What Did You Think I Would Do? Stay Quiet?

by Jo on February 20, 2014

You hear about it, over and over again, until it’s no longer shocking. Just incredibly sad.

You imagine what you would do if it happened to your kid.

But you never actually believe that it would, because, how could it?

You’re vigilant, involved, dedicated, educated, aware.

You volunteer, you show up to meetings with cookies and Starbucks. You hug instead of shake hands.

And then….

your world crashes around you. You realize that bubble you thought you were in never really existed.

You ask yourself HOW?!! and WHY?!!

You feel a million things at once but mostly you feel numb, unable to comprehend that this is really your life.

But then you look over at your son, his face covered in angry, deep red scratches, and suddenly it all makes sense.

The self-mutilation.

The regression in toileting.

The screaming and crying as you try to get him onto the school bus, which he’s always loved but now can’t seem to get near without falling apart.

The loss of what little verbal approximations he had.

The anxiety and fear.

It all makes sense now.

You never think it’s gonna happen to your kid.

Until it allegedly does.

***

I wish I could write exactly what I’ve been feeling and thinking since we removed Andrew from his classroom last March, but our family is in the midst of a lawsuit against our school district, and we all know our own words can be used against us. So I’m going to let you just imagine what’s been going through my mind and my heart.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Now multiply that by a thousand, and you’re likely pretty close.

Allegedly our special needs son was abused at school.

Allegedly treated worse than an animal.

The district denies any misconduct. The police have concluded their investigation. And so once again, it’s in the hands of parents to seek justice for their child.

But this is more than just about justice for Andrew. This is about making real, lasting, positive changes in our communities, so that special needs individuals are safe from harm and moms and dads can sleep soundly at night, knowing their sons and daughters are in an environment that fosters learning and personal growth, not fear and pain.

We feel your presence and your support as we continue this journey. We didn’t ask for this. Our son didn’t ask for this. But we are committed to using these circumstances as an opportunity to advocate for our son and your sons and daughters.

Our kid is your kid, and your kid is our kid. We are in this together.

There is important work to be done here moms and dads, uncles and aunts, grandparents, sisters, brothers, friends. We must, MUST, work together to put an end to the mistreatment of our most vulnerable members of society. We can disagree on many things, but I know you stand with me and my family when I say that enough is enough. Our children deserve better. They deserve dignity and respect and to have their voices – no matter how they express them – be heard, without being silenced, and without the fear of punishment or ridicule.

I received an anonymous email (likely not the first of many), asking me how I sleep at night, since I’m using my son’s “affliction” to promote myself as a writer.

Let me be clear. The fact that I’m a writer, that I’ve been on the news before, talking about issues specific to our special needs community, that I freelance for a large local newspaper, that I blog, that I’m an outspoken advocate for the rights of special needs individuals, is a mere coincidence, and should serve as a lesson that none of us, no matter how involved or educated we may be in the ways of advocacy, are immune from having our bubbles burst.

And the only “affliction” my son has suffered from has been the alleged mistreatment and abuse he suffered at his previous school. The same school where my husband built and donated a sensory table. The same school where I served as the Special Needs Coordinator for the PTA. The same school where I was planning the very first Special Needs Awareness Day. The same school where I was able to donate three iPads to the three special education classrooms from a fundraiser I helped organize.

I’m not telling our story to promote my writing. In fact, our decision to wait until we did to come out publicly was deliberate and out of respect for our family’s continued healing and our efforts to determine the next best course of action.

My husband and I are telling our story because our son has made life-long advocates out of us, and not just during the best of times. It’s not difficult to buy an autism awareness t-shirt and prance around our local grocery stores hoping someone will see our plea for kindness and understanding and spread the message. But standing up and speaking out against the kind of mistreatment that Andrew allegedly endured? That’s harder than the day he was diagnosed with autism and we were told not to “hold out too much hope.”

But guess what?

We’re doing it anyway.

And I know that for every hater and troll we may encounter along the way, there are many, many, many more of you out there who share our desire and commitment to creating a safer, kinder, gentler, more compassionate world for our special needs loved ones.

The kind of world that replaces complacency with shock and action, until we’re no longer hearing stories like the one we’re telling about our son.

Not because no one cares,

but because it’s no longer happening.

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Autism Hippie February 20, 2014 at 11:20 pm

WE, the people who matter, are with YOU!! THANK YOU for fighting for ALL of our children!!

