Pedagogy of the Depressed: my experiences as a special ed student in the 1990s.

In May 2013, "Asperger's Syndrome" will be removed as a diagnosis from the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), leaving "high functioning autism" in its place. I agree with this change. Given the importance of the manual, however, it's caused a lot of consternation and caused me to reflect upon my experiences.

In May 2013, "Asperger's Syndrome" will be removed as a diagnosis from the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), leaving "high functioning autism" in its place. I agree with this change. Given the importance of the manual, however, it's caused a lot of consternation and caused me to reflect upon my experiences.

I was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome in 1998. Expelled from two schools in quick succession—first a private Catholic school in the third grade, then a the local public school in the fourth—I was placed in Northwoods, an approved private school for students with emotional disturbances or autism. Northwoods served the entire county; each district sent a shortbus with a few kids.

I never felt like I had symptoms severe enough to warrant a diagnosis of Asperger's. I have some issues with anxiety and depression, but I can trace these back to my "treatment" at Northwoods.

People with Asperger's are supposed to be "mindblind" - unable to process emotions or sarcasm. They are loners. None of this describes me—I'm a gregarious PhD student with a wide circle of friends who has scored severals jobs and internships through schmoozing at conferences.

But in the mid 90s, I was not a successful doctoral candidate. I was told that I was "a danger to myself and others" and consigned to a "partial hospitalization program" which catered specifically to boys like me. (Northwoods was ostensibly co-ed, but the male to female ratio was about 20:1)

Northwoods existed due to a series of laws, passed in and around the 1990s, which mandated that all US public schools must make "reasonable accommodations" for students with disabilities. Originally, this meant that schools had to add wheelchair ramps, provide braille textbooks, physical accommodations. But sometimes a school simply couldn't provide the instruction needed. For example, a small school district might not have been able to provide a deaf child with sign language classes, or a blind child with braille books for every class.

To meet these needs, approved private schools were created. The idea was that tax dollars from several school districts could be pooled and one school served all of particular population. For example if your kid was deaf, they didn't go to Dick Nickson Elementary, instead they went to the Helen Keller school for the blind. In my view, this concept became twisted from its intention and used to exile "troublesome" students away from the general population. Schools opened themselves up to lawsuits if they expelled students with mental disturbances: it was easier to simply place all the “aspies”, ADHDs, and bipolars of in some far off school.

At Northwoods, every minute of every day was quantified and ranked, with accolades and admonishments doled out. We'd be locked in "calm down rooms" for up to 6 hours and restraints were imposed as a form of corporal punishment for minor infractions.

Schooled in Security

Getting to Northwoods was stressful in itself. Students were bussed in from all over the county, and commute times could be long. Between the distance to Northwoods and the serpentine pattern used to pick up my fellow students, a bus ride could last an hour in heavy traffic.

When we reached the school, we waited an additional 20 minutes to be searched. After Columbine, Northwoods decided that students needed to be scanned upon entry, a pre-9/11 example of security theater. (I still get flashbacks to middle school every time I go to the airport.)

The buses lined up, and then three at a time they advance to the front of the school and open their doors. There were usually no more than 6 or 7 kids from each school district on a bus, yet many school districts still sent full length buses since we didn't need wheelchair lifts. So a line of ~30 buses would snake out of the semicircle in front of the school and half a mile down the block. Anyone who has encountered bullying on school bus can sympathize with having an hour-long commute. Fellow riders assaulted me with seat belts and fists; one even spat in my face, though that only happened once since I pummeled him so thoroughly afterwards.

At the school, three staff stood where the buses unloaded – one for each bus being unloaded. Each staff member had a walkie-talkie - one of those FRS deals that people used to bring to amusement parks before ubiquitous cell phones. When one load of kids cleared security, staff in the building would radio out to the buses, and have the outside staff members unload another set of kids

Inside the school's entryway there was a table, forming a barrier to the intersection with the main hallway. You placed your backpack on the table to be searched, then stepped to the side to be wanded with a metal detector. If anything beeped, you emptied the pocket or had it patted down. Kids used to smuggle cigarette packs in their crotches because of this. (Unlike the TSA, the Northwoods staff was not allowed to pat down childrens' genitals.)

Instead, the school removed all the bathroom stall doors in retaliation for the students who smoked in them. I was lucky enough to be friends with the school nurse, but many students clenched their bowels all day rather than defecate in public.

Once the search was done, you'd head to your classroom. There were three schools within Northwoods – the elementary, middle, and high school. Each school had four classrooms. Each classroom had one teacher, two assistants, and an assigned therapist. Students weren't always separated by age; it was more by what sort of disorder you had, at least for homeroom. We'd break into little groups for actual classes, which could be as big as twenty or as small as one or two kids.

During homeroom in elementary school, you did "morning work"—usually word searches. It was boring, as they ran out of new ones after about a week. By Christmas, anyone could do them all in under a minute. You quickly learned to just sit with your head facing the paper, drawing doodles, or you'd just be handed another one. If you wanted breakfast, you didn't do morning work, so lots of kids did that instead, especially since about half of the students were from low-income areas and got free meals. The other half were from the wealthy suburbs, which made for an interesting dynamic. (Though surprisingly there was almost no racial tension – similar disordered students tended to clump together, regardless of color or creed.)

Eventually, the pledge of allegiance would occur over the phones we had in each classroom—there wasn't a full-blown intercom system. Then the day would begin.

The Point Sheets

They had a strict disciplinary system at Northwoods to try and keep us in line. The main form of discipline at Northwoods was the point sheet. It was a system similar to Hogwarts' house points system, but for individuals. And instead of winning a trophy, you earned the basic rights granted to everyone at normal schools, like being allowed to have recess or use the bathroom unescorted.

The elementary, middle, and high school each had their own point sheets, and sometimes there were tweaks from semester to semester. The system changed throughout the years, but the basic concept always stayed the same. You could earn up to hundred points in 1 day, ten per period. There were five categories, such as "follows directions" or "completes work". Each category earned up to two points. Partial completion, or a minor slip up, resulted in one or two of the potential points being docked.

If you maintained a high enough point level for a certain number of days, you earned “privileges”. The system taught a simple lesson about control: obey, and life will be easier. It's hardly an accurate or representative preparation for society, where life's complexities and challenges apply equally to everyone.

The other thing about point sheets, of course, is that you lost points if you misbehaved. "Verbal Aggression", for example, led to an immediate loss of 50 points.

If you went "in the negative"—a point total below zero—you were placed under in-school suspension (ISS). A cubicle was placed around a study carrel by a teacher's desk, so the student couldn't see the classroom, and the classroom couldn't see the student. The work was brought to you.

The thing is, though, we didn't do much work at Northwoods, and what we did was trivial. A stack of work, intended to last a day, could be finished off in an hour. Completing it early resulted in spending the rest of the day reading. The teachers thought we viewed this as a punishment.

I educated myself at Northwoods, reading horror, science fiction and mystery novels, but, more than anything else, nonfiction material on history, politics, and true crime. (I liked forensics before CSI made it cool)

I was not just a student of the humanities; I also enjoyed books about the natural sciences. Math was a weak subject for me, because I didn't have the patience and saw no practical application for it. Northwoods wasn't exactly equipped for advanced students - we were assigned multiplication problems into late middle school.

At home, I tinkered with my computer. My family was not wealthy, especially after my mom's cancer hit and she had to stop working, and it was impressed upon me that the computer must be treated with the utmost care. If it broke, we would not be able to buy a new one. I learned everything I could about it, a 1998 model, in an age when viruses were a big issue. I learned a lot about firewalls, anti-virus, and common scams. Eventually, I started reading through back issues of Phrack and 2600. I never told anyone about my dabbling, as being labeled a hacker (or any other sort of rebel) was not helpful at Northwoods, where the only computer class consisted of a typing course.

One student I was friends with knew how to pick locks, and stupidly helped a teacher get into a locked cabinet they'd lost the key to. His reward was to be blamed for any subsequent theft that occurred in the building, even though these thefts were all from unlocked areas (some on days he was absent.)

Likewise, it soon became clear that I liked to play around with computers, and that alone meant that if anything went wrong, such as a computer slowing down or simply crashing while I was using it, I would be accused of somehow making it happen. If they had heard I was reading about packet sniffers and pings of death, I'd surely have been instantly banned from all electronic devices.

Looking back, I wonder what would have happened to me if they hadn't punished me by making me read. It's really hard to justify not hitting a bully who's screaming, inches from your face, when your "punishment" will be sitting alone, unmolested, for a whole day, surrounded by books.

