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Torture, according to the United Nations Convention Against Torture, is...any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions.



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TRAPPED

Have you or anybody you know ever been trapped in an elevator? Do you know anyone who has ever been trapped in a car after a traffic accident? Have you thought about what you might do if you were ever in such a situation? For us, we would look for alarm buttons or phones in the elevator or use cell phones or OnStar from our cars to call for help. We would also be screaming and yelling in the hopes that someone would hear us and summon help.

When our daughter, Jessica, who had intractable epilepsy and a rare mitochondrial disorder as well as cognitive impairments, was in second grade [age 7] she came home from school one day with a hand imprint on her face. I asked her what happened and she told me her teacher slapped her at school. I immediately called the school to find out what had happened and the administrator said she knew nothing about any incident and suggesting that, it might have happened on the bus.

We arranged a meeting at school for the following day to discuss the incident. At that meeting, they told me Jessica had been forcibly put into a small closet because she kept running out of her classroom. When placed in the closet, Jessica was screaming, kicking, and pleading to be let out. The classroom parapro had opened the door and slapped Jessica because she would not stop screaming, kicking and pleading. They told us they placed Jessica in the closet several times a day because of her behavior of running out of the classroom.

We then discussed how it could be that no other solutions were available to keep Jessica in her classroom other than placing her in the closet. I asked why the classroom door could not be closed or Jessica’s desk be moved across the room away from the door rather than being right next to the door. The teacher explained that closing the classroom door was not an option because she, the teacher, is claustrophobic!!!!!!!

I cannot tell you how stunned I was to learn that Jessica was being shoved into a closet for any reason. But I became even more outraged by the teacher’s suggestion that it is okay to put my daughter in a small closet so the teacher does not have to feel claustrophobic by closing the classroom door that would have kept my daughter in her classroom.

I was horrified by the thought of Jessica being secluded and even more horrified when I realized she was being slapped for sounding her own alarm in a desperate attempt to be released from a situation she did not create.

When thinking about our own emergencies, such as elevators stoppages and traffic accidents, we expect and take for granted that we will have access to alarm systems ourselves or that others will hear our cries for help and summon the rescuers. We cannot imagine not getting help under those circumstances. But our children are being abused by seclusion and restraint on a daily basis, and yet no one is responding to THEIR alarms!

Jessica’s situation was not an isolated experience. We all need to do everything that we can to stop the abusive practice of seclusion and restraint. We have to stop hurting kids in schools. We are participating in the Stop Hurting Kids Campaign created by Alliance to Prevent Restraint, Aversives Interventions and Seclusion. We invite you to join with us to sound the alarm for our children through the Stop Hurting Kids campaign. You may visit the campaign Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/stophurtingkids or visit the APRAIS Website at http://tash.org/advocacy-issues/restraint-and-seclusion-aprais/ to learn more about and to join in on sounding the alarm.

We think adults live in a certain comfort zone that says when we get into trouble all we have to do is sound the alarm and help will come. Our kids should be able to enjoy that same sense of security that we do. Jessica was punished for sounding her alarm when abusively locked into a closet. That was her last day at that school. We need to be the alarms for all the kids who are being abused by the practices of seclusion and restraint. Be their alarm.

Tricia and Calvin Luker
Copyright 2013 by Tricia and Calvin Luker. Permission to forward, copy and post this article is granted so long as it is attributed to the authors and www.ourchildrenleftbehind.com.

The OCLB Team
Sandy Strassman-Alperstein, Deidre Hammon, Jackie Igafo-Te’o Shari Krishnan, and Calvin and Tricia Luker, along with self advocates Benji Alperstein, Daniel Alperstein, Hannah Alperstein, Rachel Alperstein, Brianna Hammon, Melody Igafo-Te'o, Michael Igafo-Te’o, Sebastian Igafo-Te'o and Nicholas Krishnan

TAKE ACTION: CONTACT YOUR MEMBER OF CONGRESS

Every student deserves to learn and grow in a safe, supportive environment, yet each day children across the U.S. continue to be subjected to restraint and seclusion abuse. We can do more to protect our kids, and we can start by advocating for federal policy that puts an end to restraint and seclusion abuse.

 

As a partner organization of the Stop Hurting Kids campaign, Our Children Left Behind is asking you to contact your congressperson in the U.S. House of Representatives with a simple message: stop hurting kids. It takes just minutes to make a difference, and you can do it right from the Stop Hurting Kids campaign website at http://stophurtingkids.com.

