Autism Diagnosis and the Movie Bully

ChildsWork News, April 13, 2012: Looking at the New Autism Diagnosis and the Movie Bully

As we head into the weekend, I have two interesting articles for you all to read through. The first, from Science Daily details a study done by Yale Child Study Center concerning the new autism diagnosis and what that will mean to children in 2013. Will the new parameters of this diagnosis hurt or help our children? I know I sound like a broken record but 1 in 88 is scary and, while getting that number down is certainly a goal, it needs to be achieved through healing, not redefinition of what it means to be affected. What are your thoughts?

The next article discusses the role that special education students play in the movie Bully which is being released nationwide today. In the coming weeks, I plan to review the movie from an educator’s perspective, but I am interested in your initial reactions to the content of this film. Do you believe, given this report, that your students should view it? To what extent is this film a sensationalization of the bullying problem versus a valuable learning tool?

Some real though-provokers, no?

Autism by the Numbers: Researchers Examine Impact of New Diagnostic Criteria

From Science Daily

Getting an autism diagnosis could be more difficult in 2013 when a revised diagnostic definition goes into effect. The proposed changes may affect the proportion of individuals who qualify for a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, according to a study by Yale Child Study Center researchers published in the April issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

The proposed changes to the diagnostic definition will be published in the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).”

“Given the potential implications of these findings for service eligibility, our findings offer important information for consideration by the task force finalizing DSM-5 diagnostic criteria,” said Yale Child Study Center director Dr. Fred Volkmar, who conducted the study with colleagues Brian Reichow and James McPartland.

Volkmar and his team performed an analysis of symptoms observed in 933 individuals evaluated for autism in the field trial for DSM-4. They found that about 25 percent of those diagnosed with classic autism and 75 percent of those with Asperger’s Syndrome or pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified, would not meet the new criteria for autism. The study also suggests that higher-functioning individuals may be less likely to meet the new criteria than individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Volkmar cautioned that these findings reflect analyses of a single data set and that more information will be provided by upcoming field trials overseen by the APA. He stressed that it is critical to examine the impact of proposed criteria in both clinical and research settings.

“Use of such labels, particularly in the United States, can have important implications for service,” he said. “Major changes in diagnosis also pose issues for comparing results across research studies.”

Special Education Students a Focus in Bully

From guest blogger Alyson Klein for Education Week’s On Special Education

Two students with Asperger syndrome—an autism spectrum disorder that can make it tough to interact in social sitatuations—are featured heavily in “Bully,” the new education shock-you-mentary, opening in wide release Friday.

The film opens with the grieving parents of Tyler Long, a 17-year-old with Asperger’s syndrome who committed suicide. And it closely follows Alex Libby, another student with Asperger’s who was repeatedly harassed by his fellow students at a Sioux City, Iowa, middle school.

The movie, which also includes a 16-year-old transgender student, among others, was meant to open the public’s eye to the problem of bullying in general.

Although the filmmakers give a lot of background information on both Tyler and Alex, including showing home-movies of both of them at young ages, the film itself makes no mention of their disabilities.

That was a deliberate choice, said Cynthia Lowen, a writer and producer on the film.

“It felt like his autism was being couched in such a way as to blame him for being different,” she said in an interview. “We didn’t want to continue the idea that targets of bullying bring it on themselves. They should be safe and protected at school. That was really the point we were trying to make.”

Bullying is a problem for lots of kids, but students with disabilities are often special targets, said James H. Wendorf, the executive director of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, during a discussion last night at the National Education Association, which screened the film in partnership with the American Federation of Teachers. He said while about 20 percent of students report being bullied, the number is a lot higher, more than 60 percent, for kids with disabilities.

The movie also points to another problem: the difficulty some school officials have in handling bullying. In one scene, the parents of a child who committed suicide hold a town hall meeting—which no one from the school district attends.

And, in what’s arguably the film’s most pivotal sequence, Alex Libby’s parents visit the assistant principal’s office to report that their son is being victimized and harassed on the school bus. The assistant principal says, essentially, that the buses are notorious for bad behavior, and that she’ll try to do what she can.

The parents are unassuaged. They say the administrator made similar promises in the past to no avail. “She politician-ed us,” they say as they leave the school building.

Interestingly, Lee Hirsch, the film’s director, who was also on the NEA/AFT panel, said that the middle school Alex attended has a districtwide reputation for its autism program. But that didn’t stop Alex from facing harassment.

 

AD Midd

About AD Midd

AD is a college writing teacher whose work experience includes everything from coordinating YMCA after-school programs for at-risk youth to tutoring developmental writing students to general classroom instruction. In addition to writing professionally, AD currently teaches a range of adult community college students in both online and physical classroom settings. At home, she keeps in shape by running after her two young daughters. Follow her on Twitter @ADMidd and on Facebook (www.facebook.com/ADMidd1)

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