Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Nail That Sticks Up...


Will Be Hammered Down.

So goes an old Japanese saying, meant to illustrate (as well as inculcate) a sense of conformity among the Japanese people. Westerners (especially Americans) are supposed to place much more value on non-conformity and individuality.

But that idea only goes so far, and is noticably absent in the American public school system. When it comes to school kids, conformity is king. And if you step out of line, you will be hammered down, sometimes quite forcefully.

Nowhere is this more evident then when it comes to kids with disabilities, especially those on the autism spectrum. Often, kids on the spectrum have various sensory processing difficulties, and may also persevorate on certain things. When they run into difficulty, they can get emotionally "wound up" fairly quickly, and appear to be "acting out" and being volitionally bad. When given a little extra time and understanding, their behavior is most often a slight inconvenience to those around them, and at worst a slight nuisance. But when those around them insist on total conformity, and react by touching the person and physically restraining them, then the autistic person (like most people physically restrained for reasons they don't understand at the time would) react with a "fight or flight" type of syndrome and lash out at those restraining them.

Google the words "child autism arrested", and you quickly are faced with several stories over several years that seem to follow the same script: A child on the autism spectrum is placed in a regular classroom (often with a history of the family fighting for more support than what is being provided), said child "acts up" a bit (involving no or minor physical interaction with staff or other children), teacher reacts by physically restraining child, child "lashes out" (by kicking, pinching, biting), police are called, and child is arrested. There is often no behavioral plan in place to deal with the child's behavioral difficulties, and if there is a plan, it is often not followed. Children as young as 5 years old have been placed in handcuffs and arrested. Others who are slightly older are not only arrested, but sometimes thrown in psychiatric institutions or jail.

Such is the case with Zakh Price, age 11 (his picture's at the top), who was arrested and charged with a felony. Click Zakh's name to read Emily's excellent investigative piece into this latest travesty of justice. Another article detailing the facts can be found here. And Emily's follow up piece detailing some of the personal attacks made against Zakh and his grandmother can be found here.

This story rings all too true to me. My son is in fourth grade, and while the police have not been called on him (yet), the school district had threatened to do that in the past, when he was 5 years old. That period of time resulted in a short detour to a class for emotionally disturbed children, LOTS of meetings (with their lawyers, our advocates, and our lawyer), and a bunch of money payed out in legal and consulting fees. I was fortunate to be blessed with coworkers that allowed me flexible time off to go to all the meetings, as well as a job that pays well enough for us to afford the bills that came with this.

Zakh is lucky to have his grandmother, Carole Reynolds, who is a staunch advocate for him. Unfortunately, Carole is tapped out of the kind of money that legal representation requires, and she needs some help.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) has issued an action alert, which lists e-mail addresses and phone numbers you can call to register your concerns. A website set up to take donations for Zakh's legal bills has also been set up for him.

I admit that I don't usually donate to online causes. Not only are there so many of them, but it's often difficult to discern which are legitimate, and which are scams. ASAN is a legitimate organization (Its president, Ari Ne'eman, has been nominated to be on an advisory council to the President of the United States), and Emily is a top notch, ethical person who's truthfulness and judgement I totally trust.

So I'm asking you to do what I did. Go to the website, click on the "Chip In" button, and give what you can. Even if it's 1,5, 10, or 20 dollars, everything will help. And keep this family in your prayers.

Unfortunately this story is not unique. But it does seem to be much more common for school districts to try to get out of paying for proper supports for children with disabilities by dumping them into the legal system. Perhaps there is also an attempt to silence those who would have the temerity to ask for support that the system is not willing to provide. Perhaps such prosecutions are meant to silence those voices before they even speak up.

Let the people in Fort Smith, Arkansas know that treating an 11 year old with a disability this way is unacceptable. Support Carole Reynolds as she supports Zakh. Go to the website. Make that donation.

Now, before it's too late.

8 comments:

farmwifetwo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Club 166 said...

