Mommy, I Wish I Could Tell You What They Did To Me In School Today
Everyday Atrocities Faced by Special Needs Children
By Richard S. Stripp, Sr.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF NOAH V. VARCADIPANE
8/4/1996 – 11/14/2009 “MOMMY’S SUPERMAN”
8/4/1996 – 11/14/2009 “MOMMY’S SUPERMAN”
The children and adult characters in this book are based on students and individuals that the author has interacted with and/or worked with directly.
The majority of children who “speak” in this book are non-verbal. Their words which you will read are fictitious and were never spoken by them but are based on actual events that occurred in their lives. It is the author’s belief that if the non-verbal children in this book could speak, what you are about to read is what they might have said.
Any conversations between the author and anyone in the book are based on actual events and conversations.
“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I can’t believe that Mom is making me go to school again today. Doesn’t she know what they do to me there? Doesn’t she love me anymore? “Adam, you hid your shoes again. This isn’t funny. It’s time for school.” Yeah, I know it’s time for school; I don’t want to go, that’s why I hid my shoes.
Man, I wish I could speak. I wish I could tell Mommy what they did to me at school yesterday. I wish I could tell Mommy how it makes me feel to be treated like that. If she only knew, there is no way she’d make me go there today. I bet Daddy would beat them up.
The day started like most days. They took me off of the school bus and strapped me into that stupid wooden chair. My pull-up was soaked with pee but they didn’t even check. I just had to sit in it until I wet through. Then, the yelling began. Like it’s my fault I had to go to the bathroom again. I was trying to tell them. Kept on touching my private area; what did they think I was saying? “That’s disgusting, Adam. Knock it off!” Knock what off? I’m soaked. I’d change myself if I could, but I can’t.
Three hours stuck in this chair without being able to move and now they want me to stand up. My legs are so sore and stiff. I know my cerebral palsy isn’t as bad as Jimmy’s but I wish I didn’t have it at all. There’s no way I can stand right now but they’re pulling me, yanking me by my arms out of the chair. Yelling, yelling, more yelling. Sorry teacher, I can’t do it. The yelling hurts my ears. The chair is kicked away by the teacher and I get thrown to the ground. All of the aides and assistants just watch, listen and do nothing to help me. How can they just stand there? Why won’t someone help me? I need help. I can’t stand, I’m sorry. I’m trying, but I can’t. Now, when all the other kids are watching television during free time, I’ll have to sit in the corner again, facing the wall. I hate that.
Strapped back in the chair and being yelled at now because I’m waving my arms and moving my head from side to side. I don’t know why I do this; I just do. I don’t mean to do it; I just do. I’m not doing it to make you angry; I just do. Another kid in the class with autism does it too. How come they don’t yell at him? Why don’t they grab him? Is it because he can talk and I can’t? I don’t get it. I wish I could ask him. He’d tell me. He’s my friend. Now the classroom assistant is really mad at me. She says that she is not gonna let go of my head until I stop. I wish I could tell her that I want to stop, that I don’t mean to do it, but she just keeps grabbing me. It hurts. She is squeezing soooo hard. I’m going to try to stop. I’m going to try and keep it together. I remember that time on the field trip when we went to pick pumpkins. She got really mad at me for doing this. She grabbed me by the head that time too. When I got upset and started kicking, she sat on me. I was in my wheel chair. I couldn’t move. She was so heavy. It hurt my legs. Please don’t do that again. Mommy, I want to go home.
Sitting in the cafeteria and they want me to eat my lunch, but I can’t concentrate on that. Can’t anyone smell that? I have poop in my pants. It’s disgusting. I’ll eat after someone changes me. Please someone change me, it’s making my rash burn. Stop trying to stuff that sandwich in my mouth. I’ll eat after you change me. No, no, don’t throw my lunch in the garbage again. I’m hungry.
