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Six Months Later, Girl With Autism Thrives With Trained Teachers

Chloe Burton
This is how Chloe Burton draws herself today, complete with freckles and a wide smile.

Chloe Burton had a great year in kindergarten.

Although she has autism, she had no problem learning in a general education classroom alongside her peers.

But in first grade, things went downhill. Chloe wandered the classroom instead of finishing her work.

When we first met Chloe and her family last spring, she was disciplined by her teachers in the Shoreline   School District for not getting her work done.

"It’s mean," Chloe said at the time. "[They] make me do all the work and let everybody else go out to recess.”

Chloe started lashing out at other students and teachers, hitting and spitting. District officials said they wanted to move her to a unit for kids with behavioral problems. But Chloe’s parents – and an independent evaluator – objected.

They said part of the problem was that her teachers didn’t have enough training to work with a child with autism.

Federal law requires that children with special needs spend as much of their time in general education settings as possible.

It’s been six months, and Chloe’s parents have now settled with the district. Now that Chloe is in second grade, her mother Amy Schley said that her daughter is “very happy.”

As part of the settlement, Chloe switched to a school where her teachers received training on working with children with autism. They were instructed on how to break instructions down into steps, motivate using positive reinforcement rather than punishment and to give Chloe extra time to finish her work.

Schley said that teacher training made a difference.

"She wakes up every day eager to go to school," Schley said. "She talks about her friends. And more than that, even outside of the school, she has gone to some really busy birthday parties and done really well, whereas in the past it would have been a struggle for her. She’s just willing to try a lot more than she used to because her self-confidence has grown so much this year.”

Chloe said she likes that she is no longer prevented from going out to recess.

"Only if it’s, like, really bad weather," Chloe said.

Schley said she’s learned that parents shouldn’t be afraid to question their children’s school placements or services – and how valuable it can be to get a second opinion from an outside evaluator.

"It has been a long road, but I’m really glad we went through it,” Schley said. “It’s well worth the struggle in the end. I feel that her opportunities for success as an adult are much more being in general education rather than if she’d been in a self-contained classroom," Schley said.

The Shoreline School District declined to comment for this story, citing student privacy laws.  

Year started with KUOW: 2008