Friday afternoon while in a meeting with my boss, my cell phone rang.
I looked at the caller ID.
When Zion’s teacher calls me, it is never good news.
I cringed and excused myself to the hallway to answer my phone.
She explained the events of Zion’s day, as she sobbed.
I listened to this Precious Heart describe something that, while unfortunately typical for my son, would have to be reported to CPS.
My heart sank into my belly.
The past several years, Zion has been a bit of a nudist.
Four years ago, during our first attempt to transition him into public school, he discovered that if he simply got naked, he could garner all kinds of attention.
Teachers would come running.
School work could inadvertently be avoided.
Small children would shriek in horror.
He loved the very visceral reaction he received from going bare pickle with an audience.
And it only escalated from there.
Over the course of the next 3+ years, he would learn how to use said nakedness to elicit desired reactions in different situations.
Not at home, mind you.
He knew full well if he tried to pull that crap at home, I would throttle him.
He only pulled this garbage at school or therapy.
It started out with the simple act of dropping his pants. Then advanced to full-on nakedness, head to toe. Next it escalated to urination, stimulation, defecation…
these are all behaviors to achieve avoidance and attention…and there is literally and absolutely zero shame.
It is really a recipe for disaster, and for the most part, unmanageable in a public school setting. In the ABA therapy setting, he could be removed and isolated from the visibility of other students.
Isolation is exactly what he is typically seeking.
So how do you correct undesired behavior when the punishment is actually a reward?
You can see why his first attempted transition to public school in 2013 lasted less than 3 weeks.
Fast forward to present day, 2017. Our second transition to public school is at 12 weeks…
Zion’s teacher calls me 3 hours later.
She states she has reported his bare tallywacker classroom incident to CPS, and they will not be investigating it further.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing to hide. This child is well-loved, well-scrubbed, well-taught, well-fed. But even so, no parent in their right mind wants to hear those three terrifying and humiliating letters.
Child Protective Services.
Having worked in the emergency room for 6 years, CPS immediately brings to mind some truly sordid images.
Moms strung out on heroin.
Dirty, love-starved children who haven’t eaten in days because their grocery money was spent on crack.
Claims of abuse, neglect, abandonment.
Not exactly the things that come to mind when I think of my relationship with my son.
The larger issue is that Zion’s teacher says that his current educational environment is likely not a good fit for him…
to be discussed at his conference next week.
I can’t do this anymore.
I don’t want to.
The thought of transitioning Zion into yet another different program is enough to drive a nun to drink.
Don’t get me wrong, I get it.
I can’t begin to fathom what these Special Education teachers go through.
They have these giant hearts and insanely miniscule resources, and are completely passionate yet utterly unable to serve these students who are all over the autism spectrum with a vast variety of needs and issues.
This is the second public school Special Education teacher who has bawled her eyes out to me out of sheer frustration, exhaustion, and love for my son.
The desire and the passion to help Zion are there.
The resources, however, are not.
At some point, hopefully sooner than later, we have to find a way to figure out how we are going to educate and care for the 1 in 26.
1 in 26 kids now are being diagnosed with autism.
Insurance companies have decided they’ve invested enough.
Over the course of 8 years, they have paid out in upwards of 1.2 million dollars for his therapy and neurological care….so again, I get it.
The challenge is that the public school setting cannot manage him the way that ABA therapy can.
ABA therapy is 1:1. Therapist to patient.
Our current public school ratio is 1:7. One teacher. Seven students. And that’s actually a much smaller ratio than typical for public schools.
Zion’s teacher can have all the passion in the world, but at the end of the day, she spends so much of her time managing behaviors for seven kids, how can she have any time to actually teach?
This challenge isn’t going away.
These tweens are going to be adults in 10 years.
And where are these adults going to be?
Living in our basements?
Cared for by retired and aging grandparents?
Living in group homes?
Homeless and alone?
These are the questions that keep me awake at night. I worry constantly about Zion’s future.
And I manage these worries on my own.
There is no husband or fairy godmother or endless supply of money to make these worries easier or somehow magically go away.
You can call it theatrical if you like, but it’s simple realism.
As a society we are going to have to come up with a solution to the 1 in 26.
Zion walks into the media room this morning, wienis in hand.
He’s a dude.
He’s almost 13.
And he has autism, people.
That’s a frightening trifecta.
He doesn’t understand social nuances. Or appropriateness.
He does what feels good.
He doesn’t comprehend those words that people throw around.
Like public indecency.
So how does that fit into a public school classroom?
It just doesn’t.
This story may have made you squirm.
Believe me, it wasn’t fun to write about.
But I want you to understand the struggle. The reality of it all.
And awareness is the first step is bringing about change.
Stories like these are the best way for me to explain why Zion is 1 of the 26 puzzle pieces that just doesn’t quite fit.
But you can trust and believe one thing: My sole purpose is to help him find the place where he fits.
And I will not rest until I do.