Local News

Proposed Change Prompts Concern For Parents Of Autisic Childern

Posted April 11, 2003 2:31 a.m. EDT

— More than 500 students in the

Wake County School System

have autism.

Parents say the autism classes are small, structured and the teachers are well-qualified. Administrators are talking about making changes to the program -- changes that parents fear will not be good for their children.

Joey Lete, 9, is one of those children.

"His main way of communication is through sign language and use of pictures," said his mother, Michele.

When they moved to the area three years ago, Joey's parents were thrilled to find out that Wake County had a strong program for autistic students. Now they fear that program is eroding.

"I was very surprised and shocked. I thought 'Why aren't we told with a letter or something along those lines?'" Lete said.

The school system wants to combine students in special education classes. Students would be grouped according to skill level.

Right now, Joey is in a small class at Rand Road Elementary which is specifically for autistic children. Lete fears the new classes will be larger.

"I really don't know how a teacher could manage all of that," she said. "[There's] too much commotion, too much going on around them makes their learning environment pretty impossible."

"We are amazingly sensitive to the concerns of these parents," said Michael Evans, a spokesman for Wake County schools.

School administrators said they have no intention of cutting autism classes. They believe the new combined classes will enhance the special education program for everyone.

"We can focus the instruction better by having the students at a similar skill level in the same class," Evans said.

Administrators will meet with parents to discuss the changes.

The Special Education Advisory Committee will address the changes at its annual meeting on April 22. It takes place at 7 p.m. at the Harriet Webster Center on Atlantic Avenue.

Administrators will also meet with parents on May 13 at the Autism Society on Oberlin Road. That meeting is also at 7 p.m.