25 Mar 2012

Soaring Autism Children

Soaring autism; I envision loads of autistic children running down a grassy slope, arms outstretched, pretending to be aeroplanes. A few who enjoy a good spinning session could be helicopters instead. But sadly that's not what this post is about.

Last week, several newspapers published articles on increasing numbers of children in schools having diagnoses of autism. Among these were:
I assume these identical articles, all laden with wailing and the gnashing of teeth due to the burden of the dread autism, were based on press releases from either the group featured prominently in each, The Centre for Real Education (CRE) or the contrary academic Frank Furedi who's personal views on autism are accorded much more weight than they deserve.

The NAS has a useful, detailed and well referenced article about autism numbers and concludes "it appears that a prevalence rate of around 1 in 100 is a best estimate of the prevalence [of autism] in children".

However these articles all open with a discussion of how the number of children in schools diagnosed with autism has doubled in the past and with current figures of approximately 1 in every 125 pupils. I fail to see the problem. Autism is a common condition. It was under-diagnosed for years, the criteria were much stricter so that many people who have a disability were not getting enough support. Now the criteria have been widened, there is better recognition of the condition and more children are getting accurate diagnoses.

Furedi is quoted in each of the articles as saying,
"It is unlikely to be a genuine unprecedented increase in autism, rather an institutional use of this condition to allow people to get easier access to resources. This activity ends up trivialising what is a very serious condition for some children."
That's the opinion of a man with zero expertise in autism. He presents no facts to back up his claims and he can quite easily be ignored.

The CRE spokesperson says,
"Obviously children with autism need special treatment. But the rapid increase does suggest that perhaps the figures should be looked at again.
Children should not be classified as having special needs too easily. The rise should be examined closely because it has a knock-on effect for teachers, schools and the pupils themselves."
All children need special treatment. Children with a disability require accommodations to give them access to a good individualised education adapted to maximise their learning. This happens for some people but most autistic children in schools are not getting the support they deserve.

The CRE philosophy on education is set out here in their manifesto for common sense.
That title alone tells me much about how this group sees the world. They favour selective education, "meaningful punishment" for bad behaviour, traditional values, parental choice (for the kind of parents they approve of) and demand that lots of current progressive practices "should be halted." They want more emphasis on facts and knowledge and less on skills. They demand that art, music and literature lessons concentrate on approved classics.

They have a section on "Special Needs" 
When the proportion of pupils with genuine special needs is probably only around 5%, the educational establishment's acceptance of 20% or more is intolerable.[5]
Recommendation: Immediate steps should be taken to reduce the artificially high percentage of 'special needs' by ensuring that only those that are genuine are specified – and properly catered for. The widespread practice of exaggerating special needs to gain additional funding should be halted. 
Clearly I checked out reference [5] to see where those numbers come from- and was baffled to find that it was an old article by Minette Marrin in the Daily Telegraph. For real! This is what counts as reference-worthy to the CRE.

Minette Marin is one of those click-baiting troll columnists and I've discussed her before after her vicious and hateful piece calling babies with Down Syndrome and their families "damaged babies" and "damaged families". The only other person in the CRE list of references with whom I'm familiar is Melanie Phillips.

This is speculation presented with no evidence that the needs of disabled children are being exaggerated. The CRE are not worth listening to.

The NAS spokesperson makes a typically sensible contribution to the discussion:
"We know that with accurate diagnosis the right support can be put in place so that children with autism can reach their full potential. It’s very likely that all teachers and school staff will come into contact with children with autism at some stage during their teaching career, so it’s vital that they receive quality training and strategies to support these children in the classroom."
As usual the comment sections on these articles descend into a mire of anti-scientific, disablist nonsense.

I can't imagine why the CRE and Frank Furedi were considered worth quoting on these matters. I wish the papers would look more closely at the people sending them stories and examine their agendas.

Charlotte Moore on Autism

There's a lovely article in the Guardian from Charlotte Moore about her 2 autistic sons. I always enjoy her writing on autism, it's full of heart and truth and I can relate to much of what she says. I don't like her use of the word "autist" to describe her sons in this. It's a word that is best left for people to self-identify if they so choose, it's presumptuous for a non-autistic person to use that term.

She over-generalises traits her sons possess when she writes, "Autists can go for days without eating."
Not so Charlotte.

This made me laugh, "The autistic will is one of the most powerful forces known to man."
Yep, I concurr.

My favourite lines from the article follow:
"Don't compare. Whatever your autistic child is like, he or she is a complete person, an extraordinary being who experiences the world quite differently from you or anyone else."
"Parents sometimes mourn the child they feel they've "lost" to autism, but this, I firmly believe, is an illusion. My sons were born autistic, and autistic they will always remain; my acceptance of that is wholehearted. If I had my time again, I'd do some things differently, but I wouldn't be without them for the world."