In the last few days, I have read about two separate incidents of teachers abusing kids on the spectrum. A special education teacher in Florida was arrested when two teacher aides reported that they witnessed the teacher strike a student. And in Michigan a teacher is fighting for her job after taunting a student with Asperger’s who got himself caught in a chair—because of her inaction the student remained stuck for 10-15 minutes during which time the teacher verbally taunted the student who was in tears. No parent would want their child subject to this type of treatment. And sadly, parents at the school are defending the teacher and her actions.
I don’t know this teacher but after watching this video, I know she made some very bad choices and I would not want her working with my daughter. I would also question whether I would want to raise my daughter in a community that would rally behind the unacceptable, abusive actions of this teacher. To me when these parents chose to defend the actions of this teacher they were not only demonstrating their ignorance but also their intolerance for those who are different. When I talked to my husband, a professional educator, about this he looked at differently. He felt that the parents were reacting based on their limited experience with the teacher—who may be a good special education teacher 95% of the time. In his opinion the issue is that we cannot accept a special education teacher who plays favorites or fails in their job 5% of the time, especially when the failure is at this magnitude. My husband’s thoughts have a certain logic to them; they also demonstrate why he is such an effective educator and administrator (and one of the many reasons why I love him).
School is the nexus of most social interactions for kids with disabilities just as it is for typically developing kids. Imagine what the kids in the classroom in Michigan learned when they watched their teacher torment their classmate with special needs and then their parents defended her behavior. My guess is they learned it is okay to not only ignore the students who are different than them but to torment and bully them without consequence.
Caroline is still so young. We have been really lucky that she has not excluded from too many activities because of her diagnosis. And to my knowledge she has been subject to minimal bullying—kids pushing her down on the playground and others trying to scare her. However, I have also read countless blogs and articles about how lonely and isolating it is being a kid growing up on the spectrum—recent documented examples include kids not wanting to wear friendship bracelets given to them by a child with special needs or many instances of kids on the spectrum not getting invited to birthday parties or no one coming to their party. And then there was this blog that I read months ago—I can’t find it now—but essentially the author talks about how she sat in the audience at back to school night as the principal of the school encouraged kids of students with special needs to make sure to plan “extra fun” parties so the “normal” kids would want to attend.
In my eyes, Caroline is the life of every party but I can understand why some people may have reservations about having her around. It is stressful spending a lot of time with a child with special needs and if you have limited or no experience with autism some of the unexpected behaviors may be unsettling. But people who willingly enter a profession working with kids with special needs need to be held to a higher standard and if they are getting overwhelmed, need to have access to an establish protocol to remove themselves from the situation. And furthermore we should want special educators and administrators to raise the expectations of other teachers and students by celebrating the successes of kids on the spectrum. The impact of a teacher bullying or tormenting a student with special needs not only has tragic consequences for the student with special needs but for all their typical peers. As a society we need to demand more and not accept any less.
Different, not less.