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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Writer/Curator/Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project. Contributing Author to Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell the Truth About Motherhood, and Concepts of Normality by Wendy Lawson, and soon to be published Gravity Pulls You In. Writing my own book. Lecturer on autism and the media and parenting. Current graduate student Critical Disability Studies and most importantly, mother of Adam -- a new and emerging writer.

“There is no hope unmingled with fear, and no fear unmingled with hope.” -- Baruch Spinoza

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Autistic Kindergarten Student Gets "Voted Out" of Class

PORT ST. LUCIE — Melissa Barton said she is considering legal action after her son's kindergarten teacher led his classmates to vote him out of class.

After each classmate was allowed to say what they didn't like about Barton's 5-year-old son, Alex, his Morningside Elementary teacher Wendy Portillo said they were going to take a vote, Barton said.

By a 14 to 2 margin, the students voted Alex — who is in the process of being diagnosed with autism — out of the class.
To view full article click here.

When I read this I became outraged. The Autism Acceptance Project is working towards an Inclusion Initiative here in Toronto to ensure that this does not happen, and that aides, and services be included IN the schools, instead of taking autistic children out of them. This initiative should be announced in a couple of months.

For my fellow parents here in Toronto, being included in schools in the number one issue for families. Yet, many of us are turned away at the word "autism," without even a first introduction to our children. They are called "disruptive," (I could name a number of schools geared towards special learners that even turn away autistic children here in Toronto), even though many of them who manage to get in, benefit by being with accepting, flexible teachers, with aides, and with other children. I know of another family here in Toronto raising money so that families can afford to hire aides for their children and that is a very worthy cause.

In the case of Adam, his peers love him in his "regular" school. And we are working towards adapting his classes and schedule to his needs while he is still in the classroom.

Yet the label "autism" inspires fear of either the child or the cost of that child in large part due to the nature of former ABA lobbying. I hope we can all work together to ensure that our autistic children, by law, will never be turned away. I hope we can work together to show teachers that we learn to do by doing and we learn to include by including. I hope we work together to change attitudes towards disability and autism, and that Inclusion is understood -- services be brought to the schools, not via integration (which means partially taking kids out of classes)or mainstreaming (which simply means throwing the autistic kid in the class with no accommodation -- a kind of sink or swim method) but by full inclusion. I hope that we can bring in people to give our teachers the tools they need in order to understand how to adapt a curriculum.

Inclusion benefits everyone, for everyone belongs. We are witnessing this in Adam's school, and today, he is at another one of his classmate's birthday parties. Parents often come up to me to say that their children talk about Adam a lot and they are grateful that their children will live in a world where a person with special needs is not seen as alien or an aberration. We are lucky and I want everyone to be as lucky.


Blogger Ange said...

This article just makes me ill. After years, I have finally convinced my son's school to do a peer mentoring training with a small group of kids in bubba's class (he is in the regular classroom), we're hoping for success... hopefully they are taught about diversity, differences, the greatness of accomodation and modification, and compassion. It is built into his behavior support plan (that we got back!!), so the chance of school compliance is somewhat higher...

12:16 PM  
Blogger Navi said...

In MI, the school system's goal is to have the child in a typical classroom, even if it is with an aide. The US has a law requiring students learn in the "least restrictive" environment. Which means if they can handle a typical classroom with an aide, they get a typical classroom with an aide. Honestly my son's so severe, I'm concerned about our philosophy, but it seems it suits most parents.

It's amazing the stark contrasts between the US and Canada, or at least MI and Canada (I can't really vouch for the rest of our country) especially since a good chunk of the negative media attention comes from our country, it seems our schools ignore it.

2:38 PM  
Blogger Navi said...

nevermind, this apparently IS in the US. I correct myself. I'm glad I live in MI, and I apologize for the comment on the way things are done in Canada.

Though being in the US means this child's mother has a nice little potential lawsuit in her hands, even if criminal charges aren't brought... As I mentioned before, US law requires the 'least restrictive' environment.

2:42 PM  
Blogger Rhonda said...

We are in the process of fighting our school system for restraining our daughter with autism, secluding her in another classroom, and making an atmosphere that required us to remove her from the school. The state of education for children with autism is a civil rights travesty!

