Disability Advocates/Consultants of South Texas

What's New/News:                                                Vol. 3, Issue 2


Dear Friends:

I thought a good topic with which to begin this newsletter would be a follow-up on the case a while back. While Judge Frank M was willing to send a child back into a home with a possible molester present, divine intervention must have taken over. The very next weekend after the child was to go with the mother, the mother decided to marry the accused child molester. The woman had already defied the court’s direct order to keep the boyfriend away from the little girl. Now the mother was married to him. At first, we thought the situation was a tragedy. We began a motion to have the judge hear the new information. Then, out of the blue, everything changed.

The mother asked to become the possessory conservator and gave the biological father managing conservatorship. The father’s home would be the home of the child. The mother would have the child only every other weekend and for a month during the summer. In addition, the mother was planning to move out of the state. With any luck, the child could now lead a semi-normal life with her father, stepmother and brother.

As a final note, I must add that we still intend to present evidence to the judge that the mother has been in contempt of court since the hearing ended. We hope to limit the boyfriend/husband’s potential contacts with the child even more.

Emotional Disturbances

One of the most difficult areas in the field of disabilities to understand is emotional disturbance. Unfortunately, many people still equate a "special education" label with "mental retardation" if the person with the disability is of school age. If the individual with a disability is an adult, many people still expect to see a wheelchair. So when one tries to explain that a person with an emotional disturbance is, more often than not, neither mentally retarded nor orthopedically impaired, confused looks abound. Maybe an example will help.

Adolph Hitler was a very intelligent man. He ran all of Germany efficiently as well as ruthlessly. However, an emotionally healthy person would not have ordered the butchering of six million Jews, individuals with disabilities, gypsies, etc. Hitler probably had a serious, yet undiagnosed, emotional disturbance. He was very much like the "mad" scientist you have seen in movies, i.e., deranged but brilliant. A common remark is that the individual is "crazy, not stupid". (I only use that phrase to emphasize the point. It is not a phrase that I would recommend using.)

Many of the individuals who live on the streets are people with emotional disturbances. They have illnesses such as schizophrenia. Even depression can be totally disabling if not treated. These illnesses are real. They can be debilitating. They can have symptoms of complete withdrawal to violent behaviors. The people who are most violent generally end up in jail or in a hospital or other institution.

The sad aspect of emotional disturbances is that so many of the hospitals and institutions that cared for these individuals have been closed. Several years ago, citizens began petitioning the government for more local services. More local services did not appear but politicians responded by closing many of the institutions. As a consequence, more individuals with emotional disturbances are now living under bridges or are living out their lives in jail cells. No matter where they end up, these individuals seldom receive proper medication so the chance for any change in their condition is zero.

The only bright side is that medications can help people with emotional disturbances control their behaviors. If the person is properly medicated, the behaviors can often disappear. However, medication must be taken for life. Improved medications are coming to the market in large numbers every year. There is hope.

Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

FAPE is what educational programs for individuals with disabilities must provide. A reader who is a teacher asked me what she could do for a child who is mentally retarded and deaf. She complained that the programs offered by the school were insufficient. They did not meet the needs of the child. (This person is an "itinerant" teacher. An itinerant teacher visits many schools during the week to work on individual skills of certain students. She does not remain on one campus.)

My Response?

Your question demands a response. I am sure that you realize that an Individualized Education Plan means "individualized" or "tailored" to the needs of the child. Too often the administration sets up a few programs and the child must "fit" into the classes provided.

Not only is that in violation of the intent of the law, it's a violation of the law. (That is not legal advice. It's merely a fact.) I realize that I am preaching to the choir. Teachers are generally well aware of the fact that the program must be tailored to the child (not that the round child must fit into one of the square holes provided). Unfortunately, the administrators do not, in general, care. They go for efficiency.

Therefore, let's look at what you can do and how you need to approach the problem. First, the school needs to provide a sign language class. There is absolutely no excuse for the refusal of the teachers to learn sign language. I would suggest approaching the principal and offering to contact someone at the Regional Day School for the Deaf to provide a sign language teacher for both the child's teachers and fellow students. (You could volunteer to do it yourself.) Do not settle for a "no." Start by discussing the student and her needs. Say things like, "Wouldn't you agree that it would be in the child's best interest if she had someone on campus with whom she could communicate?", "Don't you think the child's language would improve if she had someone available to speak with her throughout the day?" and "Isn't one of our goals to improve this child's communication?". Get the principal saying "yes" before you get to your real question. Then discuss a class. Do not attack. Do not be aggressive. Be assertive; firm; an advocate.

Second, go back to the assessment. Look at it carefully. What deficits does the child have? Does the I.E.P. match that assessment? It must. If not, you need an A.R.D.C. meeting and a new I.E.P. The assessment dictates the program.

Third, look at the programs available. Does the child belong in any of them? If not, why not? List your reasons in clear, concise wording. Remember, the program must meet the needs of the child. The child does not have to be stuffed into a program which will not meet her needs. By writing down your thoughts, you will be able to easily sort through your thoughts later and make a good argument for whatever program is appropriate (whether or not it exists yet).

Once you have reviewed the assessment and the programs, then you need to address the deficits. How does the program need to be tailored to fit the child? When everyone tries to point the finger at you and say that you are to provide all the "extras" for the child, explain that an itinerant teacher cannot provide language skills for the child throughout the day everyday. An itinerant teacher can do only limited teaching within huge time constraints. You are more of a consultant. You are there to work with the child on certain skills, not to teach everything the child needs.

If the school cannot meet the child's needs, then you need to consider another placement elsewhere. She needs to be at a Regional Day School for the Deaf or at the State School for the Deaf. A child with mental disabilities who is deaf needs intensive language and life skill training if she is ever to become independent. Not having exposure to language for years or only limited exposure limits a child and actually adds to her disability. If the school cannot help, then like a doctor, it should do no harm. Right now, the school is harming the child by limiting her access to language and to the appropriate program. If she were my child, I would be seeking legal assistance to get a proper program.

On the financial side, if the mother refers the child to the State School, then it costs the school nothing for placement. If the school makes the referral, the school must pay for the placement. Obviously, the district would never make the referral (unless the child were a serious threat to herself or others.)

Please let me know what else you need to know. I do have some techniques that can help you to work with the teachers. You would be better off spending your time at the school teaching the teachers how to work with the child, teaching one or two signs per day, providing pictures of signed words and helping to establish the appropriate program for the child rather than just working on limited skills. It seems that the child needs much more than your few visits each week or even once a day.

Good luck.

Take Care,

Karen Seal


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