In-school suspension, however, was tedious. They screwed with you every step of the way, sometimes in petty ways, such as substituting your menu choice at lunchtime with a less desirable option: If you protested, they'd tell you that they had a lot on their mind and if you weren't in ISS you'd get your chocolate milk. It was a mind game to them: I had one teacher who told me that he was making it his mission to make me hit him, so that I would be sent to juvenile hall, where rape is a fact of life. I had another tell me that she did not care if my mother, who was undergoing chemotherapy, were to die.

It was the point sheet system that set the framework for these degrading and dehumanizing encounters, and students could be ordered to "produce your papers" on demand—I was once penalized 25 points for "disrespectful language" after pointing out its eastern-bloc overtones!

But the points system was not the worst thing about Northwoods. ISS, after all, only works if you're willing to sit quietly in a corner. Sometimes kids refused to do so, or became so angry that it wasn't an option. In these cases, they had a special place for them.

Calm Down!

Northwoods had militaristic affectations. The teachers and staff viewed their authority as absolute (Friere's banking system of education taken to it's extreme.) The culmination of this belief was the Calm Down Room (CDR). If you went for a tour of Northwoods, they'd make it very clear that they don't engage in corporal punishment. Instead, a student deemed "out of control" could be restrained or sent to a CDR. The problem was Northwoods's very loose definition of what amounted to being "out of control", which in practice meant the use of restraint and imprisonment for almost any infraction.

Refuse a direction from a teacher? That means a time-out in the in suspension carrol. Argue with the punishment? That's out of control--because being "in control" means being able to follow directions. Arguments over assignments, or use of the bathroom when escorts were unavailable, could quickly spiral into a trip to the CDR. A refusal to go to the CDR led to a full-blown restraint. There is no question that this is corporal punishment: ignoring orders meant, ultimately, that they would lay hands on you.

Kids were restrained and locked up for offenses such as taking too long on the computer, losing their point sheet, failing to complete homework, refusing to wait for a bathroom escort, and many other minor infractions.

What exactly was the CDR? The CDR was a short, dimly hallway with two rooms in it. These rooms had linoleum floors and white concrete walls. Each room had a one-way mirror on the same wall as the door - when the light was on in the CDR room and off in the hallway, you couldn't see out. The door swung inwards, and only had a handle on the outside.

As the door swung into the room, a staff member would be able to stand on the outside of the room and hold the door closed. This was an important distinction, because locking the door would have been illegal. Instead, they would have someone physically hold it shut.

So how did you get out of the CDR? The terms were simple: sit quietly against the back wall for ten minutes with the door closed, and ten minutes with the door open, and you could return to class. But sometimes the door would stay closed longer than ten minutes, if the staff dawdled or just decided to have a nice hour-long chit-chat. Maybe you had to use the restroom. Well, asking for a bathroom trip obviously wasn't being quiet, and failing to be quiet was proof that you remained "out of control." This process could repeat a couple times, perhaps through lunch. It felt like torture to sit there for hours with a full bladder and empty stomach.

There are various levels of restraint.

The simplest was a sort of basket hold. A staff member would grab the student from behind, crossing their arms, and holding tightly. If they sat still, without struggling for 5-10 minutes, they'd be released. This was usually used only if there was a severe staff shortage or if the CDRs were full.

Usually, restraint involved two staffers. One would take your left arm, and one would take your right. If you resisted, you were thrown to the ground or against the wall. One staff member sat on your legs while the other either sat on your back or to one side, holding your arms on the floor. You could have as many as five people on you: one on each limb, plus one on your back.

Sometimes you got hurt in these restraints. I had my face pushed into the ground hard enough to trigger a nosebleed. Another time, I was thrown to the floor of the CDR and cracked my collarbone. On another occasion, my chin struck the floor before my torso, and I had to be sent to the ER to get stitches, to stop the bleeding.

That's right: something as simple as refusing to do your homework could set of a chain of events which ended with you being locked in a dark room or physically harmed if you stepped out of line—a culture of control backed by the threat of violence, all while telling us we needed to "learn to control our aggression". It was doublethink at its finest.

Education

Every day was planned to the minute, and deviance resulted in swift punishment and even physical injury. Education occurred at Northwoods only by accident, in study carrols intended as punishments. To this day, I have nightmares that I am back in that school. Loud noises or sudden movements cause me to flinch so sharply that everyone around me takes notice. I am prescribed anti-anxiety medication to deal with the state of constant vigilance that life at Northwoods instilled.

More importantly, I missed out on key milestones that others take for granted. Teen movies depress me. I was never there. There was no Breakfast Club, no Saturday detention. We had no jocks, as we had no sports.

I talk to no one about these incidents, due to the stigma against mental illness present in our society. I know that if I wrote about these experiences under my real name, I might never be awarded tenure or be hired at a prestigious private company.

Instead, I am writing this article. I hope that it informs, but more importantly, that it inspires. There are thousands of kids like me out there. Eventually, it gets better.

Published 6:00 am Sat, Jan 5, 2013

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146 Responses to “Pedagogy of the Depressed: my experiences as a special ed student in the 1990s.”

  1. wendysscissors says:

    It’s a horrible sensation — the realization of what we do to others when some coincidence of behavior, some mental process that we don’t understand, something unknown or somehow deemed inappropriate allows us to do these things with impunity.

    What struck me most about this writer’s story was that it could be the story of any number of my friends. It’s an intelligent group that doesn’t always respond “appropriately” to authority. Some of them have been diagnosed with Asperger’s. I hope that more people are willing to speak out about these experiences, these imprisonments, these tortures. How many people have been shuffled off to these primitive “schools” because they were too “difficult” for others to manage? 
    I realize that there are some children who require special instruction and care that can not be provided by general public schools, but surely this is not the way that we, as a society, want to deal with them.

  2. Promethean Sky says:

    This makes my days in special ed seem downright pleasant. I was all too familiar with school bus beatings, in school suspensions, and those goddamn wordsearches. Being publicly humiliated by an “educator” for daring to express an opinion sure is a character building experience though!

    I am quite convinced that my time there is one of the root causes my difficulty relating to people now. A couple years of enforced non-socialization will mess you up.

    My “favorite” bit was regularly being hauled in front of class to have both my hygiene and intelligence. Fucking psychopath “teacher”. 20 years later, and I still have nightmares about her.

  3. Alex Liggett says:

    “Thinking different” often ends up “getting the belt”…I could see Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak ending up at a school like this…

  4. mike webber says:

    I’m really sorry to hear about your experiences. In my 30+ years of working with students with disabilities I’ve seen a fair number of uncaring and/or abusive staff. But, the majority of my experience has been with incredibly dedicated adults who were there for the student regardless of their behavior.

    • Anthony says:

      Your need to chime in to defend “dedicated” adults is suspicious. Perhaps you’re one of those “dedicated” adults that at times loses patience and engages in questionable activities.

      Either way, talking about these types of issues is taboo and difficult. Consequently, you should be embarrassed for trying to defend the inexcusable, but I imagine you already are. Hence your need to say “well we aren’t all bad.” Sure, you all mean well, its just that the kids are too difficult to control…

      • cmdcarrot says:

        Get off your high horse. The only reason why the guy mentioned it was because of the rampant one sided bashing of any person who ever worked in one of these programs. The guy is right, the majority of people working with disabled children are people there only to help children. However, you are acting completely illogical, making wild accusations against someone you know nothing about, and blowing him off without giving him a chance. You are just like the people who do act uncaring and abusive.

        The fact of the matter is people always focus on the bad stereotypes and let those dominate the discussion, letting the overwhelming amounts of good deeds to go completely unnoticed. That is what you are doing, and you are being a jerk while at it.

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          You are just like the people who do act uncaring and abusive.

          Except that one is an internet comment and the other is systematic physical and emotional abuse that ruins people’s lives. But other than that, exactly the same.

          • Mae Smythe says:

            Wow, the moderators here show a lot of bias, don’t they? And a certain lack of knowledge of current events occurring on the internet, and the cultural shifts that are happening as a result.

            Even my dad, who still have problems sending an e-mail and types with two fingers, knows that words on the internet can hurt people in real life. Why don’t the BoingBoing moderators?

          • Promethean Sky says:

             Moderators aren’t robots. They are not gods. They are people with opinions of their own. Just because someone holds a position other than yours and wields some sort of authority, does not mean that they “should know better.” Unless you see a mod invoking their modship as debate leverage, can it. There is no grand divide here, Antinous (as well as any other BB mods) is one of us. Period. Full stop. Can it.

          • cfuse says:

            The thing you need to accept about BoingBoing is that it is edited and curated. The people responsible for it believe that makes it a better experience. Most people agree with that right up to the point that they find their views being edited out, or some other ‘objectionable’ point of view being promoted. That certainly doesn’t make the people objecting wrong, but it does explain why they’ll never get the changes they want.

