Critics Call For Review of Autism Program In WA School District

By Venice Buhain for The Olympian

Olympia – School officials plan to ask an independent autism specialist to review the district’s program after parents of children with autism testified that they’re unhappy with aspects of it.

The program is called TEACCH, which stands for Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication-handicapped Children.

During a presentation at the board’s public comment session Monday, parent Lisa Ritter showed a picture of a small room for children with autism. The room, which appeared to be similar to a department store fitting room, is located in the corner of the classroom. The photo showed scuff marks from shoes and a padded door.

The room is called a “timeout space” by some district administrators and a “timeout box” by some parents.

Most autistic students who use the rooms do so voluntarily to have a break from overstimulation, which can bother them, said Hans Landig, the district’s executive director of student support.

But Ritter said she and other parents are dismayed over the condition and use of the rooms.

“There is nothing relaxing or enticing about ‘the box,’ ” Ritter said.
One child suffered bruises from trying to get out of the room after teachers had placed him there when he misbehaved, Ritter said.

The room is not used for disciplinary purposes, Landig said.

A large number of kids do it voluntarily to get out of the hustle and bustle of the classroom,” he said. “A small number of kids are there as a safety measure, so they don’t hurt themselves.”

But the room is only used if allowed by the student’s individual educational plan, which is worked out between the family and the school, Landig said.
“They can agree to that or not agree to that,” he said.

Along with the independent review by an autism specialist, the district plans to send teachers to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which developed the TEACCH method, Landig said. The district hired a coordinator to help high-functioning children with autism learn in the general classroom, he said.

The district will address ways to boost its special education programs as it works through next year’s budget this summer, school board Vice President Rich Nafziger said.

It’s a positive sign, Ritter said. “The biggest thing to come out of last night is that TEACCH is coming into review,” she said Tuesday.

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