Mom says autistic child should not be tested

A therapist works with Shea Cannon.

May 27, 2013 2:21:57 PM PDT
Shea Cannon sees an occupational therapist to learn the simplest of things, including how to tolerate the feel of textures, coping with different sensations, saying a new word, or even putting two words together.

Shea has severe autism with the mental capacity of a 1 year old. In between crying, screaming, and tantrums, his therapist gently works with the third grader - coddling him at times - trying to keep his attention.

This is the child that the Chatham County School District says is capable of taking a Standardized EOG test. Like every other kid in his class, he'll have to sit and be tested for two days - hour after hour.

"He can't even hope to answer these questions. He can't even hope to write his name on the test," said Shea's mom Michelle.

Cannon wrote a letter to the district begging for her son to be exempt. She says she knows of parents with similar children in other school districts who have been able to opt out.

But Cannon's request was denied, so Shea will be tested.

"I believe it's cruel to sit a child down to a test they don't understand - can't hope to pass - and make them take it until they cry, have a meltdown. In my son's case, pulling out his hair and hitting himself," said Cannon.

The test is a part of the "No Child Left Behind Act" and measures a child's progress throughout the school year. The Chatham County School District says not testing is not an option. It says the test is a mandate called for under federal law.

"I am aware of the limitations of this child. Yet, we are still required to test all the children," explained Superintendent Robert Logan.

The district says there is flexibility and the test can be modified - or watered down.

"We need to know what the child is learning, what they're capable of, and what we can do to improve the academic performance of that child," said Logan.

But Cannon says she has already seen improvements and accomplishments that cannot be quantified.

"This year his teachers have taught him how to walk hand-in-hand. So now, we can walk in the community without it being a life-threatening situation for him to run out in front of traffic," she said.

Cannon said she doesn't want test accommodations. She wants compassion.

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