I’m not even sure where to start with this one. I’m sitting at my desk, surrounded by glass and curious co-workers, crying. There are a lot of days when I am brought to tears by one thing or another but it’s rare for me to be so upset that I cry at work. This, though…this…
Yesterday, on Facebook, I began seeing some of my FX friends sharing a news story. The headlines varied a bit depending on the source, but it all came down to a key point: a father in New Jersey sent his 10 year old son, who is non-verbal and has autism, to school wearing a wire and recorded his son being verbally abused and bullied. Not by other students…but by his teacher, his classroom aid and other staff members. I couldn’t bring myself to click on those stories to read the details.
I can so easily put Caleb in that story, too easily. He’s 8, he has fragile x and he can communicate but he’s not capable of telling us what he experiences at school. Every day we take him to the door of his classroom and hand him over to people we don’t truly know and we have to trust them to care for him and educate him and to show him the respect that he…that every child…deserves.
I’m not sure that other parents, parents of verbal children, of typical children, can even imagine the fear in our hearts that never, ever, ever, ever goes away. We live with that fear every single day, every single moment he’s out of our sight. I’m not sure that you can imagine the level of trust we have to show in people to simply be decent fucking human beings.
Special education teachers, aids and other staff members don’t have it easy. I could not do what they do, I struggle at times with caring for just one child, my child, and his challenges, but that is exactly why I’m NOT a teacher, an aid or another staff member!
Monkey is a pretty easy kid in most respects but he’s one of several and when you add his quirks to other kids’ quirks, to the need to balance the requirements of multiple IEPs and the pressure they’re under to teach these kids what they need to know…it’s not easy. And, they don’t get paid NEARLY enough for what they do. Srsly, our teacher is essentially teaching five classes simultaneously. FIVE. One for each of the four boys tailored to their specific needs PLUS the general curriculum that the typical students follow that they need to conform to in every other way, except for the additional requirements under the IEPs.
It takes a special person to do what they do day after day after day. But it doesn’t take a special person to treat these children with the respect they deserve. If you cannot treat a disabled child with respect you are…not just an awful teacher/aid/staff member, but you are an AWFUL fucking person.
So, clearly, today I finally clicked on one of those headlines and it was just as awful as I had imagined. This 10 year old child was humiliated, berated and demeaned by the very people who his father entrusted his care to each day. People who, for 6 months, complained because this child was acting out and violent…suddenly violent…after so many years. People who brought in a behavior specialist to try create a plan to address this child’s behavior when all they needed to do was stop being total…I cannot use the word I want to…fucking assholes ((Yeah, it was way worse than that.)).
And these people, with one exception, still have their jobs even though the father took this tape to the school. It’s entirely possible that some of the people on the tape…people who made fun of his child, made him cry, upset him to the point that he had a meltdown…are still working with his son because the school won’t identify them. How fucked up is that?
Please, watch the video and share it. This…it cannot be allowed to happen, to be hushed up and hidden…
**UPDATED TO ADD**
There is a petition on Change.org asking that the teacher…the person who should be held *MOST* responsible for what happens in the classroom, who was simply sent to another school in the district, be fired.
Cherry Hill School District: Fire Kelly Altenburg
23 thoughts on “This one isn’t about fragile X, it’s about respect.”
You have met Nick, and you know how verbal he is. Yet, when that anxiety takes over, he completely loses the ability to communicate. I have so many stories of him being bullied and treated terribly, but I never heard about it from him.. It was always from another caring individual who cared enough to come to me with what was happening. I have often wondered how many times things happened and there weren’t any witnesses or people just didn’t bother to speak up. Now he is an adult, and I probably will never know if anything happens to him. He is a victim waiting to happen and it scares the hell out of me!
I’ve heard Nick advocate for himself, we spent quite a while talking about his job in the hallway at Advocacy Day :-)…it’s just heart wrenching knowing how vulnerable they all can be…
I haven’t watched the video yet. I’m too nervous of how I’ll react. Your words ring so true.
how very sad and disheartening… Thanks for sharing.
I can not bring myself to watch this video…I can’t…
So hard to watch. I cried, I’m still crying.