5:46 PM  
Blogger concerned heart said...

What an awful situation

11:11 PM  
Blogger geosaru said...

"The state of education for children with autism is a civil rights travesty!"

Yup. Sadly.

"Which means if they can handle a typical classroom with an aide, they get a typical classroom with an aide."

Yeah, though a lot of times people whose needs aren't understood well (as has been the case for me for most of my education, all the way through high school) are stuffed into mainstreaming with little assistance, and for me it has been very much sink or swim, which really ought not to be the case when I've had a 504 plan since I was 10 and an IEP since I was 16 (even then they just put speech and language not autism, and the only thing speech therapy has ever addressed is things like idioms, which is not an issue for me, whereas things like initiating speech are major but unaddressed).

They try to swing the way that means the least effort oftentimes, whether that's just keeping them in mainstream without much support or by sending them to a special school.

Really, though, this story is the story of a travesty of a teacher, regardless of whether the kid is autistic or not. That's just completely unprofessional and cruel to boot.

11:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The teacher's email address can be found using the following link. Perhaps we should let her know how we feel!

Ms. Wendy Portillo

6:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The teacher's email address can be found using the following link. Perhaps we should let her know how we feel!

Ms. Wendy Portillo

6:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This woman is not a teacher. She is barely human. How could anyone put a 5 yearnold through this and still continue to teach? Don't they have a school board in St; Lucie? This woman definitely doesn't need to be in a school in any teaching role in the future.

7:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard this on the news this morning and was deeply sickened. My son does not have autism, but is severely mentally handicapped. He is 8 and is non verbal, but not non communiative. I keep him out of school for 2 years after preschool because I felt like he and I were ill-equiped for the school experience. After much testing and research I placed him back in school in an FMD classroom that includes down syndrome and autistic children as well. They have both ends of the autism spectrum in the room. The ratio is 5 adults to 8 children. They do mainstream from there, and my son stays in the regular afternoon kindergarten with his aide as long as he can, maybe 15 min. He can be very distrubtive.
My concern is why didn't the school system do something at the very beginning when his distrubtive behaviors were first noticed. I do have a degree in elementary education and I believe that the entire system failed. The mother should have pushed harder with both the school system and her doctor, but the trained professionals should have pushed her into action.
I realize that my son's weird behaviors appear perfectly normal to me, because they are all we have ever known and my family knows how to manage them. My son's teacher has sent home notes this year questioning behaviors that I just accepted and dealt with without thinking about. This may be the case for them as well.
Both mother and child need strong advocates and I pray that they get them soon. This deserves a thorough investigation by both the school system and social services. I see what the teacher did as care-giver abuse.
From what I saw on CBS this morning the mother appears to very caring towards her son. She just appears to be uneducated concerning autism, therefore she didn't know what to do.
I may sound as if I'm rambling, but as the mother of 5 adopted children with a variety of special needs, none of them autism, this has made me very angry. No child deserves this treatment!

8:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My son has Asperger's syndrome. He was treated the same way in school. The school system totally FAILED him.At the age of 12 he was suicidal. So I home schooled. I am HAPPY to say he graduated early is on the Deans list in college and works a part time job. He is totally fine. All it took was some tender LOVING care. This teacher should NOT be teaching.As they have no idea what tey are doing.

3:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cannot beleive this woman put him on the spot like that with his fellow classmates and his peers. She is suppossed to mainstream him into the classroom environment rather than outcast him. If she felt he was a problem she should have went through the proper channels, such as going to her superior and the mother of the boy. She is just as much a bully as any other child that he might encounter but the difference is in this case she is older, educated and suppossed to be there in the best interest of her student. She definitely should not be claiming an excuse of psychology on this child when she plainly took advantage of his childhood and disability.

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Rusty said...

I too was disgusted by what I saw on the Early Show. My heart broke when I saw Melissa Barton trying to understand just how much this affected little Adam.

I have an autistic son, who is just now completing "middle school". I just don't have the heart to send him to the local high school. He made it through the toughest part of the education system, unfortunately, they just pushed him through, not really teaching him anything. "No child left behind" is a crock. My son has a place in society, not just collecting cans and recycling them. So, I will be homeschooling my son. We have to start at a 3rd grade level (he's going into 9th). I feel that I can definately do a better job of "teaching" than the qualified people, who expect nothing, and get what they expect.

