Child’s Case Illustrates Differences In Diagnosing Autism

By Andrea Lucia, CBS 11 News

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – When Zachary Henderson pitches a fit, strangers see bad behavior. His mother sees something else.

“I think I was in denial for a long time,” said Rachel Henderson.

A doctor at Cook Children’s Hospital diagnosed Zachary last year with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, or autism.

“Zachary will need more one-on-one attention and small group learning,” read the doctor’s notes.

So, when the then five-year-old started kindergarten at Sendera Ranch Elementary School, his mother asked he be designated as a special education student.

“I would really like them to recognize the fact that Zachary has a disability,” she said.

The Northwest Independent School District tested Zachary, who’s now six.

An autism assessment team, though, found he didn’t appear to be autistic at all and was not eligible.

“As long as they’re being successful and performing at or above grade level, which this child is, there’s not an educational need to provide additional services,” said Lesley Weaver, an NISD spokesperson.

Henderson disagrees. In a regular class setting, she says her son becomes a target for his occasionally odd behavior.

“Kids saying he’s bad or making fun of him… it’s very difficult,” she said.

At the Child Study Center in Fort Worth, Dr. Joyce Elizabeth Mauk, said autism is difficult to diagnose, even for professionals.

“It’s not uncommon for medical personnel and school personnel to come up with different diagnoses,” Mauk said.

Because the severity of autism can vary so widely, she also said there’s no one solution for how to best accommodate students who may be struggling with it.

Henderson has requested a second opinion, and NISD said it will cover the cost of an independent evaluation by another group of experts.

Other school districts have similar policies allowing parents to contest a school’s findings.

Federal law also dictates parents have a right to take the matter before a judge or file a complaint with the Department of Education.


One Comment

  1. Mom2three says:

    Every parent of a child with an autims diagnosis needs to look up the “FAPE” and “IDEA” laws so they know their legal rights! There are also a lot of natural supplements that can be very beneficial. Research it for your child’s sake.

    1. cnjintx says:

      Natural supplements are only an option if you have the money…. a roof over my kids head food in their belly’s and gas for the therapy trips come first. Why does no one understand that not every parent has the funds to do special diets and supplements??!!!

  2. lisa harrison says:

    my family were told there was nothing wrong with our son and that we infact were emotionally abusing our son this was found to be untrue fare we had up rooted our family and moved six and a half miles to a new local authority were our son was diagnosised asd

    1. Ren says:

      that is so typical!!!! incompetitant know it alls…. they ALWAYS blame the “dumb” parents… event he most seasoned educator HOME SCHOOL! Vaccines – the gift that keeps on giving…. sickened! Sry, I completely understand Lisa, and feel your pain, we all do.

      1. jerden says:

        Just because you don’t agree with a FACT does NOT invalidate its status as a fact. It is a FACT that research has shown there is NO causal relationship between children receiving vaccine shots and children who are autistic. In plain english, vaccine innoculations DO NOT cause any of the various disorders under the broad AUTISM umbrella.

  3. Ren says: should be tatoo’d on the forehead … so important to know your legal rights. trust the schools don’t, and parents regularly leave services and advantages on the table

  4. Amos says:

    Why are you so hell bent on a diagnosis of autism for your child? From what I saw he was a normal kindergartener, who had a “meltdown” for the camera. I wish my kid would come home with four smiley faces a week. Is this more a monterary fight (SSI) or truly a concern for your child? The state has been sucked dry by these disability shoppers trying to make a living off their kids disability!

    1. Jennifer says:

      I agree with Amos.
      I went to a medical doctor who easily labeled my child as ADD and prescribed medication. There were no tests done on him, just a consult and then a prescription. There are doctors who will label children for parents so they can get benefits. I don’t know if this is the case, but sometimes – it can be.

      I wonder what the full story is – what is the history of this case before attending Kindergarten in NISD? Why didn’t Channel 11 investigate beyond the current moment?

      1. Jennifer says:

        I hope the best for the boy and mom. I do agree with Amos. I always question results because of my son. I put him on meds and did not need to. I should have listened to the previous teachers who did not see it. (Look at the history of the child). The medical “experts” are not always right and sometimes the experts in schools can be. If he is being successful – that is great. Isn’t that what should be celebrated. That is why I medicated my child – but it did not help. He is now doing great with no medication and I threw out the diagnosis of the “expert”.

    2. Rachel Henderson says:

      Let me clarify that we do not get SSI for our son. We never asked for an Autism diagnosis either. He has had one since the age of 2. Finally all the way verbal at 4. There is alot more to this story that I cant speak about. My goal was to help my son as well as others in the same situation. Best of luck to you and your family

  5. Lisa says:

    Let me just begin by saying, parenting is extremely difficult. This is especially true if this parent takes the challenge to discipline. I don’t know this mother or her child. I just have to ask, is this a need for discipline instead of a need for a diagnosis? Why would teachers that have to deal with the huge challenge of educating an autistic child choose to do so without the support of an accurate diagnosis? It just doesn’t make sense! I think Amos may have called it!

  6. Jim Kowald says:

    As the parent of an Autistic (and legally blind) child, I have issues with this story being misleading and way off the mark. What I took from the story was that the boy was not receiving special educational services from the school district even though he had a medical diagnosis of Autism. I have 19 years of experience with this and have studied the IDEA laws surrounding this issue and can tell you that, both in practice and legally, educational services and medical diagnosis have absolutely nothing to with each other. It is a mistake to assume otherwise. This concept goes for all areas of special needs, not just Autism.

    School districts perform separate evaluations from the medical community and will determine if a child has the characteristics of a disability and if he requires any special educational services. A school district will not make a medical diagnosis. However, if the is a medical diagnosis available, it only becomes a consideration. If a child in the eyes of the school district has educational needs beyond that of a typical student, they will provide them. these policies unfortunately may result in children that have no medical diagnosis, but do qualify for services. It also means that there will be children that do have medically diagnosed conditions, but will not qualify for educational services. Yes, this is confusing.

    The proper course of action that the mom in this story should be persuing would be to have her son re-evaluated from profesionals outside of the school district’s staff. The process is called an IEE, Independent Educational Evaluation. It is a right that the parent has and typically (but not always) the school district will absorb the expenses. If mom is still not satisfied with the results, then there is a formal Complaint process where she can make her point to the state’s Dept. of Instruction, who’s findings carry the weight of law. And if that still doesn’t work for her, she can proceed with a Due Process Hearing where she argues her greivance in front of a judge who will then order the district to take action. This is all outlined in federal laws through the Individual’s with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), but none of this was mentioned in the story.

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