Lee's Summit families start autism support group
Group bonds together in time of funding shortfall for special education
By Chase Jordan
Sherri Tucker and her family moved to Lee's Summit because she believed her son would receive the best education here.
Jacob was diagnosed with autism 11 years ago. He is now 14 years old.
"I chose where we moved in Kansas City, solely on my son. I didn't care about location. I wanted to live where Jacob had the best opportunity," Tucker said. "We moved here when he was in kindergarten."
The family is not pleased with the R-7 School District.
"We can be living in Raytown or Independence and pay less tax and pay less for the water bill and still not get any worse of an education," Tucker said.
In November 1006, Tucker and Debra Shaumeyer created the Lee's Summit Autism Support Group. Shaumeyer is the mother of a 5-year-old autistic son.
"What we want to do is get the school district to work with us to give the best education they can. In the sate of Missouri that's not an easy thing to do," Tucker said. "Most of the time we talk about what goes on in the school district."
Tucker described Individualized Education Plan meetings, which are attended by seven to 15 school officials.
"So you sit there and these people tell you that your child is never going to be normal, which is a very hard thing to handle," Tucker said. "You assume that these people are giving you all the right information and you believe them and you sign on the dotted line. What you never find out is that those people are never going to give you what you need until you're smart enough to know what you need and you fight for it."
Tucker said Missouri is 48th in the country for special education funding.
"In the state of Missouri, when your kid gets diagnosed with autism, the doctor ways go forth, you're done, and you're on your own," she said. "We're working on legislative issues and trying to work with the school district."
Senator Matt Bartle, of Lee's Summit, said Missourians are not interested in raising taxes. He said Missourians rejected the last seven ballot proposals to raise taxes. (I've read that there is a surplus. This issue has nothing to do with raising taxes)
"We're ranked 48 or 49 in a lot of things," Bartle said. "We're a low spending state because we're a low taxing state." Bartle said autism is a problem that Missouri is going to have to deal with.
"Autism is a growing problem in Missouri and in the United States, and it's putting a strain on social services and the school system," he said. "We have to figure out what's causing autism. It's a major cost drainer in Medicaid and the education budget."
According to the Lee's Summit group, there are more than 210 students diagnosed with autism in the district. They believe that the teachers in the district should be trained in autism.
"A lot of these kids with autism are in special education, so their teacher would be trained in autism," Tucker said. "But my son is not in special ed, he's in regular ed. So he has seven teachers everyday that don't have a clue and they're going to educate my son."
Tucker said there have been times when her son became sick or had "meltdowns" because of the different expectations of teachers.
Jerry Keimig, R-7 director of special services, said that it is not possible to train every teacher in the district.
"We provide the most comprehensive autism training than any other school district that I'm aware of," Keimig said. "It's not feasible to train every teacher for every disorder. There are 50 to 60 different medical or emotional diagnoses."
The district hosted a four-day workshop in June.
"We try to make autism a priority. I don't know any other disability that we do four-day workshops on," Keimig said.
Stacey Martin, autism specialist, said about 75 people participated in the workshop. (I would say that at least half of those were not employees of the district. Five or six were members of our group)
"We try to target those teachers who have not had training before. We do our very best to make sure they have the training they need to meet the needs of students," Martin said. "We are always looking for new things to learn about autism. We're always eager to help these kids."
Superintendent Dr. David McGehee said it would be difficult to make every teacher an expert, but believes they should have some basic knowledge of autism if they are teaching a diagnosed child.
"There are opportunities for the teachers to be trained," McGehee said. "You can't deal with all students the same because they have different needs. It's a challenge in today's education system."
McGehee said the support group does a good job dealing with autism.
"I appreciate Mrs. Tucker's approach in the group. I don't look at them as antagonist or anything because we need to find a common ground," McGehee said. "Sometimes people perceive it as a fight. I perceive it as continuing dialog."
Tucker said she wants to work with the school district to improve in this area. "I don't want to be negative, but I want to let people know there're other people with the same issues," Tucker said. "I want people to know that we need to progress in this area."