I have struggled with this story for eight long months. The father approached me for help in his situation, and to be honest, I was hesitant in doing so because of what was happening in my own personal life. Being accused of considering myself an expert in autism did not help, and I had neglected to continue my work on Autism Diva Help as a result of my personal life and accusations. But this story really needs to come out to light. Our children on the autism spectrum need a voice, and while I am NOT an autism expert, I have been wanting to advocate for our children for a very long time. I also want to bring awareness to a society that likes to brush anything not "normal" under the rug. You know, pretend that things that aren't pretty just don't exist. That is why I created Autism Diva Help in the first place.
I also wanted to make sure I had all the facts straight before publishing this post.
I am grateful to be living in the Seven Oaks School Division. The educators are actually educated and want to educate themselves further to better understand what a child on the autism spectrum may be experiencing. I had the pleasure of seeing some Dayton and Amber's school's staff at the Temple Grandin appearance at the end of October. Dayton has attended two schools now in this division, and doing extremely well. Perhaps a part of his success can be attributed to the additional work we do at home with him, as well as his age. He is now a "tween," turning twelve in February. Dayton has more understanding and experience to fall on as well, giving him more "tools" in his "tool box," enabling him to mainstream more successfully.
Not all parents can say the same in their child's education. As you know, Dayton and I have been "there" before.
I've had on and off communication with a father of two young boys attending elementary schools for the past year and a half. He's joined our Autism Winnipeg PACE facebook page networking with other parents and looking for support. Last April, I finally got to meet him in person with Mike, and he told us his story over a hot cup of Tim Horton's coffee.
Here is his story:
This father has two children, both boys, actually they are twins. One has ADHD and the other is on the autism spectrum disorder. While the child with ADHD and anxiety issues had an educational assistant since grade one, the child with autism who is in more need of an EA did not have one until shortly before April, even though everyone agreed he had the most aggressive issues in school. The little guy's attention and behavior interfering with learning came in the afternoon, and the school's answer was to keep him in the hallway rather than give him a much needed movement brake. He finally got level two funding. In April, the boys were nine and in grade four.
These issues came to an all time high in April, ending with the principal calling the police. Yup, another classic educator not educated or perhaps discriminating against a young elementary age child with developmental disabilities.
It has been apparent to the father that an elementary school in Pembina Trails School Division has had a history of "getting rid of" less than desirable children. But this school was in the family's catchment area, and we know how school divisions like their catchment areas. Just try to get your child transferred to another school, I dare you. Then email me back with the outcome.
During the course of a few years, this elementary school had used CFS as a weapon against the parents, because (yes, here comes my all famous sarcasm) as educational professionals, it is common knowledge that autism is caused by the parents, it is a "discipline" issue. Boy, I'm so glad we live in 2013, not in the mid 1950's. You remember the cause of autism back then was "refrigerator mothers." As you can see, we've evolved in discovering the true cause of autism, haven't we?
Anyhow, the principal called CFS numerous times, and at one time went as far as trying to have the young lad put into residential care. In April, due to an autistic meltdown, she decided the best approach was to call the police, without telling the police that the little guy had autism and focused on the real problem (dripping with sarcasm): the parents, whom I might add were not in the school. She waited until after the police came to the school and the child to calm himself down before even calling the parents. This incident happened on a Friday. I mention this because that same week on Monday prior to her calling the police, and Thursday, the day before calling the police, the principal had called the father complaining about his son's behavior and actually told him that she was tired of calling him and threatened to call the police instead 'next time.' Threats of police involvement were there for a few weeks before this fateful Friday.
I've been through many IEP meetings, and none of them had mentioned calling the police in the behavior plan. It's always call the parents. In my biological son's case in the past, it had always read call mother, for just about every issue known to man. Calling the police on an elementary school child is 1) ridiculous and 2) a way to show the parents who's in charge.
As soon as the father opened the door to the school, he was greeted by the head police woman in charge, who pointed towards the principal's office. The principal was waiting for the father along with four more police officers. Ahem... A little overkill, no? Even Dayton (7 years old at the time), who had threatened to shoot his principal in the face had two police officers waiting for me outside of the school.
The principal began to tell her story, admitting that she had placed her hands on the little boy's head and pushed him backwards into a closet several times... Ummm... HELLOOOOO! In what moment of insanity does someone decide shoving another human being by the head into a closet is 1) appropriate and 2) comforting??? You don't need to have autism to feel completely ridiculed and as though you are worthless when someone does that to you, do you? Furthermore, just a week prior to this incident, a meeting was held with the principal and the boy's psychiatrist and parents of course, in which the principal was explained to by the psychiatrist that the little boy should not be forced to be in a small space by himself, as this would not help in any way to settle the child, in fact, it would cause extreme anxiety and exacerbate the behavior further. I'm sorry, but you really don't need to be a psychiatrist to figure that one out. It's not rocket science. The father, mortified, simply asked a single question: "Did you think that was safe?"
The father tells me that the police immediately came to the principal's rescue. The police threatened to arrest him and bar him from the school, which quickly made the father choke up and come to the realization that the police were not there to be helpful to his child, they were there to sustain the authority of the principal. In the principal's own words: "We've wasted enough time on this 'proactive stuff,' we're moving on to 're-active' now. Let's go back and talk restraint again."
The father was speechless. He tried to walk away towards where his son was drawing, and the lead police officer grabbed the father by the arm and said that she would escort him. The father, concerned about his child seeing him escorted by a police officer, pulled his arm away from the woman, explaining as politely as he possibly could in this situation that he had picked up his son many times and new the way to go, but it didn't matter. She would escort him, end of discussion. The police and principal further stressed the family by escorting the family with the boys out of the school at the end of the day when all children were being dismissed, with the police threatening the father that they could arrest him and ban him from the school, because the father's body language was 'intimidating.' This was all done in front of the children.
Needless to say, the parents decided that this school was no longer an option for their twin boys. They have moved to another school, where some of the toxic brew seemed to have followed them at first, but now that the school staff have gotten to know the family and the boys, they're all doing much better. This new school is much better equipped to help children on the autism spectrum, having two quiet rooms and a sensory room, whereas the old school had one quiet room, a windowless supply closet converted to be a quiet room. The principal is more informed and aware of autism and acknowledges that autism is not a "discipline" issue, it is a developmental disability. She has full confidence in the parents and sees that they only want what is best for their children.
The boys are now ten years old and in grade five. As of last week, both boys now have an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis.
Is there closure for this family? Did I have closure with the incidents of physical and mental abuse that happened to Dayton in our school system? I don't think I'll ever forget what happened to my son, or the discrimination against my family. I don't think this father will forget so easily either. It is a pain that leaves scars no one else can see, but I assure you, they are there. With time and a good school and fantastic teachers who care, the pain slowly dissolves, and we begin to trust humanity again. I've come to the point of peace with my children's diagnoses, yes they have more than one diagnosis, with the exception of my youngest two. Four out of six children have more than one diagnosis and the fifth has the one diagnosis of ADHD. My youngest babe is neurotypical. We have high expectations of him, just don't tell him yet.
Consider yourselves hugged, especially those of you fighting for your children's and your own rights as the father in this story...