FW2,

I know I've said in the past that I value free speech, and that the vast majority of posts would NOT be censored. But every rule has an exception, and I'm making one for you today.

Since it seems you have nothing constructive to add to this discussion, I'm removing your comment. You're free to come back and try again when I post something new, but I'm asking you nicely to stay out of this one.

Joe

r.b. said...

What if....what if families of kids with autism who have been assaulted were to press charges? Surely their rights are just as applicable as the adults who should know better!

Club 166 said...

r.b.,

Good idea, but going up against entrenched bureaucracies is pretty tough. Whether it's a large corporation, a school district, or the government, they both have a lot more money at their disposal than you do, and they're always assumed to be in the right.

Sensible ideas (like audio video recordings of all goings on in all public school rooms) would go a long ways towards combating that, but I'm not holding my breath.

Joe

Niksmom said...

Joe, I can only imagine what FW2 had to say. She's spewing more crap over at Emily's blog today, too. Would that we all were such perfect parents with the magic in our little fingers to discipline the autism right out of our children, eh? (I trust you know I'm being snidely facetious, yes?)

Oh, this whole situation with Zakh just makes me ill and frightened for our children. The commentary from so many ignorant people reminds me that we haven't come nearly as far as we think. Definitely not as far as I'd hoped.

Club 166 said...

@Niksmom,

I've been frightened for my son since he was about 3 years old. Now that he's almost 10, I'm even more concerned. We've made progress in the last few years, but we've had our setbacks, too, and it only takes one isolated incident to change our lives.

In terms of how far "we" have come, I suspect it all depends on how one defines "we". If by "we" you mean those of us raising special needs kids, I'm sure that our consciousness has been raised plenty along the way, and we all feel different than our naive former selves did. If, however (as I suspect), by "we" you are referring to the public at large, then unfortunately there has been little change over the last several years, and I realistically don't expect much change going forward, for two reasons.

The first reason is that while most "progressive" parents (and autistic adults) seem to espouse that it's mostly right wing, backward, ignorant "bubbas" that are unthinking and unwilling to accommodate our kids, I know from personal experience that that is not so. I live in a middle to upper middle class neighborhood that's predominantly Democratic, progressive, recycling, hybrid driving, granola loving people. And while there's nothing wrong with any of that, I have run across some of the most unsupportive, self centered, denigrative comments and actions regarding my son from some of these same people, who feel that "those kids" don't belong in a "regular" public school. A change in administration will mean little in terms of changes in public attitudes, IMO. Although I think it's great that Ari Ne'eman was nominated to be on an advisory council to the President, this is the same president that joked about bowling like he was in the Special Olympics.

The second reason that I am not hopeful going forward is that when an economy is down, governments need to cut money. And most people (of all stripes) don't want the money going to support things for THEM cut. So the majority would rather cut services and supports to "special needs kids who are gobbling up money that should be used for the regular kids", rather than cutting things across the board, or cutting "extras", such as sports and other extracurricular activities over services to special needs kids.

Bottom line-we're on our own, for the most part. We need to continue to educate, as well as hold people to what the law requires, as necessary.

Joe

A BCPSS Parent said...

Lawyers, legal fees, lots of time off work and eventually an improved educational setting. Your experience sounds way too familiar.

I can't express the sympathy I feel for Zakh and his grandmother. I've posted on my own blog and I've sent emails, but in the end I just feel sad about the number of kids who are going through similar situations - ignorance about autism, mistreatment and finally legal charges.

I know that these things have to change and I hope that we're moving in the right direction, but I know for some kids, for many kids, progress is too slow and it makes me so very sad.

Marla said...

Wow. I had not heard of this story yet. Granted, that is because I am not online as much as I would like to be right now. This issue is very close to my heart. As M gets ready to go to Junior High I must say that my concern is at an all time high. I know how hard those years were for me and I was "NT". I dream about homeschooling again but know that is not the answer this time.
Thanks for sharing this.