Archive for the ‘Children with Disabilities’ Category

Autistic Boy Gives an Inspiring Graduation Speech

July 20, 2013



As we leave here today I have a challenge for all of you. We are all different. Not less, just different. We all have things we’re good at, things we need to work on, and things we need help with. Whenever you see someone else who is different, instead of just judging them or being a bully, I challenge you to offer help and treat that person with the kindness you have shown me over the last six years. Remember, all of you can make a difference in someone’s life. You’ve already made a difference in mine.”



Click on the link to read my post on Girl Banned from Museum because Her Wheelchair May Dirty Their Carpet

Click on the link to read my post on Disabled Children: A Missed Opportunity for Us All

Click on the link to read my post on Meet the 14-Year-Old on his Way to Becoming a Nobel Prize Winner (Video)

Click on the link to read my post on Treatment of Autistic Children Says a Lot About Our Failing System

Girl Banned from Museum because Her Wheelchair May Dirty Their Carpet

July 16, 2013



What a terrible thing to do to a young child with a disability. Much credit must be given to the girl’s parents for accepting the apology. Many wouldn’t have:

An 11-year-old girl was barred from a museum’s exhibits because an employee said her wheelchair would dirty the carpet.

Lexi Haas of Charlotte, N.C., was visiting the Ships of the Sea Museum in Savannah, Ga., with her family on July 7 when a woman at the desk said Lexi would have to use a museum wheelchair, WBTV reports.

However, since Lexi is unable to sit up on her own, she was unable to use the museum’s strapless wheelchair, according to the station. The museum then proposed that Lexi watch a video outside while the rest of the family checked out the displays, but the family declined.

“We didn’t get to see the museum and my daughter’s feelings were hurt,” Lexi’s dad, Ken Haas, told The Huffington Post.

The museum confirmed the incident and issued a public and private apology for the employee’s behavior and misunderstanding of museum policy.

Instead of filing a complaint, the father said he accepted the apology and used the encounter to raise awareness.

“I’m happy people are more aware of disability rights and that’s plenty for me,” he told HuffPost. “I didn’t want anybody to get fired. I wanted them to update their policy and their way of thinking.”

Lexi has Kernicterus, a condition in which yellow pigment collects in brain tissue and causes neurological impairment. Lexi cannot speak well but can communicate “yes” or “no,” Haas said, and she was fully aware of what transpired.

“She’s not thinking about this,” he said, reiterating that “there wasn’t any real damage.”

“We like museums. We just want them to include everybody,” he added.



Click on the link to read my post on Disabled Children: A Missed Opportunity for Us All

Click on the link to read my post on Meet the 14-Year-Old on his Way to Becoming a Nobel Prize Winner (Video)

Click on the link to read my post on Treatment of Autistic Children Says a Lot About Our Failing System

Click on the link to read Our Real Heroes are Not Celebrities or Athletes

Disabled Children: A Missed Opportunity for Us All

June 29, 2013


I went to a funeral for a young girl earlier this month. She caught a virus as a baby and spent her short life in a wheelchair, unable to communicate in any meaningful way.

Her father is a family friend of mine and a brilliant parent. His eulogy moved me like a speech never has. He said that having her changed his life. He had never even spent time with a disabled person before he met her, let alone parent one. He said that she showed him what it means to have strength, find pleasure even when under duress and he noted that even though she was never able to say a word, she communicated through her eyes and smile.

He said that he and his wife were adamant that she go to a regular school rather than a school for the disabled. He didn’t want her to feel typecast or branded, so he felt that the conventional classroom experience would be beneficial. He recounted how loyal and caring her classmates were. They would nurture her, make her feel important even when she couldn’t do what they were doing and help her whenever she needed it.  He said that he was stunned that in her dying days, her classmates would regularly make visits to her and tell her stories and share jokes.

He concluded by saying that he know fully appreciates how everyone in this world has a great purpose and a lasting contribution to make. His daughter showed him that much can be achieved, even under the toughest of circumstances.

There was not a dry eye in the house.

Reflecting on the eulogy, I can’t help but wonder if we have the right system in place for educating children with disabilities. Whilst I appreciate that severely handicapped children have special needs which may not be able to be fully accommodated in a regular classroom, it concerns me that our children do not get the opportunity to spend time and communicate with disabled children. It’s almost as if they are purposely separated from each other. Surely, it would make sense to pair our schools with associated schools for the disabled so that there can be days throughout the year where such interaction is possible. By forming alliances with schools for deaf, blind and wheelchair bound students, our students will get a greater awareness of the virtues of disabled children, and the disabled will be able to see the possibilities of making friendships beyond their handicap subgroup.

