Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Image via WikipediaOh, I have a conflict this week! In special education, I've seen two levels of bad teachers. Some are just teaching impaired and can be fixed, but some are scary bad. Scary bad means they don't really change, in spite of it all. My encounter with one such teacher has taken me all the way to the administration of our school where I learned even scarier things.
Contracts are important, however one year flying by with a bad teacher could be catastrophic for my son, while only a nuisance for other people. Unions guard even the worst teachers with tenacity, I'm told. Our hands are tied, I'm told. They are waiting on Union approval to introduce training on programs like ABA and TEAACH which are industry standards. What? You ask them what they want to do at work? Did they answer 'take long naps' because I'd be tempted if given a choice what to do?
I'm being flippant, I know, but it can't be understated how this undermines the very idea of unions! Unions serve a protective function that can't be denied. They make employment fair and available to anyone. They help workers make decent wages and protect them from personal political pressure. Never in the inception of the institution was it meant to shield a worker from the consequences of a job badly done. You still have to do a good job!
Have we created a monster here? Surely, teachers shouldn't have more protections than students. My administrators know me well. I see something that isn't working and I just may take a swipe at fixing it. One of them told me with a look of concern on his face, "you have know idea how powerful the ISTA is." Part of me sat there feeling like I'd been swallowed up by On The Waterfront, an old black and white Brando film. You know, "I coulda been a contender, Charlie, instead of nuthin' which is what I am." What are they going to do? Mess with my kid's education? They're already doing that.
I started some research, and what did I find out? That the only people out there saying anything about this are union busters, who I do not intend to emulate. I found that Indiana schools are not developing teacher standards like they should be, and that our national rating for getting rid of bad teachers is very low. Where are the parents?
Are we all too blind to connect this with ISTEP failures? This is going to be the beginning of a series of posts about teacher's unions and how they affect special education. Because the bottom line is our children already have enough to slow them down, and sometimes you need to change staff. It's just a fact.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Do you have a BIP? Behavior intervention plans are, in most cases, essential for any child on the spectrum. In the case of my son, behavior intervention is a primary discussion each year about this time. In gen. ed. settings, it's frequently never discussed with the excuse that " Johnny doesn't need it".
Often, families don't even know to discuss it until after a behavior puts their child in the doghouse with teachers or administration. With behavior, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You can argue that typical kids need the same things, but the trouble is that ASD interferes with a child's understanding of everything practically.
What needs to be in an intervention plan? As a parent, you can keep certain things in mind as you prepare to discuss your BIP. First, don't assume anything! Funny Story; when I was a small child, but not too small, I tried to unplug my atari- which was stuck- with a butter knife. Scary, huh? But no one ever once told me that metal conducted electricity. They assumed I knew. Now, what do they say about assuming things again? Second, how well do you think your child understands right and wrong? For instance, some kids may make the assumption that if their friends do something, it's all right. This is more than peer pressure. It's processing information in a very specific way. I like my friends. I respect them, and they smoke. It must be okay. Finally, ASD causes kids to have socialization issues. You've heard it before, but it bears repeating.
Again, we're talking about assumptions here. If a kid is a basketball star, has friends based around that activity, and appears to communicate well, does that mean he's cured? Think of all the issues surrounding those things. Fearing rejection by your peers drives all of us, even adults, to behave stupidly. Think about having ASD coupled with that pressure and anxiety. We have to make sure our kids can handle all social situations and understand the full impact of each decision on their lives.
In Indiana, at least, a parent has the ability to put that behavior intervention into practice and keep it there. Schools only have so much time to intervene. It's imperative that we start ASAP, before they stick the butter knife in the light socket!
Friday, February 12, 2010
Antigonish by Hughes Mearns
Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away...
When I came home last night at three
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door... (slam!)
Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away
Sometimes poetry says it all, and, for some reason, this says it for me this week. Dealing with teachers and administrators can be easy, and it can be hard.
Today, I went to my son's school, and I was the man upon the stair. There was a visit in the offing of township special ed. coordinators, and a parent advocate in the building . . . well, it just isn't done. I'm not saying I was asked to leave, but had I been another parent of another type of disposition I would have been.
It's that old conundrum, go-away-come-back, that all parents involved with a child's education get to experience at least once. The pervasive attitude in schools these days is to complain that parents are uninvolved and to push them away should they get too involved. It's a frustration, mostly for the parent.
My suggestion is to always begin as you intend to go on. Start from the first to let your teacher's know you're there to stay. I tend to make the assumption that they want me there, even when I know they probably don't. No one usually contradicts my assumption and collaborative relationships are born.
How we overcome this institutionally, I don't know. As parents though, check in with teachers before you go in, but let them know you intend to check into the classroom occasionally and expect to be able to do so. It's so important, especially when you have a nonverbal child. Volunteer to read to the students or find a way to become a part of the classroom occasionally. You'd be amazed how much teachers appreciate this kind of support.
Friday, February 5, 2010
Image by dovima_is_devine via FlickrThe word retarded often requires description these days. It's always been a merely descriptive word, an adjective. It's a part of speech and nothing more. The trouble is that the minute it describes you or someone you love it has a power over your life you never knew a word could have. It's like the word Cancer, a noun. Your life suddenly has a divider in it; the time before that word and the time after when nothing is as it was.
When used to demean or describe another person unfairly, it burns far deeper than other words ever could. Why? Because it's not something you are or part of your identity, it's something that keeps you from being the authentic self you want to be. It usually refers to a disease or disorder that effectively separates one human being from the rest of the world around him.
"Retard" is particularly hard for me to hear as a mother, but it was hard before I had a child with autism. It's an ugly word in that context with an ugly meaning. It's effectively saying "you're so stupid, nothing can be done to help you and you'll never do anything 'normal'." What an ugly little lie!
Developmental retardation only means that life takes more effort. It's not demeaning to help my son or love my son. He's not helpless or stupid at all. He's a wonderful, adaptive person who never quits, never surrenders. Most famously, Ginger Rogers was once compared to Fred Astaire, that she did everything he did, but backwards and in heels. That's it exactly!
My son, Darrel, and I both walk down stairs, but the open slats don't bother me. I can see clearly and judge each step with ease, and I don't hold the railing in fear of falling. He does, but, each morning, we both march to the bus. Which of us is the most to be admired? Neurological disorders are obstacles, things that trip us up, but working with special needs, I've learned that the main thing that makes them special is the inability to just quit walking down the stairs or working the problem. They get discouraged, as do we all, but they just keep dancing.
The issue with the word is related to the power of the word. We fear that word as a society and as individuals, and it's not becoming any less scary in the 1-in-100 world we occupy. Even family members in the early days of our diagnosis could slip and use the word in front of us in just that context, calling someone else a "retard". Talk about awkward. It's our nature to belittle what we fear, so I would correct them gently and move on, case closed.
What I do not tolerate, what I cannot tolerate is the bandying about of powerful words with no understanding of the effect they have only to forward an agenda, an agenda of fear and hatred based on little fact or intellect, I might add! Mental retardation isn't a concept. It's a fact of life. The primary difference between yourself, Mr. Limbaugh, and my little boy is that he has a reason to throw a tantrum. His life is truly harder than anything you ever experienced in yours. If you had to change places with Darrel, you couldn't pull it off. He can do seventy-five percent of the things you do in a day, and he does it backwards, quite nearly literally. So think what you want about politics, but think again when you start calling anyone names that profane. You don't strike me as the type to apologize, but you really should to each and every person afflicted with the disorder you use as an insult. You can start with my son!
If you agree with the following PSA, then"retard" is a bad, bad word.