Where a dad of two great kids (one on the autism spectrum) muses about life.
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.
Me- Joe, husband of a great wife, and dad to two great kids, who were both adopted at birth.
Liz- My ever understanding wife, who manages to wear many hats (mom, advocate, therapist, teacher) for our kids.
Buddy Boy- Born in 2000. Funny, intelligent, inventive, and autistic. Loves machines.
Sweet Pea- Born in 2002. Typical little sister. Competitive, outgoing, and smart. Loves anything pink.