In my view it’s a clear win/win!


Click on the link to read my post on Meet the 14-Year-Old on his Way to Becoming a Nobel Prize Winner (Video)

Click on the link to read my post on Treatment of Autistic Children Says a Lot About Our Failing System

Click on the link to read Our Real Heroes are Not Celebrities or Athletes

Click on the link to read Girl Writes Cute Note to the Queen

Click on the link to read Instead of Teaching a Baby to Read, Teach it to Smile

Click on the link to read The 15 Most Commonly Misspelled Words in the English Language

Click on the link to read Who Said Grammar Isn’t Important?

Meet the 14-Year-Old on his Way to Becoming a Nobel Prize Winner (Video)

May 12, 2013



An astounding story when you factor in his autism diagnosis:

When Jacob Barnett was 2 years old, he was diagnosed with moderate to severe autism. Doctors told his parents that the boy would likely never talk or read and would probably be forever unable to independently manage basic daily activities like tying his shoe laces.

But they were sorely, extraordinarily mistaken.

Today, Barnett — now 14 — is a Master’s student, on his way to earning a PhD in quantum physics. According to the BBC, the teen, who boasts an IQ of 170, has already been tipped to one day win the Nobel Prize.


Living With Adam Lanza

December 17, 2012


Whilst I am not a fan of profiling a gunman, the following article entitled ‘I am Adam Lanza’s Mother’: A Mom’s Perspective On The Mental Illness Conversation In America, gives us a great insight into the difficulties of raising children with mental disorders:

Friday’s horrific national tragedy — the murder of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut — has ignited a new discussion on violence in America. In kitchens and coffee shops across the country, we tearfully debate the many faces of violence in America: gun culture, media violence, lack of mental health services, overt and covert wars abroad, religion, politics and the way we raise our children. Liza Long, a writer based in Boise, says it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.

While every family’s story of mental illness is different, and we may never know the whole of the Lanza’s story, tales like this one need to be heard — and families who live them deserve our help.

Three days before 20 year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, then opened fire on a classroom full of Connecticut kindergartners, my 13-year old son Michael (name changed) missed his bus because he was wearing the wrong color pants.

“I can wear these pants,” he said, his tone increasingly belligerent, the black-hole pupils of his eyes swallowing the blue irises.

“They are navy blue,” I told him. “Your school’s dress code says black or khaki pants only.”

“They told me I could wear these,” he insisted. “You’re a stupid bitch. I can wear whatever pants I want to. This is America. I have rights!”

“You can’t wear whatever pants you want to,” I said, my tone affable, reasonable. “And you definitely cannot call me a stupid bitch. You’re grounded from electronics for the rest of the day. Now get in the car, and I will take you to school.”

I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.

A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan — they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.

That conflict ended with three burly police officers and a paramedic wrestling my son onto a gurney for an expensive ambulance ride to the local emergency room. The mental hospital didn’t have any beds that day, and Michael calmed down nicely in the ER, so they sent us home with a prescription for Zyprexa and a follow-up visit with a local pediatric psychiatrist.

We still don’t know what’s wrong with Michael. Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder have all been tossed around at various meetings with probation officers and social workers and counselors and teachers and school administrators. He’s been on a slew of antipsychotic and mood altering pharmaceuticals, a Russian novel of behavioral plans. Nothing seems to work.

At the start of seventh grade, Michael was accepted to an accelerated program for highly gifted math and science students. His IQ is off the charts. When he’s in a good mood, he will gladly bend your ear on subjects ranging from Greek mythology to the differences between Einsteinian and Newtonian physics to Doctor Who. He’s in a good mood most of the time. But when he’s not, watch out. And it’s impossible to predict what will set him off.

Several weeks into his new junior high school, Michael began exhibiting increasingly odd and threatening behaviors at school. We decided to transfer him to the district’s most restrictive behavioral program, a contained school environment where children who can’t function in normal classrooms can access their right to free public babysitting from 7:30-1:50 Monday through Friday until they turn 18.

The morning of the pants incident, Michael continued to argue with me on the drive. He would occasionally apologize and seem remorseful. Right before we turned into his school parking lot, he said, “Look, Mom, I’m really sorry. Can I have video games back today?”

“No way,” I told him. “You cannot act the way you acted this morning and think you can get your electronic privileges back that quickly.”

His face turned cold, and his eyes were full of calculated rage. “Then I’m going to kill myself,” he said. “I’m going to jump out of this car right now and kill myself.”