Back in the classroom again. Still got this poop in my pants. The other kids are watching cartoons. I’m in the corner. I can’t take this sitting in my poop anymore. I reach into the back of my pants, dig some out and throw it on the floor. That got their attention. Boy, are they mad but what else could I do? Hey! Ow! That hurts! Four people pull me out of the chair and stand me up. Dragged into the bathroom and the teacher starts to clean my mess. She wipes way too hard. It hurts. Can’t she see the blood on the paper? You’re all squeezing way too hard, all four of you. Don’t you remember that time you broke the bones in my hand doing that? At least I got cleaned up a little. Boy, am I hungry!
Just thirty more minutes and I’m back on the bus to go home. I can’t wait to get out of here. I used to like coming to school. I try not to listen to the bad things everyone is saying about me. It hurts my feelings. I wish I could tell them to stop. It’s so frustrating not be able to talk. If I could pick just one, walking or talking, I’d pick talking.
As I get put on the bus, the teacher tells me to do them all a favor and stay home tomorrow. Sounds like a great idea. I’ll try but Mom always finds my shoes.
Like so many special needs children, whose disabilities aren’t understood by the people who work with them, Adam was thought to be difficult, a “pain in the ass.” In a school where the opinion of one can become “fact” to all, this meant that Adam’s stay there was going to be less than enjoyable for him, to say the least. Throughout this time, he would be subjected to both physical and emotional abuse. He would have his most basic needs neglected. Adam would be deprived of the education that he is entitled to by the very people that are paid to provide it to him. Unfortunately, in the school that Adam attended for that time period, he was not alone.
When I first met Adam, I was employed as a personal aide to another child that attended the same school. The school serviced individuals with various types of disabilities. There were no “mainstream” students that attended the school. All students enrolled were sent by their home school districts. A large number of schools that are attended by your “average” child are not equipped to meet the various needs of individuals with disabilities. Many of the students that attended Adam’s school required personal aides that were assigned to them for the entire school day. There were students ranging from three years of age through twenty-one years. These students not only had physical and developmental disabilities, such as Cerebral Palsy and Autism, but many had medical issues as well. Numerous students were confined to wheelchairs. Numerous students suffered from seizure disorders. Some were verbal, some were not. Some had behavioral issues, most did not. The cognitive abilities of the students varied greatly. Some students’ medical needs necessitated them to be accompanied by a nurse at all times. A small number of students would not live long enough to participate in their graduation from the school. All of the students had “special needs.”
Schools that service the special needs population are in most communities. You may have one in yours and not even realize it. The sad reality is that the history of special education is one of seclusion. These types of students and schools are typically tucked away and not talked about. I believe this to be one of the many contributing factors that allow students such as Adam to be treated the way that they are.
Adam and I bonded immediately. The first time we met he was strapped in his wooden Rifton chair being pushed down the hallway by his teacher. A tray was attached to the chair that Adam was leaning on. He seemed sad to me. I stopped to say hello and introduce myself. “Hi, buddy, my name is Mr. Rick. Give me a high five.” My smile and raised hand were met with the same. The teacher told me that his name was Adam. I told Adam that it was nice to meet him and wished him a great day. Adam became very excited and happy. He began to sway from side to side in his chair while laughing and flapping his arms. His head was now constantly in motion. Although Adam was unable to verbalize his thoughts and feelings in the way that I can, I understood exactly what he was saying to me. The teacher told him to knock it off and continued to push him down the hall.
I initially thought that Adam must not be ambulatory. He was strapped in this Rifton chair being pushed down the hall. He must not be able to walk. I would soon learn that that was not the case at all. Adam, while sometimes had difficulty walking and standing, was in this wooden chair for other reasons. He was placed in this chair to contain him. He was placed in this chair to restrict his movements. He was strapped in this chair and he was being restrained. This was certainly easier than having to deal with Adam’s tendencies to walk away. This was certainly easier than having to try to explain to Adam that we’re not going there right now, we have to go here. The few moments it took to strap Adam into this chair was a whole lot easier than having to deal with him all day. If Adam can’t get up and wander away, the people that are employed to teach him and work with him throughout the day don’t have to pay much attention to him at all. They don’t have to do their jobs. They can get their paychecks without earning them.
