To the Editor:
Congratulations on an excellent article on autism and inclusion ("Guess Who's Coming to Math Class?" RFT, April 14). The reporting was fair and thorough. It is refreshing to see the truth told about both the complex disability of autism and the even more complex maze of educational "opportunities" (or lack thereof). As an educator (I teach at Fontbonne College) and a parent of a child with autism, I applaud your efforts. Please considerfollow-up articles on applied behavior analysis and the profoundly positive results it's having for many of our children (including my son) -- and how DESE and school districts across Missouri are working to undermine this option for families. It's an article that could make a real difference for many children.
Deanna Jent, Ph.D.
To the Editor:
Kudos to Jeannette Batz on an excellent article on inclusion. My son attends Reed School with Daniel Droste, and I will admit that at first I was worried about the effect his inclusion would have upon the classroom. After several instances where I have observed Daniel and his interaction during the school day (I am one of the lucky fathers who has a job and employer who allow me to spend some time helping at my son's school), my worries have disappeared. I do think that it is essential to have an aide with the student, so as not to place an additional burden upon an already busy teacher, and some autistic children should probably not be placed in a regular classroom. It seems to me that it is very important to try and include these children as early as possible so as to determine the level of inclusion. I am also a taxpayer who recognizes that these types of programs can be costly. My retort would be, "But isn't it more costly in the long run not to try and move these children to become a more productive member of society?" Finally, my hat goes off to Daniel's parents for trying to get the best for their child and Mrs. Carl at Reed for taking on the challenge of teaching all the children in her class, autistic or not.
To the Editor:
It is a relief to read an in-depth, researched article about the state of inclusion in Missouri. I also have a son with autism, and he is learning with the help of a 35-hour-a-week ABA home program and four half-days of early-childhood education in the Fox district. We hope that when he reaches kindergarten age he will be fully included because he has reached age level in all areas because of his ABA program. But, regardless of his or any other children's progress or diagnosis, why must we worry whether our child can go to kindergarten with the rest of the kids? All children belong in school together, just as all adults belong in our communities.
Gayle Bennett and the author of the article said it best: "The kids are doing inclusion already." It's the adults that are scared and hesitant. The parents featured in the article are forging new ground by making sure their kids get what everyone else's kids get without asking: a seat in a regular classroom -- all day long. Of course, the child with the disability benefits immensely from acceptance, peer models, high expectations, a continuing relationship with people from his neighborhood and a challenging environment. But what about the other kids in the class; what are their benefits? They are learning, along with their classmates with disabilities, values of respect, responsibility, caring, fairness and citizenship.
Why are all our schools divided into gifted programs, learning-disabled programs, autism programs, special reading groups and the dreaded behavior-disorder programs? Won't our children learn more from one another and from positive role models if they are taught together? The students have so much to teach each other, and we do them a disservice by separating them. Effective teaching for kids with disabilities is very much the same as effective teaching for all kids. We just have to change the systems, help the teachers by letting special-ed teachers, regular-classroom teachers and support staff work together to bring about a creative and meaningful way to teach all these kids in one classroom. We need to show our schools some successful models of inclusion that have been proven successful in other areas of the country. Studies have shown that full inclusion benefits all the students.
I want my children -- all of them -- to know that the world they live in is totally inclusive. People with disabilities don't belong in separate schools, classrooms, places to live or workplaces, just as any of us would not like to be limited in our choices. No one tells us that if you wear glasses, you have to live in a house with three other glass-wearers and work at a certain place that employs people with glasses. That outdated system of separation is not fair for anyone.
Lucky for us the children of today who "already do inclusion" will be the employers and neighbors of our children tomorrow. Everyone will benefit.
To the Editor:
I congratulate you for addressing the complex issue of inclusion and applaud The Riverfront Times for devoting so much space to this important topic.
Giant Steps of St. Louis is a program for children ages 3-14 years with autism and related disabilities, providing another choice for families in St. Louis and surrounding areas.
Giant Steps provides an individualized approach to autism, providing intensive therapies in conjunction with inclusion for each student at their neighborhood schools. We currently collaborate with eight school districts and the Special School District of St. Louis County.
The goal for each of our students is successful inclusion, which is met by preparing each child through intensive therapies, providing them with a highly trained support person to accompany the child through the day to their therapies and to their schools.
We have witnessed incredible success for each of our students by using this approach. Autism is a devastating diagnosis for families to receive, and by a supportive team approach we have seen success at all age levels.
Mary E. Wilson
Executive Director, Giant Steps of St. Louis Inc.
To the Editor:
Regarding your article on special education in St. Louis: Chief Justice Earl Warren, in a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision, wrote, "We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." That was the 1954 case Brown vs. Board of Education. And not three years later, in 1957, the Missouri General Assembly in its wisdom established the separate-but-equal special-education district in St. Louis County. It is now 41 years old. It is now 41 years that state and federal attorneys general, state and federal legislatures, have turned a blind eye and refused to consider the constitutionality of this blatantly unconstitutional discriminatory school district.