          • OtherMichael says:

             @boingboing-a042ce9a4ab62514f0108125fd71cb96:disqus Since a moderator is identified as a “/ Moderator” they cannot but help invoking their modship as debate leverage. To claim otherwise would be to suggest that an off-duty cop, in uniform, is speaking personally and not invoking police authority unless he specifically says “BTW I’m speaking as a cop.” If he (she) we in plainclothes — which I guess would be NOT having “/ Moderator” appear after the name — it would be another story, one which would be highly similar to what you are suggesting.

          • wysinwyg says:

            Most people agree with that right up to the point that they find their views being edited out, or some other ‘objectionable’ point of view being promoted.

            Almost inevitably when my comments are deleted I’m either fairly grateful to the mods for having deleted a stupid comment or I at least understand why it was deleted.  When the mods express opinions I don’t take that as those opinions being “promoted”, I see it as individuals with opinions expressing those opinions.

            To claim otherwise would be to suggest that an off-duty cop, in
            uniform, is speaking personally and not invoking police authority unless he specifically says “BTW I’m speaking as a cop.”

            This is just stupid.  It’s a problem when cops abuse authority because they’re functionaries of civil government which is supposed to represent and protect all citizens.  What you’re talking about is moderators on a private blog — and since it’s private it’s run however the owners/editors/bloggers/mods want it to be run.  Moderators are part of the community (obviously), they have opinions, and they’re allowed to express those opinions — whether or not you think this is somehow “unjust” (it’s not) those are the house rules.

          • dmc10 says:

            Wow… I’m used to moderators here focusing on tone and civility, not being so biased and making knee-jerk judgments. cmdcarrot’s remarks were appropriate, Anthony made a blanket, stereotyping remark about an entire class of educators. Perhaps he has some bad personal experiences, I don’t know, but the remark was wildly off base.

            I get into similar arguments all the time regarding medicine. My wife is a physician, and I get annoyed when people on comment boards go off on doctors as being money grubbing pill pushers, conspiracy theories about doc and pharm companies, blah blah blah. Knowing what she went through (12+ yrs of school/training,  grueling 100 hr weeks in a hospital during residency, crap pay, etc), I do vehemently defend her and her profession.

          • helenaglory says:

            I had a short stint in a psychiatric hospital in my youth, and I hope you understand that it’s very hard to see this when you’re on “the other side.”

            The fact of the matter is, I was legitimately traumatized by an experience in an institution that was supposed to help me. Were there good people there? Yes. Do I think that anyone working there was inherently evil? No. Eventually, I did get the help I needed, and it came from doctors and other professionals that include individuals who could very well be much like Mike Weber. 

            But what I see (and what I suspect Anthony sees as well) when an employee of these institutions comes to the comment section of a post criticizing the state of mental health facilities to defend themselves and their co-workers is someone who is willing to speak up and defend themselves, but not the people (children! mentally ill children!) who they are supposed to care so much about. 

            Part of that is absolutely irrational. I don’t know if this individual is the type of person to quickly take away “privileges” like fresh air, or if they are willing to turn a blind eye when someone violates the “no touching rule” to keep back a more genuinely uncontrollable individual who lunged at them.

            I asked for help and what I got was a jail, barred windows and all. I was punished for my illness though a point system, very similar to the one described above. I was silenced–any complaints or dissent was an argument against you, particularly if you seemed in any way emotional. 

            Comments like cmdcarrot’s are silencing. It is so very troubling to think that someone could read the above essay and not see the issue in telling someone to “get off their high horse” when they criticize a comment, from a biased source, saying that most people in a position of power over marginalized individuals Really Do Care. That could very well be true, but it’s a derailment. Those who are affected by the abusive or uncaring individuals (that the original commenter acknowledges!) don’t need to make a fuss about the decent human beings that were also there. (even though this author does!) 

            I can understand the frustration experienced by someone who feels vilified, but I don’t see any benefit in shutting down a discussion of the idea that maybe these dedicated individuals just aren’t doing that great of a job, or that there could still be room for improvement. If you’re really so dedicated, and so passionate about helping people in need, you should be open to criticism that might help you do your job better. You should care about the HUGE TREMENDOUS ABUSES that exist in your industry. You should focus more on the issue than the presentation.

          • cmdcarrot says:

            The internet allows anonymity. Anonymity allows a person’s true self to come out. What someone does alone, behind the safety of their computer screen, says more about them than how they act when actually in front of people.

      • plyx says:

        Edit to ‘derp’.

      • dan7000 says:

        Anthony, do you have any idea what you’re talking about?  or any experience in this area?  It’s really something to paint everybody who works in a particular field as child abusers.  As someone who has considerable exposure to special ed teachers, I assure you that’s not the case.

    • Dv Revolutionary says:

      He didn’t talk about the staff very much. He talked about his county’s system: The cop-outs buy normal educators, the authoritarian impulses, the need for control, the quick escalation, the hidden violence, the double speak and double think.

    • AlisonCummins says:

      This is called “Yes, but…” and is a big no-no for effective communication.

      It’s also called changing the subject to make it about you. Another big no-no.

      If the vast majority of staff are there for the student, it’s *not possible* that you would have seen a fair number of uncaring and/or abusive staff. The abusive staff would not be allowed to work there or they would be so closely supervised that they would have no opportunity to abuse. If you saw a fair number of uncaring and/or abusive staff, then most everyone else was looking the other way.

    •  Yes, but people get into Special Ed for a lot of reasons: people have a teaching degree, can’t find work, retrain as Special Ed, and find a wonderland where they’re providing daycare and don’t need to teach anything. (I’m speaking from observation of a few relatives…) Meanwhile, they’re paid better and everyone believes them to be “dedicated” and even “an inspiration” because…well, no one really knows what they’re doing day to day, and don’t really want to know.  Or they came from a dicey background and decide to go into “counseling” because they figure that they’ve gotten this far, and can’t do much else, no matter what their actual level of compassion or even life-skill competence they have.

      As an Aspie in a family where some have gone this route, I’ve heard them give out with “ain’t it awful” horror stories about how dumb and uncaring most of their students are…even seen my Mom and Dad visit the school and buy some of their art, which they framed and hung, claiming that “it’s important to support these things”, while my own writings and artwork were disparaged as being “oh, Alissa, you do know how to keep busy”.   I’ve seen them fall in with a teaching subculture that supports their cavalier attitude while dealing every day with people who could have been their students as roommates, landlords, bosses, and even friends.

      Short answer: Sturgeon’s Law 90% of anything is crap. More charitable answer: Bell Curve — for every truly dedicated, caring, and professional teacher in Special Ed, there’s a whole lot of other people who are overworked, burnt-out, unhappy, and/or just “good enough” to keep their jobs, and some that could and should be sacked. And there’s not much you can do about it.

      • IRMO says:

        “And there’s not much you can do about it.” Except, that is, to do everything in your power to address your kid’s disabilities at home and avoid the sped route. 

        • jospanner says:

           Looks to me like Alissa , who I’m guessing is still quite young, no kids etc yet, looks like she’s doing all in her power to bring this stuff into open. Encourage the young lady. Keep the lines open.

        • Mark Lasater says:

          As I was reading this that was what struck me, “Why stay?”  You can always opt out of special ed. programs. In most states you can opt out of public education entirely.  I was writing curriculum for an online school a few years after this would have taken place, this person sounds like what I heard from many of those parents at the time. Kids with needs who  just couldn’t quite find a school that matched them.  So, they opted out of the mainstream of public ed. and built their own.

    • dan7000 says:

      I have to second Mike’s comment.  I have worked in the area of special ed law – representing parents and students and advocates including my own son – on an occasional basis for a number of years and in a number of jurisdictions in multiple states.  I’ve also had my son in special ed in 3 different school districts in Minnesota and California.  And I read a lot of cases from across the country.  

      My impression is that the quality of special ed instruction varies a lot based on where you are.  There are definitely districts where a lot of teachers are disinterested and unhelpful.  Other districts, like San Francisco in particular, seem to attract highly educated, highly motivated teachers who could have chosen many other professions but choose to work hard for students about whom they really care.  I suspect that you would find the extremes on both ends in specialized institutions, since the institution is somewhat shielded and thus lends itself to developing an insular culture of either extreme dedication (see, e.g. Gallaudet) or extreme cruelty (e.g. Rotenberg).  

      This is one reason that specialized institutions should be done away with.  As other commenters here have pointed out, the IDEA requires education in the general population to the greatest extent possible.  Districts flout that requirement constantly, but they are quick to back down if you call them on it.  Kids should be in regular classrooms if at all possible, and otherwise in special day classes in a typical, local school.  Behavior issues are not a reason to shuffle kids off to an institution or to lock them in a closet – they are an indication that the kid needs additional help that they’re not getting.  That help should be provided, again, in the general education population as much as possible.  

