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Monday, February 13, 2012

Let me give you the run down on this man.  He was a Special Education Judge in Texas. He was the judge and jury on appeal decisions -- called Due Process -- given to parents who feel that the school district did not hold up their end of the deal with their special needs kid(s).  The family who recorded this judge sleeping during their appeal, had taken 7 years to get to this point.  Seven years.  They allege that the school district failed to acknowledge or address their son's autism who became suicidal as a result.  He had no friends and was bullied mercilessly.  He didn't have any special accomodations in place for him and this boy suffered horribly.

Imagine this scenario for a moment:  a neurotypical child in a regular ed classroom is 10 years old.  But, this child is placed in high school.  This child does not have the developmental capability to socially connect, they are considered "different" from others and an outcast.  They do not understand the work because they process it differently and even navigating the extensive hallways, to get from class to class, seems insurmountable.

Most of us would never allow this - even if the child were a savant -- because it's inappropriate and potentially developmentally damaging.  But as a society we allow this scenario to occur daily with our autistic kids: we put them in classrooms that are not appropriate, expect them to quickly "learn" social cues and teach them through behavioral training. My boys are worthy of an excellent education. My boys are worthy of friends, praise and help, regardless of what that looks like in the academic setting.  My boys deserve to have allies in the academic arena, not individuals like this Judge, who disrespects the family, the child, the child's pain and suffering by falling asleep on the job.  I wonder what he would think if his surgeon fell asleep on the job "just for a few moments" then excused it by saying it was the nurse's responsibility to wake him up during his quad bypass.  It seems ridiculous, right?  Outrageous?  This is what happened to this boy's family.

His Mom recorded this man sleeping.  She and her attorney have figured it was at least through a quarter of the entire hearing.  Did I mention this wasn't his only complaint of sleeping on the job? In 2006, this same Judge fell asleep during another family's Due Process hearing.  They lost which is usually what happens in the end.  This is after parents spend thousands of dollars in the process trying to be heard so that their child is afforded the same education as their neurotypical counterparts.  Many of these kids are already out of school by the time these process hearings are heard or so many years have passed that there has been continued damage being done.

I think about my boys.  I think about their education and their social experiences.  Will they have friends?  Will they be able to connect in a way to their peers that makes it clear and obvious to those other kids?  Are they being taught with dignity and respect?  Are teachers, therapists, parapros following through with their IEP so that they continue to thrive?  My boys have had amazing teachers and good teachers. The one constant that I have seen in their short academic life is that most teachers, even special education teachers, do not know what autism is or how it manifests in each individual child.  So then I fast forward to them being in middle school and their father and I having to fight tooth and nail to get them the services they need, knowing that Rascal #2 may fall through some cracks because he's higher functioning than his twin.

The resources for our families do not exist. The support for our families is minimal at best.  We lose financial stability, friends, family members and marriages because we have to fight so hard for our kids.  They are our focus and our lives and only other parents of autistic kids get that.

So of course, I put myself in this mother's shoes, having to record this Judge sleeping during a fight she has kept going for 7 long, excruciating years to fight for her son.  In the end, the Judge resigned only because he came under fire once the video was posted on  Initially, the school district denied any wrongdoing on his part and said that the allegations of him sleeping were simply not true.  This was after they saw the video. Even after they asked the other witnesses in the room if they saw him sleeping.  They denied any and all responsibility.  Just like they did to this child.

I continue to walk in similar shoes as his Mom: worrying, wondering, fighting, working, struggling to make sure that the boys will reach their highest potential and praying that their father and I aren't the only ones actively fighting for this.

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