In New York City public schools there are more than 7,000 students with varying degrees of autism. At PS 176 in the Bronx, 700 students from preschool age to 21, go to school every day and federal law mandates that all children with disabilities are entitled to a free, appropriate education. With over 700 students, the teacher-to-student ratio begins at one teacher plus a teacher's aide to six students, moving as students' progress, to less-restrictive classrooms, with eight to 12 children.
Teachers at PS 176 notice that a lot of their students are motivated by music and technology such as the iPad. Due to financial constraints the school only has 23 iPad's for 700 students. A new charter school in Manhattan opened recently but only had slots for 30 students. Founded by the New York Center for Autism, the charter school is funded under the federal disabilities education mandate plus some private fundraising.
The only charter school in New York State exclusively for children with autism, this was created to be a model of possibilities, where children receive over 40 hours a week of applied behavior analysis and individual attention. For children with autism, many of the lessons teach life skills. To talk, to sit still, pay attention, to learn how to shave, to wash their hair, know the dangers of traffic. Or to overcome the terror these children often feel going to the doctor. A fear the school eases with its own in-house clinic.
While every child with autism does not have the opportunity to attend an individualized charter school catered to their specific disability, the school in Manhattan is training teachers to have a long-lasting positive impact in their community.
"My educational philosophy is that they're children first before they're children with autism. And they deserve the exact same quality of programming and professionalism that any student would get anywhere else." Rima Ritholtz, principal PS. 176
"There are so many questions with regards to autism, so many things we do not know. But there are certain things that we do know, and technology plays a very important part, in particular, with children with limited ability to express themselves." Jesse Mojica is the director of education policy for the Bronx borough president
"We are fortunate in that we have a great ratio in almost every classroom. We have the ability to instruct pretty much one-to-one. So that allows us to do the high level of individualizing of everything that we do, which I think is so critical when you're educating kids with autism, because they're so different from one another. You really have to construct things on an individual level." Julie Fisher, principal
1. What is autism?
2. What is special education?
3. What is a charter school? How does it different from a traditional public or private school?
1. Do you or anyone you know have a form of autism? How does this diagnosis affect your/their everyday life?
2. Does your school have resources for students with disabilities? If so, describe some of the opportunities. If not, describe what type of resources you would want your school to have.
3. Can you think of other diseases or disorders whose causes and cures still puzzle scientists? How are the symptoms of those diseases or disorders managed?