KANSAS CITY, Mo. — "He may look a certain way, but mentally he does not process information as well as others," Lawanda said about her son.
Lawanda is worried for her son's future at his high school.
He has high-functioning autism, but Lawanda said it's no match for a school like East High School, where he's a freshman. The school has a little over a thousand students.
"He cannot focus because of the loud noises. The large environment of passing through the hallways, passing hundreds and hundreds of kids," Lawanda says.
Her son has special education accommodations in place, but he says he still feels overwhelmed. For someone with autism, those frustrations and sensory overload can lead to outbursts and behavioral problems - which has been the case with Lawanda's son since he was little, she says.
"That's what actually prompted him to run away, not wanting to attend school," Lawanda told us.
To protect her son's feelings, we aren't saying his name and are leaving their last name out of this story.
Lawanda's son ran away from home for 10 days at the end of February. He was found safe, but Lawanda says he's had an even harder time after that.
"Once he returned to school, he was being teased, called retarded. Called autistic. It was too much for him to bear. He had a breakdown, a meltdown," Lawanda said.
That meltdown led to her son being hospitalized, taking even more time off school.
Lawanda wants her son transferred to a smaller school setting but says she's hitting a roadblock with the Kansas City Public School District.
She explained the school's reasoning for not transferring him to an alternative school or somewhere similar is because he doesn't meet certain academic criteria.
"In some areas, he scores very high academically, and in others, he scores very low, so he comes out average," Lawanda said.
His psychiatrist recently sent a letter to the district recommending that he should be transferred to another school because of his struggles.
The school district said they couldn't comment on the specific situation because of privacy laws, but sent us this statement:
"Kansas City Public Schools is committed to ensuring every student receives the rigorous and individualized education, attention and support necessary to ensure that he or she is prepared to thrive in the 21st-century global economy. To that end, KCPS has established rigorous policies and procedures dictating the creation of an Individual Education Plan (IEP). These policies and procedures are in line with all applicable federal and state laws and regulations.
In order to qualify for an IEP, a student must meet the eligibility criteria of at least one of 16 categories of educational disabilities included in the Individual with Disabilities Education Act. This is true even if the child has been given a medical diagnosis."
Lawanda's son has an IEP, created in the start of the school year. The IEP is to be reviewed by school officials and the parents, and often updated every year as a student gets older and his or her goals change.
Lawanda's son is listed on his IEP under "Other Health Impairment," though it acknowledges he'd been diagnosed with autism and other learning disabilities by a doctor at Children's Mercy.
She feels that if the special education department would update his IEP to read "autistic," he may have a better chance of transferring to another school.
"Homebound" was an option, where the student stays home and a teacher comes one hour during weekdays. Lawanda says that is not an option because it's too restrictive.
While Lawanda says this year he's had the best case management out of all the years he's been in school, her son should be moved.
At this point, he's failed the 9th grade, and she hopes he doesn't have to continue at East High.
Lawanda is afraid he could fall through the cracks.
"And [he] could now if I'm not proactive and that's my goal, to make sure that doesn't happen. Not just for my child, but all children, because I'm one of hundreds of parents going through this problem," Lawanda said.