Tuesday, July 27, 2010

TV Psychologist Gets It Right

There's been a story going around that I just heard about a couple of weeks ago. Abbie Dorn, a young mother of triplets who suffered severe brain damage due to complications during delivery, is in a legal battle to see her children. Her ex-husband, who divorced her just a year after the event, saying he needed to "move on", has prohibited their three (now four year old) children from visiting her, and even prohibits anyone mentioning her at all to them. Oh, and after she received a malpractice financial settlement, he's reportedly suing her for child support.

Good Morning America covered this story on April 14th of this year, and played up the "tragedy" of the whole situation. It wasn't terrible coverage, but it wasn't too great, either. It didn't really scratch the surface, so was more exploitative than anything else, as far as I was concerned.

On July 10th I happened to catch this story for the first time on CNN. The Dorn story starts about 3/4 of the way down the transcript that is linked here. After going over the basic facts, the CNN anchor went to Dr. Wendy Walsh, a clinical psychologist who specializes in relationships for commentary. I must admit that I am usually biased against talking head TV psychologists. They either seem to a) say something that is so "common sense" that you just go "Duhh", b) try to wedge whatever topic it is into pushing some agenda of their own, or c) come up with some off the wall thing that they couldn't possibly infer from never ever meeting or talking with the principle people involved.

Dr. Walsh's comments both surprised and pleased me. She was both thoughtful and insightful. After the story focused (much like GMA) on whether Abbie could actually communicate or not thru blinking, Walsh immediately cut thru that to comment

And, you know, the question is, who cares if she can communicate or not? There's a living, breathing mother there...Who deserves to see her children. And the children, you know, Don, kids - everything is new and normal in the world of small children. I don't think that they'll be overly traumatized. Would people prefer that they're given a cold teddy bear to comfort them?

Walsh quickly followed with

And, you know, the biggest question this raises for me, Don, is what's going on in our culture that we institutionalize people with disabilities to the point that now we think it's just so wrong to even look at them or be exposed to them? What does it say that we're sweeping away the ugliness and not allowing families to have an integrated experience with people with disabilities? I think it's making us lose our compassion for people with disabilities.

Walsh also blogged on the story on her own blog here, where she also wrote

I’m concerned that the more we insulate people, young and old, from seeing the full range of human possibilities the more we limit our capacity for compassion.

My hat's off to Dr. Walsh. Rather than settle for a superficial recounting of a "tragedy", she cared enough to dig a bit deeper, and provide some thoughtful analysis. Like a good documentary film maker, she challenges us to think deeper not just about this particular situation, but about ourselves and the wider world.

Maybe I should pay more attention to TV psychologists. Or at least this one.

Friday, July 16, 2010

U.S. Seclusion Bill Alert

photo credit-David Paul Ohmer
creative commons license

I subscribe to the Wrightslaw Special Ed Advocate Newsletter. The Wrightslaw.com website (run by two people named "Wright"-who would have figured), which is a great source for getting/keeping yourself informed with all things having to do with special education law. They also publish a few books, which I have found helpful.

The use of restraints and seclusion in U.S. schools has been a fairly hot topic over the last few years in the U.S. There are at least 3 different (general) views on this. One, that all people deserve basic human rights, and tying them down and putting them into locked closets at school are not the type of thing that should be done to anyone. A second view (we'll refer to it as "the ignorant view", for lack of a better term), thinks that special ed kids shouldn't be mainstreamed with the general population in schools. And if they are, then if they are at all "disruptive" then it is perfectly OK to do "whatever it takes" to preserve peace and quiet in the schools, including tying kids down, putting them in locked closets, or having them arrested. And wouldn't things just be much better if they all just went back to "some other place" to be educated warehoused. A third view is (roughly) that any proposed laws will never do what we think they will do. The bills will just be used to normalize abnormal treatment of the disabled, including instituting/requiring ABA treatment as the "gold standard" of education cruel and unusual punishment.

Federal laws (referred to as "bills" before they are passed) are passed in the U.S. by being voted on by two houses of Congress, the House of Representatives (or just "House") and the Senate. After being signed by the President (or in some cases, even after them not being signed) the bill becomes law.

The U.S. House passed H.R. 4247 (the House version of the bill), and passed it on to the Senate. The Senate version is referred to as S. 2860. Evidently the Senate version would change how student's Individual Education Plans, or IEP's, are administered.

Wrightslaw sent out an e-mail alert today, stating:

The Senate would let school staff put restraint and seclusion in a child’s IEP or 504 plan. Call your Senators now and ask them to reject this proposal.

The Proposed Amendment to S. 2860 Will Take Away IDEA Rights. Unlike IDEA, 504, and ADA, the Restraint/Seclusion bill has been written to prevent parents from seeking to enforce it in with lawsuits.

The new law (S. 2860) would take precedence over the old law (IDEA).