George J. Gladis
To the Editor:
Your article "Look Who's Coming to Math Class" was very good, well thought out and informative. However, I must caution you on your comment regarding the special-education programs of the Fort Zumwalt School District. I live in the district and have a child with autism. My family, along with several others in the Fort Zumwalt School District, including the Meinks', have been denied requested applied behavioral analysis (ABA) services. All of these families, including the Meinks', are currently funding their own home ABA programs, either in lieu of or to heavily supplement Fort Zumwalt's program.
Inclusion is not always appropriate at every stage of development. Many younger autistic children benefit more from not being included initially. My daughter participated in Fort Zumwalt's early-childhood special-education program at United Services from August 1997-January 1999. (Actually, she received services from United Service starting in February 1997.) During that time, when she was included for two days per week (and two days in a self- contained class), her social/emotional and communication skills regressed (comparing evaluations conducted prior to her entering United Services/Fort Zumwalt and her most recent evaluation in December 1998). Yes, she actually went backward under their care. We have since removed her from the Fort Zumwalt/United Services program and started a home ABA program.
I am happy to report that my daughter has made more progress in this program in three weeks than in 18 months of the Fort Zumwalt program (my personal opinion, backed by therapy records from her home program). We are now three months into the program, and she is forming words and consistently mimicking speech, the first steps to real communication. At our last meeting with Fort Zumwalt/United Services, my daughter's teachers said that they knew she could do it, they just didn't know how to get it out of her. However, continued on page 8continued from page 6Fort Zumwalt/United Services still would not support the ABA program and suggested that I return her to their "professional" care until they could develop a program of their own. My point is twofold: (1) At her current stage of development, inclusion did more harm than good, and (2) I would definitely not personally recommend that any parent with an autistic child move into the Fort Zumwalt School District.
By the way, I noticed that all of the children in your story were older kids. Consider doing one on younger children as a follow-up. Research shows that somewhere between 48-52 percent of all autistic children who begin intensive ABA programs (40 hours/week) by the age of 5 can be successfully mainstreamed into public education. We're not talking inclusion; we are talking about functioning at an age-appropriate level without special services.
To the Editor:
I would like to thank the RFT and all of the people who sent cards, donations, letters, phone calls and e-mails. It has been quite overwhelming and validating knowing so many people care about the plight of the stray dog. I am no "savior" of dogs, just a rescuer who cares and is trying to make a difference for the small amount of dogs we do save ("Dead Dogs Walking," RFT, April 7). I hope St. Louis and City Hall will start to recognize this problem and start doing something about it; the stray dog deserves this attention and help.
President, Stray Rescue of St. Louis
To the Editor:
I applaud the RFT for bringing the plight of stray and feral dogs to your readers' attention. This seems like the perfect opportunity to also inform people about feral cats. It is estimated that there are 60 million feral cats in the U.S. Feral cats are the offspring of un-neutered/unspayed cats that have been abandoned. True ferals are born in the wild and never experience human contact during their critical period of socialization (about 2 to 9 weeks of age), so they will probably always remain frightened of people. Usually only very young feral kittens can learn to live in a home. Feral cats struggle to stay alive against the threats of starvation, disease, weather, other animals, poisoning and automobiles unless a compassionate human being steps in. Experts in the animal-welfare field used to believe that the most humane thing you could do for these cats was to trap and euthanize them. But several national feral-cat organizations now exist that instead endorse the idea of managing feral-cat colonies using the trap/neuter/release method. When these cats are sterilized and have a caretaker who provides food, water, some sort of shelter and medical care as needed, they have the opportunity for a better life.
Helping feral cats by becoming a caretaker can be time-consuming and emotionally draining, but it has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. Currently no local organization exists to assist feral cats. For more information on how to help feral cats, contact Alley Cat Allies in the Washington, D.C., area at 202-667-3630 or www.alleycat.org.
To the Editor:
So some people have guts and compassion, and perform feats of courage. And other people make messes for Randy Grim to clean up when they neglect their animals, abuse them, abandon them or allow them to reproduce freely until the shelters and streets are filled forever with homeless wretched creatures waiting to die.
In becoming a volunteer at the City Animal Center, I underwent a total re-education in the depths of human cruelty and callousness. As a rescuer of adult cats out of the shelter, I learned of the vast furtive population of diseased and dying cats in the city. But I was still unaware of the extent of that desperate population of Randy's outcasts.
Our volunteer group, Pound Pals, provides low-cost spaying/neutering toward prevention of the suffering and wretched deaths of animals like those rescued by Grim. In the past two years, Pound Pals has neutered 281 animals for city residents who could not themselves afford it.
Although certainly significant, our contribution pales in the face of what Randy Grim accomplishes every day of his life. How long will it be before it makes a noticeable difference?
To the Editor:
Randy Grim and the kind people of St. Louis Stray Rescue seem to have a better grasp than most on the concept of compassion and respect for all of God's creations. Most people, I believe, are willing to give their time and/or money to human charities, but it takes very special people to do the frustrating, unglamorous work that Stray Rescue does. We all owe them our gratitude (not to mention our donations and time) for trying to clean up the mess that ignorant, self-centered humans made.
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