Casting Light on the Dark Side Of Special EducationAmy Corbett Storch
Confession: I am writing about a video that I have not watched. That I will not watch. That I CAN’T watch.
Now, I’ve seen a lot of messed-up things on the Internet. I’ve seen all the shock sites and videos, I’ve laughed at truly inappropriate jokes and images, I’ve backed away slowly from the weird and unsettling underbelly of the web, like ooooookaaaaay, let’s go bleach our brains with some harmless non-stop nyan cat for awhile.
But I can’t watch this one. I could barely make it through the descriptions on Strollerderby without having a visceral reaction of anger and sadness.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about yet: A dad sent his 10-year-old son with autism to school with a recording device in his pocket. His son came home with six and a half hours’ worth of audio recordings of special education teachers and aides bullying their students. Name calling, cruel joking, open disregard for the children’s Individualized Education Plans and parents, and making them cry.
I just…I CAN’T EVEN, YOU GUYS.
I have a son with special needs. He spends much of his school day in a special education classroom with a teacher and two aides, just like the little boy in this video. I have no reason to suspect that there is ANYTHING amiss at his school — certainly no reason to send him to school wearing a wire. But oh. Good God.
Several years ago I sat in a sensory gym with an occupational therapist from our country’s Early Intervention program. It was the end of another painfully frustrating session, as my son refused to have anything to do with her or the equipment or any of the activities she wanted him to try. His needs were fairly profound back then — he’s come soooooo far — so it made sense to me that he was going to struggle and fight anything that seemed remotely challenging or upsetting to him. And the therapist had admittedly struggled to establish a rapport with him. He was also for the most part, non-verbal and dependent on sign language beyond a few basic words.
“I don’t think this behavior is sensory-based at all,” she told me. “I honestly just think he’s a B-R-A-T.”
I stared at her and blinked.
“It’s probably because you’re here. Maybe we should try a session without you in the room.”
I blinked again. Yeah. Sure! I’m completely down with leaving my two-and-a-half-year-old who can’t talk yet with a woman who just called — sorry, SPELLED — him a brat because he won’t cooperate with her treatment plan. Who clearly has BOATLOADS of patience and understanding for him. That sounds like a fantastic idea.
I opted not to go with that. Instead we ceased the one-on-one OT sessions altogether (not necessarily the right call long-term, but I was a total rookie back then) and I moved him to a mock-preschool-type group therapy with a different occupational therapist.
I’ve never spent much time thinking about what could have happened if I sent my son to private sessions with that woman — a woman who had the giant balls to call my kid a name TO MY FACE, so God knows what she’d say to a small, nonverbal child who was throwing a tantrum or something. Maybe nothing. Maybe she was just having a bad day and didn’t think I would take that word so personally. Maybe she had no idea what it was like to be in my shoes — a first-time mother with a small, challenging toddler, navigating a confusing world of developmental delays and acronyms and therapies and the fear of an autism diagnosis hanging over her head. A mother who LOVED that child, that frustrating, confusing child, more than life itself, and who was just trying to get him help.
I complained to our caseworker and wrote EI a letter, and later heard that I was not the first parent to suggest that she was unsuitable to work with that young age group. I don’t actually know what happened to her, if she left EI, if she went back to her former position with the school district, or to a private center, or to work with adults, or what. Nearly four years later, that remains my Worst Story To Tell, which is pretty good, considering. I don’t want to use the word “lucky” because it should have nothing to do with luck. It should just be the way things are.
I cannot watch Stuart Chaifetz’s video about what happened to his sweet, wonderful son. But I am so proud of him for posting it, all the same.
If you can watch, please do so. And even if you can’t, please read about the school district’s unsatisfactory response to the situation. Sign his petition on Change.org, visit the website No More Teachers/Bullies, and follow Aikan’s story on Facebook.