The chair that Adam, and many other students, was placed in on a regular basis is made by a company called “Rifton.” When utilized properly, the chair is a helpful piece of adaptive equipment, providing body support when needed. There are individuals that benefit from their use. In Adam’s case, the chair was misused on a daily basis. Adam was, and is, more than capable to sit in a regular chair at a desk. He was placed in the Rifton chair to contain him.
The Rifton Company addressed this issue on their website (www.rifton.com). “Using straps, trays or supports to restrict a child’s movement is considered behavioral restraint, which may raise ethical and legal issues for your facility. Rifton Equipment is not intended for this use.”
Adam often exhibited behavioral issues while strapped in the Rifton chair. He would throw things that were placed in front of him. He would reach and grab things that were near him, only to throw them on the ground. If he got hold of paper, books or magazines, he would tear them. I believe, the majority of the time, Adam was reacting to how he was being treated or to things that he heard that were being said about him; sometimes directly to him, other times to others around him.
I remember seeing Adam in the hall one day. He was being pushed down the hall by the teacher assistant assigned to his class. As soon as Adam saw me, he began to smile and rock back and forth. Adam was acknowledging my presence and expressing his happiness in seeing me. I said, “Hi Adam. I love your smile. You have such a beautiful smile.” The assistant immediately replied, “There is absolutely nothing beautiful about this child.” She had a look of disgust on her face. She pushed him further down the hall.
Adam understood everything he heard. Adam has feelings just like you or I. One of the many innocent mistakes made by some of the people that work with individuals with disabilities is they forget that. They fall into the trap of assuming that if a person can’t speak, he or she must not be able to understand things as well. Often the behavior that teachers, administrators, aides or assistants find so disturbing is behavior that is a direct result of their actions and/or words. The student is reacting to how they are being treated or what they are hearing. Other times, the behavior may be a result of some sort of physical discomfort the student is experiencing but is unable to verbally express. I have a son who is a teacher with his Master’s Degree in Special Education. One of his professors in college told him that, “All behavior is communicative.” How true this is, yet so many “educators” are so quick to dismiss behavior that they witness as nothing more than a child acting out because they’re “spoiled”; their parents let them get away with things that they wouldn’t let a non-disabled child get away with. As was the case with Adam, the child is labeled a “pain in the ass” and is dealt with accordingly. They fail to understand what the child is attempting to tell them.
I was not in Adam’s classroom but, for a time period, visited him often. I was welcome by the teacher to do so. Adam always behaved while I was there. He looked forward to my visits. The teacher began to use me as a reward for Adam. He was told that if he did his work and behaved himself that Mr. Rick would come to see him. I was told this was a helpful tool in getting Adam to do the things that he was supposed to do. Sometimes, however, when I went to visit Adam, I was told that I could not see him. I was told he had lost that privilege that day because he hadn’t done what he was supposed to do.
My visits to Adam’s classroom ended entirely when I witnessed Adam being physically abused. I walked into the classroom to find the teacher attempting to pull Adam out of his chair. She was grabbing and pulling Adam by his wrists. She was yelling at him very loudly. Adam was pulled out of the chair but would not stand on his own. The teacher kicked the chair away from him. Adam would still not stand on his own. The teacher threw him to the ground. Adam landed on his backside and remained on the ground as the teacher walked away from him.
I immediately expressed my concerns to the teacher as to what I had just witnessed. I cited the possible consequences of injury that could result in throwing a child to the ground. The teacher justified her actions by telling me that Adam’s diaper had cushioned his fall so there was not a possibility of injury. A brief argument ensued. The teacher was not interested in my opinion that a head or back injury could have resulted from her actions. I informed her that if I ever witnessed such abuse again, that I would report it to the appropriate authorities. I was asked to leave the classroom.
The next day, I was informed by Adam’s teacher that I was no longer allowed in the classroom. I was told that my presence was a distraction to Adam and caused him to act out. A speech therapist who worked at the school approached me and warned me to “watch my back.” She stated that, following the incident with Adam and his teacher, there was a conspiracy among a group of the staff to discredit me.