I have not watched the video yet, simply because it is one of my nightmares. I’m sure I will, eventually, in the privacy of my bedroom so the tears can roll down, unnoticed by my kids. I personally HATE putting my trust in others that they will treat my boys with compassion and respect. I know people and many of them suck! I have too many times watched the looks on people’s faces and heard their snide comments when Auggie is having an off day. But, I can’t isolate him. I can’t keep him in the protective bubble of our home and our love. So I do what we all have to do and I send him out in the world hoping to God that human decency will prevail and that no one will harm him for the day…and that’s how I deal with it, day by day by day :/
C would be ABLE to tell me but would he??? If you tell him the sky is purple not blue he will second guess himself!!! His school says there are NO BULLIES ALLOWED so that must be so. He tells me this more than once a day. I wonder if sometimes people have said or done things to him. When I ask he says “No, there are no bullies allowed in my school” Watching this I am reminded of the awful people that don’t follow the rules….
Stacey, that’s one other thought I have. Even *if* Caleb had the words, would he recognize it as being wrong? He’s such a sweet, soft boy…when I’ve seen other kids be rude to him (take a toy or push him) as kids sometimes will do he looks at me with utter confusion…a total, “How should I react?” moment.
I love your take on this Melissa. I am thankful every day when I leave William at his school that I know how much each and every person that is with him loves him and watches out for him. I have not been able to bring myself to watch this video. It is shameful that those teachers and aides still have their jobs. And you are right in saying that they are f.. aholes for doing that to a child that cannot defend himself.
Melissa it’s a real fear. C just doesn’t “get” it all the time. Or hardly ever. He is so loving and trusting he gets walked on often.
What a great post. Thank you. My husband and I were just discussing last night about how terrifying it is to send your non-verbal child into school and how difficult it is for someone to understand who has a child that can tell them what is happening day to day. I still haven’t watched the video, the news article was more than enough.
what ever happned to our special needs kids being protected and loved and cared for respectfully in a school setting by teachers! i would be livid if that happened to my kid. i would be at that shool raising some serious hell!
So sad that you had to write this one…but it is wonderfully written. I hope you don’t mind if I share it.
Please feel free to share it. I hated writing this one…
makes me sad
extremely sad and upsetting to think that adults could treat any child in this way especially a child that is unable to defend himself from this type of abuse. i just think if my little princess who also would not b able to tell me if someone was treating wrongly, makes me feel sick that these people pick on our vunrunable kids :-((
I have not watched the video yet either as I know it will horrify me. It is truly all my worst fears coming true.
The lawyers and media should be ALL over this. Do what ever it takes to see that those teachers and principals get what they deserve. Also child protective services meeds to investigate as well. They should never be able to hold a teaching job EVER!!!
How to address bullying of children with special needs and what makes them the perfect victims was topic of my doctoral thesis. In one of the books entitled “Perfect Targets” by Rebekah Heinrich, that I reference in my thesis, talks about bullying done by teachers, principals, aids, and other “professionals.” The book is very short and that chapter in particular is brief but it provides a good overview of all of these issues. More should be written about this subject because I think it is more prevalent than we want to imagine and it can happen to any and every child. While it is particularly nauseating when it happens to children who are as vulnerable as children with FX, Autism, and other developmental delays, other children experience similar treatment and are often too afraid to say anything.
I have seen this for a few days and held off listening to it until now. I am a teacher (and FX mom) and this makes me just sick. Even if you are having the worst day ever, you know that those kids are sensitive and besides that you always treat them with dignity. Just because they are nonverbal doesn’t mean they are STUPID and do not know what you are saying. They are all beautiful people and deserve to be treated like intelligent, feeling human beings and not dogs. Sometimes I am stern with my kids, but NEVER if they are SN. This is shameful.
I’m going to have to look that book up…I’d love to hear/read your conclusions too, Sarah. My head in the sand approach cannot continue *sigh*
Melissa Welin, I’d love to share with you some of the conclusions that I found through the literature review. I forgot to mention that the book and my paper were both focused on kids with Asperger’s and high functioning autism, but many of the same principles and concerns apply to all children with special needs.