Power, Peers, and a Sad Evening: Part II

I met with the high school principal, The Boy’s special education teacher, and the band director last Friday. It was their last day before break, and it was apparent the principal wanted to clear her plate before she left for two weeks. She explained that they take any hint of bullying very seriously, and she wanted to speak with me right away without delaying the conversation two weeks. Potato, pot-ah-toh.

Let me preface this by saying it was not an adversarial conversation. The principal and I did most of the talking, and we understood each other to a great extent. But, she lost me when she could see both sides of the issue. I bit my tongue, let her finish her thought, and promptly explained that I used to be a band director for a living and that behavior was never, ever acceptable. You don’t touch other people’s instruments. She didn’t disagree.

She felt it wasn’t malicious, and therefore it wasn’t bullying but an extremely poor choice. The kids involved felt The Boy was playing wrong notes, and that they needed to apparently stop him from doing so. She said she questioned them on that when she spoke to them, asking who had given them the authority to do that. They couldn’t answer. They were very remorseful, she said.

We talked more about whether or not The Boy is included in the band class, and in the school as a whole. She said she thought I saw different things at home than they did in school. “He has a group of people that he hugs and gives high fives to every day,” she said. “I know, but he doesn’t know the name of the kid he sits next to every day in band,” I said. They went back and forth between trying to assure me that no one has negative feelings toward him, and highlighting how he keeps to himself and insists during sectionals that he knows the material. She admitted that one of the students she spoke with about the incident “guessed” that The Boy was autistic because as he explained it, “I don’t know anything about autism, so that must be what he has.”

Ugh.

They continued to prove my point while it continued to go over their heads. She insisted that they would have done the same to any other students who might have been playing wrong notes, and I knew that was preventative defense against further action from me. Because that is a load of horseshit, if you’ll excuse my language. They know my son doesn’t have the verbal agility to defend himself or get the attention of the teacher, or even explain what happened after the fact. I only found out because a friend’s kid watched it go down. They took advantage of him precisely because of his autism. If this wasn’t bullying, it was a shocking display of the bias that exists in the school culture that students with disabilities are “less than,” and that excluding others from participating will get you a stern talking to from the principal and that’s it, because you didn’t mean any harm, and are “good kids.”

Before the meeting ended, as it was clear the principal was ready to get to her vacation, I requested they investigate peer to peer programs and seriously consider implementing something so that a “poor choice” like this wouldn’t even enter their minds in the future. I got some vague promises to look into it, and the meeting was over.

But it’s not over.

I’ve already drafted a follow up email to be sent with my further reflections on the incident and how it was handled. And I will also be following up with the various and sundry promises made. I can be a magnificent thorn when I want to be.

I’ll keep you posted.

I Had to Block My Aunt

Recently, I wrote about my need to get political here. I mentioned that I am not shy about politics on my own personal Facebook feed, and that while courteous discourse is always well received, I tend to “unfollow” friends who post obnoxious, hate-filled memes and stories with less-than-credible sources.

This election, and one candidate in particular gets my blood boiling, for many, many reasons, the most important of which is that he mocked a disabled person on national TV.

How you treat others is very telling of your inner dialogue, your conscience, your humanity (or lack thereof). When “the others” you are dealing with are children, animals, and people with disabilities, it is very telling, indeed.

So when an aunt of mine (who I have already “unfollowed” long ago) decided to send me messages with stories about this particular candidate to apparently show me how he wasn’t really racist, I responded. I told her that, with all due respect, she and I would never agree politically, and that this candidate is a dangerous, selfish, narcissistic xenophobe with a long history of making racist and sexist comments. I told her that if she chose not to see that, it was her choice, but out of respect for her great-nephew with autism, a disorder that this candidate erroneously and dangerously attributes to vaccines, I ask that she not send me these messages.

Her response was the same response you often get when challenging someone who uses the r-word: “I only asked a question – no need to explode over this.”

Those of us who live with a special needs child do not have the luxury to be lax with our opinions. I’m pretty sure I won’t live forever, which means that my son’s future is in the hands of others. And if those others think for one second that it’s not a big deal when someone openly mocks a disabled person or espouses junk science, someone who could have a very direct affect on my son’s future through messing with medicaid coverage or social security disability, or education funding, or mental healthcare, or caregivers wages… It’s my job to help you understand that it is a VERY. BIG. DEAL.

And that fact that I haven’t “exploded” on you already is a testament to my patience and mental fortitude. Check your privilege. I don’t have any more time for your nonsense.

Modifications and Accommodations

A friend contacted me after dinner last night in a panic. Her son has just started 9th grade and has been failing math, in large part because he doesn’t understand the homework. He is on the spectrum, and is more than capable of handling academic work, given proper supports. But his homework hasn’t been modified, and I doubt the tests and quizzes have been either.

I don’t understand why teachers don’t do this.  Do they not realize that they have to? If a teacher saw a child in a wheelchair at the top of a staircase, unable to go downstairs, would they turn the other way and say, “That’s not my job, that’s the special ed teacher’s job”? Probably not, but because some of our kiddos on the spectrum “seem” capable, that instinct that all teachers are supposed to have to help children succeed just isn’t there? I just don’t understand.

simple modificationI still consider myself a teacher (especially with all of the modifications and accommodations I’ve been providing for my own son for the past two years), and helped my friend’s son via text. They would send me a picture of the problem, and I would set up a chart of the information to help him process it into an equation and send it back.  And guess what? They went from full-on meltdown mode to feeling much better about the math homework.

Now why in the world should this mom have to go on facebook, beg friends for help, and even offer to pay someone to help her boy with his work? No, I’m sorry. This falls in the realm of the duties of that math teacher.  She is failing at least one of her students.  That grade is not his, it is hers.  And if she can’t see that, someone needs to show her.

If you are a teacher, I strongly urge you to learn how to provide some basic modifications and accommodations (and while you’re at it, look into this thing called “Universal Design for Learning“). We’re supposed to help our students succeed, and if you are too tired or busy to only concentrate on the “normal” ones, you have a problem.

Disability and Celebrity

I’m sure you have seen the videos that have been popping up, slightly more frequently in recent years: some student with a disability making an amazing shot in basketball, because the coach told him to suit up for the last game of the season, or the boy with autism who was voted Homecoming King, or the many others that are out there.  You can often hear the crowd chanting the person’s name, and screaming wildly when the shot is made, or the name is announced.

My kid is a bit of a celebrity at his school.  Everyone seems to know his name: students, parents, even kids who are older and in middle school who live  in the neighborhood.  We go somewhere in town, and someone says hi to him and calls him by name, and I have no idea who it is, and many times, neither does he.  He’s a celebrity, partly because they have such good programs to “initiate” the general ed kids into what their ASD classmates are experiencing, and I think partly because he’s a “6th year” student at his school, having attended the same school all the way through elementary.  The longer you stay in one place, the more people with whom you come in contact.  That’s my theory, anyway.

But, I watch these videos, and I wonder.  I wonder if this “celebrity” is an entirely good thing.  I wonder if it would be even better if there was no news story, because it would be a matter of course for someone with a disability to win Homecoming King.  It would be a matter of course for kids with disabilities to compete in sports, perform in music programs, do whatever it is that typical kids do, and do it well.  And it would be a matter of course for our kids to have friends, rather than fans.

Until that day, I will continue to share these videos and spread the hope that they bring, because they do leave me hopeful, if not entirely satisfied.  I am always proud of the person in question, but I am so hopeful for those kids who are “fans” of the person in question.  I am hopeful that someday (if they haven’t already), they will realize that this person is real, and not a character.  A potential friend, rather than a celebrity.