      Beyond making sure that kids are educated in the least restrictive environment like the law requires, I’m not sure how districts best ensure they are encouraging a culture of bright, dedicated and committed special ed teachers.  But I know it’s possible because I’ve seen it.  It sounds like Mike is from one of the good districts.

    • techsupp0rt says:

      It’s true, most are good and have the children’s best interests in mind. However, if you see these things and do not report them, or at least make an effort to make it not happen again, you are enabling it to continue. Trying to protect your colleagues at the expense of the students is as big of a problem as the actual abuse itself, because it WILL continue if you don’t do something about it. There are lots of teachers who will report the bad ones, but there is an alarming number of those who will simply turn their head and pretend it’s not happening.

    • Erica_JS says:

      The point of this article is not the dedication or motivation of individual staff.  It is that the entire institution was structured around discipline, punishment, and control, rather than education – and that this is an all too common approach to handling kids who are different in any way. 

      There may well have been teachers and staff at “Northwoods” who tried their best to educate and help the kids despite the constraints of the system (but not too much lest they too be pegged as troublemakers and lose their jobs.)  That in no way excuses the cruelty and waste of human talent inherent in the system itself. 

  5. CthuluJones says:

    I thought I’d share a similar experience. Growing up I had alot of issues in elementary school, this was before diagnoses of aspergers or high functioning autism were common. MY parents, worried about me, fought to have me admitted to a similar school to the one you described, called Whispering Pines. Thankfully, it was run with a slightly different ethos. We too had a daily point system, but instead of allowing us common liberties, it allowed us to purchase luxury items from a school store.Little toys, puzzles, up to boom boxes and cd players. Those could take an entire year to work up to.
    The teachers who and psychiatric professionals who worked there were really stunning. Not all were amazing of course, but most of them bent over backwards to teach and guide what could be, at times, a chaotic enviroment. I was never discouraged from being weird or unique. I was however discouraged from cursing, shouting, and running around. The primary punishment was two minutes in a carol, staring at it’s blankness.
    For more violent outbursts, such as fighting, yelling cursewords (except for the poor lad who had tourettes obviously) and the like would get you sent to a room where you had to sit quietly for several hours. Lunch was brought, bathroom breaks provided, and you could read a book if you had one. They had a small selection of padded rooms but those were seldom used. Thankfully we never got a pat down or searches.
    At the beginning of your article I thought this would be a mirror of my experience, to my great sorrow it wasn’t. It sounds like these two schools had a similar genisis, but somewhere down the line they diverged. I now feel completely grateful to Whispering Pines for seeking to aid it’s children, and not just control them, and the life skills I learned there are more important then ever.
    Thankfully Whispering Pines pronounced me ready for the general school population before highschool.

    And of course my therapist there inspired in me a lifelong love of chess. All of my thanks to her,

    • awjt says:

      I wonder what the ratio is in the USA, of good alternative schools vs. bad ones.  I am guessing it is about 1 : 99, possibly even less.  Since before 2000, “bootcamp” type schools have been on the rise, and children who think and act differently tolerated less and less and pushed aside more and more.

    •  More place names in the vein would be awesome; Narcwad Larches, Hoarse Slippery Elms, Samizdat Juniper, Sibilant Sedges, Occasional Cracles Bayberry, Its Balm Of Her Nerves Female Ginkgo Middle School (coed), etc. awjt: It’s measured! 1:3ish in the late ’80s, not so far off now; any vein of incentives that stops hitting interest can end you up in the 3.
        School stereotypes are pretty extinctable as long as they don’t have families’ noise (or policy) backing them up. Fresh new insults until they’re all gone, as it were.

  6. cathym says:

    As someone who has worked as a therapist in secure facilities, I will say that I have seen staff be unfair and even cruel to students (and even once or twice is too often)… and yet, I think it’s important to remember what was left out of this narrative – sentences like “something as simple as refusing to do your homework could set of a chain of events which ended with you being locked in a dark room or physically harmed if you stepped out of line” leaves out exactly what DID happen – was there cursing, threats, physical resistance on the part of the student? Understand that what a child may think of as “just being mad” can lead to physical danger to staff, (I have had chairs thrown at me because I boy wanted to go home and couldn’t) and since staff doesn’t make the decision about who is placed in the school, they have to assume there is some possible danger. Restraints are usually done to avoid students hurting staff (which would result in criminal charges) or themselves (ditto) – trying to avoid trouble rather than incite it. Because I saw very little in the way of acknowledging that some out of control behavior did happen at that school, I have to see it as a lopsided description. But on the face it it, it does seem an inappropriate placement, and I have seen how such placements can become self-fulfilling spirals of frustration and labeling.

    Another missing piece is the fact that any and all restraints are required to be documented ad nauseum and audited by both superiors and outside services – any staff that was feeling power-hungry can quickly be brought up on charges of over-restraining. The amount of time and hassle for any time-out or restraint procedure is truly mind-boggling, and totally out of sight of the students (so this author probably had no idea)… restraints are the last resort, not nearly as quickly done as is implied here.

    I am also someone who might have been hospitalized or special ed’d myself as a youth, had someone paid enough attention to me, so I have much sympathy with the author! I am not sure if he understands that many staffers are sympathetic, but constrained by a system that institutionalizes both “regular” and “special ed” and even “hospitalized” students! I totally agree the system is broken, and I left the system when behavioralism (the system he describes above) won out over talking therapy and 1:1 attention. I hope he is spending some time working to change that system that injured him – that’s the only way it will change.

    • Sarah Crawford says:

       he’s not a child, and rarely is this side of the story told.

      • Andy Reilly says:

        You missed cathym’s point, they are not saying he is a child, they are saying that the story is told from his point of view from when he was a child. I’m not judging the truthfulness or accuracy of the story, just pointing out that the author has no way to go back and observe it from an outside, adult perspective. Again NOT saying they weren’t abused. But I think back to how I viewed things growing up in school ( as an “outsider), and what it must have looked like to a teacher on the other side. I wish I could go back and see it from a fly-on-the-wall perspective. 

    • Amelia says:

      Fear  of the students and/or adult patients, like cathym describes, is a huge contributing factor to harsh discipline, excessive restraint, and abuses of power. If the staff believes that they must keep the students “in control”  at all times in order for the staff to maintain their own safety, abuse may easily become justifiable as the means to a safe and orderly environment for the staff. I think describing the restraint administration procedure as a “hassle” “mind-boggling” and “to be documented ad nauseum” strongly reflects the power dynamic of the controllers and the controlled. The controlled are forcibly isolated, physically handled, and restrained against their will while the controllers want sympathy and gratitude for having to do some extra paperwork. If the staff is power-hungry, who will report it and to whom? Even if the controlled students wanted to speak-up about their experience, the word of teachers, therapists, and administrative staff is deemed to be more credible than a student with a mental illness diagnosis, behavior issues or anti-social tendencies. If a staff member sees cruelty done by another staff member, as cathym describes, how many report it and how many chalk it up to bad deeds done for the good cause of maintaining control? I hate to quote Star Wars, but fear of losing control leads to anger that authority is defied, and the anger leads to hateful acts and cruel behavior by the controllers towards the powerless and vulnerable people under their control.

  7. tré says:

    I really didn’t know this experience (of general malpractice in regards to “emotionally/socially disturbed students”) was that common. I was mislabeled as an “aspie” (and I say “mislabeled” with an earned denial; the initial “professionals” who handled my case formally apologized for their mistake [as though that's what mattered]) in the fifth grade and spent 6-8 going between the special ed department and the advanced classes. Some kindhearted piece-of-shit malpracticioner had decided that my refusal to associate freely with students who openly disliked me and my incessant questioning of rules and procedures that didn’t make sense to me were socially unacceptable behaviors that were obviously caused by my complete lack of social imagination. I often wonder if being in Minnesota had anything to do with it, because Minnesotan Lutherans are the only people who would view dissociation from people who dislike you as social dysfunction. I also wonder if it had anything to do with 98% of my classmates being white and me, one of the handful of students of color, asking questions (or “getting uppity”).

    Ironically, all of this drastically stunted my social and emotional development. Special ed had successfully ostracized me from my classmates; advanced courses had successfully ostracized me from everyone else. On top of all of this, I was astutely aware that I did not belong in the special education program, and I told the instructors this regularly; they didn’t like this and saw it as more evidence that I “didn’t understand social situations.” Joke’s on them, I suppose; in retrospect, I was the only one who understood the social situation.

    Thankfully, a new staff member was brought in during my 8th grade year, and she must have seen something the others had missed, because she worked with me and the other staff to get things (relatively) straightened out. I entered high school with few friends and a general resentment of my school district and classmates, but no special ed program.

    The whole thing was a huge part in my reflexive distrust of anyone claiming authority over anyone else, thankfully. But, growing up brown, queer, and smart in rural/suburban America will do that anyway.