 

We’re reaching out to members of the House because HR 1893 – known as the Keeping All Students Safe Act – has already been introduced, and has a chance of being included as an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. All it takes is for Congress to vote “yes” to include this amendment, and the provisions outlined in the bill will be included in the House’s version of ESEA.

 

What You Can Do …

 

Contact your member of Congress to urge them to vote yes to include the Keeping All Students Safe Act as an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. You can visit the Stop Hurting Kids website or send a message from the campaign’s Facebook page at http://stophurtingkids.com/fbcongress.

 

A sample message is included at the Stop Hurting Kids website, along with additional information about HR 1893 – the Keeping All Students Safe Act – and other resources.

 

We also invite you to share your personal  experiences with us and we have been posting collections of these stories on the Stop Hurting Kids campaign blog.  If you email your stories to us at tluker@ralawcenter.com we will forward them to the campaign blog for inclusion.  If you haven’t already, you may see the campaign blog here:   http://stophurtingkids.com/tag/share-your-story/  

 

Please help us end restraint/seclusion and abuse of children in our nation’s public schools.  The children need your voice.

I WILL TRY TO FORGIVE, BUT I WILL NEVER FORGET

Children should never be afraid to go to school, and parents should never have to worry that their children will be harmed by the people taking care of them while they are at school.

Forgiveness isn’t possible when negative emotions stick around and cloud my thoughts about restraint and seclusion. I am trying to forgive, but I will never forget.

Forgiveness can’t be doled out quickly when constant reminders of an offense that happened to my child while in the public school system surrounds me.

As many times as I’ve thought about how to come to terms with the violence my son was subjected to, finding forgiveness hasn’t been one of those things on my list of things to do.

To forgive and let all the pain of what my child and our family went through wash away—the guilt, the pain, the anxiety, the despair seems so difficult to do.

Can I really do that?

Can I truly forget how my son’s downward spiral of regression, depression, anxiety attacks began? He was so little, so innocent and just didn’t know how to cope with everything around him.

Can I honestly forgive the people who abused my child by restraining him over and over and by putting him in seclusion because they didn’t try to understand him, because they didn’t try to understand his disability?

Can I totally forgive the people who turned me away when I asked them to get my son some help?

Can I totally look past their denial of what they did to my son and the retaliation and pain we are still going through today?

Can I forgive myself for overlooking the signs that my son was showing me that “something was wrong”, but I wasn’t seeing because I thought he was in good hands? If I can’t forgive myself then how can I ever forgive you?

Can I fully embrace the struggles we have gone through to find justice for the violence my son was subjected to at the hands of others?

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I ask myself why I didn’t listen to my son when he told me, “No school Mommy, no like.” He used to love going to school. What happened to make him so fearful of school?

Here’s what I can accept. I can accept that all of that did happen to my child, but I will not accept that it had to happen because I know for a fact it did not have to happen.
Here’s something else I haven’t been able to accept. Not because I turned it down but because this too hasn’t happened yet—no one has yet to apologize to my son for what they did to him. Instead I have heard nothing but excuses of why he was treated with such violence and that they felt they did what had to be done. Do you even remember my son? I’m sure you have moved on with your life and long forgotten my little boy.

What I can’t accept is how these same people continue to destroy him by using unprofessional evaluations that make him look bad so that they can justify what they did to him as being the right thing to do.

Come to think of it, I think my whole family could use an apology. Shouldn’t someone have said sorry to me and my husband for the extra stress they have caused us, the time lost with our son and the things we’ve been denied as our child’s parents?

When are those apologies coming? I’m not saying I’m holding out for those before I can forgive and forget, but it sure would be nice for someone to admit that they played a role in my son’s regression, depression, and anxiety attacks that developed from all the restraint and seclusion abuse he went through at the hands of people who were supposed to be helping him?

Forgive and forget. As much as I’d love to, oh how I’d really love to be able to say to several of my son’s past school staff, “I forgive you,” but right now, today, this week with what he went through and what we’ve gone through as a family, I’m just not ready to say, “I forgive you.” In fact, it might be a long time before I am ready to forgive and move on.

