Information for parents of disabled children

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Medical systems, education and juvenile courts; filling the doughnut hole

school friendsImage by woodleywonderworks via Flickr
A common occurance in Indianapolis, perhaps around the country, for special needs kids is slipping through the cracks. Usually when we hear that phrase, we think of kids in schools getting failed forward, moved on to the next grade without the performance to back it up. However, there is a much bigger crack in the pathway special needs kids are walking these days, and it begins with behavior.
As any parent can attest, behavior is a challenging aspect of developmental disorder. Quirky, jerky movements are the commonplace assumption for those outside the circle of a family dealing with disability, but this is the mildest kind of behavior. Aggressive behaviors happen in households all the time; hitting, pinching, biting, kicking. These behaviors can start a kid climbing the ladder of more and more restrictive educational environments. What happens when the ladder ends?
Professionals call it the doughnut hole. Just like Alice, a kid can disappear in that hole.
Let's Suppose . . .
A kid has severely aggressive behaviors. He's moved from general education to a special education inclusion classroom. He can't make it there, so he's off to a separate facility like RISE Learning Center or Damar, a live-in facility on the southwest side. He eventually lands in a six week program to work on his behaviors and tweak the medication. Medicaid or Insurance pays for it because a doctor sent him.
This child returns to the classroom after some improvement where he gets into a fight, and there have been a lot of fights because he has an emotional disability. Here's the trap; remember that medicaid or insurance already paid for a six week program that didn't work, so the school is left to make the call. However, if they do, the school district pays. This makes schools hesitate to make the call.
What will inevitably happen is a round of suspensions and placement changes while parents and teachers alike pull their hair out by the roots. This will go on until someone pulls the plug. That someone is usually a juvenile court judge. The child will then be placed in an extended treatment program using department of correction funds.
What's the solution?
Easy answers are hard to come by. Our medical system could change the way they do business and pay for unlimited hospitalizations, but that isn't likely, nor is it guaranteed to work. Our juvenile justice system actually has no choice by the time they are involved. Some action is required. That leaves the school, and funding just doesn't grow on trees.
We have to find the solutions and methods that work if we hope to close the doughnut hole. General education inclusion has to become far more successful than it generally is by utilizing peer training and behavior interventions that work in practice, not just in theory. Schools systems will have to become more aggressive in their inclusion programming, perhaps even better staffed.
Schools will have to recognize the importance of social training, especially for children on the autism spectrum. Right now, in Indiana schools the typical IEP reads that social skills training happens twice a week for fifteen minutes. It's important to realize that social skills training can happen all through the day wherever the opportunity presents itself, and educators have to take those opportunities.
It is inevitable that tax dollars will be spent on the children who slip through the cracks, but schools can intervene early in a child's education to stop that spiral into the justice system through comprehensive intervention. Until society finds a cure for every developmental and neurological disorder, there has to be a plan. Education is the best shot at early identification of need and delivery of service. The money Americans save by early investment in special education is unlimited. Diagnosis isn't a get-out-of-jail-free card, and adults with disabilities who commit crimes or pose a danger to others will be housed somewhere in our system. Educational intervention may be the only chance they have to avoid the revolving door of the justice system.
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  1. This may be a bit off topic but toileting issues affect many kids and families. We have a 4 year old son with autism and a 2 year old with ADHD. Both boys are not potty trained. They both have a tendency to disrobe and worse yet they get into their diapers and play in it! We invented an escape proof sleeper that zips in the back and keeps them out of their diaper. Thanks a lot!

  2. Not entirely off topic. LOL I'll put the link in a permanent place.