Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Another Controversial Special Needs School Story

I’ll admit it. I have a bad habit. Especially on blogging days. Our days start so early, a mug or three of coffee help me get to lunch time. But this morning, a quick glance at the news did the trick. It was another story of yet another Special Needs student and a controversial situation involving the school.

Sure, these stories always get to me, but this one still has my blood pumping. First, the snapshot. Literally. According to, a special ed teacher placed a student into a cardboard box in order to calm him down. (Click HERE for the story and the photo, by Dianne Gallagher.) A fellow parent took a photo of the box, asked the teacher about it – then relayed what was learned to the student’s mother.

Believe it or not, the box is not the part that has me so exasperated. Yes, “exasperated.” This post isn’t about debating the alleged “merits” of being wheeled into a cardboard box. Or the psychological damage doing such may cause.

(And, for the record, the school did acknowledge that putting a child inside a cardboard box is not an approved form of discipline. Raise your hands if that admission is of surprise to you. Yeah, thought not.)

This is about school.

What irks me to no end is the lack of communication between school and home.

Listen, does this story sound familiar to you:

Student: “Guess what happened to me in school today?”
Mom: “What?”
Student: “They zipped me up in a bag, including my head.”
Mom: “What do you mean, ‘zipped you up in a bag?’ ”
Student: “They put me into this body bag, and zipped me up. Don’t worry, mom, I could see out of it and breathe just fine.”
15 Minutes in the DARK, by Julie Clark
For those who have read my book, you’ve heard it, and it was actually an amusing tale, but we are talking about a proven method; the Body Sox™. We knew OT was around the corner, we just weren’t alerted to when. So, although this was a surprise, once things were explained everything was good to go. But for many families, the converse applies. You may even be one of those families. (If so, please share your story in the comments below.) It is never acceptable for the school to administer unapproved treatments to a child.

Let me repeat.

It is NEVER acceptable for the school to administer unapproved treatments to a child.

I’ll be honest, I hear a lot of teachers complain about parents, and, honestly, many times they have a point. We can be some of the best micromanagers on the planet, while others think it’s up to the school to raise the kids. Both make a teacher’s life difficult. But I’ve also heard teachers admit they will treat a child as they see fit, whether it’s on the plan or not, whether the parents (or even doctors!) approve or not. It infuriates me to no end, and these particular individuals have their minds made up, and a level of arrogance that astounds me.

Of course, most teachers do not act as Jacob’s teacher did, but I want you to watch this and know that some do. And this happens all over the country – and not just my country. Thanks to modern technology, we now have the ability to document these instances for those who doubt, thinking we’re just paranoid parents.

But there’s the other piece of this story that has me, as we say down South, “madder than a hornet.” According to the mother, the principal was not only familiar with the incident(s), but knew that….get this…the mother did NOT know. Can anyone else infer, then, that the school not only knew, but made a conscious decision NOT to inform the parent? Somebody, please explain this to me. If I am wrong, I will amend this post.

If the school determines something unacceptable has happened to the child, I firmly believe the school has an obligation to contact and inform the family of the incidence(s) in a timely manner.

Let me repeat.

If the school determines something unacceptable has happened to the child, I firmly believe the school has an obligation to contact and inform the family of the incidence(s) in a timely manner.

This school failed on two counts.

What’s the phrase? Epic fail?

Watch the video. Pay attention to the mom as it nears the end. Feel her emotion. Have you been there? Are you concerned that will be you someday? Joy Amatuccio is right. When we send our children to school, we expect they will be taken care of, “100%.”

Take this video as an alarm. If you see a child being treated in an unacceptable way, speak up. If you hear teachers go on about how they go “off plan” because they “know best”, question them, and be prepared to go “up the ladder” if need be. And I’m talking to fellow teachers, too. Do what’s right. Help kids, especially those who are not in positions to help themselves, as that’s what we are here for – to help them.

Work to keep the lines of communication open between home and school. That’s right, I said, “work”. It is work. And it takes both sides for it to succeed. There’s no reason to go in with a list of hard and fast demands, as that’s the surest way to start off on the wrong foot. However, it is perfectly acceptable, even necessary, to be involved in your child’s time at the school, to get to know the school. To demonstrate a willingness to work together, as a team.

