There is a lot of shock and outrage over the treatment of a special needs child in Deer Park, Texas. The story made FOX early this morning and their newest, leggy blond was extremely outraged. I don’t know what the real facts are but I know something about special needs kids and the special needs “system.”
My Downs son is 26 now. Almost everything my wife and I do and every aspect of our lives is defined by our son. There is no way to really explain what it has been like raising our special needs boy. He changed our lives in so many ways. He really is special, at least to us.
Having said that, from about age 2 to age 15, our son’s behavior was nightmarish. He was constantly on the edge of being uncontrollable. He took a series of medications to poor effect, including Ritalin, which nearly killed him. Our family lived with his destructive, lamp smashing, obsessive behavior, including self-mutilation and constant feces smearing. He also was constantly trying to “run away”, a game he played to get our attention. One Sunday morning, he slipped out while we were asleep. I found him in the middle of our busy street, sitting down blocking traffic. I can’t tell you how many times I caught him by the collar or belt as he would suddenly try to bolt away in a parking lot. As he would twist and squirm, it probably looked like I was being pretty rough.
Nothing the schools, the specialists or the doctors could come up with made a difference. I have no idea how many school meetings and ARDs my wife and I sat through, the vast majority of which involved little more than documenting this or that “for the record.”
At age 13, a miracle came into our son’s life at his new middle school. The miracle was in the form of one tough black woman, an aide to the special ed teacher. In a matter of a few years, she changed everything. With our permission, she used a spray bottle of water (sparingly) to “redirect his attention” when he would be destructive or start to smear. She would also take his chin in her hand and turn his face to meet her unapproving stare while she gave him very direct instructions. She put him in work-type overalls for a little less than a year to limit his ability to smear. This made him look like a dufus and stand out like a sore thumb, but she took him out of that ridiculous outfit just as soon as he began to improve. She said, “I don’t want _my boy_ looking like that because he doesn’t need it any more.”
Today, our son is reasonably well behaved. He will never be able to live independently… he is ours to love at home forever, however long that is. That dear lady with the spray bottle (unused now for 11 years) is still in our son’s life. They are very close.
For the autistic child in the Deer Park case, I pray. I pray for his parents, for the teacher and the aides. They will need it, no matter what the real facts are.