The Fear We Don’t Speak Of

24 Apr

This is the headline that caught my eye in my social media feeds today –


2 Atlanta educators caught on video beating non-verbal, special needs students in the classroom


I read the story, but didn’t press “play” on the video.  I don’t need to see someone headslap a child who can’t speak for themselves, stand up for themselves, defend themselves.  I just don’t need to see that.  My imagination is quite enough.

Stories like these are always on my radar.  Because in that back corner of my mind, in the closet where I tuck away all the stuff I have to know but don’t want to deal with on a daily basis, stories like these are there.  Things that, for the grace of God, don’t happen to my child.  Things that I fear will happen to my child.  Things I’m always on the look out for, even if I don’t realize I’m looking out for them.

We’ve been lucky with those who have worked with Maura – at the least, they’ve been competent.  But most have been fabulous.  Some have treated Maura like a precious loved one, and they are the ones I most appreciate, because they would ensure that nothing like the story above would ever happen to her.

I am realistic though – we’ve been damn lucky.  Others aren’t.  And I am aware of that.  I walk into new situations with Maura always hoping for the best, but always looking out for the worst.  I mentally hold my breath at new situations, wondering how things will be.  Maura can’t tell me in words if a situation is bad.  She can’t say “She was mean to me.” or “He hit me.”  I would have to figure out by her attitude, her reactions.  I have to depend on those people who truly care about my child to give me a head’s up if something is not right – and have to depend that they’re wiling to risk a job they might desperately need.

You might be surprised to know that many of the people working with students with disabilities in your local school aren’t trained special educators.  To be an aide to a special education student, you need a high school diploma.  To be a para-professional, you need two years of college – but those two years could have been spent studying basket weaving.  They may get a few crash courses in special education by the district, but then they’re in neck-deep, some in charge of a moderately disabled student with behavioral issues and in a diaper.  And they do it for minimum wage.

Yes, there are times we hand off our most at-risk students to the people with the least amount of training in the school building, getting paid the lowest wage.

It doesn’t mean these people are all bad.  Almost every aide and para-professional I’ve met have been simply amazing.  But the truth is, it takes a special kind of person to tend to a special education student.  I am the parent of a special needs child, and I’m not always sure I could do that job.

I don’t know what the answer is.  Is it having cameras in the special education classrooms?  Is it more training?  Background checks?  Is this because inclusion has become the only choice in so many areas that public schools aren’t really able to handle the influx of special ed students?  Should we have harsher punishments for those who abuse these students who can’t speak for themselves?

I don’t know.

And I don’t know who is doing something about this. If anything is really being done about this.

So I will continue to be vigilant and aware, keeping an eye out for anything that makes me question motives and listening to my gut.  And maybe bring it more into the light, so we can all be more aware.

This could be happening at the public school down your street.  And you shouldn’t stand for it.  No one should.



11 Responses to “The Fear We Don’t Speak Of”

  1. saracvt April 24, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    We’ve been lucky, for the vast majority of the girls’ schooling. We’ve been lucky–like you said–but there was this one school, and this one teacher.

    One thing that alerted me to her from the very beginning was that when I emailed her, she emailed me back, with CCs to the principal and the school pyschologist. As though she wanted witnesses from the very first. NO teacher had EVER done that. She never let me see the classroom, and, finally, when I insisted, the principal had to escort me. I never got ANY samples of work. I started taking pictures, for evidence. My daughter, who had always been happy and cheerful, became moody. THEY said she was violent and threw furniture, which was out of character for her.

    We had meeting after meeting. I was determined to get her OUT OF THERE NOW!!! My husband wasn’t so sure, but after she came home with untreated injuries (fortunately minor, but still!) he was furious too. We got her out of there and we are never going back, despite it being the neighborhood school.

    I know for a fact they did not follow her IEP (illegal) and they did not allow her to participate in the government tests all students are supposed to take; probably out of a fear she would bring the entire school’s scores down. I could have sued, but I didn’t want to further diminish the special ed budget, and I made that clear to this teacher. (Oh, by the way, she took away my daughter’s BABY BLANKIE that she’d had SINCE BIRTH!!) Supposedly a security issue; what was she gonna do with a piece of flannel with a felt elephant head–cute someone to death? ARRGGGH Who DOES that??

  2. franhunne4u April 24, 2014 at 12:33 pm #

    This could not only be happening to special needs students – it happens daily in care-homes for the disabled and the elderly. Too few minutes for the single patient, too much incompetence, too much stress for people who are not really able to deal with their own issues let alone those of others … I wish there was a simple recipe to stop this. I am afraid there is not.

  3. alysinunderland April 24, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

    This is horrible to read. I’m training to be a childcare person at the moment (I’m studying English next year so I’m not going into the childcare field) and I care for a three year old autistic boy. Imagining someone doing that to him makes me sick to my stomach, and I can tell you this; even if I really needed that job, I’d punch the person in the face that would hit that little boy. Then again, like I said, I’m a student and I don’t get paid for the two days a week that I work there. It makes me sad and angry that this is still happening in the world today and it makes me even more sad because I know that there will be people saying that this is an example of why special ed children should have special schools. Whilst I think that they work for some children, I think integration and education is the key to change attitudes towards children and adults that are ‘different’.

  4. saracvt April 24, 2014 at 12:52 pm #

    Oh–I got so enraged re-telling the story of “Mrs. Attila”–honestly that’s how I think of her and her name was something close to that–that I forgot to wind up the way I meant to.

    This happened approximately a year ago, and we’re still dealing with the last bits of it. You just have to know your kid, and know when something’s not right.

