Re: DSM: Is democracy for everyone?
Wed, 4 Aug 1999 18:03:18 EDT

Hi All --

Since we've lived deep inside the belly of this beast of a question for the
last year or so, I want to chime in with my (short but intense) experiences
as a parent of a "special needs" child who's spent the last year (and
hopefully will spend many more) at an SVS-model school:

My child, who is off-the-charts (if we paid attention to charts) intelligent
and was reading "adult" books (Stephen J Gould, Nietzche, you name it) when
he was 8 or 9, was classified by the supposedly great public school system
where we lived as waaaaay special needs: Gifted/Learning Disabled, ADD,
Oppositional Behavior Disorder (he wanted to read in class when it was time
to "do the lesson"), Seriously Emotionally Disturbed, etc, etc. The schools
there decided that he needed level 4 or 5 special ed services. I decided
that he was mostly just fed up with the toxicity of the schools' expectations
and was smart and self-assured enough to rebel. After a few disastrous
experiences with the "accommodations" these schools offered, I decided that
we would move across the country if necessary to get him into an SVS school
before we both became Seriously Emotionaly Disturbed. I was just convinced
that at least some of these "special needs" would diminish or vanish when he
was in an environment where he was truly respected and where he was expected
to behave respectfully toward both himself and others.

Well, some of them did. But it's not a fairy tale. All year long my child
has had to learn to re-set his behavioral and attitudinal "defaults," and he
hasn't always been particularly successful. Some of his early and difficult
experiences, as well as his hard-wiring, make this harder for him, perhaps,
than for other kids. And JC and school meeting, while patient and often wise,
have had to deal very firmly with him on some of his remaining issues. In
fact, several times this year he came close to having to leave the school.
Fortunately, I think (hope) he has learned to modify his behavior --
motivated in a way he never was before, this time by the fact that he loves
the school and really wants to be there.

My point is that the democratic process worked for this very "special needs"
person in a way that none of the "accommodations" in public school did. And
this is hard to say, but I believe that even if he had been kicked out, it
would have still worked. In that case, we would both know that some other
kind of situation was necessary -- but we would have found it out because of
an authentic assessment of his functioning in a real community, not because
of the bizarre and arbitrary criteria of the public school leviathan. And we
would have both believed it. And though we would both be heartbroken, I
would still believe that the school had a right to preserve itself and to
provide safety for the other members of the community.

One more comment -- our school, which was a start-up that just opened last
year, does have a wheelchair ramp, wide doorways, and other features that
would make it a welcoming environment for a mobility challenged person --
even though none now attend. After that, how that persons would get his or
her needs met would be up to them. I assume that that would be something
like how the littler children accomplish some of the more physically
challenging tasks -- try to do it themselves, and ask for help if they can't.

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.0b3 on Thu Dec 23 1999 - 09:01:57 EST