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Youth Takeover: What Learning With Autism Is Like for One SF Teen

 May 5, 2021 at 10:13 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Many kids have struggled with distance learning during the pandemic, but kids with disabilities have had special challenges. K QED in Northern California, works with teachers to help high school students report stories about their own lives. Student journalist, Zachary yea is 16 and goes to Washington high school in San Francisco. He says, it's tough for kids with learning disabilities to get the help they need at school. And that the pandemic has made things even harder for them. Speaker 2: 00:30 When I was about four and a half years old, I was diagnosed with a learning disability known as autism. It was very rough growing up with it. Considering the fact that I was enabled to have an actual conversation until I was about seven years old school was very difficult for me. When I was younger, I had been working at a different pace than other students. Teachers would always discuss with my parents about ways to improve my learning. I have an IEP which stands for individual education plan. This allows special accommodations for school, but I still face some discrimination from school staff. I asked my mom, Jay, about how that played out when I was younger. Speaker 3: 01:13 This really sticks out in my head because it was right when you were going into kindergarten. And I stopped to talk to, um, your brother's former kindergarten teacher. And I asked her if she was ready to have you in her class the next year. And her response was, I don't think Zachary is going to be a good fit for my classroom. Wow. How did that make you feel? Well, I was pretty surprised and shocked, but we lucked out and we found a different kindergarten teacher who was willing to take you on. And it was a great fit. Speaker 2: 01:48 My mother is a huge advocate for me. She made sure I got every therapy camp program and accommodations. She created a parent support group at my elementary school. She wanted to help the parents that were struggling and the ones that didn't know how to advocate for their children. There was obvious discrimination against students with disabilities. Often from the teachers who were supposed to be supporting me. Teachers regularly underestimated my ability to do schoolwork because I didn't have functional speech. At that time. Speaker 2: 02:26 By the time I got into middle school, my disability was almost invisible. I told a few people that I was autistic, but they didn't believe me. This is probably because they see others with autism whose behavior was different than mine. But because I got support from my parents when I was little, I didn't struggle at school anymore. Many people with autism, however, have social problems, sensory processing issues, and even difficulty understanding instructions at my current school, my case Ms. Klaus helps me to advocate for myself. She also makes sure that I'm on the right track with my schoolwork. Another way I'm able to keep up with school is communicating with my teachers to make accommodations when necessary. I recently spoke to Ms. Kloss about discrimination in schools. Speaker 4: 03:17 Students with IEP is face, uh, discrimination from a variety of sources and a variety of levels, um, ranging from their peers and other adults to also ranging from small comments or name calling all the way up to people calling into question whether or not them receiving accommodations and services is appropriate. What do you mean by that? With not it's people who talk about how well it's not fair. If someone gets extra time to do something because that's not fair to everybody else, or it's not fair that those kids get a smaller class. Why does that matter? That's problematic because students with IEP need those things to be able to succeed. And when you talk about fairness, it shouldn't be everyone getting exactly the same thing. It should be everyone getting what they need. Speaker 2: 04:13 What other factors contribute to discrimination Speaker 4: 04:16 Don't even get me started on the low levels of funding for special education, because that is discrimination in its own way. Speaker 2: 04:24 I've heard classmates say, this person has autism or use the R word as a slur. People assume that students who have disabilities are just straight up stupid. They can't accomplish goals in life and their feelings won't be hurt. When insulted bullies often manipulate people with disabilities by playing mind games. They don't understand right now during distance learning, many students with individual education plans are struggling to have all their accommodations met because of the pandemic. Thousands of students who would normally have a one-on-one aid are not receiving services. This means they cannot meet their academic behavior, social and emotional goals. These students will be further behind when we go back. The fight for disability rights is still an ongoing battle. It helps that there are people like my mom, my case manager, and even my friends who are passionate to help people with disabilities that was student journalist, Zachary. Yay.

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Student journalist Zachary Yieh is 16 and goes to Washington High School in San Francisco. He says it’s tough for kids with learning disabilities to get the help they need at school, and that the pandemic has made things even harder for them.
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