To offer forgiveness, if I really, really had to do that today would be a bit jaded. It would go something like this:

Dear Teacher, Teacher’s Aide, Principal and Behavior Specialist (and whoever else had a hand in destroying my child’s life),

I know you are all just human, and you thought the violence you subjected my son and other children to was the right thing to do. I understand that some of you have more professional training under your belt and loads more formal education than I do. I understand that you have a hard job. I have a feeling though that your lack of training of my son’s disability, your refusal to help and understand him when I pleaded with you, your power struggle with my son over his behaviors that were not in his control, and your pride muddled your thoughts. How else did you let what happen to my son happen?

How could you keep restraining him and putting him into seclusion when it was obvious that it was making him worse? And how did you not see that these violent acts were starting to affect him mentally and were causing him to regress in his academics and social skills? You had to see he was in mental pain, and yet you continued to restrain him and put him in seclusion. Why? Please tell me why so I can try and understand, and if I can understand maybe I can find it in my heart to forgive you and move on.

I totally get that you’re super busy and that you have a lot of children with behavior issues, but that does not make what you did to my son or other children right. That does not make what you are still doing to children with disabilities right. Don’t you understand that behaviors are a form of communication for our children who are nonverbal or who can’t express themselves? Don’t you understand even now that restraint and seclusion doesn’t help children with disabilities and that it can cause long lasting trauma and escalate behaviors. Clearly you must have been overwhelmed and understaffed. What other excuse could you give for watching my son go through such mental torment and regression?

I’ve waited a long time to figure out if I need to forgive you, but I’m honestly at a standstill even thinking about it. I really don’t know how to say this, but I do think it’s time for me to say something. So, here goes.

I’m sorry you didn’t open your eyes to see the red flags being waved right in front of your face that my son was suffering mentally from your actions and was regressing at a fast pace. I’m sorry you were clueless and that your ignorance failed my child. I’m sorry your educational knowledge of children with disabilities failed my son. I’m sorry you never knew that behaviors are a form of communication. I’m sorry you refused to update his functional behavior plan. I’m sorry you were ignorant of my requests to get him help. I’m sorry you bullied me at several IEP meetings and made me cry. I’m sorry you wasted my time telling me, ‘He did this and he did that but you never told me what you were doing to him.’ I’m sorry I waited until my son had a breakdown before I pulled him out of school. I’m sorry you’re still doing the same thing to other children as you did to my son and that you are still bullying parents. I’m sorry you haven’t learned a thing from your past violent actions.

No parent should feel as alone, scared, worried, angry and as destroyed as I felt the day I picked up my son from school as he cried hysterically begging me to take him home. No parent should witness what happened to their child like I did. No one should witness that and later be told, “We didn’t do anything wrong.”

No parent should walk through life not knowing what to do next or not knowing where to turn for help. No parent should have to face the agonizing decisions I’ve had to. No parent should have to fight as hard as scores of parents now have to do to keep their children safe when they go to school. No parent should be left high and dry with nowhere to turn for help like so many other parents have. No parent should expect or demand an apology from someone who promised to do no harm in the first place. None.

One more thing. When one forgives his offender the last part of the apology usually includes not only a renewal for the relationship to be whole again, but also a promise, a promise to never commit the offense again. See, that’s a problem. Not on my end but for your apology, when you make it….it won’t be a true apology if you are still doing to children what you did to my son. You still don’t see the big picture and that what you’re doing to children with disabilities is physically and mentally harmful.

You can’t help make this all go away until you take a step back. Take a step back and look at the children with disabilities as children who need help with the behaviors that are not in their control because right now you are only looking at them as unruly children. They are not unruly; they are children with disabilities that have a tough road ahead of them! When you stop and realize how you played a role in damaging my son’s future, and after you rectify what you are doing is wrong, then we can talk about forgiveness.

It’s with a heavy heart that I apologize that I cannot truly offer any forgiveness to you. I pray to God that I can because it’s nearly impossible for me to stop thinking about how my son and countless other children ended up where they are today. Someday I hope to have the strength to completely move past the pain and sadness you brought to my child and my family. One day I’ll be able to find forgiveness. Until then I’ll be here waiting for you to offer yours.

Anonymous mom

09/2012

Important Update! TASH Update on the Senate Hearing on Restraint and Seclusion “Beyond Seclusion and Restraint: Creating Positive Learning Environments for All Students.”

Show your support today by asking your legislators to support the Keeping All Students Safe Act! This website tool even gives you a sample email to personalize and send straight from the site. It's so easy to support the Keeping All Students Safe Act - please do it!!

