2000-03-25 / Letters

Mother Makes Appeal

Dear Editor;

I wrote the following letter to Councilman Stabile in response to an article in The Wave (March 10, "Stabile Appeals To Vallone"). Since the writing of this letter, I have heard from Councilman Stabile's office. Unfortunately, the matter is out of his hands and it all has to do with the Board of Education and the chancellor of schools. So I am appealing to them to do something about the conditions in the schools for Special Ed children. Please don't let a tragedy serve as the reason to finally make a change. Let's avoid the tragedy at all costs. Give these children a safe and proper education.

Dear Councilman Stabile;

I applaud your efforts in trying to get City Council Speaker Peter Vallone to allocate money from the Biomedical Research Fund to research autism and in your fight for insurance companies to include coverage for treating autism. As a mother of a 4 and a half year old autistic child, I’ve spent the last three years living with the heartache of this disease, a disease that has no cause, no cure, no answers. You are right, there are thousands of children in our city who are affected by autism, much more than this city can handle.

You have said that an allocation from this fund will "send a clear message to the families who deal with this disease that they are not alone and that our city is actively seeking ways to help these individuals and their families cope with this disease." You’ve also stated that the City Council should "explore ways that our city can play more of a role in aiding these families and lessening the emotional and financial burden." While I think autism research is a priority, there is something that should also be considered a priority--schools. Research for causes and cures for autism takes time, but placement in appropriate schools is immediate.

My daughter will be aging out of her current school and will be attending a school age program in September. I have started to look at schools considered to be appropriate for my daughter so that when I have her meeting with CSE (Committee on Special Education), I will be well informed as to which schools have appropriate programs for her. You have stated that you were "shocked to learn how many children suffer from this disease." I invite you to meet my daughter, learn how autism has affected her, see the level of severity she’s at, witness her aggressive and self injurious behavior, and then take a tour of the schools that are considered "appropriate" for a child like her. You will be more than "shocked" by what you see. One of the schools I looked at had one classroom divided into three sections. It served as a main office for the school, a speech and occupational therapy room, and a "gym". When questioned as to how a child with sensory issues like my daughter can function in a room with so much stimulation, I was shown an alternate workspace--a desk in the corner of a hallway, by an elevator. To the side of that area was an open staircase. One school even felt it was acceptable to send her to shop class. Please keep in mind that these classes only have a 6:1:1 ratio. That means six children, one teacher, and one aide. An additional aide will be in the room for children that are toilet training. This makes one adult to every two children. In addition to the challenges she faces daily, my daughter has safety issues. If left alone for even a second, she can get into a dangerous situation. I’m sure you can understand my concerns about elevators, open staircases, machinery, etc. These were not the only schools I have seen but I don’t think that I want to see any more "appropriate" schools.

There has been a substantial rise in the increase in autism since my daughter was first diagnosed. I feel it’s time that the Board of Ed. rise to meet the needs of these children. You have actively taken a role in the promoting the awareness of autism and the needs of the children and their families. Won’t you also play an active role in the awareness of the needs of these children in the NYC school system? With your help, this is one emotional burden the city can eliminate for myself and others faced with the same challenge of finding appropriate schools. I thank you for everything you are doing for our special children.

BARBARA RIOS

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