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Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Abuse of Special Needs Kids. . .How do we Respond?

Two friends of mine have recently posted articles on Facebook that sickened my mother's heart.

One was about a Brentwood School District teacher of special needs kids who repeatedly abused children (verbally AND physically) and, even after school authorities were made aware of the abuse and a conviction relating to it, was merely transferred her to another school where the disgusting abuse continued.

After an 8 million dollar settlement with affected families, the firing and resignation of the superintendent and several employees, there is now 'training' in place to ensure current employees are able to recognize abuse and know how to report it.


If you can't discern, via common sense alone, that kicking a non-verbal autistic boy or shaking a young down syndrome child 'like a rag doll' as he repeatedly signs 'all done' is not an appropriate thing to do or to watch, then I think you're better off working as a busboy in a fast food restaurant and leaving the care and education of precious children to those who have at least a couple of brain cells to rub together.

And as for the school officials who transferred a convicted child abuser from one classroom to another?  Well, just be glad that my application for 'Queen of the Universe' hasn't been processed yet.  Those folks would be sporting bright orange jumpers for Quite. Some. Time.


Then there is the heartbreaking story of a special needs kid whose arm was broken as he was removed forcibly from a school bus he had refused to leave (and threatening the bus driver).  I say heartbreaking, because I can see both sides of this problem. . .the police tried for 30 minutes to get an unresponsive teen (16 and not small) to walk off the bus of his own accord and go to a waiting ambulance.

On the other hand, as the mother of an (almost) teen son with special needs and an explosive personality, I would wish that, somehow, it would have been handled much, much differently.

Though a lot of uproar about 'police breaking a special kid's arm' is churning, I think that, if you watch even a snippet of the video, you'll come to the same conclusion that I did. . .the police involved were not bullying or mean or quick to use force.  They talked, gently and calmly for a long time, with no response.  And even then, they were only trying to lift the kid from his seat and escort him safely off of the bus.  The kid fought back and ended up hurt. But I don't think for a minute that those two men intentionally hurt him or were using unreasonable force.

But does it really matter?  The first case was abhorrent and disgusting and intentional.  The second was not, in my opinion, intentional but it resulted in a kid getting hurt just the same.

How do we change things?  How do we prevent these situations from repeating?

The first case is obvious to me.  Somehow, we have created a culture that relegates special needs kids to second class citizens.  They've been stripped of some of their value and, as such, it's not really 'as bad' to abuse them as 'normal' kids.

I find this repulsive.

Marginalizing any group. . .by race, age, gender, handicap, special needs, ability or whatever smacks of a dangerous philosophy that has lead to dark, dangerous, destructive historical events.

People have value.  Period.

They are worthy of love, respect, and consideration.  Period.

And if we, as a society, can't understand and model those concepts, and hold accountable those who refuse to, we are on a desperate, downward cultural slide.

But what of the second case?  I think the officers were very respectful of that young man.  I don't think they intentionally devalued him or tried, in any way, to use language or force that wouldn't have been used on a 'normal' (is there such a thing??) teenage boy.

I just think they had come to then end of what their training and experience has taught them and didn't know what else to do.

As a mom of a son I could, unfortunately, envision in a situation similar to this some time in the future, I would have wished that something else might have been tried.

Were the parents called and asked to help deescalate the situation?  Were his doctors/therapists called for advice?  Was someone he trusted called in to help understand why he wasn't wanting to leave the bus and to negotiate with authorities for a more peaceful exit?

Even a language change might have helped.  The police, though kind and respectful, were talking to the young man as if he processed the world the same as most everyone else.  My son, however, would have felt threatened and upset that he had created a problem and would have been embarrassed, too.  He would have been terrified (though wouldn't have shown it) with two officers having been called in and he would most likely have shut down like this boy did in the overwhelming nature of the situation he had created.  And then, if touched, he probably would also have fought back.

It's likely that SOMEONE could have talked this kid down from where he was.  It may not have been possible, as I don't know what this particular young man's issues are, but at least it would have been worth a shot.  He was worth that shot.

Special needs kids work differently.

With them, we need to work differently too.

(photo courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net and can be found here)

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