That was it. After the knife incident, I told him that if he ever said those words again, I would take him straight to the mental hospital, no ifs, ands, or buts. I did not respond, except to pull the car into the opposite lane, turning left instead of right.
“Where are you taking me?” he said, suddenly worried. “Where are we going?”

“You know where we are going,” I replied.

“No! You can’t do that to me! You’re sending me to hell! You’re sending me straight to hell!”

I pulled up in front of the hospital, frantically waiving for one of the clinicians who happened to be standing outside. “Call the police,” I said. “Hurry.”

Michael was in a full-blown fit by then, screaming and hitting. I hugged him close so he couldn’t escape from the car. He bit me several times and repeatedly jabbed his elbows into my rib cage. I’m still stronger than he is, but I won’t be for much longer.
The police came quickly and carried my son screaming and kicking into the bowels of the hospital. I started to shake, and tears filled my eyes as I filled out the paperwork — “Were there any difficulties with… at what age did your child… were there any problems with.. has your child ever experienced.. does your child have…”

At least we have health insurance now. I recently accepted a position with a local college, giving up my freelance career because when you have a kid like this, you need benefits. You’ll do anything for benefits. No individual insurance plan will cover this kind of thing.

For days, my son insisted that I was lying — that I made the whole thing up so that I could get rid of him. The first day, when I called to check up on him, he said, “I hate you. And I’m going to get my revenge as soon as I get out of here.”

By day three, he was my calm, sweet boy again, all apologies and promises to get better. I’ve heard those promises for years. I don’t believe them anymore.

On the intake form, under the question, “What are your expectations for treatment?” I wrote, “I need help.”

And I do. This problem is too big for me to handle on my own. Sometimes there are no good options. So you just pray for grace and trust that in hindsight, it will all make sense.

I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am James Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.

According to Mother Jones, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. Of these, 43 of the killers were white males, and only one was a woman. Mother Jones focused on whether the killers obtained their guns legally (most did). But this highly visible sign of mental illness should lead us to consider how many people in the U.S. live in fear, like I do.

When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. “If he’s back in the system, they’ll create a paper trail,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.”

I don’t believe my son belongs in jail. The chaotic environment exacerbates Michael’s sensitivity to sensory stimuli and doesn’t deal with the underlying pathology. But it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise — in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population.

With state-run treatment centers and hospitals shuttered, prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill — Rikers Island, the LA County Jail and Cook County Jail in Illinois housed the nation’s largest treatment centers in 2011.

No one wants to send a 13-year old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.”

I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.

God help me. God help Michael. God help us all.

Click on the link to read School Shooting Showcases the Heroic Nature of Brilliant Teachers

Click on the link to read Let’s Make Sure that this School Shooting is the Last

Click on the link to read Get Rid of Your Guns!

Click on the link to read Explaining the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting to Children

Treatment of Autistic Children Says a Lot About Our Failing System

June 21, 2012

If I had to assess the effectiveness of our education system in one sweeping statement, it would be that our system is concerned with process over people.

What we must remember is, we are not only teaching human beings, we are teaching the next generation of citizens. The method in which we teach them and the way we treat them will have a dramatic impact on their view of the world. If we treat them with respect and empathy, they are more likely to grow up to be decent and generous people. If we treat them as guinea pigs the outcomes will not be as positive.

That’s why our system has to change. Programs and policies which are designed to avoid lawsuits rather than achieve outcomes have to go. As does the notion that children with disabilities can be put anywhere the budget bottom line dictates:

Autistic students are being told they can no longer attend specialist schools because their language skills are assessed to be too high in controversial year 6 tests.

Parents say their children, many of whom have attended autism schools all their lives, will be unable to cope and vulnerable to bullying if forced to go to a mainstream school.

Some have resorted to desperate tactics such as threatening to go to the media or applying to have their children reclassified as having a Severe Behaviour Disorder rather than autism so they can remain at autism schools.

Janeane Baker, whose 11-year-old son William has been at Northern School for Autism since prep, was horrified to learn her son no longer qualified for funding to remain at the school because he had passed a language test. ”It doesn’t matter that his mother has worked in the mainstream education system and knows that he would never survive there,” Ms Baker said. ”It doesn’t matter that his highly qualified teachers have never thought he would be able to be integrated. He can speak; therefore the government obviously thinks he is cured. They are very wrong – autism is for life.”Ms Baker had tried to integrate William with mainstream peers at junior cricket and Scouts but he got bullied because he was ”just that little bit too left of centre”.

Instead of treating this issue as a process dependant on academic evaluations, we must see this as a human issue. If children with disabilities are more likely to thrive in specialists schools we must do whatever we can to make sure that option is available to them.

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