You’ve probably figured out by now I am a special needs parent. My son, who is almost 19, was diagnosed with Asperger’s when he was 7 years old. Our daughter with Generalized Anxiety Disorder when she was only 4. You may have even caught that our 7 year old dog, star of Bully Troubles, has epilepsy. Caregiving is what I do.
But I’m also a mental health professional. I was a direct care worker. I was also the case leader for a particularly hard case that they were struggling to understand. These young adults that I worked with all had varying diagnoses. They all had different capabilities and skill sets.
They all had something in common. They were isolated from the general population. They’d all grown up in the special education classroom. When we’d go into public, many of them would hang their head. Some would even hide behind me. One would become so excited I had to constantly remind him to settle down. One little boy had become agoraphobic, and he was only 14!
I shared a post about isolation before in Raising a Special Needs Child. This isolation of our special needs population is causing lifelong damage. My own son rarely leaves the house. He wants to find a job, but feels it’s hopeless and pointless to do so. He says that no one is going to hire him, anyways.
He was the first to experience this bullying turned to isolation. It started with the staff bullying him and treating him terribly. He’d either hide under a desk or become enraged and throw tantrums. Then they started to isolate him (locking him in a closet). Then the kids started to isolate him. Then, he got beat up pretty bad by a group of boys. My son was the one who found himself suspended. They called it keeping him home for his own safety. But let’s call it like it was. A suspension.
I wasn’t a mental health professional back then. I was a young, single mother without a strong support system, homeless and living in a hotel. Letting them tell me what was right for my child. I was trying to keep my job. At that point the diagnosis was ADHD.
I got myself into an apartment. He was tested and diagnosed with Asperger’s. I started to study it and research it. I learned all I could and tried to help. Things ran smoothly at home. But they were bad at school. I lost my job and my apartment during that battle. I lost that battle.
We moved, and he had some great years. Though he was awkward, the kids welcomed him, he played in the little league, he laughed and played with the other kids. He had two wonderful teachers that first year. But then he had some really awful teachers. Mean teachers. When he’d become frustrated and try to voice his frustration, he’d be separated. Sometimes, he’d go for a walk with an aid. A wonderful sweet retired gentleman who was the crossing guard at the school drop off. That worked. He’d go back to class and be calm. But other days, and in the years that followed, they’d put him in a quiet place so he could recenter himself or gain control of himself.
I thought these things were working. I thought they helped. But it turned into isolation. He stopped playing baseball. He stopped having friends. It turned into a kid who still is so angry and alone. A kid who was bullied through the years by staff and kids alike. One principal stood up in an IEP meeting, slamming his chair against the wall, turning all red in the face he raised his fist at me. (Even as I type this, I feel my heart racing from the memory)
I lost two homes and a job while fighting my daughter’s first war. I lost the job as a mental health professional. But I took that knowledge I’d gained, I took that specialized training I’d received, and I took my skills as a researcher. I put it all together. And I fought. That war is not yet over. I put it into the hands of the OCR, and they are still investigating.
I’m trembling and shaking. I jump every time I hear a sound. I wonder if I do suffer from PTSD. In Special Needs Parenting, I shared an article about PTSD symptoms in parents of children with autism. The mere idea that it is starting up again is terrifying me. I feel powerless and angry. I want to stand and fight back harder. I want to run and hide. I want to change the outcome.
Screening for PTSD
Have you experienced or witnessed a life-threatening event that caused intense fear, helplessness, or horror?
Experienced at least 1 of the following
- Repeated distressing memories, or dreams
- Acting or feeling as if the event were happening again (flashbacks or a sense of reliving it)
- Intense physical and/or emotional distress when you are exposed to things that remind you of the event
Reminders of the event effect you in at least 3 of the following ways
- Avoiding thoughts, feelings, or conversations about it
- Avoiding activities and places or people who remind you of it
- Blanking on important parts of it
- Losing interest in significant activities of your life
- Feeling detached from other people
- Feeling your range of emotions is restricted
- Sensing that your future has shrunk (for example, you don’t expect to have a career, marriage, children, or normal life span)
Troubled by at least 2 of the following
- Problems sleeping
- Irritability or outbursts of anger
- Problems concentrating
- Feeling “on guard”
- An exaggerated startle response
Courtesy of Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
I remind myself I’m stronger this time. I have an arsenal of knowledge and law. I have to do this for my daughter. I have to show her that she doesn’t have to just take it. I think That’s the message I gave my son. I fought for him, but I let their bullying behaviors continue while I did.
The OCR came and talked to the school. Things weren’t so bad for him after that. But the isolation was too deep. He never made another friend. He never settled in to the classroom. He dropped out his senior year.
Looking back, I realize that they didn’t retaliate on my son for the visit from OCR. Instead, they turned that retaliation on my daughter. Separating her out of preschool and taking her for private walks down the hall. I’ll never know what happened on those walks. We demanded they stop as soon as we found out about them. When they didn’t, we pulled her from preschool. That was the year she was diagnosed. A 4 year old with an anxiety disorder.
But that was our school district. We had to put her back there. And they started back in on her right away. When a principal got physical, we began homeschooling her. She wanted to be back in school.
We enrolled her, and I declined the IEP. I promised her the bullying wouldn’t happen again. Told her this was a different school. But it is happening again. She is suffering. Her symptoms are also similar to that of PTSD.
Every one of these things has prepared me for the battle ahead. I hope that it doesn’t have to go to war. I hope that they hear me. Someone on their side needs to stand up to the others. Stand up for my daughter.