    Mrs. Attila’s program was presented to me as right for Daughter, and I truly thought it was. I even met her, and no bad vibes. It wasn’t until the first email with the CCs to the principal and school pyschologist that I went “Huh.” And my “mom senses” tingled. And then Daughter brought home a report of uncharacteristic behavior–“Huh”. Mrs. Attila proves difficult to contact when she said she’d be easy–“Huh.” Daughter’s work is not coming home as promised–“Huh”. Eventually all these “Huh”s add up into a meeting.

    And they don’t get fixed. So another meeting. And Mrs. Attila is late to this one.

    And another. And this time Daughter is switched to a different program and Mrs. Attila doesn’t even show up.

    But I guess the best way is to know your kid, know your teachers, and I liked some advice I read the other day: Don’t ask ‘How was your day?’ ‘Cause kids don’t know. They’ll just mumble ‘Fine’, and that’ll be the end of it. Ask questions like, ‘What was the favorite thing you did today?’ ‘What did you say to the cute girl in English?’ ‘Did you get the part in the play you wanted?’ ‘What’s your favorite book in the library?’

  5. Janet McIntosh April 24, 2014 at 1:32 pm #

    I wouldn’t call it “the fear we don’t speak of,” but a “fear that is always with us.” Our daughter is 22 going on about 3 or 4. Non-verbal although she does sign quite a bit. She is small, about the size of a 9 year old.

    We had some wonderful teachers and assistants, but we also had some that were not wonderful. One teacher would not let anyone help our daughter with lunch, so she was not eating lunch at all. She would come home from school and scream and scream. We could not figure out why she was always crying and screaming. Then we discovered she was so hungry that was all she could do. While this was going on we were taking her to doctors and a nutritionist trying to figure out why she was not growing and gaining weight. An assistant in the class eventually told us.

    We had another incident where one classroom assistant reported another assistant to child protective services after an incident where the incompetent assistant handled our daughter roughly. When the other assistant returned to assist our daughter, our daughter signed to her that “she” (the incompetent assistant) “hurt her arm.” When the assistant looked at our daughter’s arm she could see the imprint of the other assistant’s hand. Our daughter was taken to the office where the assistant reported what happened but nothing was done about it. When nothing was done about the incompetent assistant the other assistant called child protective services. This was not the first time the incompetent assistant had handled children in the classroom roughly. We were not advised of the incident until child protective services called us to interview us about it. Needless to say we were not happy about what had happened and when we could not reach the principal, we showed up bright and early the next school day and cornered her so that she had to deal with us. It was only at our insistence and our calling the school district special education offices and calling our school board representative that the principal removed the assistant from the classroom. After Child Protective Services investigated they decided that our daughter was not a reliable witness and the case was closed!

    At age 22 our daughter is in an adult day program three days a week. She is only about the size of a 9 year old child, but she has to be with adults because of her age. Now we worry not only about the staff treating her well, but the other clients being served at the day program not hurting her. In December I received the call, one of the autistic men in the program had grabbed our daughter and flung her around like a rag doll. I should come get her and take her to the emergency room. That was her last day there. She had minor abrasions but our greatest concern was whether there were broken bones in her hand and arm. Nothing showed up on the xrays but four months later our daughter still complains of her hand hurting. We have taken her to a hand specialist and are considering a bone scan and MRI to determine what might be wrong.

    It is so tempting to wrap her up in a cocoon to keep her safe, to keep her with us at all times so nothing bad can happen to her, but . . . . then I see people who are blessed by our sweet daughter when out of the blue she decides they need a hug. Then I am reminded that I cannot keep her all to myself, I need to share her.

  6. saracvt April 24, 2014 at 3:18 pm #

    Yeah, in “Mrs. Attila”‘s class, I worried about not just Daughter (though I worried about her greatly) but all the other children under her “care”. But I couldn’t do anything for them; one of my “Huh!”s was that Daughter was not allowed to talk to her classmates, so she never knew their names.

  7. Meg C. DeBoe April 24, 2014 at 3:52 pm #

    I was a substitute teacher when needed in a life skills class for two years. The teachers in that classroom were dedicated, patient, and tough. I saw them change adult diapers, absorb blows during a meltdown, and cheer like crazy when someone finally wrote their own name. I saw them cry their hearts out when their students exited the program at 22. I saw earn minimum wage and then bring in gifts for the kids on Monday because they were thinking of them over the weekend. Special education brings out the worst in some people – this is unfortunately true. It is thankfully true that it brings out the best in countless others. And those are the ones that have my lifelong admiration and gratitude.

    • saracvt April 24, 2014 at 4:13 pm #

      Oh, yes–the vast majority of this district are superheroes; that’s why I let the “Mrs. Attila” situation go on so long. I simply couldn’t believe it. But one rotten apple…means there’s still a whole lot of really great apples left. Daughter’s current teacher talks with me nearly every day, is dedicated to her progress (so much so that she’s made up the academic work she lost and more!) and is all I could hope for.
      And, to be fair, the school pyschologist and principal at that school were helpful, too; it was just Mrs. Attila who was the difficulty (and who , I suspect, is no longer working there).

      • Meg C. DeBoe April 24, 2014 at 6:39 pm #

        I’m so glad to hear that! Yay for great teachers!

  8. Sara April 25, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    Wait, why are they paid minimum wage? That seems to say something about the value we’re placing on special needs children. More training would mean more pay, seems like better than putting video cameras in classrooms.

  9. steevbeed April 25, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

    We went through some terrible times with my son last year. His challenging behaviour was used as an excuse for some very rough handling, restraint and some unpleasant injuries. It took a long time to come out, but when it eventually did we found out how well the system can work to resolve these issues. Things are on the up this year, devastating as it was it reminded us not to be complacent and has given us good indicators to look for if things are going wrong in the future. But it hurts that there are a small number of people who would not care for our most vulnerable family members in the way that we expect. Trust is such a precious commodity.

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