When Grizzlies Matter

 

There are moments in this life when we all need to take a step back, take a deep breath and be the calm in the room.  There are moments when we all need to stop being offended and taking our frustrations out on others.  There are moments when we need to stand down and realize not every moment is a grizzly moment.  I get all of this and I have spent my adult years reminding myself of this more than I’d care to admit.

That said, there are also those very pivotal moments when we, as parents, need to stand up, to grizzly up, and to step forward in order to effectively advocate for our children.

My best Conversation to date with a school administrator:

Following a two hour melt down where my son was under the desk screaming and the class had to be evacuated. After two hours of the school floundering as they attempted to resolve the situation, I was called and asked to step in.  It took me all of three minutes to do the resolving.  After the situation was resolved, the principal asked me back to his office for a chat.  It went like this….

School Admin:
“I am concerned that your son’s behaviors are impacting the instructional minutes of our other students in his class and I will not stand for instructional minutes to be sacrificed.”

Me:
“I am equally concerned that every time his teacher fails to stand up and manage his behaviors you and she, as a team, sacrifice his ability to be viewed as just another kid in his classroom.  Every single time you allow a frustrating moment to deteriorate into a melt down, HIS instructional minutes are not only impacted, but HIS social opportunities with HIS peers are LOST.

You are allowing a teacher’s inability to STEP UP to compromise his ability to simply be seen as a kid, a regular kid, and you are, instead, allowing him to be seen as chaotic and frightening every time she misses the cues because, for some entitled reason, she doesn’t think kids LIKE HIM are HER job.

Every single time she fails to do her job she takes a little piece of his childhood away from him.”

School Admin:
*insert both pin and jaw dropping*

 

Sparkle On, my friends.

Teachers Are Like a Box of Chocolates

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I so vividly remember feeling overwhelmingly helpless during those early years of our spectrum journey. I’m embarrassed to tell you that I was literally in tears during our first few IEP meetings because it was so hard for me to trust my boy to anyone. I cried and I cried and I cried and the “team” would assure me they would take care of my boy and, as a trusting young momma, I’d believe them. And, honestly, sometimes they did take care of my boy and those teachers were some of the most beautiful souls I’ve met on our journey. I’m still so eternally grateful for some of them.

But, other times, they didn’t take care of my boy. Though they were not necessarily bad people, they were also not good to my boy and I’m not sure if the damage that is heaped upon a child in those early years ever has the opportunity to be undone.  It’s dangerous, as parents and guardians, to allow our own emotions (and sometimes grief) to cloud our view so much that we don’t see the educational environment clearly.  Those years when I used my wishbone more than my own backbone are still not easy years to look back upon.  I truly cried more than I grizzlied up.

I will tell you, eventually and thankfully, I stopped crying.
Eventually, I stopped feeling helpless.

Eventually, I stopped trusting that a teaching credential makes you a good person or qualifies any individual to spend time with my son in an educational setting. I would learn later that a teaching credential only assures a school district that the candidate has successfully completed a predetermined set of coursework. Now I understand it takes a whole lot more than a teaching credential to see a child’s potential and be a great teacher. It takes a special teaching heart that sees through the rough days and into the brilliance within the child. Great teachers also know that brilliance isn’t always easy to see at first because the shine can be clouded by a lot of other challenges.

Like I said, I eventually stopped crying.

Eventually, my backbone grew firm and the tears faded.
Eventually, I learned how the educational game is played.
Eventually I came to see that my son’s education would depend largely on my involvement in the school and my presence on campus. I also learned that I might not always be popular on campus and I would come to understand how much the teachers would not be my friends….because it’s all kinds of uncomfortable to try and hold “friends” accountable when IEP goals are not met, growth is not made or when the classroom environment is less than kind. “Educational relationships” are much easier to hold accountable when the educational goals or environment fall short. Eventually I learned that if I was present/involved on the campus, my boy would get better treatment because when teachers and admin know you will not go quietly and you will not let what goes on in his classroom be a mystery to you, teachers and admin step up with your child.

