Autism in the Public Schools

Troy Camplin
10 min readApr 11, 2017

After losing a freelance to full time position because the company I was working at learned I have Asperger’s syndrome and, as they put it, they had “no intention of accommodating” me, I started substitute teaching for Dallas ISD. I had been a substitute teacher the prvious year, and I was still in the system, so it was easy enough to start back again. Because I live in Richardson, I am restricted, due to travel time, to only a few schools I can reasonably reach. Through some bizarre set of coincidences, I somehow was mostly only able to take special education classes — meaning, I was surrounded by autistic children almost every weekday for several weeks.

This experience was very eye-opening. I saw and interacted with autistic children in elementary, middle, and high school. And I have seen how nobody — not a single special education teacher, not a single teacher’s aide, let alone any of the regular teachers in which some of these students have “inclusion” — has the foggiest idea what to do with these children. This is hardly unique to DISD, of course. The problem lies in the fact that very few people in fact understand autism or what it is. As a result, I have seen teachers and aides try to interact (and discipline) autistic children as though they were simply neurotypical children with behavior problems. But this is exactly the wrong way to think of them. Given what we have learned about autistic people, given what we know about why they behave so differently from neurotypicals, you are bound to fail to teach proper behaviors, let alone give them the rest of the education they need to receive at their schools, if you don’t understand that autistic children are not simply regular children with behavior problems or who are “slow.” But that is how they are treated. As a result, I have seen in the high schools extremely intelligent young men and women who have not received nearly the education they could have received.

At the elementary school where I subbed, there was about a dozen students, most of whom had autism. When they would “misbehave,” they would be threatened with moving colors, etc. that are typically used in the schools. These tactics clearly had no effect whatsoever on their behaviors, as they didn’t mean anything to the children. Yes, there were picture cards for the students, but the use of those picture cards seemed limited at best. Picture cards are necessary for autistic children, but they have to be used constantly and consistently. But more than that, threats actually upset autistic children, shutting them down, pushing them toward having…

Troy Camplin

I am the author of “Diaphysics” and the novel “Hear the Screams of the Butterfly.” I am a consultant, poet, playwright, novelist, and interdisciplinary scholar.