Blogging about life in Minnesota, raising our six kids with Down syndrome while battling Breast Cancer.

Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor in the morning the devil says, "Oh shit! She's up!"

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Scary Dose of Reality

The wake up call is for me. I'm scared and I'm shaking, and I feel like somehow I've failed my child. But I wasn't there! How can I protect my child when I can't be there every moment of every day?

Before I start, I want to explain that Angela is not capable of lying. She clearly has a vivid imagination, but she's not able to lie to cover up something, or to make someone else be the bad guy if SHE did something wrong. Also, whenever there is a substitute para (classroom aid) in the special ed. department, THAT person goes with Angela while the regular every day staff go with the other students. For some reason Angela does better with new staff, probably because she doesn't yet know how to push their buttons until she's had a chance to study them for a bit. For some kids, having a sub. para is a nightmare, but for Angela, these are usually her best days. (leave it to my kid to break the rules on how things should work!)

Anyway, earlier this afternoon I got a phone call from school. Angela's mainstream class was lining up to transition to another class. Angela was having some "issues", and threw her auditory trainer (a mic system for her hearing aids). She had a substitute para who is new to her. The para went and picked up the trainer, and told Angela "You need to carry this nicely or I'll carry it."

Mistake 1) Clearly the person hasn't been trained as to how to deal with Angela's outbursts. ZERO attention for them is the rule of thumb, or things will continue to escalate.

When the para leaned over the hand Angela she was IN Angela's face, kind of growling at her (according to the statements of the regular ed kids who were standing right there), Angela, not liking the woman in her face, slapped the woman's face.

Mistake 2) When Angela is having "issues" you MUST stay out of reach if at all possible. Not only did this woman become confrotational, but she got IN Angela's face. The vision I have isn't a good one, and I hope that I'm envisioning it incorrectly.

The classroom teacher had her back to the situation and was talking to another student when suddenly Angela started crying like she was hurt.

Warning 1) Angela rarely cries in fear or pain. When Angela cries, you know something REAL happened. Her teacher has been known to say, "I know she was really hurt because she had real tears!"

The teacher, concerned about the REAL tears asked Angela what was wrong, and Angela claimed the para slapped her.

Warning 2) Angela doesn't know how to lie.

The teacher immediately took control of the situation. The principal as well as the head special ed teacher were notified. The principal called to tell me he's investigating this. He knows Angela well, and knows she doesn't lie. He has talked to the other kids who were right there when it happened, though he hasn't yet told me what he's found out.

Obviously I have lots of concerns about the entire situation, my biggest being Angela's safety. I understand that her having behavioral issues puts her at significant risk of getting hurt, either as she's being physically removed from an area (though this hasn't been necessary for several months) or because of staff who aren't appropriately trained in how to implement Angela's behavioral plan. Of course there is also the occasional person who gets it into their head, "Give her a dose of her own medicine once and there won't be any more problems!" I've always prayed one of these people never come into Angela's life.

I have questions too. Not just about the incident (I have plenty of questions there!) but about Angela's life in general. Why does she do this stuff in school and not anywhere else? I've had next to nothing in the way of behavioral issues for a couple of months now. When she is in other situations (like the theater group) I'm never worried about what she might do. I think it has to do with independence. Angela wants it, and at school she doesn't get it. When we do stuff like theater, I either leave like all the other parents, or just stay out of sight so she can have the same experience everyone else does.

And what about Angela's ability to communicate with me? Compared to many kids who have DS, Angela is able to be quite clear. But guess what? Any time there is an accusation made such as this, it's going to come back to how "credible" the child is. How easy will it be for an adult to deny this, and blame Angela's PERCEIVED inability to understand the incident? Who do you believe? I know exactly who I believe, but what about the others involved. With today's incident, the principal was genuinely concerned on several levels. He also made it clear that he's concerned about Angela's transition to the middle school next year, and the training that staff receives before she gets there.

I wish I had all the answers. But what I wish most of all is to have Angela safe, and know that no matter what happens she can count on the adults around her to keep her safe. School is supposed to be a safe place. It breaks my heart to know that she might not be safe there. At least not all the time. Don't get me wrong, our school is fantastic and I know without a shadow of a doubt that they have Angela's best interest in mind. But I don't walk with rose colored glasses on either, and I know that sometime there is going to be that one person who comes along that doesn't belong in the same room with my daughter.


Kathie Brinkman said...

That's really yuck! I hope that the truth does come out. I know you won't just blow it off. I have been rather amazed that many schools hire just about anyone to be a para; apparently you need NO special training to do this work. Traditional interactive measure don't generally work with our kids so paras really need to be trained on how to motivate and assist our kids in the way that works FOR THEM! Not what the para thinks is best. Keep us updated.

SunflowerMom said...

Leah, I am finally getting around to your blog, sorry it's taken me so long! I added your blog to mine so I can remember to read it & vote. Hope you have some answers about what happened at school. It makes me ill to think about!

Alyssa said...

At least one good thing is that KIDS TALK! And they will let the teahcer, principal, or whomever know if that para hit Angela back. Oh man, I would be just fuming!!!! I hope it gets all straightened out quickly.