STANDING IN OUR OWN SHOES

The phrase in loco parentis, which means “in the place of a parent,” is the common law legal doctrine that permits school personnel and others who have intermittent control over children to make decisions or to otherwise control those children in the absence of their parents. This means that when our children are in settings in which their education and play are supervised by others, those adults acting as supervisors have both the right and the responsibility to engage in some direction and discipline of the children while standing in the shoes of the parent.

We read a number of stories every day that describe situations in which school personnel have assaulted, restrained or secluded students with disabilities in educational environments. We are stunned by the number of incidents and angered by how difficult it is to prosecute or discipline the offenders. It is not right that children with disabilities should be so vulnerable at school.

If one of our children arrived at school with a handprint on his or her face, school officials would report us for abuse, as well they should. But if one of our children came home from school with a handprint on his or her face, there is no one we could report it to who would actually do anything about it. The most likely outcome of any such reporting would be for the child protection agency to say that it has no authority to investigate and for the police to say that no crime has been committed.

Recent stories have described school personnel putting kids in duffel bags, large boxes, closets and duct taped or tied into chairs. The people who are doing this to our children are supposed to be standing in our shoes in our absence. We would never do these things to our own children, or to any child.

How are they standing in our shoes in our absence, and where is Congress? Why hasn’t Congress acted? Why is there no agency that will hold these people accountable in the same way that we would be held accountable? What is so controversial about not allowing our children with disabilities to be abused in schools by school personnel?
The cost of waiting is the drip, drip, drip of half a dozen new stories every day describing some form of abuse of our children with disabilities that we, as parents, would never do.

We have heard stories and have been involved in cases in which school personnel have called child protection agencies to retaliate against parents who are strong advocates for their children. They do so to rattle the parent, to try to shift the focus from their conduct to the parent’s conduct or to draw another agency into the process that can take their position over the parent’s position. This dirty trick is used to get even and to distract the parents from the primary objective of advocating for their children’s educational needs and safety. How ironic that the schools can use child protection agencies for intimidation yet at the same time we parents have no remedy when abusive school personnel “stand in the place of a parent.” We need Congress to act now to end this dreadful abuse.

Here are the primary sources to read about how our children and their families are being abused in our nation’s schools:

http://www.ourchildrenleftbehind.com/news.htm
http://familiesagainstrestraintandseclusion.blogspot.com
http://tash.org/the-cost-of-waiting

Here are the links to the Senate and House bills.

Senate Bill S. 2020 http://tinyurl.com/6of4z74

House Bill H.R. 1381 http://tinyurl.com/7fvgmwj

Please share this blog article far and wide and continue to urge your elected officials to co-sponsor and pass both the House Bill H.R. 1381 and the Senate Bill S. 2020

Tricia and Calvin Luker
Copyright 2012 by Tricia and Calvin Luker. Permission to forward, copy and post this article is granted so long as it is attributed to the authors and www.ourchildrenleftbehind.com.

The OCLB Team
Sandy Strassman-Alperstein, Deidre Hammon, Jackie Igafo-Te’o Shari Krishnan, and Calvin and Tricia Luker, along with self advocates Benji Alperstein, Daniel Alperstein, Hannah Alperstein, Rachel Alperstein, Brianna Hammon, Melody Igafo-Te'o, Michael Igafo-Te’o, Sebastian Igafo-Te'o and Nicholas Krishnan

Advocates: Congressional Inaction on Restraints, Seclusion Frustrates (6/2/12)  - Some advocacy groups are unsatisfied with new U.S. Department of Education guidelines for schools about how and when to restrain and seclude students in danger of hurting themselves or someone else. TASH, formerly The Association for the Severely Handicapped, recently issued a second edition of "The Cost of Waiting," which reinforces its criticism of Congress for not pushing harder for a legislative solution to reducing the use of restraints and seclusion.
US Department of Ed Issues Resource Document that Discourages Restraint/Seclusion (5/15/12)
Update from COPAA May 14, 2012

Chairman Harkin has announced that the Senate Hearing, originally scheduled for May 17th is now scheduled for June 28th. The main intent of this hearing is to showcase alternatives that work – because we know this is an issue for which there are readily available, evidence-based and effective positive strategies. COPAA is supporting key family witnesses to testify, and we are thankful to Senator Harkin and Senator Enzi for jointly holding this hearing to emphasize positive solutions.