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Geovana February 20, 2014 at 11:22 pm

I wish I could just hug you!
I learn everyday so much from you and your family!
Much love!

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Jessi C February 20, 2014 at 11:24 pm

I am SO proud of you and Michael for speaking up and fighting for your son. For being the voice that he doesn’t have. You’re one HELL of a mom.

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Dani G February 20, 2014 at 11:26 pm

Your kid IS my kid. My kid IS your kid. We ARE in this together!!

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ProgressiveAspie February 20, 2014 at 11:57 pm

I want to note that most “autism awareness” shirts are from groups like “autism speaks” which is very anti autism and in round about ways causes the bullying in the first place.
I’ve encountered little bullying (though a couple people saying I’m damaged and “retarded” and have bad genes and stupid and should kill myself) but I’ve had issues with my parents. Because I could speak and potty trained almost on time (I was about 6) they really never even thought of autism until I was 16. So all these things I had issues with, the hugging, the loud or conflicting noises, the crowds, the figures of speech, etc was just assumed me being “bad” so I was in trouble a lot as a kid for what amounts to my brain being wired a bit differently.
Since I was so old by the time I was diagnosed and I started online education at 14, I never had any assistance or acknowledgement from the school. Which I suppose might have helped, but on other levels it didn’t. One of my friends was autistic (non speaking) and kids all messed with me because being friends with her and playing how she did swinging “wrong” and howling, I must be making fun of her. And being “wrong” socially led to many problems with peers and teachers alike, not to mention family.
But let’s remember, my stepdad did break my collar bone because I didn’t understand figures of speech and he didn’t want to explain it to me everytime he used a new one (I have to know what it is, how it’s used, and the etymology of it before I can understand and use it. And he never liked that about me, still thinks I was just smarting off, but know I have a smartphone and can look it up if I need to.)

It’s hard to tell what the better way to grow up at this point is.
This is why we need autism pride, and better advocacy. And better understanding of autistic people, especially non speaking.

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jillsmo February 21, 2014 at 12:03 am

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again… I LOVE YOU. You are brave and wonderful and wise and a fierce warrior for your child!!!! <3 <3 <3 times a million!

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Tanya Bell February 21, 2014 at 12:05 am

Its amazing what people will say from behind a screen. Uggh. I applaud you and would gladly stand beside you in an instant. I cannot imagine the pain and fear and just downright anger you’re contending with and how dare anyone try to downplay or make this about anything more than it is” Parents Protecting and Fighting for their Child/Children. I hope everything goes right for you and your family and all the families that bringing this terrible situation to light will help.

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ange February 21, 2014 at 12:16 am

Not that this helps, since this has failed to make committee (for several years) and when it did make it for a vote the first time, it didn’t pass (2010ish)…but maybe someday our kids will be protected on a federal level…http://www.help.senate.gov/newsroom/press/release/?id=a4592b8f-bd79-46ef-9431-47bee1e49232&groups=Chair

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Margaret February 21, 2014 at 12:16 am

Abusers count on the abused being unable or unwilling to speak out. Good for you for speaking out.

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Amanda Lynn February 21, 2014 at 12:30 am

*HUGS* The fact that you are using your talents and platform to benefit not only your child but our special needs community as a whole should be applauded. There will always be critiques no matter what course we take, they will say we spoke too much, not enough, too quiet, too loud. And at the end of the day you will sleep well knowing you’ve done your best. (or not if you’re an insomniac like some of us…) I’m sorry for what your family has been through. I’m sorry for your son’s sweet heart to be hurt.

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Bob February 21, 2014 at 12:48 am

I am so sorry for what y’all have been through…I struggle with my emotions when I read how cruel some people can be. We too have an incredible Autistic son…(16-years old), and it is our life goal to be his advocate on everything that we can be, (much to the chagrin of some folks who tell us he’ll never “amount to much” in the “real world”.) Know this, prayers & best wishes are sincerely offered…and any questions or advice that you need/want/or can offer, are welcome.

