Meet Truth, an autistic four year old from California. He has curly hair, a gorgeous smile, a curious mind, and little voice that’s as clear as a bell.
He is also Black, a fact which his mom, Izzy, says is being used to withhold some necessary and requested accommodations from her extremely bright young son. According to her research, California is the only state that still has a ban on giving Black people the cognitive skills test.
This cognitive skills test is frequently used to establish a baseline for accommodations for special needs children in the state. In the early 60s, the cognitive skills test was banned for Black people under the explanation that the questions weren’t fitted to include Black culture.
“I knew from early in his infanthood that Truth was different, that he was autistic, though it took years to get him diagnosed. After working hard to get him into HeadStart (pre-school), Truth was finally able to get his diagnosis, and then Covid hit,” Izzy tells me via phone call. “I know that I want to get him tested in order to be able to balance out his strengths and weaknesses. That cognitive skills test is a crucial tool to set him up for success in his future learning.”
Izzy goes on to explain that every non-Black kid with Truth’s diagnosis is offered the test as a tool to set up support and a plan for their academic future. But because of the law, they simply will not administer it to him.
I asked Izzy to walk me through which steps she has taken so far as she, a single mom with other children, directs all of her energy toward setting Truth up for success.
After Truth’s diagnosis, his school wanted to begin the process for transitioning him to kindergarten. Izzy says she called an emergency IEP meeting with Palo Verde HeadStart because she didn’t feel he should transition without concrete data for his future teachers. The Palo Verde Director of Special Services, Edward Singh, was present at this meeting. During this meeting, Izzy says she was met with dismissive and discriminatory statements.
The purpose of the meeting was to express, again, why she felt it was important for Truth to be screened and demanding to know why he was ineligible. Izzy was told, “For example, Black people aren’t going to know what a lattice is.” (referring to a specific question on the test.) Izzy bristles at this clearly prejudiced opinion stating that not only do Black people know what a lattice is, but even her four year old child does.
Izzy’s voice is strong and powerful as she opines, “They won’t test Black people because it was leading to higher rates of diagnosis. There were too many special needs diagnoses.”
That wasn’t the only extremely inappropriate comment made to Izzy during that meeting. Izzy is Hispanic, so Truth is Black and Hispanic. She says she was asked by Mr. Singh during her meeting, “Why don’t you just uncheck the ‘Black’ box so he can be tested?”
Izzy bristles over the phone as she recalls this injustice. Should she erase her son’s Blackness so he can literally fit into a box on a form? “I don’t want to check the box like they keep saying because that will teach him what I don’t want him to learn- that he’s not enough. That he has to change himself to get what he needs.”
I asked Izzy why she has expended so much energy trying to solve this statewide issue. Why not just uncheck the box, like they said, if she knows it’ll be possible for Truth to then get tested? She responds by explaining that she recognizes her own privilege as a Hispanic mom; she understands that Black moms may not even have been able to get a meeting with the Director’s office because Black women’s voices are so routinely stifled.
“I am not the only parent who has complained. This is an issue. I can use my voice to try and drum up information about the issue. I worry about future representation of Truth’s diagnosis. As a Black kid, he’s likely to be saddled with ‘behavior disorder’ on his record and by his teachers. Instead, I want him to go through the same process as everyone else who needs accommodations because I want to make sure he gets the tools to be regarded appropriately. But the test is outdated! They never changed it, just said it wasn’t accessible to Black people and made it illegal to test Black kids.”
Izzy goes on to explain that her hope is, with enough information, awareness, and support, she and other parents might be able to make progress in getting the test updated and the law repealed.
Then, other Black kids, not just Truth, will be able to start establishing support under the same processes and guidelines as all the other kids. “I would love to see more parents coming together and coming out to know they’re not alone. They don’t have to be trapped in the stigma.”
“California!” Izzy exclaims, as if she has the whole state on the phone. “Why won’t you change the law and lift the ban and change the test?! Other states have. Make it more inclusive and accessible. The time has come! This is enough- this is our future! It’s time for change, yeah, but it needs to start with our kids. How can we even talk about things like closing the wealth gap if we can’t do these important things early in their education?”
A timely question, indeed.