The year is 1943. Leo Kanner has just formally documented Autism Spectrum Disorder.
At first, change is slow and small. Those with autism receive education in private institutions, or psychiatric facilities, where they are treated with cookie-cutter approaches designed for other mental disabilities. A one-size-fits-all education is provided for a condition that is highly unique for each individual.
Fast forward to 2015. With a greater understanding of autism comes a new era of individualizing education for those with disabilities. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, students are entitled to programs that extend beyond the traditional school year. These federally mandated programs are called Extended School Year (ESY) Programs. The systems are designed to advance progression of a student’s IEP goals.
The IEP Team (including the parents of the student in question) decide on the eligibility of the student to participate in the ESY programs. While some parents are unsure about whether additional education during school vacations can be beneficial, many teachers agree that ESY can make an enormous difference.
Annie Sabin, a Specialized Academic Instruction teacher of ten years at Mira Mesa High School, believes, “With Extended School Year programs, the student is allowed to focus on transition skills that you can’t focus on in a traditional school year. For example, trying to practice with the city bus more.”
Also, requiring the student to practice continuous social interaction with peers also benefits their progress.
“It’s really the social activities,” remarks Sabin. “Kids need help to facilitate social relationships.”
Yet, despite the intentions of individualized education, significant disparities exist between various ESY programs across the nation.
A 2010 forum allowed parents in different states to detail the various ESY programs and to describe the education that their children were receiving. Due to budget cuts, students in Los Angeles were not offered ESY. The same unfortunate situation happened in South Carolina. Also in California, all students with various disabilities were lumped together in the same groups, which can be both good and bad.
A Florida parent also brought up an alarming fact.
“In Florida teachers aren’t required to have ASD training unless 100% of students in class have ASD,” the parent states on this Age of Autism thread. “Found that out at an ESE meeting- something not mentioned during IEP meeting.”
The drastic differences in the quality of ESY programs across the nation pose a pressing question: how can we ensure that all students with disabilities have an equal chance of success, if not all programs are executed equally?
Before deciding whether or not to have your child participate in such programs, evaluate your specific programs carefully. No school or school district can deny a student ESY programs during the summer, or during any other break from school throughout the calendar year. But if the program does not seem to satisfy your child’s individual needs, the student has a right to opt out of participating and look into better summer programs and tutoring services.
Despite the appeal of a more individualized approach to education, the quality of ESY programs differ drastically throughout the nation. Many things have changed in regards to education since 1943. But one thing remains true: a one-size-fits-all education is not what one-of-a-kind students deserve.
Written by Samantha Mallari