almost like us

This morning I was reading the Valentine’s messages given to Evelyn by her classmates.  Because of the similarities in the messages (and that they are on pre-printed paper), I’m assuming that the students were instructed to write a thoughtful message.  I imagine that they were asked to think of something special about each classmate.  Most of the messages were wonderful and I found myself smiling.

image

Image is a piece of pink paper with preprinted lines. There is text written in pencil written by a child which reads: “To Evie you are really good with your ipad And you are almost just like us.” The text is followed by a heart and smiley face.

And then?  I read this.

“To Evie you are really good with your ipad And you are almost just like us.”

Remember “evelyn: you in a box”?

Remember the big stink I made about compliance training?

Remember the first time I asked, nicely, for the school to reconsider the use of  “whole body listening” social skills training?

Remember all of the times, I’ve talked about the dangers of social skills training?

While, eventually, Evie’s educators accepted my insistence that Evie not be, personally, subjected to social skills training of the “whole body listening” variety.  After complaining several times about the posters all over the schools and not even receiving an acknowledgement of my concerns, I let it go because I thought I had bigger fish to fry.

Let’s talk about the message Evie received.

It may as well say:
“We were told to say something nice about our classmates.  The highest compliment that I can pay you (besides ‘youre really good with your ipad’) is that you’re “almost like us.”  Who is “us”, you ask?  The real people.  The kids that don’t flap their hands, get completely overwhelmed by too much sensory input.  The kids that make eye contact and don’t move their bodies when other people are talking.  The kids that speak and are able to sit in the real people classroom for the duration of the school day.  The kids that don’t need help with personal care.  The kids that don’t have a one on one paraeducator.  Us.

Hey Evie!  If you pay attention to the ‘whole body listening’ curriculum, someday YOU could morph into a real real person.  Pay attention to the posters all over the school.  They are there to remind you (and ‘us’) that you’re ‘almost like us” but not enough.  Sure, we’ve learned to pay lip service to respecting your access needs and we can pretend to be your friends.  But until you really get with the program?

You are OTHER.

You don’t belong.

You’re not a real person.

You are not like us.

Sincerely,
Your very honest peer”

Congratulations school district!  You’ve really and truly taught my child’s classmates not to accept her.

That note and all of its subtext is why I am kicking myself for letting it be enough for Evie not be directly subjected to social skills training.  It is NOT enough.

Because Evie is, very much, a victim of this curriculum.

Evie spends five days a week in a hostile environment created by the insistence that one must conform to arbitrary social norms or be ostracized.  Disrespected.  Dehumanized.

Good intentions are not enough.

So hey school district!  Saturday, we are going on vacation.  When we come back?

I’m coming for you with a scorch the earth policy.

I will RELENTLESSLY shame you for creating a culture of disrespect for my daughter and her tribe.  Much like you shame her.  Because when I asked quietly and nicely for your to reconsider this social curriculum?  You couldn’t even be bothered to respond.

I’m all done with requests.

I’m demanding, with every single resource at my disposal, that you stop teaching children to be ableist.

See you soon!

 

17 thoughts on “almost like us

  1. wow, that sucks and you are right… the kids do not see evie as different but part of diversity– they swee her as in less then.. it sucks cause if a kid wrore that about a black kid..or any othere race all hel would break loose… or even if a kid in a wheelchair was told wow you race around te gym with your classmates so your almost like us… oh my god ! i mean aggain.. all hell wold break loose… eveie needs to be accepted as wholesheis and be seen as somebody yes who is diferent but is part of diverity as eerybody else is SO MEANING SHE IS JUST like the others.. each one of them is different …ggrrr. well… im in tennesee in knowxville and theyare much more acceptignof me here… and vermont is just uugh.. its not anacceptign place– itis aceptignby mean of,ok were gonna lookthe other way but were not include you— imsorry this happened ! tell evie she is just like the rest of peole,cause everybody is diffrent… 😉 i wooud say homeschool– but home schooling dont get youexposed t thigns you do in school like the science labs and equipment.. plus the sociial expierences…

  2. I’m so sorry this happened. No one deserves this sort of cruelty. Lots of love to all of you. You are a heroine.

    I will also say that there’s poor parenting there. The student needs some serious intervention before this emotional inadequacy becomes irreparable.

  3. What grade? I remember 2nd being brutal… No filter, but great observations skills… 3rd and on were better. Hard again in parts of middle school. Better but different in high school. Dev was in “regular” classes through 9th grade. Then we went 1/2 and 1/2 for the rest of high school because her academic skills started to slip. Good luck, keep working for what you need and have the strength for. Be Blessed

  4. I don’t disagree with you. I only would like to add that if most of the messages were positive enough to make you smile, then the children are seeing your daughter in spite of what the school is teaching. (This is meant to be encouraging, not inflammatory.) If the school insists on the whole body listening thing, perhaps they also need to include additional posters to educate about people who use their body in other ways in order to listen. (?) What does the school/district OT say? And/or perhaps the school could create a day to celebrate differences. I am an autism consultant, and have worked with several schools who have brought in service dogs, speakers with various disabilities, and created disability simulation centers for the young students. The community takes part in the annual education/awareness day, which seems to spread the message into local businesses as well. Just thoughts… Hang in there! My oldest is 21… There always seems to be a need to fight for. *puts on coat, heads out the door to just such a meeting.*

  5. I am not surprised but wish I was at the treatment involved. I am glad you are going to firestorm the schools judgemental ways. I am glad you are speaking up on the right to be human.