Just remember, teachers are like a box of chocolates too….you never know what you might get. And that’s okay as long as you are not the tearful mess that I once was. Be better than me and do more than cry. By all means, have that long, tearful cry and clear out all those emotions because we all know that’s a healthy, cathartic feeling and our emotional stability often depends on it. But, after the tears fall, don’t let it end there….move on to the next step and be vigilant with your child’s education and with their emotional well being.  Praise those who have teaching hearts and stand firm and tall against those who don’t.

Be aware.
Be involved.
Strengthen that backbone and Grizzly Up, Wonder Souls.

Get to know your teachers, my friends, and don’t let fancy educational talk or glamorous clothes sway you. I kid you not when I tell you that one educational year has the opportunity to be a year filled to brimming with goals being met and progress being made or that one year can also be 180 school days of damage inflicted that can never be undone…. and no amount of tears falling will change that. You might not understand this yet, but you are stronger than you think and you can do this because your child’s future largely depends on it.  Get to know your teachers, get to know the educational environment and then grizzly on up, Wonder Souls, and Sparkle On.

Slaying The Monster In The Classroom: Cameras in classrooms? YES. PLEASE.

autism sparkles-21This is something I need to write.  I don’t want to write it.  In fact, I don’t even want to know it.  It’s one of those hard to write kind of things because no one wants to believe it goes on and I hate to be the one to tell you but, truth be told, this is the kind of thing all parents NEED to know…especially parents of special needs kiddos who are speech impaired.  This one is going to hurt your heart a bit but keep reading anyway.  I will be bold enough to tell you it is as hard to write as it is to read.  It’s the very rawest truth.  It is the truth we don’t want to hear.  It is the truth none of us want to believe and yet, as black and bruising as it is to our hearts, it is still very much the truth.

Lately the argument has been whether or not to put cameras in special needs classrooms.  I am not sure why there is a debate.  There shouldn’t be a debate.  There is only one right answer and that is a resounding YES.  PUT CAMERAS IN special needs CLASSROOMS. YES, please, for the sake of good teachers and vulnerable kiddos everywhere.  Cameras…YES.

I am not here to condemn good teachers.  I believe my boy’s first teacher, I’ll call her Queen, was a gift from God.  A good queen.  A great queen.  The kind of queen every parent wishes for their child.  She is the reason my boy is where he is today.  SHE gave him a chance when no one else would.  She fought for him, she stood beside him and stood strong through his melt down moments and she stood with me when we both had to fight and love him in equal strengths.  Queen teachers who love and commit and devote themselves to building up the strengths of quirky kids are not the kind of teacher I am talking about today.  The Queen is only worthy of my deepest praise as are all queens like her.  They are sacred ground in my book.  They are what all teachers should aspire to.

Unfortunately not all teachers do.

The other teachers, the kind I am going to tell you about, are named Monster in my book.  I make no apologies.  Monsters earn their stripes and their names and what they do to children with special needs in the privacy of their classroom is despicable, cowardly and not worthy of the title of teacher. In my book they are nothing more than monsters who are protected by administrations and unions.  They count on their tenure to protect their abusive actions and they count on the families of the kids they abuse to fund their retirements.

Monsters NEED cameras.

Once upon a time, I was a student teacher.  I already had my multi-subject credential as well as eight years in the autism trenches with my spectrum kiddo and I wanted my special ed credential.  So, I did what I needed to do.  I went back to the same university where I earned my multiple subject credential and I went back to school.  When it came time for my student teaching, I was elated to discover that one of my university professors, who was also a current special ed teacher, would be my so called, master teacher.  I use the term loosely.  I will not even capitalize it because monsters don’t deserve capitalization.

I will not give her name because this is not about revenge or vendettas.  Writing this is about telling the truth and spreading the word that cameras ARE necessary.  Kiddos deserve the protection every day.  Although the university appalls me now, I will not identify them as well.  What I will give you is the detailed notes of the incidences I was witness to so that you will understand why I say fight for your kiddos, advocate for your kiddos, do not give blind trust to someone with a fancy piece of paper from a school.  Paper is cheap, actions are immense.  I will also tell you it has been a long time since I have looked at the detailed notes I took during my student teaching days.  They are as hard to read now as they were to write back then.

