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Burning Bridges

burning bridges
I have spent my career trying to build bridges between the educational and medical communities. Now, it appears that an ever-increasing number of school district administrators are intent on destroying what few linkages exist.

As a developmental pediatrician, my opportunities to observe children are pretty much limited to office visits. Those are useful, but only up to a point. In addition to face-to-face assessment of a child, I need a history from the child’s parents, and observations from the child’s teachers. After all, most of the kids I see are coming to me for evaluation of developmental or behavioral issues that occur either at home, at school, or in both settings.

Parents are pretty good about filling out my forms. (Actually, I will not schedule an appointment for a child until the parents have completed their paperwork.) With the parents’ permission, I also send out a Teacher Report form, which asks questions such as “Please give us your general assessment of this child,” “How does he/she interact with you as a teacher?,” “How does this child interact with his/her peers?,” “Any other comments you would care to offer?,” etc. I am not asking teachers to make diagnoses, or even recommendations. What I am asking for is their observations and concerns. Few people are as insightful as a good classroom teacher, and classroom observations capture the essence of a child in a way that formal testing (as reflected in an IEP) cannot. Recently, however, I have noted a disturbing trend on the part of school district administrators to muzzle their teachers, forbidding them from completing the form. This leaves me with one blind eye.

ASD gives rise to a complex mix of neurologically based cognitive and behavioral traits. For children with ASD, medical-educational collaboration is crucial in order to achieve best outcomes, and in order to avert future Newtown-style tragedies. Perhaps administrators are afraid that their teaching staff will undercut “the party line” as enunciated in the District-approved IEP. Perhaps they do not want to incur legal liabilities. Perhaps they feel that it takes too much staff time to fill out a questionnaire from the doctor. Whatever their reasons, the biggest losers are the children.

Dr. Coplan
James Coplan, MD is an Internationally recognized clinician, author, and public speaker in the fields of early child development, early language development and autistic spectrum disorders.


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