    • welcomeabored says:

      ‘…because Minnesotan Lutherans are the only people who would view dissociation from people who dislike you as social dysfunction.’

      Most religious sects would have ceased to be, if they had ‘dissociated’ from people who dislike them.  Their agenda as a group would not have gone forward. 

      OTOH, avoiding a beat down and/or running like hell away from someone who wants to beat the shit out of you is usually a good idea, whoever you are or where you grew up.

      • Marja Erwin says:

        “OTOH, avoiding a beat down and/or running like hell away from someone who wants to beat the shit out of you is usually a good idea, whoever you are or where you grew up.”

        Unless running away is suspicious behavior, then you’re in a no-win situation and there are no good ideas. Of course, trigger responses due to past beatings are also suspicious behavior.

      • tré says:

        I didn’t mean the Lutheran church, but the “Minnesota Nice” culture that is due, in large part, to the importation of Scandinavian-style Lutheranism. In Minnesota, you aren’t supposed to walk away from a “conversation” unless politely asked or bid goodbye various times (in various forms) during the last fifteen minutes. “Fucking w*****k” and “where you going f****t” do not fall under these categories.

        Also, what Marja said.

        • lysdexia says:

          I still get chills when I hear “Awwwwfercyauuut”! (“Oh! For Cute!”) After which, the Central Scrutinizer is engaged and all is tears. Minnesota. *brrr*

      • jospanner says:

         Ah Minnesota, where the Multi Phasic Personality Analysis Test comes from?I

  8. this article enrages me to a stupendous degree. after describing your rise to great schmoozing exploits, you reveal your dark secret. i have some stories like yours myself, so i feel the pain. it triggers my PTSD responses too. and for the experiences you had, i stand with you in solidarity now and forever. but what makes me mad, what makes me blindly seethingly angered, is the last two paragraphs. you tell us that they gamed you so hard that you’re closeted about this forever, but go on to say how this should inspire the unknown reader and that it gets better. how exactly does it get better if you’re afraid to come out and stand shoulder to shoulder with all of us who have these experiences? you want the prestigious position, and i get that. i want that too. but i refuse to reach something if i have to lie about myself and obfuscate my experiences to do it. you’re not saying it gets better, you’re saying that yesterday they physically assaulted you but you learned how to shut up and keep quiet to secure tomorrow. all those things that they wanted to make you become, you have become. it doesn’t get better. we have to fight to make it better with every inch, every breath of our being. writing some confessional article on a major website is no replacement. write a book, put your name on it, use your schmooze, sell a million copies, fuck the prestigious job. if you value us, your fellow travelers on this road, you will do more. you won’t bury this the way you’re burying it today. you will dig it up and show the world. that’s what we all have to do, or we’ll just perpetuate the same broken cruel mechanism that got us here today. let me see your face and shake your hand and shed tears with you so we can be human together and revel in our common cause. don’t bury this. don’t bury it. please.

    • Mae Smythe says:

      But it just isn’t his responsibility to save the world. It isn’t. 

    • Sarah Crawford says:

      heh, almost guaranteed, when people stick their neck out like that, people like you who promised to back the leader up are no where to be found. so then he’s just hanging out there alone for anyone to point at and call crazy. you can’t trust anyone

      • Peter says:

        You can’t trust anyone BECAUSE everyone says you can’t trust anyone.  This kind of reasoning is everywhere – “yeah, I agree with you, but nobody else will because they’re not as good as me.”  Maybe we’re just conditioned as a society to imagine strangers as an “other” who’s much less compassionate than ourselves.  It’s a self-reinforcing judgement, but the opposite is too.

  9. Jon says:

    None of what you describe is really specifically helpful for autism spectrum disorder, except that it’s generally beneficial to kids on the spectrum to have a regular schedule and clear expectations/rules. One problem with these institutions is that they take in kids with all kinds of problems and they all get basically the same program, whether that is exactly on target for them or not.

    • Mary Neff says:

      As a mother of a severely autistic child, ASD diagnosis sounded like a misdiagnosis for this individual. Even the “high-functioning” kids I encounter on the spectrum can only deal in numbers or are otherwise severely limited. 

      I blame NCLB for a lot of the rigidness by the schools in dealing with the anti-authoritarian students. They need a more creative environment, a more flexible environment in which to learn. I have a son like that too…and guess what…he was given the ASD diagnosis so they could accommodate his needs. I consider it a misdiagnosis. 

      And in response to an earlier comment, the people that have worked with my severely disabled son have been outstanding. With the other, we had a terrible experience in K-2, so I made the choice to homeschool, then enrolled him in public school again for middle school. Our middle school and high school, so far, seems to care about doing what is best for the student with student input. (How can we solve this problem together?) 

      Don’t forget special educators have to deal with administration as well as parents. I am a SAHM in an affluent suburb so I have a lot of time to keep an eye on things at school.  It isn’t easy to discern what actually goes on sometimes even for me.  Then, I think of the single parent or the low-income family or the immigrant family, how difficult it must be for them to navigate the special ed system, the bureaucracy of the schools, in addition to the medical establishment. 

      Needless to say, families/students need more support from the schools and better mental health care from the medical establishment.

  10. I grew up going to very similar schools through the 80′s and early 90′s, ending well before Columbine changed the rules forever. My situation was similar to the poster’s, high “IQ” combined with “antisocial tendencies”. The school which was most similar to Northwoods from this article was called St. Josephs, in Old Town, Maine. It was a state run school on the grounds of a Catholic church and nunnery of some sort, and most students had at least a 45 minute bus ride. 

    St. Joe’s was a sort of melting pot for kids in screwed up situations. Some victims of abuse, some abusers, some of the seriously challenged, some criminally minded, some were even potentially psychotic. For my last year or two in St. Joe’s, the “Time Out” room was similar to what the poster described, but for about four years of my time spent in that school (the middle school years) it was a gray and dark pink cell with a steel fire door which could only be opened from the outside to keep unruly students in. Some of the students (like myself) were actually locked in Time Out by the addition of a 2×4 braced across the hallway. And yes, it was very common to have a student left inside with staff being distracted or unable to keep track of time. There were no clocks in the Time Out room, just a single dim light bulb in a protective ceiling mount.

    Now, in defense of St. Joseph’s, I’ll say that I don’t believe the staff were abusive in any way during the several years I attended. One of the best teachers I ever had, Mr. Minctons, came from that school. He was a huge man, in his late 50′s at least, who understood that his students were individuals and treated us like such. A few of us were capable of completing our work in the first half of the day while the more developmentally challenged kids were still working on problems for the rest of the day, so we were allowed to put together a “gaming table” at the back of the room near the almost untouched (by anyone but me) Apple II. We played D&D, Car Wars, wrote systems of our own design and actually had something like friendships.

    Friendship was one major casualty of the special ed school. You’d make “friends” at school, and the odds were strong that you’d never be able to see them outside of that environment thanks to the long-distance busing. You wouldn’t know the other kids in your neighborhood there, and you’d always be targeted with that “short bus” red letter when you tried to. If you did have the luck to live near a classmate that was another attendee of the same school, there would be the inevitable rise of whatever issues put you both there in the first place. 

    For my last years in St. Joseph’s, things were certainly starting to change. The programs were evolving into what the original poster experienced, with the Time Out rooms given windows and open doorways. Teachers were no longer allowed to physically do anything more than restrain a student from assaulting others, rather than being given free reign to handle discipline however was necessary. By this point, I was never really needing the services of the Time Out room, and they were attempting to figure out how to mainstream students like me back into the general student population. But, it was tough, and in my case, it never really worked out. I had no connections to the general student body, I had no understanding of normal school or after school life. It was very much like stories you hear about people getting out of prison, and wondering how they can survive in a world without such strict schedules and rules. The “freedom” of high school was a real culture shock, and they did absolutely nothing to prepare me for it. Combine this with an unpleasant home life that resulted in my being removed from school for an entire year by my father in reaction to my not doing my math homework (yes, I know that makes no sense at all) and that’s how I wound up passing the GED with remarkably high scores in all areas save math. I was living on my own at that point, put on the street by the state human services department a month before my seventeenth birthday – which would be a whole other rant, and one I wish I’d been able to get a lawyer to talk to me about – and I was done. Unfortunately, it took me years to get my head straight. My social life was a disaster, and it took me years to make any good friends and find where I felt like I belonged. I did eventually get back to school and complete an Associate’s degree without any problems, but I feel like my experiences at St. Joseph’s probably held me back from several years worth of psychological growth. It wasn’t all the school’s fault, and I do believe the staff always had the best intentions, but the structure… was flawed. Hopefully these kind of posts will help.