The Wrightslaw alert also included these helpful instructions for taking action:

How to Call Your Senator

1. Always use the bill number, S. 2860, Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act. Please call; Senators pay more attention to calls. Email may get lost. Use Email only if you must.

2. Dial 202-224-3121 (TTY 202-225-1904) or go to www.senate.gov, click on Senators for contact information (including local numbers). You will have 2 Senators. When you call, ask for their Education or Disability Aide. Leave a detailed voicemail message if they are not available. Be sure to identify the bill by name, Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act and use the number, S. 2860.

3. Please call your Senators - but especially if you live in these states on the Senate HELP Committee: AK, AZ, CO, CT, GA, IA, KS , MD, MN, NC, NH, NM, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, TN, UT, VT, WA, WY. If you are in these states, check the HELP Committee website so you call the Senator on the Committee, http://help.senate.gov/. If you have friends or family in the Committee states, please get them to call. And even if you are not in a Committee state, please call. Senators from all over the country are impacting this bill.

4. Call Senator Tom Harkin and ask for his disability counsel (phone 202-224-3254, fax 202-224-9369). Senator Harkin chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, http://help.senate.gov/ and has much power over this bill. He needs to hear from parents and advocates from around the country; he certainly is hearing from the other side.

Here is a link to http://www.senate.gov/, which has a nice little "drop down" box on the top right to find your own state's senators, and to the committee page for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, http://help.senate.gov/.

Senator Tom Harkin, from Iowa, has always been a pretty good advocate for disability issues. He is also the Chair of this committee. Even if you don't live in his state, I urge you to contact him, and not let this portion of the bill be included.

For a brief overview of how U.S. laws are made, watch this:

Friday, July 2, 2010

Honesty, Justice, and Trust

photo credit-navets
creative commons license

I'm not the kind of person that immediately shouts for someone to lose their job when they do something wrong. We all make mistakes, and jobs are hard to come by nowadays.

But I'm also the kind of person that gets their dander up when organizations try to sweep problems under the rug, and whitewash a situation to cover their own backside.

I recently wrote about how two police officers in Tybee Island, Georgia tased a young autistic man who was sitting outside a restaurant waiting for his brother, who was inside. They not only tased him, but wrestled him to the ground, bruising him and breaking his tooth in the process. Originally, the police chief did what might be expected. He defended the actions of his men, and even went so far as to "blame the victim" and his family somewhat by saying that he was sorry that he had been left "unattended". That last statement, which implies that no one with any kind of disability that impairs communication should ever be left alone, even for a few minutes, got me (and a lot of other people, I'm sure) very upset. I don't realistically expect that the whole world will change overnight, and that the world and everyone in it will totally understand my autistic son as he grows up. I also don't think it unreasonable that he should not have to fear being beat up and tased for sitting on the curb outside a restaurant on a hot day.

Evidently there are some reasonable people living in Tybee, and some of them are actually in a position to do something. According to this article:

Tybee drops charges against autistic teen

WTOC11 reports that,

Tybee Island Mayor Jason Buelterman and Schleicher asked Police Chief Price James W. Price to have the GBI investigate the incident and make sure no laws were broken by police.

Many politicians, both local and national, would have followed on what the police chief originally said, and would have tried to cover up the situation and hope it would go away. I applaud the mayor and city manager, who asked a neutral party (the Georgia Bureau of Investigation-the state counterpart to the FBI) to look into the matter. As police officers themselves, the GBI would have an excellent understanding of what proper police procedure in such cases should be, as well as having practical experience in similar types of situations. Yet as a neutral party, they also understand that the public needs to have confidence in its law enforcement officers. Law abiding public citizens should not have to fear their own police force. When law enforcement officers "go too far", it impairs the ability of all other officers on the force in their ability to do their job. When you are in a job that serves the public, you need to be accountable to that public. You may not like it, but that's part of the job.

According to another recent article in the Savannah Morning News, "Tybee Police Learn About Autism", the two police officers that arrested Clifford, as well as a jailer, have both resigned their posts. The police chief has been suspended, and officers are now being sent for training on dealing with people with autism.

My hat is off to the city of Tybee, for stepping up and doing the right thing. Nothing will undo the damage that has been done. Clifford will forever more be afraid of the police, and it will be that much harder for him to react calmly the next time he interacts with them. But it looks as if the city is stepping up, doing what it can to prevent future similar occurrences, and weeding out a few bad apples (while sending an important message to the rest of the department).

I don't know if the police chief will keep his job, or if he should. I am not in a position to know what he knew, when he knew it, and what he has done in the interim. But I trust now that the people of Tybee will do the right thing, because of what they've done thus far. And if he does keep his job, I sincerely hope that he issues a much more heartfelt and all encompassing apology to Clifford and his family, for them having to have endured this.