Life isn’t a video game, a reality TV series, or best used for social media fodder. It’s meant to be lived. To grow, to learn, to help one another cultivate our potential. And we all have potential. Every. Single. One. Of. Us. 

Please, if you agree, share their story.

(This post is dedicated to all the parents who have lived this, and to teachers who stand up and do the right thing in very difficult situations. You are amazing!)

Friday, May 11, 2012

How Far She's Come; A Look Back

College. A word that drums up so many memories for both my husband and me. We each had fabulous experiences at our respective institutions. For me, my “safety school” turned into an incredible place for growth as my school of choice remained financially out of reach.

College. A place I’ve considered returning to, pursuing a Master’s or a different degree, when life isn’t consuming me.

College. A place that is no longer about me, but my daughter.

This week marked a milestone in my family’s life. I’m not an emotional person by nature. A mix of acrid life experiences and a driven personality allow me to see life objectively more so than most women, which is why shows such as soap operas, reality TV and the Hallmark Channel are as good as “Greek” to me. But in writing this, I’m finding myself pausing, holding back a tear or two as I gaze at a picture of my then three year old Aspergirl sitting askew on our mantel.

My goodness, time does fly. Whisps of blond hair, never to be contained, flowing as she darted from place to place. Knowing she’s about as strong-willed as her mother with a lack of social graces, wondering what on earth life would look like once she hit middle school. But middle school was “so yesterday,” and nothing like we ever pictured it would be. 
Thank goodness it wasn’t as her preschool teacher envisioned it would be. (Juvie my eye!) Staring at the same child, she envisioned a teen in trouble, with a record to make a mom wince. But the record she is acquiring makes her parents proud. Her grades are strong, and college mail confirms so.

Looking at her photo, I can’t believe how far we’ve come. Stimming in the hardware store. Feisty displays of personality in elementary school. Sensory overloaded times that try the most patient while making her life a living hell. Add to that ongoing social exclusion that rips a parent’s heart to pieces.

Now we’re halfway through high school, and she’s become her “group’s” party planner.

“Group” as in “group of friends”. She has friends. Real friends. And she’s had many of them since…middle school. That thought, alone, gives me pause.

This week, we attended an event where several colleges presented information on their respective institutions. It still hasn’t sunk in, which I’m sure is the norm with most parents sitting through the first college program! As much as we want our children to succeed, do we really want them to leave the nest? Regardless, with each month that passes, it becomes increasingly clear that she will be able to go to college, and live on campus.

Living Tree - Life amidst life's rushing waters
This is huge.

Although we never shared the dire tone of Ms. Preschool, we were also realistic in that Kristina had a ways to go before it would even be a consideration. Years passed where she would head to the bus, leaving the door unlocked – and wide open. Sensory concerns had us wondering if she would ever be able to cope in certain settings. Now, she attends movies with friends, and has a plan of action for times when her sensory world is overwhelmed. She’s involved in household chores and volunteers her time in the community.

So now, I sit and type, glancing up at the then lilac dressed child, envisioning someone who is setting herself up for college. No, it wasn’t an easy road. Our family did a ton of hard work to get to this point. Of the three of us, Kristina did the most work of all. It’s paying off.

The story is still being written. Grades and tests are far from set. And then there is continuation of community service and other components to round out her teen years. There remains a lot to be done.

My daughter has Asperger’s Syndrome. My daughter has Autism. My daughter is fully capable of contributing more to the global scene than most of her peers. And she will, in her time, in her own way.

Life isn’t often what we picture it to be. The clouds lining today’s sky may not forecast tomorrow. Envision a better life for your child. Know in your heart she will succeed and beat your wildest expectations. Tune out the naysayers while being sure to listen to those whose wise wisdom may pinch in the moment. Be willing to make hard decisions. And, most of all, have hope. These kids are capable of so much more than “they” will ever think possible.

And grab a box of tissues, for when that moment arrives, when she’s whittling down the list of schools to apply to, it’s nothing short of overwhelming.