    EDIT: I’m re-reading what I posted here and feeling some twinges of “I wrote that quite terribly”. My apologies to everyone, I haven’t had my coffee yet. ;)

  11. While this is an appalling story, it only reinforces my belief that virtually all schools are about social control and exhibit (to a greater or lesser degree) characteristics of prisons. Bullying exists mainly due to hierarchical school cultures, and it persists in society as a result.

    • headcode says:

       “While this is an appalling story, it only reinforces my belief that virtually all schools are about social control…”

      Well, yes.  Partially at least.  Social control is not all bad.  Do you really want to have a society where we all just do as we please?  Some norms and mores are essential for allowing large numbers of people to get along as well as possible together.  School is an important institution for teaching more than the three Rs.  Without some form of socialization society doesn’t even exist.  Obviously, however, we should always question harmful attempts, as describe by the original story.

      • rhodian says:

        I don’t think I’d mind a society where we all just do as we please; quite a large amount of co-operative and socially beneficial activities please me very much and I imagine that the same is similar for many other people.  Obviously it seems to please some people to do bad things, but it’s relatively rare and I wonder to what extent these social problems are in fact caused by attempts at socialisation gone awry.  (I specifically mean the generation of an identity of failure through the school exam system.)  

        School is not the only form of socialisation, and society would certainly exist without school.  Indeed, I don’t think that it’s correct to say that society wouldn’t exist without socialisation – I think it’s more the other way around: socialisation exists because of society.  

      • social_maladroit says:

        Around 20 years ago, I was looking through the compiled binary of a “Go” game on my Macintosh Classic in a text editor in hopes of finding its registration code in clear text. I came across this piece of text from Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook:

        “Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgements. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.”

        There’s so much truth in that. Woe to those who don’t fit the mould mold.

      • Antinous / Moderator says:

        Do you really want to have a society where we all just do as we please?

        Too much of a good thing….is fabulous.

        • headcode says:

          There is no idea so bad that you won’t find someone to defend it.  Especially online.  :-)

        • jospanner says:

           Why not?  There might be enough old Kropotkin Mutual Aid types still gasping about to make it look like a good thing.  Even make it work. Believe it does in some places too, like the NW frontier of the USA or Western Isles of the Blessed. I cant think of anyone, in life or history, who didn’t think they were acting from the best motives.  What the rest of us might think of the motives of all those bad characters in the news – the bombers, rapists, murderers, judicial murderers of all styles is where we are now. Where things get interesting.  Where the future is gestating.

      • Cowicide says:

        Without some form of socialization society doesn’t even exist.

        Yep, and if society doesn’t exist, who’ll do all the socializing?  ^-^

        Do you really want to have a society where we all just do as we please?

        Sounds a lot better than our current society where many of us only do what pleases the corporatists at the top.

        As long as people aren’t hurting others, I think they should most certainly do as they please.  It would be a refreshing change from the current status quo, actually.

      • jospanner says:

        One might say that once the Education System has turned us (them-not me of course) into ‘heartless toe the liners but get away with what bastardy you canners’ we then need a Society of restraints and rules to keep the temperature down to a functioning level.
        Hm, not very well expressed is it? Hope the ‘..’ marks help.
        What the hell they called?
        Would you believe the other day I couldn’t think of word for ‘ashtray’?

      • FoolishOwl says:

        We nerds like to pride ourselves on how much we learned outside the formal classroom; how we were reading books and experimenting well ahead of when we were expected to learn about a subject in class, if we were ever expected to learn it at all. Most of us have some treasured stories about the times we stumped our teachers. But I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll have to admit that that is the way most people learn. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has had the experience, more than once, of meeting someone who’d done badly in school, who turned out to be quite capable when they got the chance to dig their hands into a practical skill.

        If anything sets nerds apart, educationally, it’s that we were actually interested in the formal subjects taught in school, so our impatience was rewarded, when the impatience of others was punished.

        The more I learn about learning, the more I hear from people studying educational theory, and from professional teachers, the more I believe that formal education as practiced in the US is an active hindrance to learning. The metrics used to measure progress, whose use is legally mandated, are generally known to be be wildly inaccurate for assessing the effectiveness of education, at best. People often cite socialization as a benefit of school attendance — yet schools make enormous efforts to suppress socialization. Classically, the most commonplace reasons for disciplinary action are talking to other students and passing notes. Children are strictly segregated by age. Even playground activity is strictly constrained. Only prisons are more overtly hostile to social activity than public schools.

        We know that children absorb a tremendous amount of knowledge on their own, that theory is most likely to be understood in the context of practice, that open discussion among peers is more meaningful than passive listening to lectures, and that the best teachers facilitate these things, despite an educational system that frequently prohibits these things or at best treats them as auxiliary to the serious business of listening to lectures and taking exams.

        Mass public education is a relatively novel phenomenon. You can look at the biographies of famous writers, scientists, and so on, before the modern era, and while you’ll find mention of tutors and the like for the privileged, it’s clear that the education of the young was much less rigidly constrained than modern public education. There are a few derisive comments about grammar schools in Shakespeare, if you look carefully; clearly he didn’t think much of them. Likewise, Dickens, centuries later.

        If you look at how public education was won in the US, you see that, on the one hand, working class adults didn’t want their children dying in the factories, and on the other, factory owners were worried about having children running around loose if they weren’t working. So public education was all about keeping children contained. And, oh yeah, it might be nice if they learned something while they were there. Decades later, the first educational reformers were saying pretty much the same thing contemporary education theorists are saying: students learn best with self-directed learning, and with lots of discussion and hands-on activities. Good luck finding educational theorists who actually argued that having children sit in rows and columns and remain silent for hours on end had any purpose but enforcing conformity.

  12. It’d be great if someone would turn your experiences into a movie much like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

    • Jorpho says:

      Not that this isn’t bad (of course it’s bad, very very bad), but if you want to read about things whose badness can be likened to Hollywood movie scripts, you should look up some of the stuff about Tranquility Bay.
      http://www.alternet.org/story/31000/no_more_nightmares_at_tranquility_bay
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2003/jun/29/schools.uk1

    • pedagogyofthedepressed says:

       Well, first step for making it a movie like One Few Over would be publishing it as a book – something I’ve considered. The pitch process for creative nonfiction seems dreadfully opaque unfortunately. Straight up fiction has lots of guides up on the net, as does straight up nonfiction.

      But if you want to write the next “Running With Scissors” and don’t know anyone in the industry, it can be daunting. I eventually put my drafts back in their Truecrypt volume and forgot about them, until Cory posted an article here about a rather disciplinarian school about a month ago.

      I’m definitely open to writing a book, I just have no clue how to get started.

      Due to things like rent and electricity, I can’t simply self publish on Kindle. Also, despite the hype BB bestows on artists who self publish, most who do so successfully had built up a personal brand before doing so.

      • Andy Reilly says:

        Please don’t write the next Running With Scissors, write something that is either fiction or non-fiction. I used to know a writer who wrote “creative non-fiction”. Used to know, because I got tired of him using real people in his “version” of his memoirs. I say his “version” because I was there for much of it and the reality never matched up with what he wrote. He would then defend it as a more entertaining retelling of the events. I got tired of dealing with a “friend” who was constantly living a different reality then everyone else, always at other’s expense (person, emotional and financial).

        I am NOT saying this is you, I’m assuming it’s quite the opposite in your case. I just wanted to make the point that Augusten Burroughs is not who you want to model yourself after if you want to make a difference in the world your story describes. “Creative non-fiction” becomes fiction when it changes anything other than small details. So please, write a non-fiction account of your story. You don’t need to make stuff up to sell it. 

        • pedagogyofthedepressed says:

          Creative nonfiction is a legitimate discipline. (Think Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff” or Capote’s “In Cold Blood”.)

          The different between creative nonfiction and nonfiction, in my opinion, is a focus on the subjective. There are a lot of things about my experience that are subjective, and can’t be verified by a traditional fact checker.

          Maybe Burroughs exaggerated or changed his story. But I could also see where someone, painted in a negative light, would loudly renounce any claim that cannot be proven nor disproven. I could also see a peer group (such a staff at an alternative school, or members of a family), may collectively remember events in a different light. (Similar to the code of silence exhibited in most US police departments – we simply don’t understand what it’s like to be a cop, and anything short of a mass execution should be excused because “you weren’t THERE mannnn”)

          Hell, I already saw two people in this comment thread, on a quite counter-culture blog, who walked in, noted their credentials, and proceeded to condescendingly explain that restraining children who are not being violent just doesn’t happen. I’m sure that any book that expressed  anything about the mental health establishment except a desire to kiss the posterior of every member of my support time would probably be greeted with scorn and derision by a vast majority of “expert” talking heads.