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Rosie February 21, 2014 at 12:54 am

OMG!! I know what I would want to do, and it would land me in jail. If I am ever in that position I hope I am as civilized as you!!

http://www.examiner.com/special-needs-kids-in-los-angeles/rosie-reeves

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Sheree February 21, 2014 at 3:29 am

SOOOO glad I came across your blog! You’ve inspired me to keep up the pressure on our local school district and keep in touch with our media friends. Our personal situation is does not EVEN come close to your family’s. We have been fortunate to have a loyal 1:1 with our child for 17 years. The ongoing educational neglect is ours- at the moment…..
Texas almost passed the cameras in the classroom bill last school year which would have helped extinguish some of the awful things that happen to our children and students who cannot speak for themselves AND given parents some peace of mind – along with documenting teachers who are not teaching…… Don’t even get me started on that one…. We have security cameras almost everywhere else in our lives, but for some of our most vulnerable- well it’s “confidentiality” issues. Thank you for sharing your story! I have bookmarked your blog and will follow.

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@mom2mikey February 21, 2014 at 1:06 am

Stay strong!

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Sheila February 21, 2014 at 2:29 am

I’m so sorry that your family has been going through this! Our sweet kiddos are so vulnerable and so deserving of being protected. I hope that whoever hurt him is brought to justice and not allowed to hurt anyone again. Go get ‘em, mama!

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Kerima Cevik February 21, 2014 at 3:00 am

Jo. I am so sorry this is happening to your beautiful son and your family. Cruelty, maltreatment are our common enemy. I am with you. Let us know how we can help. All of us, the hundreds of parents of disabled children who were harmed, are with you. Just let us know. We have your back now. I will amplify this post.

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Rhonda J. Greenhaw February 21, 2014 at 3:06 am

Been there. Thank you for your blog.

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Susie Christensen February 21, 2014 at 3:45 am

yes, we have been in your position. yes, it hurts so much. yes, people get mad at us for some unexplainable reason. yes, we removed our child from public education…..because yes, his safety has become the most important thing. We stand behind you in solidarity and hope for the future.

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Joy February 21, 2014 at 3:47 am

Thank you for speaking out without softening the edges. What scares me so much is everyone has a different idea of what abuse is. It allows people to look you straight in the eyes and say it doesn’t happen.

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Sunday Stilwell February 21, 2014 at 4:18 am

I am so deeply sorry for what happened to Andrew. No one should have to endure this kind of abuse at the hands of those who should be trustworthy.

I hope the school district is forced to pay for their transgressions. And pay mightily.

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Barbara February 21, 2014 at 4:19 am

So sorry to hear that your child and your family experienced such harm. I sure wouldn’t waste time on people who absurdly assert that you are somehow “using” your child for your writing. Remember some people were ticked that blacks refused to leave a lunch counter in the segregated south so many decades ago. Your righteous anger will lead you to justice. You have a gift for writing, and we are all called to do what we can to use our gifts for the greater good.

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Vashra Araeshkigal February 21, 2014 at 4:20 am

Be strong, be stoic, and never let them make you quiet.

Words seem like trite support… but know that others of us who lived through moments which let us know something of what your boy endured are *grateful* … so very grateful…that somewhere in the world there are parents who won’t be quiet.

My mother didn’t have that strength. It is too late for me now, the wounds are old and scarred over, and the “statute of limitations” is passed, and the others who came after me were mostly quiet too.

So your fight is my fight, because it heals my heart just a little bit, to know that *some* children have parents who love them enough to put up with the public…embarrassment? (my mother’s word)…instead of making us just be quiet.

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surprisedbyjoy February 21, 2014 at 4:26 am

Keep up the fight, you are amazing. After going through our own heart-wrenching experiences, I lost my energy to fight…we’re just working on healing. I’m so glad there are people like you with the drive to fight for change. I’m praying for your family and your sweet child.

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Elyse February 21, 2014 at 4:31 am

Jo,

I had no idea you were suing the school. Good for you and your family, though. This is so wrong on so many levels. As a special ed teacher, I am shocked what happened to Andrew. May your words go smoothly and Andrew continue to be happy!

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teresa langhorne February 21, 2014 at 4:57 am

my 6 year old son came home from school today and told me his tdt worker flicked him on his arm b/c he was coloring outside the lines and told my son not to tell his mom, which, is me , and if he did tell me, she’d see to it my son was expelled, then, my son had a melt down , begging me to please not call the school cause he didn’t want to be expelled and afraid she’ll be meaner to him.

