Almost on a daily basis we read in the paper or hear on the television about a child with autism who has been abused or even killed when restraints have been applied. Then in the alternative you read or hear about an autistic child who fights back from being restrained (would you allow someone to sit on you or hold you down or put you in a straight jacket willingly, so why should any autistic child?) and has been arrested by the local police. Recently, a six-year-old has been arrested and charged with a felony for biting his teacher during a meltdown and another 6 year old was taken away in handcuffs in a town in Florida for having a meltdown. What the news fails to tell everyone is how these meltdowns by these children can be and/or are precipitated by the classroom teachers either unwittingly or on purpose. Now how do I know this because it happened to us.
When collegeman was in kindergarten in New York City, his classroom teacher did not want to have to deal with the issues he presented. At this time it had become very apparent that he had a major disability. He could not follow her class nor participate as she decided he should. In fact I distinctly remember her yelling at me because she had to hold his hand during a fire drill. (Interestingly when highschoolboy was in kindergarten town camp his counselor, whom to this day I could swear was nasty kindergartener teacher’s daughter, yelled at me about holding highschoolboy’s hand during a fire drill. In fact the bitch in training yelled at me that she had to help him with his art and that he would cry when I left. Needless to say I removed him from camp and complained to the town. Today I would walk in as a holy terror, but over a decade ago I was a very different person)
The principal of the New York City school also lied to me and told me that I they could not afford an aide for collegeman but that I could pay for it myself. She also told me that kindergarten was not mandated and they did not have to keep him in school. She also lied to me and told me that they did not have to have him in school all day and that they were not required to help my child. The guidance counselor said I could sue the school district to get help for my son but that that takes time. Meanwhile, collegeman needed help so we paid for the aide. Now the only thing that collegeman would do in that kindergarten class was certain particular puzzles.
One day when the kindergarten teacher realized that I was not going to pull him from the school and her class she took away his puzzles and wouldn’t let him have them back. Needless to say that precipitated a major meltdown. No one in the school called. No one told me what happened. They took my son and put him in the coatroom and would not let him back into the classroom because the teacher refused to let him in saying he was a threat. I mean a 5 year old 40 pound child is such a threat to a grown woman. What is the threat? Allow him to play with puzzles? Allow me to pay for the aide? I mean she might actually have had to do her job, or in the interim actually let him do what he wanted while we got him help. Or she might have had to give up her coffee break once in a while, which she screamed at me that she was entitled to. That my child was entitled to be treated with respect and care did not seem to register with this bitch. I guess it begs the question why did she become a teacher anyway, especially a teacher of very small and vulnerable children. In fact I am not sure why anyone in that school went into education. Children were the last things on their mind.
Needless to say when I found out about that I pulled him from the school. That useless principal did not offer to help us. She refused to put him in another class, saying that they had no one who could deal with my son. We did tell her that we are not going to officially withdraw him because we weren’t sure that we wouldn’t need the school districts help getting services for him. The principal actually had the nerve to ask me why my son wasn’t in private school being that my husband was a lawyer. I guess in New York City if you have an education, are the ones that pay the taxes and work in the city you are not allowed to have your taxes work to educate your child, just everyone else’s. The biggest irony is that the school psychologist knew where my son was being kept and was angry at me for withdrawing him. She said he needed help but did not think it a bad thing that he was kept in a coatroom all alone, nor did she try to help him.
I did try to get help from the special education department in the district at the time. They would not only not return my calls, someone else in the administration actually called me to keep tabs on what was going on. Little did I know that the person, who was checking up on us, was a friend of the principal trying to figure out what if any legal action we were going to take against her friend. Well I did write a letter to the head of the district and the then mayor of New York City, you know America’s Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. By the way, it has been 15 years; I am still waiting for a response. Ironically we did get a call from them 6 months after we withdrew collegeman from the school asking where he had been.(I guess someone finally read our letter and were playing cover your ass) The interesting thing is that they had to spend a concerted amount of time tracking us down and trying to find us because we did not inform them where we had moved. My very mild mannered husband took that call. Needless to say after he was done with them they never bothered us again.
Meanwhile we decided to move. Collegeman’s psychiatrist recommended that we move to a local County. He said that they had great programs for children with autism and that there are people here who would help. Well we moved. We were here in one month and my severally disabled child was in school where there were people that had an interest in helping him.
Now, I do not have to tell you the definition of terror. I do not have to tell you as parents what it is when you have no idea how to help your child. We had just been told that our son, who could read and write at 2 years old had such a developmental disability that they did not know if he wouldn’t live out his life in an institution. So what happened that calmed us down. We met a wonderful man, the director of special education here in our town, Dr. W.
We were moving the day before Thanksgiving and had made an appointment to meet the secretary in the special education office to pick up all the papers that needed to be filled out. Well, when we showed up not only was there no packet there was no secretary. But Dr. W who was just about to leave for Thanksgiving vacation was walking out the door. He sat us down. Gave us the papers. He went through every one and told us what to do to get collegeman the help he needed. He sat with us for over two and one-half hours. He took time and effort. He took the hands of two very frightened people and promised to do what he could for our son. When we told him what happened in the city, apart from telling us how everything that had happened was terribly illegal, he promised that nothing like that would happen where we were now.
It took a few months for placement, but eventually collegeman was put in an out of district program that helped him find himself again. Meanwhile as we waited for placement, the public elementary took collegeman under their wing and provided him all the support he needed in order to be a part of the kindergarten class where he was warmly welcomed by the staff. Then Dr. W created an in-district program which turned into the terrific inclusion program that enabled collegeman to model behavior by his neurotypical peers as he was also able to develop his intellect. Dr. W created an environment and an acceptance within the school district that a child like collegeman and highschoolboy, as long as they could internalize the lessons taught, had the ability to become what they wanted to be. Dr. W gave my sons the chance to have a life and a future of their choice. For that I will always be grateful to him. While collegeman has worked very hard over the years and the myriad of personnel in the classrooms have given him their all, if it wasn’t for Dr. W’s foresight and what I believe to be his true care for the children under his charge, I don’t know where collegeman or Highschoolboy would be today without this program. But what we do know is that today collegeman is a second semester college sophomore, and highschoolboy is also college bound, and that the lessons both were taught over the years through Dr. W’s program provides them with the tools to soar.
Dr. W is retiring at the end of this school year. I want to take this opportunity to say “Thank you”. Thank you, Dr. W for knowing that a child with a disability has potential and has a right to try to access that potential and be all that they are capable of being. Thank you for giving both of my children opportunities and support that had never been given to children on the autism spectrum before. Thank you for holding the hand of two very frightened parents all those years ago and promising them that you would help their child. It is the little things that a person does in life that matter most. These things are never ever forgotten and appreciated in ways that can never truly be expressed but for which we will be eternally grateful.
Until next time,