          • Andy Reilly says:

            So where do you draw the line in being “creative” with your non-fiction? How big a detail can you exaggerate and still be non-fiction? Psycho was based on a book that was based on a real serial killer. Does that make the movie Psycho creative non-fiction? It’s one thing to tell a factual story in a literary style that is more commonly used in fiction rather than straight journalism. But I don’t consider Burroughs in that realm. I don’t doubt that some of what he said was true, but I also don’t doubt that he made up some important parts just because they sold a better story. Again, I think you can write a memoir and be factually accurate without it being boring. But let’s take David Sedaris as an example of creative non-fiction. We all know that Sedaris has certainly exaggerated many things in his writing about his family. Why doesn’t it really matter in his case? Because he is writing comedy. There is a huge line separating humor and accusations of wrong doing. It’s one thing to include someone in your comedy routine, it’s a whole other thing to accuse them of a crime. Burroughs exaggerated enough to make it unclear if he was making up just the black humor parts or the implications of possible criminal acts. I fully encourage you to write about your experiences. But keep it to what you believe to be the truth, and do it anonymously if you fear repercussions. Write an actual memoir. If you really want to see a change in the system or inspire others in similar situations, I would think only truth would serve that purpose. Sounds like you don’t need to make up any of the bad stuff. 

            “I’m sure that any book that expressed  anything about the mental health establishment except a desire to kiss the posterior of every member of my support time would probably be greeted with scorn and derision by a vast majority of “expert” talking heads.”

            Well, there you’ve already decided how your book would be received. But it’s not the majority of “expert” talking heads you’re aiming at, is it? It’s the “normals” as they called by others in this comment thread (with quite a bit of derision) who obviously know nothing about your situation, and those possibly in similar situations (or their families) who you might inspire. 

          • pedagogyofthedepressed says:

            Maybe I wasn’t clear: I only intend to changes location names / pronouns. I just call it creative nonfiction because it’s focused on my experiences, rather than a purely journalistic piece that you’d see in say, the NYT.

            The problem is for a memoir length piece, it becomes rather easy for someone to figure out who I am. I am an expert in privacy and anonymity. It takes more than just changing everyone’s names to make something like that anonymous – hell, figuring out how to publish my memoir anonymously could be a PhD thesis in itself.

            I am seriously considering doing a book once I finish my doctorate. But right now, I don’t know how to move to that point. This piece was edited quite a lot by Rob. I am a skilled scientific writer, but I’d need a great editor or ghostwriter to write a whole book.

            I don’t mean to discount you – I appreciate your comments. Trust me – I have thought about all this many times, many nights.

            If I knew a way to anonymously write a book, I’d do it. I might wait a few years, but I’d do it.

          • Andy Reilly says:

            Ah, then I misunderstood. I assumed a memoir even one where names/places were changed and publish anonymously was still considered a memoir. I see what you are saying about a memoir length piece being impossible to keep your anonymity. You might be surprised though, many people will wrongly think you are talking about someone THEY knew. There might be so many people claiming to know the author’s true identity that it might help to keep the reality a secret. Most important, do what helps you heal. I wish you well in what ever paths you take. But if you do write somewhere else anonymously or otherwise, be sure and keep BB posted so we can follow.

  13. CthuluJones says:

    Joshua actually made me pause and realize that I too suffered when integrated back into the mainstream. I went to four different highschools thanks to moving, but in all of them I failed to make any actual friendships that stretched beyond school boundries. I stayed willfully insular and kept myself buried ina  book between classes. I’m 28 now and only in the last three years have I made real friends and formed actual bonds with people, almost universally because they reached out to me first. I think there is a spectre haunting even the “good” special ed schools, in that it completely mal-adjusts you for creating social connections in society.
        This is of course my own opinion, but it…would seem to be true for me, and it’s a sobering thing to step back and admit. I’d like to thank Joshua for relating his story here, it put some things in perspective for me.

    • Thanks, I think it’s good to read things from other people that went through the same experience at times. Waking up and seeing this article within a minute of sitting at my desk certainly did kick my brain into kind of a weirdly reflective place. I didn’t really start getting my act together socially until my mid to late 20′s either, and it shows. I feel in many respects like my 20′s were my own personal “lost decade”, thanks to how isolated I made myself after the experience of school. 

      Your posting reminded me of the particular points systems I experienced, as well. We had that little “Store” based on reward points through my early years, with lots of little things like toy cars, candy, and whatever the staff could come up with. I think that was more of a primary school system, which I experienced at a school called Dow Lane, which was a converted military base school that became a special ed one when the base downsized in the 70′s. Once I got to St. Joseph’s, the situation was far more “stick” based than “carrot”, with a “three strikes” system resulting in Time Out trips, and levels of trust that would earn students smoke breaks or the ability to go to the store around the corner. 

      • CthuluJones says:

        The hell of it was the school I went to bent over backwards to do good work.A dedicated psychiatric staff, a trained response team to deal with violent students quickly and gently. ALOT of funding, and a a population of only 200 students. I shudder to think how much money this one school had. But in the end, as much as it helped me, it hurt me. Leaving me to spend well over a decade putting myself together.Even when this is done “right” harm is still done. It leaves me incredibly disheartened because I don’t know what the answer is, and I know there are thousands of kids just like me going through that today.It…does me a world of good to know I’m not alone though. I can feel so isolated sometimes, seeing others who know what it’s like…it helps.

        • panda1 says:

          yes, I believe that social and conversation skills are even more important than or equally important as the secular education. And i think just because youre in special needs, it doesnt mean you wanna be around ppl with special needs all the time.

        • jospanner says:

           And here we all are, apparent survivors of crap education systems finding kindred souls to be isolated with.  This has really perked me up, hopping on to this when I first turned computer on today.

          • CthuluJones says:

            I think the most important take away is that this is not isolated, this has happened, and is happening to many people in varying degrees. For me, the greatest strength this article has given me is the knowledge I am not alone. For now, that is enough to make me a bit stronger each day.

  14. Marja Erwin says:

    I was in the regular schools, though forced into a few classes of special ed in high school, because I was being bullied and it was easier to blame the victim, and force her into another school, than to address the problem.

    And… ugh… this place would have killed me.

    I have trouble understanding instructions, especially when they don’t make any sense. Some of my teachers would punish me for asking for clarification or reasons. Some of my teachers would punish me for “back talk,” whatever that is, I kept asking and they kept adding to the punishments for this supposed “back talk.”

    I also have trouble with clumsy hands. I can’t hold a pencil the way the teachers expected. It’s not possible. It’s a pain to deal with, it affects my handwriting. I was capable of good handwriting with a lot of concentrated effort, and pencils, but it was slow and wore out my arms before one line was finished. My teachers, knowing I was capable of good handwriting, berated me to show the same handwriting all the time; they also berated me to hold a pencil the way they expected; they didn’t connect my complete inability to do the latter with my near-complete inability to do the former.

    • dantsea says:

      As a child, I chose my battle of wills carefully and I’m proud to say that I won the “holding a pencil the wrong way” one. But oh lord, the combat was brutal.

    • Mary Neff says:

      The handwriting was the big hurdle for my son in 2nd grade. I pulled him out and still he doesn’t write well nor does he write cursive BUT he can use Dragon Dictation and type. Since getting a ASD diagnosis in middle school, they allow him to use these methods as well and give him more time when a written response is necessary but he needed that diagnosis before they would approve it. (As I mentioned in an earlier post, a diagnosis suitable for the school but not the child – a misdiagnosis.)

      • Andrea says:

        That’s so crazy, getting a diagnosis just so you can get help, even if it’s a misdiagnosis. I can see how it happens, if only because a) we don’t know everything about how people work, so we may know something’s wrong without understanding *what*, and b) bureaucracy requires that we have a “reason” for everything, and in too many cases, are not allowed to use our own judgement.

        If that’s what it takes to get the help a person needs, then I’m glad he’s getting that help!

  15. signsofrain says:

    Thank you for having the courage to write this, however, I do urge you to come out of anonymity and show some solidarity with those who have suffered and those who are currently suffering in similar situations. If this story truly would jeopardize your career, than perhaps your profession needs this wake up call as well.

  16. Al Corrupt says:

    Q: Whats long, hard and f*cks children?

    A: School

  17. E. H. says:

    I sympathize with the author and his last line that “it gets better”. I was at a school where 1/2 my time was in the general population and 1/2 segregated with other learned disabled kids. The unsaid accusation that you were to stupid and strange/dangerous to be with other kids is what scarred me. It destroys the confidence in kids that could get into Phd programs and could become contributing members of society.

    This article should be read by every kid stuck in a learning disabled program. The second you walk out of formal education things improve. There are thousands of us walking around with mental and physical scars from an education system that decided dyslexic ADHD, and Asperger’s kids were, at best, dumb and, at worst, a danger to “normal” kids. We were bullied and abused by staff and fellow students. However, we made it. We are successful contributing members of society.

