What Does Disability Mean? And Why Are We Arguing All The Time?

In light of the recent video showing a student attacking another student in Caesar Rodney High School, many folks seem very confused about what the word disability means.  Many think a disability has to be visual, such as a person in a wheelchair.  That is hardly the case with the legal definition of the word.  The Americans with Disabilities Act is very clear about what the word means:

An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.

In the case of special education, disability is just the umbrella word for any number of medical disabilities.  A student could have ADHD, be blind, have Autism, or any number of different classifications.  To qualify for special education, whether it is an IEP or a 504 plan, the school will want to see a medical diagnosis by a certified physician.

To be crystal clear, the child who was punched in the head in the video taken in the Caesar Rodney High School cafeteria, has a disability.  Just because you can’t physically see that disability doesn’t mean he doesn’t have one.  Some took offense to WDEL, this blog, and other media using the word disabled in the title.  Some have gone so far to say this child is not disabled.  He is.

Some have said words said caused the other student to attack him.  No, what caused the other student to attack him was a choice.  A choice to take it to the next level.  A level he got arrested for.  On social media, someone asked me what I would do if they verbally attacked me repeatedly at my job.  I proudly said I would not physically attack him.  I would report it and would even record him in areas where I could.  It isn’t worth the consequence, no matter how upset I might be by words, to ruin my life.  That is something most grown adults should understand.  But for teenagers in a high school cafeteria, among their peers, it is a different world.  Did the student who attacked the other student have the necessary ability to understand that if he followed through with the thought to resort to violence that there would be very real consequences?  Is it defending yourself if you go from words to that level?  I don’t believe it is.  Because the next defense after that could very well take place in a court of law.

We can talk about the failure of adults all day long, but the heart of this issue is making choices.  I’ve made choices in my life that have had consequences.  We all have.  It’s what makes us grow, learn, and hopefully, evolve.  I choose not to let words said by others put me in a position where I have more to lose than gain.  It’s that simple.

I would urge people not to toss the word disability around like it is a visual thing.  Most disabilities are neurological.  Those that come from the mind.  They can’t be seen by others unless it manifests physically.  We can’t see anger in someone’s heart.  We can’t see depression.  We can’t see an obsessive need to want something.  These are very real afflictions affecting the disabled across the world.  I advocate as much as I humanly can for the disabled because very often, they don’t have a voice of their own.  Many parents of the disabled sacrifice so much of their lives advocating for their disabled child.

What has made this situation very controversial are issues of race.  Some have alleged online that the other student used discriminatory words to the student that attacked him.  The school, according to the student’s advocate Diane Eastburn, did not find that to be the case based on first-hand witnesses present before and during the attack.  I’ve heard many parents say their child was in the cafeteria.  If any of those words were said, I certainly don’t condone them.  But I don’t believe they were.  What we have here are circumstances that led to a very difficult week for Caesar Rodney School District.  Parents wrestled with wanting their child to even attend the school.  The district played damage control by only allowing comments of support on their Facebook page and deleting the rest.  People across Delaware saw an employee arrested for sexting a student, a picture of the high school mascot holding a sign with the worst possible racial language, and then the video of this fight came out on WDEL.

What kind of message are we sending to our children that if someone uses words against you it is okay to physically attack them?  Are we really preparing them for the day when we can’t protect them and they get thrown in jail?  As parents or guardians, we want our children to be safe in our schools.  We don’t want them to be bullied and we certainly don’t want them to be attacked.  We expect the adults in the school to be able to take control of a situation as soon as possible because we put our trust in them to do the job when we can’t be there.  We don’t care about official training that has to take place.  We expect that training to happen before our kid is seen in a video getting punched repeatedly in the back of the head.  We also expect that if our child goes to an adult about any type of bullying issue, that they aren’t made out to be a victim all over again with doubting words by the school investigator.

I’ve heard many in Delaware suggest that many of the climate problems in our schools actually come from the home, from what parents teach their children.  Based on comments I’ve seen in the past couple of days, I am inclined to believe that.  The ends do not justify the means.  Once you make that choice to use violence, you become the aggressor.  The crime (and yes, punching someone repeatedly in the back of the head is a crime) becomes worse than any words said and the consequences are much greater.  This is something I tell my own son.

Sometimes I don’t know what to make of the world we live in these days.  Everyone seems so polarized and wants to attack others if they don’t agree.  I find myself in this position often.  It is as if we have been conditioned, over time, to be like this.  We defend certain actions, even if they are wrong, to be able to make a point.  I can’t help but think we need to be better than this.  Somewhere along the way, many have equated race issues with politics.  The two don’t mix.  I hate hearing anyone say something to the effect of “if it was a white person doing this it would be a hate crime”.  How can we ever effectively deal with the issues that divide us if we are always at each others throats?  How can we help our children one day lead us if we don’t know how to do it ourselves?  These are the thoughts I’m wrestling with more than I would like in 2017.  I meandered a bit from the original purpose of this article, and that’s okay.

We need to celebrate our differences, not use them as points in an argument.  No matter what color we are, what disability we may or may not have, no matter what God we choose to believe in or not, no matter how we choose to love others.  We are all in this together, this human race.  We are more than Democrat.  We are more than Republican.  This is our world.  We can get along.  And we should all try to help those who can’t help themselves.

Mother of Child With Autism Stands Up For Her Son At Academy of Dover Public Hearing

Yesterday, at the Delaware Department of Education, a public hearing was held for Academy of Dover, a charter school in Dover now under formal review.  The only members of the public to show up were a Miss Sabine Neal and myself.  Representing the school were Principal Cheri Marshall, Board member Nancy Wagner, and a member of the administrative staff.  The purpose of this public hearing was for any member of the public to give comment about Academy of Dover.  Neal gave public comment, and what she said is disturbing, but necessary for parents and members of the community to know.  Miss Neal gave me permission to tell this story, and it is very similar to what so many parents in Delaware have gone through at the hands of our schools.

Hi, my name is Sabine Neal.  I’m a parent at Academy of Dover.  My two children, two of my children go there.  I’m here today, sorry I’m kind of nervous.  I’m here today to stand up for my son.  He was the child that was abused at the Academy of Dover.  He is a six-year old kindergarten special needs student who I asked for an evaluation for in August from the school.  I did not receive any evaluations until November, and I was not notified he was going to be evaluated.  I found out because he came home nervous.  I submitted an Autism diagnosis, I submitted an ADHD diagnosis.  I was told they could not do anything with the ADHD diagnosis until he had been in the school six months.  The Autism diagnosis, I was told since he was only two and a half, it was too old and I needed a new one.  They knew he had issues, I asked for help, and problems escalated throughout the year.  He’s autistic, he doesn’t deal well with change.  Issues occurred and arose throughout the year.  He’s been suspended multiple times, but he’s not a bad child.  He is six.  I tried everything with the school.  I set up to get him reevaluated.  Getting into a neurologist takes a lot of time.  I went to a neurologist, my insurance dropped that neurologist, so I had to go to Delaware Autism Program as the school suggested.  I got him re-diagnosed again, again, he’s not eligible.  I never had a meeting, they never said anything.  I was just told by the Behavior Interventionist he is not eligible.  Continue reading