permanent criticism of the “school system”

Based on a story set in a primary school in the metropolitan city of Milan, about a student with autism spectrum disorder, Carlo Hanau focuses, among other things, on the “drastic lack of preparation of the” school system ” to address the growing number of children with autism spectrum disorders, “as well as the” forgetting “of the” school system itself “in the training of support teachers, and recalls a number of legislative tools that families can use it to see their children’s rights recognized.

I start from a story set in a primary school in the metropolitan city of Milan, to highlight a series of critical issues present throughout Italy: a family with a child with autism fights for respect for rights that the “school system” does not recognize. I have been following this family for several years and I have already had the opportunity to write in these same pages about the difficulties encountered in primary (at this link).
The family has chosen one of the strategies based on Applied Behavior Analysis for their child (ABA) which are currently the only form of education recommended by the Guideline no. 21 (Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders in Children and Adolescents), as they are the most effective and efficient. Choice whose goodness is confirmed by the results obtained on the child and whose legitimacy has already been confirmed also in this particular case by a Judge of the Court of Milan.
In order to obtain the entrance of the supervisor and the therapists, the family was forced, due to the transition from nursery school to primary school, to change schools and to have full coverage had to intervene in the SFO (Territorial School Office) and the City of Milan, which assigned a support teacher for 22 hours a week and an assistant specializing in autonomy and communication for 13 hours.
At this point, is everyone happy and content? No, because the hours are necessary condition, but not enough to ensure good inclusion.

He first problem which has manifested itself and is manifested in many educational institutions is the acceptance of the ABA choice made by the family. It is of little use to provide scientific evidence. Unfortunately, contrary to the guarantees provided before enrollmentthe “system”, since the beginning of the school, has refused to accept the ABA-based strategy as an educational model, giving a pretext for this decision as a detrimental to the teacher’s right to have his or her freedom of education recognized. In this case, the specialist assistant had a degree in Psychodynamic Guidance Psychology, which obviously led to an a priori rejection of special psychoeducational strategies based on the ABA, reinforcing the resistance already expressed by teachers. Not to mention that there are still psychologists and teachers trained at the time who believed in the notorious “cold mother” hypothesis as the cause of autism.
Here it should be noted immediately that the freedom of teaching invoked by teachers it is not and cannot be an unlimited right, but its first limit is the protection of students: Article 31 of the Constitution, in fact, which provides that the Republic protects children and young people, involves the protection of students. Certainly, freedom of education cannot harm the right to education, the choice of which belongs to parents. A fortiori, the right to choose must be applied to students with disabilities, a fundamental right protected by the articles 7 (Minors with disabilities) I 24 (Education) from UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, ratified by Italy with Law 18/09. In addition, the fundamental right to health provided for in Article 32 of the Constitution must be considered prevalent, as special education in these cases. it also means to enable.

To justify its action, the “system” rightly defines the ABA as if it were a therapeutic intervention reserved for health workers and to perform outside school. On the contrary, this special psychoeducational intervention it is not reserved for healthcare professionals and demands the collaboration of teachers and relatives.
On these false premises, then, the “system” often hinders the entry of the supervisor responsible for the enabling project, and his “technicians” of the ABA (in English acronym RBT), which correspond to our specialized auxiliaries for autonomy and communication (AEC); or, as in this particular case, “reduces” its role to simple observers. In other cases, the school workers themselves become mere passive observers of the work of the experts chosen by the family.
It is clear that the lack of collaboration for the implementation of the empowerment project, which should be a synergistic concert between all those around the child, can seriously affect its future development and in any case it is a waste of the resources made available by the public budget.

But what tools do families have see your children’s rights recognized?
Already in 2013 on Court of BolognaAt the initiative of the writer, then president of ANGSA Bologna (then the National Association of Autistic Parents), she had first sanctioned a family’s right to use a supervisor specializing in the ABA-VB method at school (Applied Behavior Analysis and verbal behavior) with BCBA certification (Board Certified Behavior Analyst Assistant) for a monthly assistance of 3 hours, by the AUSL. Recently, then, the TAR of Campania (Regional Administrative Court), with Judgment 3216/20, recognized the right of minors with autism a benefit from ABA-based therapies even during school hours, in the presence of the “technicians” whose entry, due to the COVID emergency, was not authorized “for reasons of space” and as “unknown at school”.

