Parents of children with Aspergers know that this neurological condition can make it difficult to navigate even the most basic tasks, like travel and conversation. For this reason, school can be a challenge: a student with Aspergers may find that their social difficulties lead to ostracization or worse, while situations like riding on a bus for long periods can cause them to panic. Because of this, many parents are beginning to send their children to Aspergers schools and educational programs. A school for Aspergers not only lets students interact with children in similar circumstances, but can also help them learn to cope with a variety of challenges. Schools for ADHD and dyslexia exist for the same reasons. Now, some school districts are beginning to create their own schools for these disorders, but the process is frustrating some parents, who say that these programs aren’t meeting the needs of their children.
Take Staten Island, for example: the city’s Department of Education is considering adding a third school for Aspergers students to the district. The plan, which was created after local parents voiced their concerns, would add a site to the city’s South Shore district, at a school which already has a significant number of students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Currently, the district has a school for Aspergers at Barnes Intermediate School in Great Kills, and another at Laurie Intermediate School in New Springville. Classes at these programs host eight students, one teacher and one aid.
However, a number of parents in the city want to add another site at Paulo Intermediate School in Huguenot, as their students already zoned for this school. Because the Department of Education’s plan for special education reform seeks to keep qualifying students in their zoned districts, the choice seems like a natural one to many. Moreover, Paulo Intermediate School is handicap-accessible, air-conditioned, and has trained staff on-site who have experience working with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Because of this, parents argue that this site is the best school for Aspergers students who live nearby, especially those with travel restrictions on their individualized education plans (IEP).
This debate comes after a tough year for special education students and their parents living in Staten Island: in June 2014, for example, it was revealed that a number of prominent special education staff members lacked credentials or experience in the subject, including the citywide Special Education CEO. Later, in October, major cutbacks were announced to a successful program for middle-school students with Aspergers. While these staff members were replaced and funding was reinstated for the school year, the department lost some degree of trust in the community. Now, they say they are carefully considering adding another site to ensure that all special education students can access the services they need. For the moment, however, many parents in Staten Island are likely investigating other options and schools for dyslexia, ADHD and Aspergers to make sure their students don’t fall through the cracks.