Tuesday, October 7, 2008
The Failure is Not Hers
She was eight years old when I first met her, and I didn’t need anyone to tell me that she had a diagnosis of Autism. She never spoke. She wouldn’t look anyone in the eyes. She bounced a ball ALL THE TIME, stopping only for a few hours sleep each night.
Her parents were well to do, intelligent people, although there seemed to be a bit of a disconnect between them. Dad talked of helping his daughter bathe and dress. He talked about having to sit on her just to cut her nails. He talked about the food battles and what a struggle it was to get her to eat something healthy. Mom talked about the things Dad did, and about how much she needed respite from the daily grind of raising her daughter.
Then a few years passed before I saw the girl again. She was now in the 7th grade. She had become slightly aggressive and still she bounced the ball all the time. Then came 8th grade. The girl was even more aggressive. She hurt several people at school, some of the people even requiring medical intervention. She had begun to speak, but the words were parrot-speak – “Pack your sh*t and leave”, “Who the hell do you think you are?”, and “Just leave me alone.”
Freshman year in high school has arrived. The aggression is out of control. Sexual activities are initiated frequently and in extremely inappropriate places. Escape tendencies have flourished. The school district, at least in this instance, has very little choice. The girl must be moved to a much more restrictive school placement – unfortunately a place where she will learn more than academics. The parents, probably disconnected permanently at this point, refuse to intervene. They could make a difference. They could change the school district’s approach. But they, along with the rest of us who are powerless to intervene, will watch their daughter descend even deeper into a place lacking the supports she needs.
The system and the family have failed this girl. It breaks my heart.