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 Gilbert School, Gilbert, Arizona

Diagnosis of Gilbert boy’s autism pits doctors vs. schools

by Emily Gersema – Jun. 6, 2010 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

A frustrated teacher and a child struggling with autism have combined for a tumultuous year for the Brunos.

The Gilbert family spent months caught in an escalating dispute with Gilbert Public Schools officials about their son’s disorder – autism – and his need for special services to help him succeed in school.

Their battle represents a long-standing divide between the educational and medical worlds, in which experts dispute the diagnoses of child disorders and the therapies kids need to do well in school.

Valley doctors say the Brunos are among dozens of families who get caught in the middle.

The Brunos’ story began when Luke, now 6, was in preschool two years ago.

Luke struggled then with potty training, sometimes ran away, hated loud noises and refused to accept what seemed like minor changes in routine, recalls his mother, Courtney Bruno.

He would, for example, throw a tantrum when his breakfast of oatmeal with hot water and milk wasn’t made the same way every day. He shied from affection.

The Brunos took Luke for testing at the Melmed Center in early 2009 after they were asked by Gilbert school staff to withdraw him from preschool because of his behavior.

Experts thought Luke likely had “high-functioning autism.”

But the preschool staff at Patterson Elementary determined Luke had skills delays and created an Individualized Education Plan.

The federal document detailed services and goals children like Luke need to do well, including a routine for using the bathroom to reduce accidents.

In May 2009, the team decided he had met the goals of his plan. His family asked for a new review, but Bruno said school-district officials declined, saying Luke was fine.

In October, two months after Dr. Daniel Kessler of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center confirmed autism, it was clear Luke wasn’t fine.

Luke’s kindergarten teacher at Spectrum Elementary complained repeatedly in e-mails to Bruno of Luke’s misbehaviors – spitting, hitting, throwing sand at other children and defecating in the classroom.

The teacher also said Luke seemed “defiant” but she didn’t believe it was because Luke had autism.

Her e-mails showed growing frustration while Bruno’s responses showed she tried to educate the teacher about autism and the behavior that sometimes came with it.

In November, a team of educators created a new Individualized Education Plan that acknowledged Luke had some sort of health impairment.

Bruno said then she was seeking a review by a child psychologist, Dr. Joseph Gentry, but asked the school to do its own behavioral analysis first. She said the school staff refused, asking for Gentry’s assessment.

In March, Gentry confirmed autism. The education team created an IEP to address autism.

A week later, Luke’s teacher wrote to Bruno, “I don’t even want him in my classroom to be honest with you.”

Bruno filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to investigate discrimination. The teacher was placed on temporary leave as punishment.

School officials cannot discuss individual cases publicly because of the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

But Gilbert Public Schools officials acknowledged that, in general, educational assessments often differ from medical opinions.

“It is confusing for families to have a diagnosis in their hands and come to the school and have the school do a little bit of a different process,” said Dr. Julene Robbins, the district’s lead child psychologist. “We want to try to verify that diagnosis is true, but also, we have to measure by state law and federal law how that (disability) impacts their education.”

That requires a series of tests and observations, she said.

Arizona special-education law says that to be diagnosed with autism, the child’s disorder must “adversely affect educational performance.”

Children with mild disorders may have great test scores but struggle socially.

“Academics are just part of education,” Gentry said. “Social skills, self esteem – all of those things are part of what education is all about.”

Kessler said children with autism need special therapy to learn social behaviors.

“Many schools seem to think that if we integrate a child with autism into a mainstream . . . classroom and present them with models of mainstream behavior, that the child with autism will learn those through osmosis,” Kessler said.

“That doesn’t happen. You have to have role play, you have repetition, you have practice.”

Bruno believes her family’s struggle this year was preventable.

“If (the staff) had accepted the diagnosis and put him in a school with appropriate supports, such as an inclusion program . . . this would have been avoided,” Bruno said.

“By the end of the school year with the new plan and supports, he was doing phenomenally and had virtually no issues or accidents the last few weeks – a month before school ended.”

Source:  http://www.azcentral.com/community/gilbert/articles/2010/06/06/20100606boy-autism-gilbert.html

 Vare School, Philadelphia

Mother says teacher torments her autistic kindergartner

KEIA HANNAH said no words could describe how she feels about the way her autistic son was mistreated by his teacher, and the way his principal has refused to get answers.

She has noticed a change in Krisire’s behavior since he began the school year at a kindergarten special-education class at the Vare School in South Philadelphia, she said

He started wetting the bed again and frequently lost his temper, she said. She noticed bruises soon afterward.

“[Krisire] would come [home from school] with a scratch on his face,” she said. “His skin on his arms was red and irritated like he was pinched. He even came home with a bruise on his right hip.”

She confronted his teacher, Stephanie Shane, who told her he’d injured himself when he fell in the classroom or during recess or while roughhousing with classmates, Hannah said.

But another school employee who did not want to be interviewed for fear of reprisal told Hannah a different story. Shane was hitting Krisire, Hannah said she was told.

“She told me she’s seen her take him into the coat closet and he’d come back out crying,” said Hannah, a parent volunteer at the school. “I knew something was wrong when he refused to go into the closet [in his classroom]. He never wanted to be near his teacher.”

Once, she said she was told, Krisire hit his head on a bookshelf he was climbing after Shane yanked his foot when he refused to get down.

Shane, who’s been with the district since August 2005, according to public records, wouldn’t discuss the allegations.

“I’m not going to talk about this at this point in time,” she said.

A district spokesman said the school’s principal, Joanne Capriotti, was investigating the allegations. He added that no incident reports had been filed, though he said Shane and an assistant teacher who worked with her had accused each other of misconduct.

Hannah, who has filed a police report and requested that her son be transferred to another class, believes Capriotti is covering for Shane. Attempts to reach Capriotti were not successful.

“I tried to talk to the principal about it, but she kept interrupting me saying that she couldn’t see [Shane] doing this,” said Hannah, who called the Daily News after she became frustrated with the district.

“She’s coming to [Shane’s] defense when her main priority is this child.

“She thinks she can get away with this, but I’m not giving up.”

Source:  http://www.philly.com/philly/education/20100608_Mother_says_teacher_torments_her_autistic_kindergartner.html



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