If you are fortunate enough to be able to homeschool, please do. Life is hard enough. I don't want to see anymore Adams on the news to show that not only are children cruel, but those who we have entrusted their education to, are just not simpathetic to those who need extra attention.

Just imagine if a kindergartner had said s/he was gay, and the teacher encouraged to "vote him/her out", the backlash would be unreal.

And Melissa was right when she tried to say that this is how the Al-Qeida treats special needs kids. Shame on Harry Smith for not letting her speak. It seems that the truth has no place in the media.

Stand firm Melissa, and for all parents whose kids are not the status quo. These are our children, they should be loved and accepted by all.

9:48 AM  
Anonymous Tara said...

"Just imagine if a kindergartner had said s/he was gay, and the teacher encouraged to "vote him/her out", the backlash would be unreal."

Let's go one further given that Ms Portillo is African American and one would think that she would have some insight into this... How was her setup significantly different from the ordeal that first black students in integrated schools had to go through?

5:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is sad my son has autism and it makes me wonder what the kids say to him and also the teachers.

11:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I posted earlier. I have the child in the fmd class. I am proud of the parents who have brought their children home and schooled them. My older 4 children were all homeschooled through high school. It was the best fit for all of them. As I traveled in homeschool circles I saw many autistic children who were greatly helped by homeschooling. The best thing is that you have direct controll over both curriculum and distractions, the two key academic concerns that effect an austic child's ability to learn. I also believe that the diet research is promising as I have heard from parents who have used it.
A note to parents who are or are considering homeschooling. Check out this page. It sounded quite interesting to me. My oldest grandson is not autistic but is struggling in school due in part to distractions.
My prayers are with all of you. May God bless you as you seek the best for your children.

8:12 AM  
Blogger Benjamin Ray said...

I have Tourette’s Syndrome, and when I hear about stories like this, I feel like wringing some necks and anybody who takes up for the teacher in this one is a million times more mental than the child with the disability. The teacher and the principal both need to be fired. The principal needs to be fired for allowing this type of stuff to go on. I was in regular classes throughout my K-12 school career and had graduated high school with a regular diploma just like the normal kids. I had volunteered to return to my high school as a coach of the Special Olympics high school basketball team after graduation. I am now an A+ certified PC technician running my own on call repair service through facebook. Man, I can’t stand these types of people.

12:05 PM  
Anonymous jyll said...

I deal with a school trying to just get my son through without having to pay for extra help by putting his diagnosis as "developmental delay". Makes me ill!

6:18 AM  
Anonymous Kim Wilson said...

This story just makes me cry on so many levels.

My son, who is 11, is on the spectrum. In the town we lived in, the school system was divided into primary (K-3) and intermediate (4-7). Primary was OK - I had some battles but I won them and my boy was doing pretty well. He is high-functioning and extremely bright so school work has never been an issue.

Then we hit Grade 4 - new school, new teacher, new aide. Grade 4 and specifically his aide, came very close to destroying my son. He went from a positive, happy, outgoing boy who laughed all the time and loved school to a sad, withdrawn child who was so stressed by the end of the day that his tounge would be hanging out and his eyes would roll back into his head. He didn't want to go to school and his behaviour regressed. As it turns out, his aide was calling him names like 'stupid' and 'fat', encouraging other children to pick on him and generally dong whatever he could to make my son's life a living hell.

My son, who is now in Grade 6 at another school, has never fully recovered from this. His optimism is gone. He expects the worst from situations and sees bullying everywhere, even when none exists. I wonder if Mr. Fraser or this woman in Florida truly realiza the long-lasting negative impact they have on children with their behaviour.

I have always thought that bullying is a learned behaviour. With people like this in the world it only reinforces that opinion. How can children remain open and accepting when the people that are supposed to be their role models show behaviour like this?

Although I sincerely hope that this woman is fired and never allowed to teach again,it makes me cry to cinsider the damage she has already caused to countless other children and to realize that her particular bran of prejudice and hatred will still be spread.

2:24 AM  

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