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It Gets Better: for disabled kids, too?

December 16, 2011

Warning: Child abuse, abuse by proxy/severe “bullying” of disabled children.

This story was brought to my attention by a share by Andrea Chandler on G+. I originally started just ranting about it in an e-mail to Mr. U, but thought it would be better to turn this into a quick post. He might appreciate that, too. 😉 This may not hang together too well, dashed out under the influence of PTSD and more than a little anger.

From California Watch: Parents of disabled kids say school pressured them to sign away rights

By the time Krista McGhee pulled her son from school in the Riverside Unified School District, she said the fourth-grader had taken to hiding under his desk, been bitten by his classmates and been bruised by a teacher’s aide trying to restrain him. McGhee’s son, who has Asperger’s syndrome, had been in a special day class for emotionally disturbed children since second grade – a setting she said had devolved into “a nightmare.”…

A program meeting requires the participation of a specific group of people, including special and general education teachers. Instead, two district officials presented McGhee and her son’s father, Mark McGhee, with what the parents said was a “take it or leave it” settlement: Their son would be placed at the school they wanted, but they would waive several rights under state and federal law, including the right to request changes to his individualized program for the next 16 months and the right to file claims against the district during that time.

Which would, indeed, suggest that the school system knows they might be held liable for allowing abuse…and are far more interested in a CYA approach than actually doing anything about the situation. It is also a decent indication of the kinds of rights children–especially disabled ones–are considered to have.

“I was just at my wit’s end,” Krista McGhee said. “I felt like a soldier with battle fatigue. … I felt backed into a corner.” The McGhees signed the agreement within an hour.

Imagine how the poor kid feels. That is why I am only mentioning the parents at all where I can’t avoid it. This is turned into a parent’s problem, excusively. A child getting terrorized at school, to the point that he started hiding under a desk (no doubt treated as a further behavioral problem),  is only the setup for shitty treatment of parents, and taking advantage of their desperation.

The rights that were signed away? A lot of them were his. Funny how people don’t even want to think about this.

The comment I left on the G+ post:

Gee, wonder why anyone might end up “emotionally disturbed” after that kind of treatment, too? (That just particularly got under my skin, having been treated as The Disciplinary Problem myself, while walking around with bite marks, etc. to the point that Social Services actually got involved…and couldn’t/wouldn’t do anything because it was from other kids in school. And, yeah, if the Asperger’s dx had been in use then, I probably would have gotten it.)

But, yeah, I knew that parents were frequently already at a disadvantage unless they (a) know their/their kids’ rights, and (b) have some means of getting taken seriously–but this is ridiculous.

Some expansion, revised from the e-mail I started writing:

I actually found that triggering enough, from the kid’s perspective, that I am having to take a break from the computer for a while.  [Not so much after all, since writing something about it felt more important–even still shaking.] And, again, I wonder what some people think that good old “character-building” “bullying” consists of. More common than not for it to get to that point with variously disabled kids in sufficiently conformist environments.

But, yeah, at least that kid’s parents did pull him out of the situation, even if they felt forced to return him to the same school district which had been sanctioning the abuse. Instead of blaming him for not just beating the crap out of the other kids who were abusing him with tacit (or maybe not so subtle) permission from authorities. (Or, indeed, not persisting in doing so, after seeing what kind of response that got from said authorities. See also “The Disciplinary Problem”.)

As per my comment, that situation did end up coming to the attention of social services when I was in second grade, because Biodad was doing the classic abusive “repeatedly call them on the other parent as harassment” thing. But it did get investigated–bite marks, pencil stab marks, bruises, and all–and nobody did a damned thing. Besides my mom threatening the teacher with commensurate physical harm, blow for blow, a couple of times–which really helped a lot. *eyeroll* She knew about the violence before social services came around and flipped out over the physical marks, of course. Not that the visible marks were the worst of the actual violence in that situation.

Though the article seemed to be trying to put most of the violence this boy was subjected to off on children already designated “emotionally disturbed” (and a teacher’s aide, indeed), it should also be noted that all of this happened in a regular classroom. With the victim being considered to have an anger problem and no doubt other “emotional disturbances” when she objected to being bitten, etc. by other “normal” children.

And by “nobody did a damned thing”, I mean that it apparently didn’t even occur to anybody to tell me outright that the biting, the stabbing, and all the rest were wrong. And, by that point–at seven–I was already well on my way to thinking that the main problem there was maybe that adults were being inconvenienced. Hard to admit now, an even harder way to live for the better part of a couple of decades.