Before you scream foul, I will tell you that I notified my university supervisor, I notified the university department head.  I was told by the university that I should be more flexible and not make waves.  I then notified CPS and filed a report because as a credentialed teacher, I am also a mandated reporter.  The sad part is that because of tenure and unions, I believe she is not only still teaching but she is still a “professor” at the same university.  When I personally asked the monster why the district did not put cameras in the classrooms, she rallied around the question and told me that she’s been a teacher for 25 years, only had a few years until she retired and has been trained in pressure points.

The students in the class I student taught in were 2nd and 3rd graders who were all speech impaired.  The monster teacher was morbidly obese, had restricted mobility and the simple act of standing often made her have to stop and catch her breath.  I have also changed the names of the students involved to protect their identity.  Because I felt helpless, I felt like all avenues of help for these kids were being closed on me, I was advised to document the incidences in as much detail as I could.  These are my actual notes…the way I wrote it in that moment.  I am not writing this from memory.  The boy I call “C” actually has a behavior plan in place but the monster teacher refused to comply with it because it took too long.

September 1 @ 9:18 a.m.:

C (the student) would not comply, would not go to his group.  He was yelling loudly and refusing to comply with directions. The teacher bellowed LOUDLY, caught him by the NECK and seemed to apply pressure to the back of his neck.  He screamed.  Using her hand gripped on his neck, she steered him back to his seat and into a sitting position and then directed him to listen to the teacher’s aide running his small group.  He sat for a few minutes.

(When I asked her about her methods, since I was new to her classroom, she explained to me that if you do put your hands on a child, you should request an IEP meeting that same afternoon but in her class she has special training in pressure points so she does not call. I could not find this caveat in ANY standards book the State of California holds.)

C got back up and left his seat again and she again grabbed him by his neck and sat him back down.  C was then very compliant.

September 1@ 11:28

The teacher went to a grade level meeting and when she returned C was laying on the floor in the back of the classroom.  His socks and shoes were off.  The teacher asked him to get up and he refused and she bellowed (I consider bellow well beyond yelling) at him.  While he was still lying on the floor, she reached down to where he was on the floor, put her hand into his hair and appeared to pull his head up by his hair to get him upright.  When he was up, she grabbed his neck and forced him with her hands squeezing the back of his neck to sit down in his seat.  The other aide passed out math fast facts.  C refused again.  The teacher then stood behind him, leaned in and over him until her weight was fully squeezing him between her body and the edge of his desk. C began to scream and she took her hand and COVERED his full mouth so he couldn’t yell…all the while still pushing the full weight of her morbidly obese body against him and the hard edge of his desk.  While still covering his mouth with one hand, she then grabbed his hand with her other hand and placed a pencil in it. She squeezed his hand and forcibly began to write the answers on his page.  He then began to comply and she released her grip.  He then continued to cry that he didn’t want to come to school.

September 1 @11:55 a.m.:

The teacher was trying to get B’s attention but he was not paying attention.  She used her thumb and forefinger to thump him hard two times on the back of the head.

September 1 @12:05:

C was not complying.  She went over to him, grabbed him by the back of the shirt so that the front of his shirt is cutting into his neck and she then used the shirt in that constricting position to steer him to his seat.  When he started to utter silly words, she grabbed his mouth, squeezed hard and told him, “I don’t want to hear it anymore.”

This was just ONE DAY.  The aides who work in her class have been with her for many years and they do nothing.  They are as scared and paralyzed as the students.  Fearing for their jobs and pensions more than they were worried about the students.  It is also noted that the monster is so savvy about her abusive tactics that she only grabs children in non bruising areas.

September 7 @ 10:10

The students were in small groups.  C didn’t want to read the page we were on.  He then screamed and howled and left the table.  When he returned, he began to scream and shriek and howl again.  The teacher came over and sat/stood beside him and wrapped her arm around his head until her hand landed on his mouth and was fully covering his whole mouth.  She held it there while he screamed until he stopped.  She then informed me that this kind of restraint was not appropriate if I was being evaluated or if someone else was in the classroom.  She said she needs to call his parents and inform them of what strategies are being utilized.

No calls to my knowledge were made.

