Friday, February 5, 2010

Oh yeah, that's why...

Some days I wonder if we're doing the right thing homeschooling the boys. Are we doing enough of the right things? Not too many of the wrong things? Most days I wonder what in the hell are we doing?

But then I stumble on some "Behavior warnings" that Bubba received in his final month of public school. It reminds me how clueless the school staff was regarding his disability and how unmotivated they were to help him be successful in the regular school environment. And then I remember he has been off of all medications for almost a year. Not that it has been easy, and not that medication won't be revisited. But it was a break we could do because we could control his environment rather than try to control him. Sort of.

I still feel lost though, and I'm not sure that feeling goes away? Anyone?

Taking the Good with the Bad

On my good days, my collected days, my recharged days, I am rational and I approach things from a direction that just makes sense. I can block a head butt with a compassionate hug and work through a difficult choice mitigating an explosion with nothing more than step by step simplified problem solving, tight squeezes, a soft steady voice, and a willingness to separate the behavior from the communication. I don't flinch when I find money torn into little pieces in a carefully constructed pile behind the couch. On these days I breathe unicorns and rainbows. I only see the smiles, the hugs, the laughs, the growth.

On my bad days, I feel like the man from The Green Mile, the man who sucks up all of the bad energy. Except I never get to vomit locusts. Instead they eat silently inside of me, nibbling at the parts of my brain that control short term memory, self confidence, patience, motivation. Some of them eventually do break free, directed at my children at the oddest of times. My voice spews tiny buzzing wings that lash out and frantically slice in an effort to make someone else feel the fear, the confusion, the anger that I feel. I catch myself quickly and gulp down the immature retaliation, bloodying my already raw throat. These are my children. They don't know better. I do. I must lead by example. I must. On these days I wonder what is wrong with me? But it is also these days that allow me to "get" Bubba and Moose, which opens the possibility of more good days.

So the dance continues.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Failing Zakhqurey Price

Dear Readers,

Chances are you don’t know who Zakhqurey Price is or why it matters to you that this 11 year old boy was charged with a felony. And most likely, if you did see his name fly by as you scanned Facebook while drinking your morning coffee, the words “autism” “injured teacher” and “felony” alluded to a story that was disconcerting but not applicable enough to your own life to garner any further investigation. Besides, a lost virtual cow needed you now. If Zakhqurey Price was real news--important news--you’d catch it on your favorite newsmedia outlet, right?

Wrong. Although barraged by information and leads, larger media has yet to tackle Zakhqurey’s troubling story. This isn’t surprising since abusing children with disabilities is tolerated and justified by the general public. If you don’t believe me, peruse the online comments of the relatively few local and national stories dealing with the abuse of students with disabilities. If you need more evidence, take a look at the recently introduced federal legislation that is aimed at protecting school children from being involuntarily locked in rooms and restricted from moving. Yes, as evident by hundreds of stories of the misuse and abuse of seclusion rooms and restraint procedures in our public schools, we need a federal law to keep public schools from locking children with disabilities up in padded rooms, strapping them down in chairs, and pinning them onto the ground until they are no longer able to breathe.

I know where your mind is going now, at least if you are the general public. It’s the same place that will quietly beckon you once you read Zakhqurey’s story: These kids are dangerous. These practices are needed to keep everyone safe. Teachers shouldn’t have to put up with these kids. It’s a sad situation all around, but these kids aren’t my problem. And with these beliefs also come the less obvious but no less common opinions: Children with disabilities don’t belong in public schools. They aren’t capable of learning. These kids are a drain on the system.

Wrong again. Unfortunately children with disabilities, children like Zakhqurey Price, are all too often not given a chance to achieve their potential. They are instead intentionally set up to fail. These children are denied evaluations and refused adequate services, support, and accommodations. And when these children reach crisis after repeated systemic failure, unsafe methods such as seclusion and restraint are used as a first line intervention rather than as a last resort. As what happened in Zakhqurey’s case, these methods often escalate already distraught situations as children respond out of desperation, fear, and confusion. And finally, the “fight or flight” reactions of these frightened children then “justify” the schools’ responses of dangerous physical interventions in the name of treatment and/or safety. This perpetual cycle of failure and abuse at a minimum leaves children traumatized but also leads to injury, arrest, or death.

Unfortunately, Zakhqurey Price’s story does not end with the abuse of seclusion and restraint methods, but continues with unrelenting systemic failure and abuse. So what happens now? Will you tend to your virtual farm or will you instead pay attention to Zakhqurey Price, realizing that his story is happening everyday in our own backyards? We could stop this abuse from happening especially if we just took the time to notice it.

Ange Hemmer