Our sincere thanks also to Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS) who is a co-sponsor of the House Bill H.R. 1381 and an staunch supporter of the need to take action that Keeps All Students Safe in schools. Rep. Harper wrote an Op-ED on the issue that appeared in ROLL CALL today.

Please share this information far and wide and continue to urge your elected officials to co-sponsor and support both the House and Senate bills.

Note that the hearing referenced below has been postponed till June 28, 2012 at 10:00 AM. We will share further information as we learn it. The rest of the information below, courtesy of the Council of Parent Attorneys & Advocates (http://www.copaa.org) remains valuable reading.

Senate News
Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Enzi today released the following announcement for a hearing in the Senate next week:
 
COMMITTEE ON HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR AND PENSIONS HEARING NOTICE
 
To:             All Committee Members
Title:           Beyond Seclusion and Restraint:  Creating Positive Learning Environments for All Students
Date:           June 28, 2012
Time:          10:00 a.m.
Place:          SD-050
Witnesses:
Dr. Daniel Crimmins, Director, Center for Leadership in Disability, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia
Ms. Cyndi Pitonyak, Coordinator of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, Montgomery County Public Schools, Christiansburg, Virginia
Dr. Michael George, Director, Centennial School, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Ms. Deborah (Debbie) Jackson, Parent, Easton, Pennsylvania    

House News
During remarks on the House floor today, Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, called on Chairman John Kline (R-MN) to consider the Keeping All Students Safe Act – a bill to protect children from abusive seclusion and restraint practices while attending school.  Although the legislation passed the House more than two years ago with bipartisan support, it never became law.
 
“Schools are supposed to be a safe place. Parents should never have to worry about the safety of their children when they’re at school,” said Miller. “No child should be neglected, abused, or injured while they are trying to learn.”
 
In recent months, there have been disturbing cases of children being dangerously restrained by teachers and staff during the school day. In several of these cases, students have suffered serious injury or even died as a result of their injuries. The Keeping All Students Safe Act would, for the first time, put in place minimum safety standards to prevent abusive seclusion and restraint in schools across the country. The legislation would protect schoolchildren from inappropriate uses of seclusion and restraint while at school. The bill would also provide school personnel with the necessary tools, training, and support to ensure the safety of all students and school personnel who support them.
 
Miller’s remarks today follow a letter he sent last week to Chairman Kline requesting immediate committee action to markup the legislation.

KEEPING ALL STUDENTS SAFE

Our Children Left Behind believes the following:
  1. The provision of a free appropriate public education is an essential civil right for all Citizens of the United States of America. Education allows individuals to...
    • Access essential information;
    • Listen to understand;
    • Communicate to be understood;
    • Demonstrate and apply knowledge;
    • Learn about the importance of currency and fair trade to make good personal economic decisions;
    • Consider healthy living decisions; and
    • Accentuate and nurture areas of personal strength to most successfully live in and contribute to a democratic society.
  2. The provision of special education supports and services is needed by some people to make the realities of education possible for all Citizens of the United States.
  3. If there are any Citizens of the United States who have a desire to vote based on an understanding of the choices before them but who lack the appropriate education to do so, then the education status quo has overwhelmingly failed those Citizens. (Posted 6-26-11)
FANTASY SCENARIOS

Often, when negotiating over state or federal legislation or even school district policy, aimed at promoting the use of restraint and other forms of aversive (read: abusive) tactics against children with disabilities, lawmakers, administrators and others want to propose to us the “worst case scenario.” This typically happens in a hallway, or at a meeting table, sometimes with little fan fare, sometimes with a great flourish, they lay out for us what they have determined to be the most important factors to consider in their imaginary classroom. Even if they do not call it a “worst case scenario,” you can sense its nature through its hopeless air, its lack of salient details and its characterization of a person with a disability as an object of fear and a ticking time bomb, ready to “go off” at any minute.

Now, the trap has been laid.

Then they ask us for our expertise as parents, or our experience as advocates and educators, or simply our “position” in what they are attempting to define as the battle lines in proposals affecting children. We ~ dear parents ~ must recognize the trap for what it is. We must refuse to engage in dialogue around scenarios based on pernicious mythologies about the dangerousness of individuals with disabilities.