September 8 @8:31

C is reading a book at the book shelf by the cubbies.  The book was open, C’s hand was sitting on one page.  The teacher asked him to put the book away.  C ignored the directive.  The teacher came back to the book shelf, shouted, “NO! It is not time for books.”  She then SLAMMED the book closed with his hand still inside and then put her hand and her morbidly obese weight down on top of the book with his hand still inside….She did this until he screamed and then she reprimanded him AGAIN.

September 30 @ 1:30pm:

While directly calling a student by name, the teacher yells across the classroom, while the students are all sitting right there and I am in the back of the classroom, “B is dumb as a door knob.”

October 12 @ recess

Teacher to student:  “You need to be a good kid!”

Student to teacher:  “I am a good kid.”

Teacher to student: “No, you’re NOT!

Speaking/shouting to the same child on October 13:

Teacher to student: “You don’t get to make your own choices!  I’m the teacher!”

Speaking to the same child on October 28:

“I am going to send you to the dean and your grandma can buy you time in Juvenile Hall.”

October 17 @ 9:20 a.m.:

Student A is sitting in small groups.  He was not working.  He was complaining and finally fell off his chair and on to the floor.  The teacher asked him to get up.  He did not respond.  The teacher went over to him put a hand on each ear and then grabbed each ear hard and pulled until he screamed out in pain. She then pulled each ear in unison in an upward fashion until he screamed out in pain more and stood up and complied.  He then sat in his seat.

I know, take a deep breath. It’s hard stuff to read about.  It was hard to be there and then to feel helpless because no one would do anything.  Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,” and that hit home hard for me.  So many staff and admin who are paid substantial salaries and retirements do NOTHING to protect these children…but CAMERAS WILL.

Let me say, this unfortunately goes on and on.  And, sadly, this teacher is not the only one, she is simply the first time I realized how truly vulnerable our kiddos are and how there are teachers who use their positions of power for abuse.  It was the first time I realized that there are teachers who use their tenure and reputation to take the easy road because they are tired and lazy and don’t really enjoy teaching but really want the paycheck and retirement.  It was the first time I realized that teacher’s and admins have their own so called blue wall and they will close ranks to protect the monsters in order to preserve reputations and retirement at the expense of children.

Cameras in special needs classrooms are necessary.

Cameras WILL prevent teachers from becoming Ogars and Monsters and beasts because they have proven that they will behave ONLY when the paycheck signers are watching them.  And, truly, it’s not always that your child is going to be beaten or raped, sometimes it’s that they are going to be humiliated day in and day out, mildly abused, verbally and physically, day in and day out and they can fall victim to an abuser who defeats their want to learn and destroys their sense of well being and the very self esteem you have worked so hard to build.  Children who are already communication impaired are easy targets.  They cannot defend themselves nor can they explain to you what went on.  They simply withdraw and act out even more and the teacher makes them the scapegoat for the teacher’s own evil.  When teachers turn to Monsters because no one is looking, children are in jeopardy of being bruised both skin deep and soul deep.  All children deserve a safe and nurturing environment in which to learn and kids with special needs NEED this in order to reach out and try to connect.  Cameras WILL ensure this happens and will weed out the teachers who are unwilling to commit to this and who perhaps got into teaching for the WRONG reasons.

CAMERAS…YES!!!…It’s a no brainer, my friends.  Be a super hero every single day by standing up for children!  Cameras protect our most vulnerable members of society from our most depraved and evil monsters.  Cameras should be MANDATORY in ALL special needs classrooms.

Sandy Hook: The Sudden Smallness Of Autism

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My brain is swirling.  Of course, like everyone, the feeling of shock still rules my head and the hollowness pervades my heart as I try to come to understand it.  I know only those twenty six families can truly understand the depth of the this staggering loss but I also believe everyone of us lost a piece of our hearts that Friday morning.  I know I did and I have a feeling it’s a piece that never comes back.

In all of this, I am not angry but what I am is confused and I have also become a mom on alert.  Alert and concerned that something as innocent as autism could become a casualty in all of this.  Just as we are recently gaining positive awareness in order to help innocent kiddos who are in need, an irresponsible reporter goes off half cocked supported within a national forum and breathes its fragile name amidst the blackness that rose up in Newtown, Connecticut.