The “school system” is dramatically unprepared face the increasing number of children with autism spectrum disordersthat the Istituto Superiore di Sanità already detects that they are 1 in 77, and that they are expected to reach the levels of the United States (1 in 44 in the 2018 survey of the Monitoring Network for Developmental Disabilities and Autism (ADDM) of the CDC – USA, also at the age of 8).
And again, these would mean that you have to spend for these processes. train support teachers and appoints, as in this case, a teacher without formal and substantial specialization for the specific disability. I point out that many judges they have already spoken on the importance of support teacher specialization and in this regard I quote below two important reference phrases.
He Council of State, with Judgment 5851/18, established that “the support teacher must possess the specific knowledge that allows the effective and optimal exercise of his function, precisely in reference to the handicap in front of which he is working”. And again: “Otherwise, if you think, in fact, the figure of the support teacher could be reduced to a mere and useless presence, as it is not suitable to promote the integration and insertion of the disabled person in the school context, thus ensuring the full achievement of the objectives of education and training that the educational institution must guarantee ».
He TAR of Campaniawith the Judgment 7990/21, established that for autistic students the School Administration is obliged to assign a specialized support teacher, with specific technical and professional skills on the ABA educational methodology.

In the same way many local authoritiesresponsible for the assignment of specialist assistants in autonomy and communication, writes announcements in which no specialization required and ABA, which also happened occasionally in this case in Milan, so much so that some judges have already had to rule condemning them. In particular, I consider the following procedures as a reference:
° He TAR of Calabriawith Judgment 438/12, he argued that the assistant must be trained to meet the specific care needs of the student and cannot be a general assistant.
° He TAR of Campania, with Judgment 1452/19, reaffirmed the obligation of a City Council to appoint a properly trained assistant in the ABA method. Among the reasons it is expressly stated that “the position of assistant must be filled by qualified personnel, because otherwise it would be a direct violation of constitutional values, as the services to be provided in favor of students with disabilities would be merely apparent (for example, a hearing impaired student needs an assistant who understands sign language, while other skills are needed if there are other disabilities. “This phrase is more than justified when parents student are both “signers” with LIS (Italian Sign Language) and choose this mode to communicate with their child.
For the training of specialist assistants in autonomy and communication and supervisors suitable for the application of the interventions recommended by Guideline no. 21 on autism, among other things, it is proposed to follow the same procedures adopted in the recent Prime Minister’s Decree (DPCM) from January 10 this year on the training of experts in LIS and LIST (tactile sign language).
Similarly, universities could be encouraged to hire expert professors to create not only annual master’s degrees, but also three-year courses and masters about these special psychopedagogical strategies based on ABAthrough funds of more than 7 and a half million euros for training on autism, which should involve all operators caring for people with autism and their families, as has been the case since 2003 in the region of the Brands.

For the child of Milan there could be a turning point in the whole story: in fact, involved by the family, the Ministry of Education he predicted sending an inspector which will have to evaluate the set of reports carried out and, in particular, the inadequacy of the support figures (support teacher and specialist assistant for autonomy and communication), which in addition to contrasting with the specific legislation of ‘school inclusion, also constitutes a discriminatory conduct legally relevant, according to Law 67/06 [“Misure per la tutela giudiziaria delle persone con disabilità vittime di discriminazioni”, N.d.R.].
I hope that this action, which unfortunately comes at the end of the course, can correct the drift of the “system”. and to prevent the family from being forced to turn to a judge, after having successfully done so to obtain reimbursement for interventions that the Nazikonale Health Service cannot offer.

President of APRI (Cimadori Association for Italian Research on Down Syndrome, Autism and Brain Injury).

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