Here is a typical example:

Johnny is sitting in the middle of class and he jumps up and suddenly throws his books across the room. He storms over to a cabinet and knocks some games on the floor while attempting to reach for something else. The teacher and the other students in the class are afraid. The school uses its school wide emergency plan which sends two administrators running for the classroom to escort the student out, and even though Johnny’s behavior plan says he needs to be allowed to leave the classroom when upset, he is refusing to go. What now?

This is a perfect example of flawed perception in the mind of a storyteller. That, and only that, is what we need to focus on.

Behavior is communication. It is a conversation that never takes place in isolation. These “worst case scenarios” (and many a manifest determination meeting!) consistently start with a description of behavior, and then seek to justify harsh interventions or punishments. Without an ABC equation, there can be no correct answer. We have to look at the Antecedent (A), then the Behavior (B), and then what happened (consequence - C). If we are serious about figuring out the entire conversation taking place where problem behavior is occurring - with or without words - we have to continue to ask, and then what happened (behavior - b) and then what happened (consequence -c), and then what happened, and then what happened until we reach the end.

It's a conversation.

What most “worst case scenarios” describe is the centuries old myth that plagues people with disabilities: they are un-predictably dangerous. In the decade since Nevada passed legislation to end the use of aversive interventions in classrooms and in the hundred plus cases I have worked on since then, I have yet to discover one single case where the student “just went off.” I’ve heard that justification in about ninety percent of the cases I have worked. But in all those cases, I have never found it to be true. Once the case is debriefed in the correct manner, the conversation unfolds. Maybe staff didn't see what happened, maybe they left out something they thought was not important, maybe they missed a whole week or even a month of ABC's, but kids don't just "go off."

Behavior is communication! And unless we can name and confront that initial bigotry articulated in “worst case scenarios,” then it will be hard to require politicians and others to see our children as children. As long as they are allowed to cling to the myth of the worst case scenario, they will never take responsibility for changing school cultures in a way that not only benefits our children, but all children.

Let’s break it to them gently... Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, especially when a part of the culture of the classroom/school work! That needs to be our position. Also, that behavior is communication. Take hold of these two truths and move the conversation back to these realities regardless of what scenarios are put on the table.

The question of the “worst case scenario” places us in an environment that is all about imagination. Let’s look at the example above. “Administrators are called to the room to escort the student out.” 26 years of advocacy experience in schools and mental health facilities has me immediately envisioning thugs with nothing better to do. Why not? The student has been envisioned as a thug, so why not match the image. If it were a real case I was working, I would immediately attempt to determine if there have been any successful experiences with these folks and the student prior to this. Two of them implies overkill. If I was reviewing records after the fact, and talking to folks, I'd be looking for any documentation of prior restraints and seclusion by these "administrators."  Is that their role in the school? Are they the take-down and seclusion “specialists?” Have they somehow been set up to have adversarial relationships with students.  IF we were talking about a real student, I would be looking for a valid reason the student is refusing to go with these people. The imaginary scenario assumes that there is no valid reason for the refusal. They are adults, the student should go. PERIOD. But let us just for a moment remember the GAO reports of death and abuse of students with disabilities at the hands of educators. The primary assumption is flawed. Compliance is the central theme for intervention (the student should comply with requests to leave the classroom) and we are back to old ways of thinking: he's non-compliant, take him down and lock him up. The scenario ignores two pieces of the equation that will change all dynamics: the perspective of the student and the culture of the school/classroom.

Radical? 

You mean we actually have to communicate, listen and learn from children with disabilities who are hard to understand and interact with? Yes. That is the whole point. We should be changed by their perspective, and presence, and reality, just as we are with every other encounter we have with non-disabled people. And guess what? If we can get good at listening to children with disabilities, we will find ourselves listening to ALL children, and allowing their experiences to shape our conduct in, and design of, the school setting.

This is the real battleground isn't it? It’s about moving from one person, in charge, defining behavior as "good" or "bad" and meting out punishment or praise, to a place where we actually listen to children, what they need, what works for them.... and we meet those needs.

Fantasy scenarios almost always place fear at the hearts and minds of the non-disabled individuals in the room. Very observant of the fantasy-master, because that is what pernicious mythologies always get us: FEAR.

When lawmakers and others they want you to give them concrete responses to worst case scenarios, try this: talk about a REAL scenario. This is my favorite:

Dad and two sons come into my office. Youngest son, Johnny, has autism. age 11.  Older son, we'll call him Brother, age 13. Dad, new to the role of parenting (in that odd situation where mom raises the kids to teenage-hood, and then some bizarre cultural wisdom tells us a man - who has never parented - can suddenly take on the MOST challenging aspect of child-rearing... but I digress)…. So the family comes in and sits down. Dad manages to tell me his first concern which is the imminent placement of his son miles from home in a segregated school.

