As this excellent article came out and stated: almost all students with disabilities are capable of graduating on time. However, statistics show this is anything but reality in the U.S. right now. Close to one-thirds of students with disabilities who enroll in a four-year college will take eight-years to complete their degree. For those that enroll in two-year schools, only 41% will graduate on-time with the rest of their classmates.
Our schools need to do better, seeing that the numbers don’t lie: we’re failing students with autism and ADHD.
The Status of Students with Autism and ADHD
More students than ever before are entering our schooling systems with autism or ADHD today. Close to 1 in 59 children are living with autism and an estimated 6.4 million American children have been diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). What was once considered a minority group is quickly becoming a majority, which means these students deserve the attention, respect, and support that other “regular” students receive.
Soft Skills Teaching
The basic American high school is set up to teach rigorous academic and educational topics/skills. These schools are not set up to teach soft skills, which are typically all the separate those with autism from those without it. Soft skills can include how to study, how to manage one’s time, and how to self-advocate. Without these skills supported, students lacking in social awareness are unable to keep pace with the regular students; regardless of their natural intellectual levels.
Students living with disabilities process information differently, so they require a more explicit form of teaching and direction than other students. Particularly for those with ADHD, they struggle with the executive function, which makes it hard for them to organize their time and problem solve on tests.
Those with autism struggle in social settings, making it hard for them to engage in groups, group studying, reading out loud, participating in debate, etc. As a result, their grades suffer.
What About the Law?
American federal law mandates that schools create individual programs for special education students. However, these programs only cover curriculum, and as this article states, many times over-estimate what these students can do. The programs largely leave out non-academic topics that are actually the most important for these students, further creating a gap between their current standing and their potential.
Some schools are taking action. One school has defined the four essential skills all students should learn, beyond the tests. They include: executive functioning (connecting past experiences with the present), communication (written, verbal, and non-verbal), critical thinking (synthesizing information), and soft (all communication skills used in harmony for personal appearance).
Where Do We Go from Here?
Autism in schools isn’t going to go away anytime soon. Studies point to a continued increase in the number of students living with autism, ADHD, etc. Therefore, our education system needs to adapt. Be proactive and contact your local schools, presenting these four skills and asking them what they are doing to accommodate these new kinds of students.
Autism in schools
Students with autism