NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A new study found that one in six children with a sensory processing disorder are expelled from preschool for behaviors connected to autism. One Middle Tennessee family said this alarming statistic does not surprise them.

Twelve-year-old Owen Pederson was just a newborn when his mom, Heather Pederson, noticed something was different.

“When he was three months old, I noticed he wasn’t reaching out and touching my face when I held him or fed him,” recalled Heather.

As a toddler, little Owen received a number of therapies for eating, crawling, rolling over, pulling up and speaking. Then, at age seven, he was diagnosed with autism. 

“I don’t really pay attention or draw attention to the fact that I am on the spectrum. I think it’s just kind of, ‘Oh, you know, it’s this thing I have, I can’t really stop it, so I might as well act like it’s a normal thing because for me, it is,'” explained Owen.

“A lot of it, unfortunately, is parents having a hard time seeing that there’s something different about their child,” said Heather.

However, it’s not just parents who have difficulty spotting the signs of autism. It’s also teachers, according to a new study out of the University of California, Riverside (UC Riverside).

“We were stunned at what we found,” said Dr. Jan Blacher.

Dr. Blacher found 16% of children with autism are expelled from their preschools. Essentially, teachers are mislabeling the way children with autism behave and communicate.

“For example, if a teacher thinks the child isn’t ready for early childcare because he can’t sit on the rug long enough for circle time, it may be that that particular context is incredibly overstimulating for him, and he needs to get up and stretch his legs and get away from what could be a painful moment,” Dr. Blacher explained.

Dr. Blacher — a distinguished researcher professor at UC Riverside and a professor in the department of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) — helped create a training program for teachers so they can spot the signs of autism more effectively, instead of simply expelling the child from school. The course takes about 12 hours to complete.

“It doesn’t take years and years of training to get over this hump and at least be more accepting of the neurodiversity all around us,” said Dr. Blacher.

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Heather said she’s thankful she spotted Owen’s autism early on, adding that she looks forward to seeing his dreams unfold.

“I believe in him, and he is more than capable of doing anything he desires,” Heather told News 2.

“Working in movies of some kind, you know, like being a director or editor,” said Owen. “I guess I would like to imagine that’s what my future would be like.”

In 2018, one in 44 eight-year-olds were diagnosed with autism. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most recent number is higher at one in 36.