• 68°

Graves: You can’t drag a child to progress

My friend Heather tagged me in a Facebook video of an autistic student being dragged through the halls of Tates Creek Middle School by a teacher and a nurse. I saw the video but I had not seen the comments on Facebook. Scrolling through them gave me a shock.

A woman basically said the video didn’t disturb her because mainstreaming special needs kids with their able-bodied peers is an exercise in futility and only done because parents insist. The child can’t relay his abuse because he is nonverbal. The ordeal left him with scrapes and bruises alerting his mother something happened. His injuries mattered not to this woman because she believes special needs children can’t learn. At all!

She based her discriminatory ignorance on what she claimed to have witnessed daily in a classroom. She stated when a special needs child disrupts his class the teacher puts him alone in the hall. In her account, the student peers through the door window through the entire class causing the students who “can learn” to be distracted looking back at him. Well, if they “can learn” why haven’t they learned to ignore him? If her story is true that means she and the teacher, by their actions, are sending the message to the students that special needs children should be locked away from the “normal” people.

Even more disturbing, the woman was so sure there was nothing wrong with her statement she put on Facebook. I guess she thought people would agree with her. Some of the 800 comments mentioned mainstreaming as supported by ADA (American Disability Act) and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.) I think it was lost on her. She probably thinks ADA is a friend and IDEA is something she had.

Mainstreaming special needs kids into regular education classrooms improves the lives of everyone. The teachers get experience dealing with special needs children they carry to other students. The students are exposed to someone different from themselves and learn compassion, and acceptance. Those traits are the big guns in bullying prevention.

It’s unrealistic to believe you can put any child in a new, stressful environment and they will behave in the manner expected. It takes time and patience. When DJ was in kindergarten we fought hard to get him mainstreamed once a day for story time. The kindergarten teacher was nervous because she didn’t know how to interact with him and wasn’t convinced he had the capacity to learn. Yet, within weeks she met us in the parking lot thrilled to announce the connection she made with him. Her halting steps from her comfort zone were richly rewarded.

Special needs kids are not easy. They are often loud and disruptive because they are scared and confused. Patiently and consistently exposing them to new scenarios yields dividends that could be obtained in no other way. A student may only tolerate a minute of mainstreaming before having a meltdown. Then in six months he may stay five minutes. That is progress. It doesn’t matter how quick the progress comes only that it does.

Joan Graves is a mother to five boys and an advocate and activist for children with special needs and their families. For more, go to www.thejoanzone.com.