Last week I was all kinds of fired up over an email I received from a special needs educator in response to an article I wrote for The Orange County Register.
After the initial shock of the email wore off I knew I had to take action and I was prepared to go to a school board meeting in this teacher’s district this Tuesday night and read her email in front of the board members. I wanted to bring attention to the fact that there are people in the special education profession that clearly don’t belong there. I had not idea whether or not they were going to do anything about it but knew I could sleep soundly at night if I did my part and brought to light this particular “rotten apple.”
On Saturday afternoon I received an email from the same teacher but this time her tone was quite different. Gone was the woman who had ripped me a new one about the way I was “parenting” my child and in her place was someone very humble and very contrite.
Due to the personal nature of her apology, which includes details about her life that I do not consider to be blog fodder, I have chosen not to publish the email. I’ll sum it up by saying that she claims to have read only a portion of the article the first time and was desperately trying to get the attention of a parent she believed was putting her child in harm’s way by irresponsibly allowing her son to go around touching strangers.
Upon returning to the site she was able to read the piece in its entirety and when she realized what she had done, she felt “heartsick.”
I have included my response to her below:
First I would like to say that I both appreciate and accept your heartfelt apology. I know how difficult it can be to come out and admit that we’ve wronged someone. So high-five on that one.
Secondly, I wanted to address some of the things I particularly took issue with, as a special needs parent receiving an email from a special education teacher, so that maybe you can take steps to avoid this in the future:
Your first email sounded incredibly condescending. I don’t have to tell you that special needs parents are exhausted, overwhelmed and vulnerable; I’m sure you’ve seen this over and over throughout the course of your career. Which was just one reason the tone of your email was particularly shocking and hurtful, since you chose a profession that requires a level of patience, understanding and compassion that other jobs do not.
You used the phrase “this is creepy” to describe the behavior of an 18 year-old special needs adult-child. I would expect a snotty teenager to use that language but not a special education teacher. It sounds judgmental and it’s this kind of thinking that prevents us from creating a society that not only accepts our special needs citizens but values them as equal human beings as well. While I don’t excuse the behavior of this young man who sought to hug that “cute cheerleader” despite her repeated requests to stop, I’m sure that this young man’s hug was far more innocent than the “hugs” and advances of typical young men his age and the idea that the father was planning on suing the district is ludicrous. Does he threaten to sue every boy that comes in contact with his daughter, or just the ones in special education programs?
You also used the word “normal” when trying to make a comparison between the behavior of a child that does not have special needs and one that does. I’d like to strongly suggest that you refrain from using that outdated word and use the more appropriate term “neurotypical or “typical” in its place. To suggest that our children are not “normal” because they have physical and/or cognitive delays and disabilities is something that the special needs community does not tolerate.
You mentioned, at least twice, that you have to “undo” all of the damage caused by the parents of your students. For an individual to truly succeed in programs such as yours, there needs to be a level of teamwork that goes beyond that of a typical parent-teacher relationship. I know that not every parent is the picture of perfection, but to assume that we don’t work hard to give our children a solid foundation is not only wrong, it’s pompous. The majority of us would do ANYTHING to keep our children safe, healthy, and productive members of society. Some of our kids will grow into strong, capable, independent adults. Some of our children will require lifelong care. Some of our kids will end up in a broken system as adults, a system that often creates more damage and devalues these amazing human beings by institutionalizing them, rather than working towards creating a more accepting and accessible environment in which they may live and thrive.
Personally, I think hugs are acceptable at ANY age, and to place an age limit on them ( such as your suggestion of age 5) is to ignore the fact that most of our children are developing at a much slower rate than their typical peers and often reach milestones years after the textbooks say they should. My son didn’t even learn to hug until he was well past age 5, and by your logic, I should have never allowed him to do so. Doesn’t make much sense, does it? I’m not saying that people should go around accosting one another without permission, but hugs are an amazing way to show affection and putting an age limit on them is ridiculous.
I don’t encourage my son to approach strangers and he’s also NEVER without my husband or I (or his 1:1 aide at school) by his side. Raising a child that cannot perceive danger in the same way that his younger typical brother can (Andrew would run out in the middle of the 405 freeway if left on his own) requires 24/7 vigilance and attention. So, while I do adore his affectionate nature (many parents with a child who has the same diagnosis as Andrew would kill to have a kid that loved to be touched) I am well aware of the fact that he’s an easy target for pedophiles and people with evil intention. This does not have to be at the hands of a stranger, and I’m sure you’ve seen the same news stories as I have, where special needs children are being abused at the hands of bus drivers, aides, caretakers and teachers. These are constant fears that keep me up at night and something our entire family lives with on a daily basis.
In general, there was a lot of anger in your email and that’s what truly concerned me, not the fact that you may have disagreed with my article. As a writer I am transparent in my work and I welcome opposing view points with open arms. I believe a healthy, respectful debate can be an incredible learning experience for all involved but this was not a disagreement, it was an attack.I realize that you have a difficult job and parents like myself truly appreciate the teachers that devote their lives to giving our children the necessary tools to succeed in life. And while you may very well be one of those teachers, that’s not how you came across in your email and the idea that such an angry person was at the helm of a special education program unnerved me.
Your apology today was a breath of fresh air and I’m grateful you took the time to reach out to me to make amends. I’m also happy to hear that you care for your students so much. I wish you the best in your career moving forward and I hope that your students continue to bring you joy and fulfillment.
Peace and Blessings.
Just a few short weeks ago I too was on the receiving end of forgiveness and I believe it’s something that needs to be paid forward, especially when the person who has wronged you puts on her big girl panties and apologizes, giving you hope that a true shift in thinking has occurred. I can’t predict the actions of this teacher in the future, but I feel confidant that she understands what she did was hurtful and wrong and will think twice before opening up a can of whoop-ass on someone else.
I also feel that I addressed my true concerns about her and her initial email in my response to her. I consider the issue closed and await gleefully for the next opportunity to “school” someone on what is considered proper decorum as it relates to our special needs community.
Thank YOU my fabulous readers, for always having my back, for continuing to support this little space of mine on the great big internet, and for your wise, funny, honest feedback.
Now, do me a favor and read THIS, RIGHT NOW. Get informed, get mad, then get busy writing this school district and telling them exactly what you think of this asinine decision.
Together we CAN and WILL effect change for our special needs kids and adult-children.