Before this happened, back when autism first entered our life, I thought autism was immense, ginormous, overwhelming and even mythic in some moments. Mythic because I could not believe it was happening to my boy.   I thought autism was big because it was so much more giant than I could understand or wrap my head around and it felt as though it was even bigger than me and my boy and the doctor combined.

On Saturday that changed.

I’d like to say it changed on Friday but, for me, nothing sank in until Saturday and Saturday was when my jaw fell open wide.  That was the day I heard a reporter put the autism wrapper around the Sandy-Hook-nothing and cloak him in autism.  I won’t write his name or glorify him here because he does not deserve that so I will simply call him the Sandy-Hook-nothing.  Noted but not notable because if notoriety was what he searched for, he will  not receive that from me.  I know his name but I won’t write it.

I was floored when autism was thrown at the S-H-n as though someone thought they could somehow offer up a quick excuse, an explanation for his despicable act.  And then it multiplied when others started to bat around the rumor as they passed along the same irresponsible gossip as truth.  Incidentally, shame on you if you were one of them.  Let me be blunt and tell you I am not okay with that. Not only was it wildly irresponsible but it also goes to show how much you are misinformed and also how much you don’t understand about autism.  C-l-e-a-r-l-y….what happened in Connecticut is too big to be tidied up with a one word explanation. And, that’s when it happened.  Autism suddenly began to feel small for the very first time.  The autism that once felt big and overwhelming began to pale when it stood up beside the S-H-n.

Folks, let me assure you if you don’t know this already, this is NOT what autism looks like.  Whatever the Sandy-Hook-nothing was, whatever drove him to such depths of rage and lack of empathy, whatever made him kill with such venom and recklessness…well…I promise you, it was a whole lot more than autism.  And, let me get ahead on this one too and say it’s not any kind of Asperger’s either.

What went on in the elementary school is not what autism or Asperger’s look like.  It’s just not.

I have been around all those “A” terms for the last decade, plus a few odd years thrown in from my teen years when I worked in residential treatment facilities with kiddos of varying disabilities,…long before autism ever entered my own home.  Long before I had any inkling that autism and I would become quite involved with one another.  My boy is all of those “A” words.  He is not only autistic but he is also Asperger’s and there is not a hint of violence in his essence or his actions.  He is loving and kind and he has empathy beyond his years.  His friends are very much the same.  Kind, sweet, loving.  As early as his kindergarten years(he is thirteen now) his kindness began to roll through our village. He and I would wait each day for his sister at the bus stop.  While we were waiting for his sister, if he heard a baby fussing,  he would attend to the babies who were crying.  The mothers were often busy chatting and did not notice so my boy would step in.   My boy would locate lost pacifiers and blankets and bottles and notify mothers that though their baby had been sad, he fixed them and made them smile.  Even today, at 13, if I so much as sneeze he comes to check and make sure I am okay.  Sure, he is autistic, he is Asperger’s, and it is nothing related to what you saw unfold in Connecticut.

Autism, as big as I once thought it was, is much too small to explain the enormous darkness of the S-H-n.  Too, too small.  No amount of autism, no matter where on the spectrum you look, can begin to explain the Sandy Hook nothing.  Whatever that boy was, if there was a disorder involved, I promise you his landscape was broader than autism could ever fill.

Do you really kid yourself into believing that something like autism could be used to define and explain something as hideous as the Sandy-Hook-nothing? Seriously that is NONSENSE.  And, just that quickly, I am faced with the sudden smallness of autism.  Autism is too small to explain away the Sandy-Hook-nothing.

The violent rampage you seek to explain by rushing to label it will not be explained so easily .  Slapping any of the autism spectrum terms on to it is not enough to explain what that boy did.  Autism spectrum disorders are too small for that.

The Sandy-Hook-nothing goes deeper and much darker than autism could ever begin to explain.  I wish it was that easy.  That a simple diagnosis could cover something so immensely unfathomable as what befell such a lovely elementary school who had taken such measures to protect those little ones but autism is not big enough for that.  It might make a country rest easier if they could name it and file it away but that’s not going to happen this time.

Autism is too small.