Why Can't My Asperger's Son Be Mainstreamed in School?

Filed under: Opinions



Dear AdviceMama,

The school district wants to put my son in a self-contained class all day at school. What is the best way to fight this? He has Asperger's, ADHD, and some behavior problems, but he is very smart (tested above average on their IQ test). He mainly throws temper tantrums if things don't go exactly his way, and has tics when he is anxious. There is a class in the district for Asperger's, but they do not want to put him in it because the Asperger's kids don't have behavior issues in this class (what?!). I really want to keep him out of the self-contained class. Please help.

Signed,
Unrestrained or Self-Contained


Dear Unrestrained,

You're asking an important question, one that many parents face as they try to find the best situation for a child who can't always conform to the behavior guidelines in a typical classroom. Deciding what's right for a child with behavior management issues is difficult at best, and can feel impossible when their intellectual and emotional maturity are dramatically far apart.

On the one hand, your son sounds very bright. This isn't uncommon; many children on the ADHD/ Asperger's spectrum test very high -- even gifted -- on intellectual assessments. I understand your desire to make sure he's stimulated and challenged in the academic arena, and your concern that a self-contained classroom might not meet his needs. Still, you are describing a young man who -- regardless of his label -- has temper tantrums when things don't go his way. While my work is very much about teaching strategies to use with youngsters whose frustration gets the better of them, a teacher may not have the time or patience to handle his outbursts, and certainly can't be expected to avoid making any demands on him that may trigger his upset.

In this situation, as hard as it might be to hear, it's my opinion that your son's behavior issues and emotional immaturity take precedence over his intellectual abilities. This doesn't mean that you can't supplement his academic work by giving him additional scholastic exercises. And even more importantly, it's not a given that being in the self-contained classroom means that his work will be too easy. Each youngster's work should be customized to their level in each subject, allowing them to work at their own pace. But the fact is, a child who is chronically anxious and very reactive may not be served by the stimulation of a busy, over-filled classroom, impairing their ability to focus and learn.

If you are bound and determined to try to get your son mainstreamed, I would advise you to offer evidence to the school that you are doing serious work with a behaviorist or therapist to help your son develop skills to manage his impulsivity, anxiety and anger. Perhaps if you can convince them that he can handle frustration and disappointment without the tantrums, they will reconsider their decision.

Yours in parenting support,
AdviceMama

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.