Thursday, February 28, 2008

Letter to Bainbridge Island School District

Please contact me if you are interested in supporting this effort!

As parents and advocates of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the Bainbridge Island School District, we write to express the need for a comprehensive early intervention program including a developmental kindergarten for our children. In the fall of 2008, approximately 22 special needs preschoolers will be making a transition to kindergarten. Many of these children have profound social/emotional deficits that require a specialized educational setting featuring highly qualified special education teachers with experience and training in this complicated disorder.

The Center for Disease Control reports that 1 in 150 children in the United States are diagnosed with ASD. ASD is the fastest growing developmental disability in the nation, with an annual growth rate of 10-17%. We need to be proactive and focus on early intervention during the critical developmental years in which the potential for progress is greatest. A 2001 London School of Economics study projected that the cost of lifelong care could be reduced by 2/3 with early diagnosis and intervention. In the long run, early intervention saves dollars.

Highly regarded professionals including Stephan Glass, M.D. a Seattle area neurologist who specializes in treating children with ASD are of the professional opinion that neither a regular kindergarten with some support nor a self contained special education setting without neurotypical peers are appropriate options for children with ASD. These children require a kindergarten setting tailored to their special needs with the following features: 1) low teacher to student ratio, 2) special education teacher with experience and current training in ASD, 3) social skills and self regulation focus, 4) exposure to neurotypical peers.

Families for Effective Autism Treatment (FEAT) in Bellevue and the Experimental Education Unit (EEU) in Seattle offer state of the art programs for ASD children. The Bainbridge Island School District needs to examine other successful educational program models and create a comprehensive plan for this special needs population.

We, as parents and advocates of these special needs children in the Bainbridge Island School District, need to see the District focusing on best practices and research-based strategies. The November 27, 2007 front-page article published in the Wall Street Journal, reports that parents of children with ASD are not advocating mainstreaming in the public schools. We share the concern raised by other ASD professionals that the combination of noise, visual over stimulation, complicated social setting, and inability to provide individualized educational programming, can make typical classrooms unbearable for children with autism and quite possibly lead to regression. Not to mention the disruptions our children with ASD can create for general education teachers and students.
We urge the District to take action in a timely fashion in order to meet the staffing and planning requirements necessary to serve this population. We would like to work collaboratively with the District to create an optimal comprehensive curriculum plan that will meet the public educational needs of these children.

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