Thursday, September 16, 2010
The Wrongest of the Wrong
I have crossed paths with way too many people who form an opinion about a person with severe disabilities based on what they see when looking at the person. The opinions usually center around pity and even more abhorrent, the belief that the person with the severe disability is incapable of learning, communicating, and loving, to name just a few things.
What is particular distressing is when that person forming the opinion is in a position of responsibility in a school system.
I’ve written many, many times in the past about not understanding how educators start their careers with the belief that all children can learn and are capable but after a few years, begin to ‘turn off’ those beliefs when it comes to students with severe disabilities. It seems to me (and this is based on my personal experiences and the personal experiences of other parents with whom I have spoken) that this switch to feeling differently about students with severe disabilities comes when the teachers move into administrator roles.
The administrator’s justification, again in my experience, is that the severely disabled student costs a whole lot to educate with very little return on the investment. When that attitude comes down from the administrator to the classroom, the results, as you may imagine are disastrous for our children with significant disabilities.
Let’s look at one example that happened just this week.
Brooke started middle school this year. Everyone in her school environment is new to her and she is new to them. Brooke’s mom did an excellent job of introducing her daughter to the new staff. She emphasized Brooke’s special skills and shared an immense amount of information about the progress Brooke has made in the past and is anticipated to make in the future. But Brooke does have severe disabilities.
Brooke uses a communication device – a very expensive communication device that her mother did not ask the school to provide. Brooke’s mother provided it herself and makes sure Brooke has it every day when heading off to school. This particular device has been a real boon to Brooke’s communication, and Brooke loves using it.
The assistive technology guru for Brooke’s school visited Brooke’s classroom this week and observed Brooke using her communication device. His comment? The device was way too complicated for Brooke and a waste of taxpayer money. (The device was provided by Medicaid after a long and difficult fight to justify it as the correct device for Brooke).
Mr. assistive technology guru made this comment in front of other school staff, the same school staff that Brooke’s mom had worked so hard to convince that Brooke was indeed capable. The pressure and opinions from above are again making their way into the classroom. Opinions and beliefs will be altered and Brooke will be the loser in this game of one-upsmanship.
This, in my opinion, is just one of the things that is so very wrong with our public school systems. However this one affects the most vulnerable of students – students who have to work incredibly hard every minute of every day just to prove their worth to people like Mr. assistive technology guru.
To say this is wrong is one of the biggest understatements I have ever made.