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Loren February 21, 2014 at 5:06 am

I wish I had something profound to say, something that would help you (and your whole family) feel even the littlest bit better. Just know, always, that you have a big circle around you of people who love you and believe in you. Close your eyes and ears (as much as you can) to people who want to tear you down. They obviously don’t know the first thing about you, and they are not worth the effort. You are fighting one of the major civil rights struggles of this generation. What you are doing matters, as you said, not just for Andrew but for all kids. You are awesome.
-Loren

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Susan jacoby February 21, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Thank you for advocating in such an articulate manner. It is every parents nightmare come true … Special or typical needs. But, it is true 1000x more horrifying when your child is nonverbal and unable to protect themselves or even report to you any wrong-doing.
Keep talking … We’re listening and ready and able to support.

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Tamesha Aldahondo February 21, 2014 at 2:18 pm

You see reading this…….I’m sorry you have to give me a minute, because I myself am a single mother with a son who has Autism, but this just (again) PISSED ME OFF!!!!, what the heck is going on especially when you & your husband have done SO MUCH for your son school are you kidding me right now????…Don’t mean to sound angry in no shape or form, but WE HAVE TO STICK TOGETHER for our kids sake & I agree this, our OUR KIDS, sucks we have to put trust in the school system & look what happens??…..Oh man, case in point AVONTE OQUENDO!!!! his family had NO IDEA that him going to school that morning would be that last time they seen their little boy.. BS!!!, …..BTW he is a cutie pie, love his smile, we are behind you 1000%, want to start something myself here in NY for single parents, because it is hard & we really need to look out for our babies, whether they young or older……who else will?…thank you for your story & no I didn’t see it for anything for what it was meant to be….letting other know what is going on everywhere & to take better intuition in the school system, because like I have said before if not more then likely we are going to have to home-schooling our kids…………..again don’t get me wrong, there are some WONDERFUL school out there, (the one my son goes to it great), they are very caring & the staff there loves there jobs & the kids, but not everyone is so lucky, but we really do have to be on a look out……as a Autism community & other special needs community……WE LOVE OUR KIDS!!!!

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JavaJ February 21, 2014 at 4:39 pm

“Now multiply that by a thousand, and you’re likely pretty close.”

We’ve been in your shoes & I don’t even think multiplying by 1000 brings it close. My son was abused in 2010 & the pain in my heart is as bad today as it was then. I blame them & I blame myself for not paying more attention to the red flags. We’d had many changes in our life just prior to the school year, and I thought much of his anxiety was due to that (he’s non-verbal)…I never in my life thought that teachers could be capable of doing what they did. I will never forgive them, and to the day I die, I will never forgive myself for not protecting my son. Thank you for your blog & your message, there are those of us who understand and support you in your fight!

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Kat February 21, 2014 at 11:54 pm

Oh Jo. This disgusts me. It’s always our biggest fear. Praying for you all. (((Hugs)))

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Jennie B February 22, 2014 at 5:39 am

“We’re doing it anyway. ”

Yes we are. You are. You are so strong, and so is Andrew.

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Jessica February 22, 2014 at 7:12 pm

Reading this gives me goosebumps and so much heartache for you all over again but I hope that finally being able to fight back and fight for your son is healing.

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Beth February 22, 2014 at 10:10 pm

Thank you…my ASD son came home from school with massive bruises. I know that they did not come from another student. My heart aches for our kids.

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Adrienne February 23, 2014 at 12:55 pm

The fact that you are a writer is a coincidence, and it’s an unlucky one for the district because you are eloquent and forceful. They hurt your baby, and any parent whose baby is hurt will call on all her resources, talents, and contacts to make the people who hurt her baby take responsibility for what they did.

We’re here for you. You have this huge and growing community of friends and supporters and I hope we can give you extra strength to keep you going for the fight. And I also hope we can out-shout your critics because they have no idea what they’re talking about.

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Jude March 1, 2014 at 3:51 am

I read your blog often but don’t usually comment. As someone who was not a good communicator as a child, I truly appreciate your voice and advocacy for your child. You are helping so many other kids who silently just get treated poorly and for that you should only be praised. My best wishes to you and your family.

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Gayla Ber March 3, 2014 at 5:13 pm

You’re always going to have “haters” who think whatever you publicize is to further your own career. But by publicizing as much if this as you can, you are forwarding yournown agenda, and that is the same agenda of every parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle and cousin to children on the spectrum. To make sure our kids are going to safe places that, as you said yourself, foster a learning and growing environment.

Don’t worry about those who say you’re only in it to further your own career. They haven’t walked a millimetre in your shoes.

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