Friday, October 2, 2015

Cashing In On Special-Needs Kids | The Progressive

Cashing In On Special-Needs Kids | The Progressive:

Cashing In On Special-Needs Kids

Illustration by Erin Taniguchi

Raising a child with autism requires extra vigilance. Just ask Minneapolis parent Marcia Haugstad. Her son, Noah, has an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis and is beginning high school this fall after many difficult years as a Minneapolis public school student. Once, as a kindergartener, Noah panicked in his regular education classroom and bolted out the door. He was about to set foot in a busy nearby street when a teacher happened to see him, just in time.
Then, in fourth grade, Noah told his mom about the classroom “superbullies” who were teasing him. With inadequate support from teachers and specialists, Noah began lashing out, scratching other kids, and refusing to leave the house in the morning. For the first time in his life, he had to be physically restrained by a teacher.
He even became suicidal. Haugstad vividly recalls Noah telling her, in great detail, how he planned to kill himself by tying a belt around his neck.
Mental health problems are a companion to autism, Haugstad says, because kids like Noah are often very aware that they are different, and don’t fit in. Unpredictable and sometimes violent meltdowns are characteristic of “high-functioning” autistic kids; after the episode fades, the child is often awash in a sea of remorse.
It takes a careful hand to guide a child like Noah, and that’s what Haugstad eventually found for him, through the Minneapolis public schools’ highly regarded citywide autism program. The district has offered this intensive program for the last twenty years, as Minnesota’s autism population has steadily grown, particularly among the state’s white and Somali residents.
In this program, which parents say has provided crucial access to like-minded peers, kids with autism can spend time in both mainstream and special education classrooms.
After Noah’s violent and suicidal episodes as a fourth grader, Haugstad contacted the school
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