BTW, that was under the same teacher who actually asked my mother for permission to hit me, basically because she thought I was strong-willed. I’d never even heard that term used as an insult before. So, that denied (wonder why?!), she sat me down next to the main kid who was doing shit like biting and stabbing me with pencils–and if I yelled because I’d just had the blood bitten out of me, I was being disruptive. (The excuse given for leaving me there? I was the only kid who would sit next to her. That would be because I didn’t know I had any option whatsoever, but would have hidden under a piece of furniture myself–or, more likely, just run totally out of the school building and taken to the woods–had it occurred to me that it was even possible. In the context of having any reasonable expectation of not being blamed for the situation turning uglier afterward, and maybe at home for not dealing properly with “my” problems.)

I really do wish that child abuse by proxy were recognized as such, and adults held accountable for despicably using and abusing and pitting kids against one another that way. Because it is not uncommon in “bullying” situations, and there is nothing else to truthfully call it.

It’s not just on my own behalf that I got so triggered, reading that story; I sometimes get totally overwhelmed by the number of kids who do end up having to live that way, with no support. (But, indeed, at least this one had some backup.)

I can’t find the post with further discussion in comments about this right now–nor even remember whose blog it was on–but no wonder some bloggers are trying to get together an autistic version of It Gets Better. (Started it off, though, IIRC: . I was also trying to find where to send something, in that particular case.) Just like with the original, I’d prefer more emphasis on Make It Better (for these reasons and more)–but part of the problem there is that not so many disabled kids have any non-pathologizing support anywhere, and the main thing they can reasonably change is the way they’re thinking about things (i.e., “does anybody deserve this?”) while they are still living at home with compulsory school attendance.

I mean, it was apparently big news when (still deficit-model) research suggested that maybe teaching other kids not to act like assholes and actually try to get along with disabled kids might do more to improve social outcomes than just trying to teach disabled kids to pass. And I doubt that makes much impact, unfortunately.

And we come back around to Inferiority and its own kind of informed consent, and Bev’s classic pie chart:

ETA Description: A pie chart, “When I say Autism, You Say…”, with wedges from largest to smallest:
Something about vaccines
Something about a movie you’ve seen
Something about treatments
Something with the words “Tragic” or “devastating”
Something about finding a “cure”
Something about children
Something about Autism Speaks
Something about human rights. (A miniscule sliver, maybe constituting 1-2%)

Thanks to Savannah for transcription help!

Note that “something about children” and “something about human rights” are very different categories, to begin with.

Not sure how to work it in there, but there is also The We Got Your Back Project, which looks like a good resource on the LGBTQA* end of things.

See also Lindsay’s unfortunately apt Born This Way. Not mentioned in an Olympics kind of way–being sort of a dual citizen myself–but because the common narratives there are so very different. Note: similar applies to other similarly heavily and dehumanizingly medicalized disabilities, but most of my experience is with autism/presumed mental illness/”mental illness by proxy“. And I am not saying that people with certain disabilities can’t advocate for ourselves to Make It Better, just that we’re less likely to be taken seriously when we do so.

Especially as kids, who by definition can’t possibly know what’s good for us (like, erm, lack of abuse and restraint), because we are kids with certain disabilities. And it’s less likely to be seen as wrong–much less potentially a hate crime–when people abuse or even kill us because we’re disabled, by a frightening proportion of the population.

There might be a problem when this even makes sense:

It should be remembered that disabled children are children first and foremost, and have the same rights to protection as any other child. People caring for and working with disabled children need to be alert to the signs and symptoms of abuse.

Disabled children must be responded to as individuals with their own specific needs, feelings, thoughts and opinions.

I should bloody well hope so. *headdesk* And if you ignore signs of abuse, and leave any child in a situation where you have reason to suspect it? More child abuse by proxy. (“Research also indicates that as well as being the least protected, disabled children are also the least consulted in routine assessments.”)

In some ways, things might have been easier for those of us old enough that our problem was, as one person put it, being autistic rather than “having autism”. Fewer dehumanizing assumptions apply. And there would have been hell to pay if any adult outside a medical setting (bit of a problem there :-|) had even tried to restrain me, to the point of leaving bruises like on the kid in the news story or no. But, “having Asperger’s” somehow makes that appropriate. And look at some of the defensive, insulting responses to Kassiane’s Advocacy Begins With “No”. (Which she has written some about here: So this is why I don’t blog for other people much, or go to many conferences.)

