DISABILITIES

www.danieljvance.com


By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPCC


A couple years ago, Crystal Garrett was enjoying reading this column while working as a reporter for the New Bern (NC) Sun Journal. Little did she know then that one day she would be discussing her 6-year-old son's experience here.

In a telephone interview, 36-year-old Garrett said, “When Zachary was two, his pediatrician noted he wasn't speaking much but said not to worry, that he would grow out of it. She said children develop at their own pace. It wasn't until he was five, after he started school, that we really noticed there was something different about him.”

Garrett said her son, among other issues, showed poor eye contact, had trouble reading other people's nonverbal communication, struggled in social situations, was overly sensitive to sounds, and couldn't tolerate large crowds.

She said, for example, “Zachary had trouble handling the noise in music class. He'd put his hands over his ears and curl up in a ball on the floor. There were times he would run for the door to be away from the commotion.”

After a number of incidents in which Garrett became frustrated with school staff treatment of her son, a psychiatrist in April 2015 diagnosed Zachary, in part, with Asperger's syndrome, which is now referred to as an autism spectrum disorder.

Earlier this school year, Zachary one day tried running away from his school due to being over-stimulated and had an emotional “meltdown” (both common to kids with autism). School authorities brought in law enforcement officials who transported Zachary hours away to a child psychiatric hospital. Garrett believed the school response then and at other times traumatized her son. (She said her boy at other times had been placed in restraints and put in seclusion.) After receiving input from a psychiatrist, she quit her newspaper job of 16 years, withdrew Zachary from school, and began homeschooling.

She said Zachary has been having mental health counseling to get passed what has happened to him, which has been very difficult for his 6-year-old, autistic mind to process. “He's still afraid to be around some (kinds of) people and has trust issues,” she said.

She advised parents of children with autism spectrum disorder, “Be your child's advocate, speak up for him or her, fight to make sure their education rights aren't being violated, and make sure you know the law. It can be overwhelming, but you have to do the research.”

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