-500-arrowtopright45-64_ou01_aa240_sh20_.jpg How the Special Needs Brain Learns by David A. Sousa. This is the book that I’ve read chapters from and I want my own copy for my library!

6. 515j87j5k2l_bo2204203200_pisitb-dp-500-arrowtopright45-64_ou01_aa240_sh20_.jpg Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz, M.D. I heard SO many teachers at the Michigan Reading Association conference sing the praises of this book. I think I’ll check it out from the library, first, before I add it to my library. 🙂

Why does it sometimes feel like “us” versus “them”?

I’m on a lot of e-mail lists for special education, parenting and education support for autism, lists about Individual Education Plans (IEPs), newsletters about literacy… the list goes on. What breaks my heart so much is when I read e-mails from parents who are struggling with their child(ren)’s school districts about the services that their child(ren) should be receiving according to his/her IEP, but somehow something gets lost in translation, lost in the shuffle, and ultimately, the child gets lost in the bureaucratic nightmare.

I can’t count the number of e-mails I’ve read where parents ask “What are my rights?”, “What do I do when x doesn’t do y and it’s supposed to do be done?”, and the one that really broke my heart, “What do I do when I hear staff making negative comments about the special education kids right in front of them?”. These e-mails span the United States- in small cities and in large urban areas. The common factor is the parents’ frustration in the lack of communication and services for their special needs child.

Then, I see the other side of the fence. I’m a trained teacher, and I know how hard it is to be a teacher, not just a regular education teacher, but also a special education teacher (I used to teach English as a Second Language, and I’m currently in graduate school to get my certification to be a special education teacher). I know the hours of preparation that regular education teachers get in their content areas, but when it comes to special education, guess how much preparation regular education teachers get?

You’re lucky if you get maybe 1 three credit hour class that is like what I call the “Crash Course to Disabilities 101”: Students get an overall view of the different disabilities and get a small sampling of accommodations to use with the various special needs children. This is not acceptable in my opinion. 

First and foremost- all of our special needs children are “regular education” children. It doesn’t matter what “label” you put on a child; he/she is still a child that in the “regular education” setting for most of the day. The regular education teachers need more training/education/experience to be able to successfully educate our special needs children. The techniques and accommodations that are used for special education students work with ALL students; it’s just good teaching practice.

Second, parents and teachers need to learn how to collaborate. Nothing gets done when people go in with their own hidden agendas, planning to start a battle, or no one is willing to see the other’s side of view. All parties need to remember that the child is the most important piece of the puzzle. I don’t want to hear whining about “We don’t have the budget for that” from schools, or “The school just won’t listen to us” from parents. You have to work with each other; stop playing the “us” versus “them” game.

Teachers- look at things from the parents’ point of view. If your child was disabled, what would you want for your child?

Parents- look at things from the teachers’ point of view. Your child is in a class with other children- what can the teacher do to help your child succeed? I’m not saying that you have to do the teacher’s job. I’m saying that you need to work together. The parent is the child’s first teacher. When the teachers work together, the child wins every time.

It’s painful to hear so many parents struggle to get their child the services they deserve under the law. If  people collaborated instead of battling, more good would be done for everyone.