Friday, August 13, 2010

Collaborators not Prison Guards

Even before I became a parent, I worked for many years with children of varying ages with a variety of strengths and needs. Some of the children required physical assistance due to their diagnosis such as Cerebral Palsy. Others had Autism or Down Syndrome or developmental delays for unknown reasons. Some came from horrifically neglectful and/or abusive homes.

In my role as a Respite Provider, Special Services at Home worker, Physiotherapy Assistant, Intake Officer, Classroom teacher and finally Child and Family Consultant - I was charged with finding ways to utilize the young persons strengths to attempt to make gains in the areas that they struggled in.

Not once did I put a child who could not walk very well in time out because they weren't walking better. Not once did I comment to a parent that a child with a visual impairment could "do better if she just tried harder to see". Never was it part of the Support plan to implement behaviour management strategies to ensure that the child with seizures no longer inconvenienced the rest of us by having a seizure in their classroom.

Because that would be downright ridiculous and offensive - right?

Then WHY oh WHY is it alright for these same practices to be put in place for a child whose Neurology means they become inflexible in the midst of high anxiety? When intrusive thoughts compel them to lash out in anger or to try to run away. Why is it accepted practice to fill an IEP with behavioural goals the child will never be able to achieve just because "well all kids need to be able to do that"?

It hurts my heart and it damages my sons self-esteem every time he is set up to fail. Where behavioural expectations and consequences are too extreme to allow for his complex neurology. Why do we expect the child with the severely compromised neurology to make the most accommodations and change? Why wouldn't it be the adults in the child's life that could help set them up for success? When people fail to understand the reasons for why he acts as he does they disrespect him and his unique needs. I know my son and I know that when he is "non compliant" or "combative" it is because something has gone haywire in his usual routine or he's having anxiety or an OCD moment and the adult in his space either has not recognized it or did not have the tools to address it appropriately.

Imagine living in a world where everyday you are expected to strive to overcome huge neurological and mental health issues just to try to meet other people's expectations. Where you are never smart enough, calm enough, insightful enough. You are just so clearly never ENOUGH in their eyes. How would you feel being faced with that everyday? How long would you be able to function without shutting down or lashing out.

My son IS enough. He lacks some skills he needs. We hope he will continue to make progress but it is quite possible his brain might never be able to make some connections. From early trauma or neglect or the neurology he was born with - we don't know. We DO KNOW he has good reason for not behaving the way other children do. But in the end he is a child. A very good, loving, eager to please child who needs more collaborators in his corner rather than prison guards doling out arbitrary punishments.

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