I forgot exactly where I was trying to go with this. But, the “sign away their rights” story, combined with Kassiane’s post, made me think: maybe one thing that would actually help Make It Better could be mentoring/advocacy help from adults dealing with similar disabilities. Besides just the general encouragement that it is possible to have a good life while disabled. (Yeah, like that’ll really happen without restraining orders being taken out by some non-disabled adults…)

I mean, in my parents’ (well, Biodad-instigated, again to harass) endless custody battles, I was assigned a legal advocate by the court. Because it was at least recognized in that case that I might have my own interests which did not coincide with those of either parent, and that maybe even kids have some rights. In that particular case, it was less helpful than a chocolate teakettle, since I got some lawyer who never even spoke with me. (Kind of like some non-disabled parents trying to “advocate” for their own constructed mental images of who/what their children are, yeah.) It pissed me off at the time that nobody even thought that might be necessary, and it still does.

But, actually helpful help with advocacy for disabled kids (and adults) in some settings–so that the person in question might have a better chance of actually getting heard–might do some good. If I could use that trying to deal with doctors, how much more someone caught in a situation where their parents are being pressured to sign “their” rights away? Just the idea that a disabled person’s interests are not necessarily the same as a caregiver’s should not be revolutionary.

Nor the idea that it sometimes helps an awful lot to talk to someone who knows more about how to work the system in question. Even if said system can be surviving childhood and adolescence with people around you doing their damnedest to make you not want to sometimes. And we come back around to the Make It Better idea.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 16, 2011 10:25 pm

    In some ways, things might have been easier for those of us old enough that our problem was, as one person put it, being autistic rather than “having autism”. Fewer dehumanizing assumptions apply. And there would have been hell to pay if any adult outside a medical setting (bit of a problem there 😐 ) had even tried to restrain me, to the point of leaving bruises like on the kid in the news story or no. But, “having Asperger’s” somehow makes that appropriate.

    And yet again, I find it incredibly ironic that this sort of thing happens more frequently in the era of ‘person-first’ language. People so often claim that this grammatical construction is to remind them that people with disabilities are people first and disabled second– and yet it doesn’t seem to do a lot of good in that respect!

    • urocyon permalink*
      December 19, 2011 1:15 pm

      I’m reminded again of some of what Julia had to say about this kind of construction in Dear “Autism Parents”,. Though people pushing this kind of usage seem to mean well*, it has always struck me as based in some very specific assumptions.

      “The dichotomy between being a person and having a disability is a false, and useless, one. It’s based in the notion that people with disabilities they can’t hide or that we can’t pretend to ignore aren’t people.” (As Julia put it.) Just the need to emphasize that we are people kind of implies that, erm, maybe being a person and being disabled are mutually exclusive. If, deep down you think that an “autistic person” is a person, where’s the need for verbal contortions to cast the autism as something separate?

      * At least up to the point where some non-disabled people try to dictate what disabled people should be calling themselves, so as not to insult themselves and other disabled people. 😐 Blech. What kinds of descriptions any disabled individual finds useful is totally up to them, of course.

  2. December 16, 2011 11:16 pm

    Transcription (I can’t manage the percentages now I’m afraid.):

    When I say Autism, You Say…
    Something about Autism Speaks
    Something about vaccines
    something about treatments
    something about finding a “cure”
    Something with the words “Tragic” or “devastating”
    Something about a movie you’ve seen
    Something about children
    Something about human rights.

    You can delete this comment after the info has been added.

  3. An Autistic Man permalink
    April 15, 2013 3:30 pm

    I wish there actually was a version for the disabled, looking at the videos aimed at LGBT youths is just making me feel more alienated than I already did; only ever saying how they know everything is dark and sad and lonely but it will absolutely get better because you have no issues about this outside of the opinions of others and the feelings of being different inside, and it isn’t as if you’re too debilitated to work as a result of something you were diagnosed with before you ever even saw the inside of a preschool, and there’s no way you live in a part of the world where you can actually be imprisoned because of these issues in life you never wanted or asked for, no! The notion that anyone on that video bandwagon (Joel of Austin Texas not included) actually cares about whether or not you decide to hang yourself because of something inescapable in your life like permanent disability or because you’re stuck in an area afflicted by world hunger seems like complete bullshit to me, if only because they of all people have to be able to see why saying, ‘Be who you really are inside.’, is pretty ineffective in the face of daily hate-crimes, the potential of becoming homeless, and/or serious suicidal depression. That and the campaign as a whole has failed to demonstrate to anyone why it should get better for them just because it gets better for cops in Atlanta, or more importantly why the notion that in a few decades your life will be less shitty therefore means you should trudge through those decades of shit chasing after a carrot on a string when there’s no concrete evidence the carrot even exists to begin with, or that it will in any way make up for the horrors you’ve experienced should it be real.

    Although, it could just be me who thinks this.

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