From the minute you become a parent, the overwhelming fear and concern sets in. You constantly question whether every choice or decision you make on your child’s behalf is the right one. When your child has special-needs, the endless self-doubt triples.
The options for schooling seldom are plentiful or a perfect fit, so when an appropriate placement is agreed upon, it is not done without careful planning and discussion among all involved. As the start of each school year draws closer, I often think to myself “I hope Skyler doesn’t become the target of a peer bully or be forced into isolation.” Please God watch over him and protect him.”
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I should be equally concerned with the behavior of adults who are in a position of trust – hired to protect and show respect for my child in my absence.
So many stories of abuse and mistreatment of special needs children at the hands of teachers and aides has flooded the media in recent years. What used to be a few isolated incidents has become a much more prevalent issue than ever before.
These unassuming, loving and trusting kids are being locked in dark seclusion rooms, dragged down hallways, tied to chairs or restrained and on the receiving end of hurtful insults being hurled loudly into their faces. The trauma and permanent damage these disturbing incidents cause often results in regression of skills and a profound distrust of adults.
You may have heard about the incident in early 2021 within an Ohio school district where a disabled child was injured, both mentally and physically, when a teacher’s aide decided to staple a piece of paper to the child’s head serving as a written reminder to stop forgetting his water bottle. The superintendent stated that because the aide had “no intent to harm” the child and had a “clean” record, she was allowed to return to the classroom with a warning that “stapling papers to a child’s head is not recommended.”
Seriously, should an adult or anyone over the age of 5 for that matter need to be explicitly told NOT to use a stapler on someone’s head or body?
In another report out of West Virginia, a mother, who suspected abuse by a classroom instructor, was forced to go to great lengths to catch the abuser in the act. She placed a tiny recording device in her daughter’s hair and captured two instructors threatening to punch her child in the face, calling her a stupid a**, withholding food and much more despicable behavior over an 8- hour period. The recording also revealed these instructors doling out abuse to another child in the class as well.
Sadly, I know all too well how easily this type of abuse can go undetected by even the most involved and vigilant parents. My son Skyler was the victim of abuse at a prior autism center and I only learned about it many years after the event occurred.
During a trip to the bathroom, an aide decided it would be a good idea to duct tape Skyler’s legs to the toilet and his shoes to the squatty potty in an attempt to forcefully toilet train him. Skyler’s loud pitched grunts and yelps were heard coming from the bathroom and he was found to be smacking the aide in the head & face while trying to free himself – in complete panic and distress. The incident was immediately reported to the director who ‘investigated’ and took several weeks to terminate the aide. The kicker of the whole thing is that anyone with knowledge of the situation was specifically instructed NOT to tell me or my husband.
As a mother – regardless of having a special needs child, this makes my blood boil. There is no greater responsibility of a school system or therapy center than prioritizing the safety and well-being of ALL students.
In my opinion, those guilty of heinous acts such as these should face criminal charges, have to register as a child abuser and never be permitted to work around children EVER again!
Let me be clear, as a parent often on the receiving end of my son’s physical aggression and angry outbursts, I recognize that being a special education teacher, aide or therapist can be a very tough job. Frequently they are hit, punched, spit on, kicked, bit and screamed at while likely making a very underwhelming salary.
However, NONE of those behaviors constitute mistreating a child! Parents are investigated by Child Protective Services at the slightest assumption of abuse, whether warranted or not, but these culpable aides often receive a minor “warning” with no further punishment or termination of their employment?
Stories like these keep me up at night. Being that Skyler is currently unable to communicate clearly about his day, people he interacts with, whether he’s happy, sad or hurting leaves me with a recurring nightmare- how will I ever know if someone was torturing him, I wouldn’t have a clue and couldn’t save him. I can’t begin to understand the anxiety he is dealing with from the bathroom trauma and it’s likely he may never get out of pull-ups because of it.
How has the world come to this? A few bad apples have been permitted to brutalize innocent children while many of the school administrators turn a blind eye and fail to report it.
What if an educator or school employee stapled a note to the forehead of a neurotypical child? Or locked a neurotypical child in a pitch-black bathroom for over an hour as a form of discipline? I doubt those scenarios would ever happen.
It’s much easier to inflict horrific acts on children that can’t protect or fend for themselves – and perhaps lack the communication skills needed to report the inappropriate treatment to a parent or another person in authority.
The time for action is NOW. I need you; we need each other.
As neighbors and a community, I need you to watch out for my child and other vulnerable children like him.
I need you to teach your children to be kind, strong and to speak up when they see an injustice or are on the receiving end of misconduct.
I need you to stand beside me as a united front while we work to restore confidence and safety within the entire education system.
Enough is enough… we must demand change. All children deserve better.