  6. Yikes! These kids are still young, they can still be taught. Maybe Evie could write a letter to that child and explain why what they said hurt her feelings or explain why it was wrong. The other kid obviously had good intentions at heart and probably thought they were giving a compliment. Explaining why it’s not will teach them. Get them while they’re young and they won’t grow up into nasty ignorant people like Suzanne Wright.

  7. That ‘whole body’ things is ridiculous for anyone, not just disabled children.. Who can sit still, feet on floor, looking straight ahead with no movement? It’s pointless, too. You can listen just fine whilst shaking your leg, for example. My leg is almost constantly shaking when I am sitting.
    The school should focus more on making sure the kids have what they need so they can listen. Sigh. As for the classmate thing… I don’t know how old these kids are, but hopefully they’ll learn to know better.

  8. Those children on her classroom need to participate in an Autism Acceptance event, because I feel that they’re mostly in the awareness mode. If they can’t be accepting of her now, they’ll never be accepting of her when they grow up. It’s just saddening.

  9. I am an autistic college student who is president of my campus’s autism organization, and I completely identify with what you are saying. I recently wrote a letter to a psychology professor (an autism “expert” at a nearby university) expressing my concerns about his social skills program, which requires kids to “put both feet on the floor and look at the speaker while counting to three” in order to be “ready to learn”. His reply, summed up, was that nearly all ABA programs do something similar. I already knew that, but that doesn’t make the technique any less worrisome for me. Neither does his reassurance that a child “does not have to remain motionless the whole time”. I wonder if he’d be more likely to listen if a parent expressed the same concerns. If you would be willing to write to him too, will you e-mail me so that I can send the link to the program I’m concerned about?

  10. I am an autistic college student, and I completely identify with what you are saying. I recently wrote an e-mail to a psychology professor at a nearby university, expressing my concerns about his social skills program. This program requires kids to “put both feet on the floor, look in the speaker’s eye, and count to three” in order to be “ready to learn”. His reply that “nearly all ABA programs use a similar technique” and “it is not expected that the individual remain motionless the whole time” did not reassure me at all. I wonder if he would take a parent’s concerns more seriously than mine. If you would be interested in writing to this professor too, I would appreciate it very much. If you would be willing to help, please e-mail me, and I can send the link to the program I’m concerned about.

  11. I worked in a special needs classroom for more than 10 years, with students with a variety of disabilities and severities. I coached Special Olympics for more than 7 years in two different districts. I am half-way finished with my master’s degree in Special Education. I am including this to emphasize that, although I am not a parent of a child with special needs, I am not an outsider to the situation, and I care about these students.

    HOWEVER…

    I have to say, I’m not sure I completely agree. My heart breaks for you and Evie, and how it must have felt to receive that valentine. I can’t even imagine how the wind was knocked out of you when you read those words. But I don’t think that’s a symptom of faulty social skills training.

    The “whole body” training (and similar programs) is a great tool for helping children – with AND without special needs – to monitor what they are doing. I’ve seen it work on some very difficult students… BOTH with and without special needs. (The special needs students had their program slightly modified to remove the abstract concepts, like “heart” and “brain.”)

    I think the real failure here is an open, honest, and ongoing conversation about individuals with disabilities. It’s my personal opinion that students don’t need a removal of social skills training, but they need instruction on how to describe and treat those who are different. (Even in your own posts, you take vastly different stances. In this post, you take offence, saying students are thinking, “You are not like us,” but in another post* you say, “Evie IS different. She will ALWAYS be different. ” If your readers can’t make sense of this, how can an elementary school student?)

    (*Other post: http://loveexplosions.net/2013/01/30/the-cost-of-compliance-is-unreasonable/)

    Social skills training is meant to teach students HOW to operate in their world; HOW to behave appropriately; HOW to treat others with respect. Perhaps, rather than barreling over your child’s administration, demanding a complete revamp of their curriculum, you could work together with them. Find ways to help Evie’s classmates relate to her in a positive way. Give them the words to express what they may have been trying to express all along: “I see that you’re different, and I like you.”

    Perhaps you address this more positively somewhere else in your blog. I confess, I haven’t read it all and I don’t know. But from the little bit of browsing I’ve seen, all I see is anger and frustration, with no real suggestions for solutions.

    I wish you all the best.

    PS. I have no interest in being skewered by your readers, so I’ve used an anonymous email for this post. I hope you and your readers will take it in the constructive spirit it was written.

    • your comments demonstrate that you’ve missed the point of my post and are, unfortunately, reflective of how educators (like yourself) are miseducating children.

      Forgive me for being more than a little resentful of yet another “special educator” making the assumption that I don’t understand the goals of social skills training. I DO understand. I take great exception to the notion that you and your peers feel that it is “inappropriate” and “disrespectful” for my child to not be ABLE to adhere to arbitrary social norms. Why is that so hard to grasp? My child CANNOT function with a “quiet body.” It is the epitome of ableism for you to try to insist that she does and to inform her peers that her inability is a sign of disrespect.

      Can you possibly be anymore condescending in your assumption that I have failed to attempt to communicate my concerns with the school?

      Educators like you are frightening. You really think the problem is that kids don’t have the right words to tell disabled students that they are OTHER? That’s vile. The problem is that we aren’t teaching kids to respect access needs. We are teaching them through social skills training to be disrespectful of access needs. The problem is that educators, like you, do NOT respect that access needs are varied.

      Don’t want to be skewered on my blog? Don’t advocate for ableist curriculums and make other disrespectful and dehumanizing comments and try to justify them with your credentials and patronizing helpery assumptions.

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