Wednesday, June 11, 2014


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A mother of a Grand Rapids Public School student who has autism said she was disappointed when students in the special needs program were not involved in an elementary graduation event.
Ebony Betts’ 6-year-old son Anthony attends Dickenson Elementary School. “He’s 6 years old but probably at a 3- to 4-year-old level in terms of language. So then it complicates him because he can’t express to me what he wants and needs, and how he feels,” Betts explained.
Monday, the school held a promotion ceremony for the 8th-grade and kindergarten classes. Betts’ son, who she says is advancing from the kindergarten level, was not involved in the ceremony — nor were any of the other students in the special needs class.
“I thought about it and I said my son is a kindergartner. He has autism, he is in the autism class, but you know, he should have been included,” Betts said.
She was hurt when she was found out he was not invited to participate in the event.
“Already as a mother with a child with autism, we face so much in society. There are so many things we face: my son’s behavior, that people may not really know what autism is, and the behavior when they see me out with him and I’m trying to be able to maintain my composure and not break down, and to also go to school and also feel again rejected by the school,” she said. “I was kind of hurt more than anything. And not just for my child, but for the other kids who weren’t able to participate.”
A spokesperson for GRPS said often, the special needs classes have their own ceremonies.
“It’s not like that there wasn’t an opportunity provided. It’s just that in this particular incident, it was something the teachers who are working with students with autism spectrum disorder determined this large event — this large, loud event — would not be in their best interest to participate,” spokesman John Helmholdt said.
Betts hopes they will reconsider next year.
“I’m not putting blame on the teacher, or the principal, or on the school. I just would like the Grand Rapids Public Schools to look into the matter and go about their polices and change the way they do things. I think all kids should be recognized,” she said.
The district said it will look at the incident and decide if something should change.
“As a team, we are going to go back: What did we learn from this? What can we take from this concern? Even though we look at it and we feel like our team handled it well. The teachers had the child’s interest in minds. That we are, in fact, working to do the special recognition. What more can we do? What can we learn from it? That’s our takeaway,” Helmholdt said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in every 68 children have an autism spectrum disorder — a 30% increase in two years.

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