Dad then goes on a rampage verbally about the "loser mother" and her "lack of discipline" and on and on. Within a few minutes, Johnny begins to bang his head against the wall, throw things off the counters, and dad attempts to "discipline" the kid into submission. They end up crashing into a wall and then Johnny stations himself securely under a table in the corner of the room. The situation is incredibly tense, (co-workers later tell me they were ready to call the police). I am rambling on about positive behavioral supports while dad is attempting to get a physical handle on all of this. At one point he looks at me like I am crazy and issues a challenge, "What the hell could you to that is POSITIVE in this situation."

For those of you who believe in Spirit, this is where something otherworldly takes control of the situation and although I have no cognitive response, I have a value system that says all people are people, so I just step into the flow.... I ask dad to sit down and let the child remain under the desk. He is horrified, and I must listen to a few choice words about my level of sanity, then I say, "PLEASE, let him be." Dad acquiesces.

I turn to the older brother who has lived with this young man for all of his eleven years, and who is the one in our little meeting who knows Johnny. I have a pen and paper, and I ask the kid, "Tell me what your brother is good at?" Now I will admit, he looks at me like I am crazy, and with this kind of beseeching shake of the head implying, "Are you kidding? Did you not just see what happened here? This is what I live with!" I persist, "What is he good at?" Two more prompts.

"Basketball."

"Really? tell me more about that?" and on we go, as I write things down, and take this young man's knowledge of his brother seriously, leaning into his dialogue. Brother is on a roll now, he comes up with more and more things his Johnny is good at, and Dad is swept into the flow and listening as well.  When the list begins to slow ~ about three quarters of a page of things Johnny is good at ~ I sit up slightly and it is only then that I notice that we have been joined by the child under the table who is now sitting perfectly appropriately in his chair, and looking at his brother with what appears to be respect. I use a conversational tone and quietly point this out to Dad and Brother.

Stunned fascination is the immediate response, then dawning. I point out what I am just realizing: when the conversation was a negative one, involving the parent who was not present, this young man expressed his displeasure. Suddenly, Dad and brother both recognized Johnny as a real person who understands what is being said around him.

As for me I am utterly impressed... In hindsight, I recognize that Brother was equally as uncomfortable with the topic of conversation surrounding his mother, but said nothing. Inside this non-verbal child is a fighter who is not going to allow the mother he loves to be trashed by a father he barely knows. There is also a young man who is proud of the things he is good at; things we can use to begin to help staff at the neighborhood school understand that Johnny belongs where he belongs, with them.

People are real whoever we are. We communicate. We want to be heard. And we want to be KNOWN. And maybe even appreciated once in a while.

A scenario that jumps into the middle of a made up – dangerous - child, in a made up environment, with a compliance oriented theme serves no one. We need to take on the people who attempt to argue that fantasy is some kind of basis for allowing the abuse of children through the sanction of laws that promote restraint or seclusion. 

PBIS requires that we be on the ground and present with REAL children, paying attention to their perspective and experiences, asking THEM what's going on, and applying the best of what we know about behavior as communication to real problems in the classrooms of America. We have no business attempting to create concrete responses to what is happening in the fantasy of “worst case scenarios” generated from the perspective of an adult who has the all the power and wants to keep it that way. We only serve to validate the fantasies in front of us if we try to match those fantasies with "concrete" fantasies of our own.

Instead, we need to challenge the whole argument which is premised on pernicious mythologies about children and young adults with disabilities who are unpredictably dangerous. Side-step scenarios that try to support dangerousness with language about the internal landscape of children.  Internal anxieties come from our interaction with an external world. We need to stop pretending we are powerless to change what is happening right in front of us. If we want to educate and support children, then we have to be there, working hard at understanding what is happening to children. Let’s remind the fantasy-masters that we can't do that while sitting on their backs, choking off their air supply, or while they are locked alone in closets.

Speak the truth to power.

Deidre Hammon

Posted August 11, 2010
www.ourchildrenleftbehind.com

 

Copyright 2010 by Deidre Hammon. Permission to forward, copy and post this article is granted so long as it is attributed to the authors and www.ourchildrenleftbehind.com.


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