    I take great exception to the commenters that ask why this author chooses to hid his identity Getting a job is based on people thinking you are smart, articulate, and capable. I read at a 3rd grade level, I spell at a 3rd grade level. Nobody sticks that on their resume. Thankfully I can have my resume edited and in conversation I sound like a smart capable professional. Maybe when I am old, gray and finically secure I’ll tell my HR they hired someone who couldn’t pass the 3rd grade, but until that day anonymous articles should be good enough.

  18. awjt says:

    Yes, I stand with the author on maintaining anonymity.  There is too much to possibly lose, and too little to gain by being flashy and public about this.  He could possibly go more public about it when his career isn’t beholden to normals to feed his family.  

    He’s blending.  He didn’t mention it in the article, specifically, or go into it much.  But I know he did it, because of some of his descriptions of coping strategies: the narrative hints at an ever-increasing awareness of normals, how they operate, what they expect, where the predictability and unpredictability are and how to stay in the shadows and avoid chaos as much as possible.  That’s blending activity.

    We have to. Normals are cruel.  Seriously.  

    Normals start wars with other nations without first totaling up the bottom line, thinking through the resources needed, thinking through all the things that will happen in 10 years, and thinking about the emotional and personal costs involved and whether the means justify the end.

    Normals justify killing/restraining/tasing/maiming/detaining others, because their comfort and skill-levels with people feel …slightly challenged.  Why else would extraordinary rendition and Guantanamo exist?  Why else would schools like Northwoods exist?  Why else would we be hearing all these constant stories of cops-run-amuck?

    Normals are perfectly happy with mind control over others.  It’s their way of life.  How to “get the edge.”

    Normals love seeing other people in pain, and feeling pain, themselves.  Without pain, they must not really feel alive.  That’s my guess.  I can find no other reason for the existence of The Jersey Shore or American Idol.  Or strip malls, processed frozen food, neighbors in houses only 5 feet away, or traffic lights.  Or never personally MAKING something they need.  

    Normals live a life so far divorced and removed from anything natural, that it is extremely hard to comprehend why their stuff exists, other than PAIN.  My guess is that normals would rather feel pain than make life easier and better.  They’d rather control other people, and make THEM feel pain too, than deal with the pain in a personal way, on its own terms, in the unique special snowflake way the pain needs to be dealt with.

    I could go on and on.  The world of normals is a very harsh place.  Schools like Northwoods take the normal world, and then distill it down into its simplest, harshest, most hellish form.  Under fluorescent lights.  Under the guise of education.

    Our only real choice as mutants, because we are far outnumbered, is to learn to blend.  And *occasionally* to speak out and stand up and be heard.  Is there another viable, long-term strategy than to learn to live in the shadows like vampires?  I highly doubt it.  Maybe in another country and culture, or in another time, but not in the USA, not now.  Blending is our best hope of leading a satisfying life…Blending in the normal world, and in our private worlds finding a good, foolproof way to let the freak flag fly high.

    • Anna Patson says:

      Basically everyone is either “Normal” unnatural sadomasochistic psychopaths, or “Mutant” vampiric parasitic freaks? WTF? I don’t know ANYONE who falls into either categories, and those out there that do are certainly a minority.

      Am I the only one who finds this seriously offensive? Who on earth is Liking this?

      • ldobe says:

        In my limited and biased experience, normal doesn’t exist. In my view nobody’s normal, just variations on a scale from anomalous to average.

        Normal is a harmful category anyway, when talking about personalities.

        I’m ADD, so I’m certainly not normal, but I have some advantages because of it that people closer to average don’t have. I also have disadvantages average people don’t usually have to deal with. In the end, we’re all people, and classifying characteristics as normal or abnormal is so often unproductive that I try to avoid doing that most of the time.

        In high school, I knew a guy with Aspergers (public school). He was picked on a lot, and honestly, he was not a pleasant person to be around. But I made an effort to engage him whenever he reached out to me. It wasn’t fun most of the time, but I felt a lot of compassion for him. We were never buddies, but he knew I’d be his lab partner, and if he alwas having a bad day, he could hang out with me, and people wouldn’t bully him (I don’t suffer fools lightly, and people knew I was friends with the school administrators). In the end, he did develop his social skills, and started to become less annoying to people.

        I like to think that what I did was right, but I know that I could have at least tried to be his friend. I wonder if he’s come into his own, if he’s found ways to interact that don’t drive people away. He seemed so lonely, and I hope he’s been able to find friends. I just wonder if how I treated him was a benefit or a hindrance, or if it’s narcissistic and arrogant to think I had any lasting effect through our relationship.

        • James Norred says:

           Good point and I read a book on ADHD that explained this very well. He had on one end the farmer type he called them, like accountants, or assembly workers can do a repetitive task. One the other end he had the hunter gather type to represent the very active and alert, but easily distracted type, with everybody falling somewhere in between. He said all were normal in their own way. He also mentioned something that has helped me, and you brought up, and that being ADHD does give one a competitive edge in multitasking. Because of this if you find a career or lifestyle that always keeps you in a state where you are doing many task all the time you find certain happiness and therefore satisfaction in life. I think this is true for everyone because each and every one of us has unique talents and abilities, but the trick in life is finding and understanding what it is.  

          • ldobe says:

            Yeah, the thing about ADHD is that it’s simple and easy to medicate.

            I’ve been on Concerta for about ten years.  I’ve been on it for so long, that I’ve forgotten my unmedicated personality.  Nowadays, when I miss a day, I’m terrified of the person I turn into.

            On meds, I don’t seem to have what psychologists refer to as self-talk.  It’s just not there.  It’s quiet and I like it that way.  When I go off meds, I’m bombarded with impulses and transitory emotions that I can’t trace.  It’s hard to explain, maybe like, I’m a radio, but I can’t tune into a single station, or if I can, I’m constantly getting bleed-over from all the other stations up and down the dial.

            Before I started treatment, it was normal, and I had a wonderful associative memory.  Something would get mentioned and I’d almost immediately mention that it’s connected to something totally random, but none the less connected through a spiders web of tenuous relations.  A chain of mnemonics as it were.  I can’t even come up with a real example anymore.

            My new normal is entirely dependent on and facilitated by a drug now.  And the worst part is that I’m really frightened of the old me, who comes back when I stop treatment, because that old me is out of control, and can’t tell good ideas from bad ones.

          • awjt says:

            What would it hurt to take a meds vacation sometime?  Maybe you’ll fall in love with a new old you, and you’ll really like who you’ve become after 10 years of new experiences.  It might not be so frightening… it might be like meeting an old friend, and my how they’ve grown and have so much new stuff to share.

          • James Norred says:

             I don’t do the meds anymore myself, and like I mentioned keep myself in a life style that complements my ADHD issues. I like myself off meds now because I have learned what it is and how to best control it. I can tell you this, and that they have had me on some “harsh” medications in my days, and after Adderall I swore off all of them. It’s when the quacks try treating ADHD and depression with wild drug combinations that they can really F#&! up your head. Been there and done that one!

          • ldobe says:

            @google-b7aec79b9314f6b4141344eaa921fb01:disqus I hear you on the anti-depressants.  I was put on prozac for a few years.  It totally destroyed my libido.  It’s gone.  I started taking it as a horny adolescent, and by the time I stopped I’d become something of a robot.  I haven’t taken anti-depressants for a couple of years now, and the libido hasn’t come back.
            I was aware this was one of the side-effects possible, but I was assured it would reverse when I stopped.  I guess I’m worried with what kinds of things will crop up with discontinuation of stimulant meds.  I know there’s withdrawal, but that’s not really what’s bugging me.  There’s just no telling what might happen, and that’s the kicker.  If I want to try it, I’ll have to just bite the bullet and see what happens.

          • jospanner says:

             I’m very familiar with the crossed lines, radios in heads phenom.  I know this will sound corny but it did help to make a serious effort to learn meditation techniques.  Before that I never thought it would ever be possible to control or even shut down that stuff.  But still have it available on tap if you want it for fun, word games etc. I’m pretty old and its only a few years ago I got this going properly.

          •  Idobe — look up “rainforest minds.” You totally have one.

            This “associative memory” is exactly what I have — it’s like every topic is a Wikipedia page where every word is a link to another page and I can cascade through ALL of them at the same time while the topic’s on.

            You’re not broken. You’re just a rainforest in a world full of deserts.

          • Andrea says:

            ADHD helps with multitasking? Not for me it doesn’t. I change gears like a manual with a bad clutch.

            But I agree with your point. I’m a “maker”. I’m constantly trying new things, and figuring stuff out. Sure, my ADD gives me problems (I don’t have the “H”), but I wouldn’t trade it if it meant I lost the “look at the shiny!” impulse that leads me to learn and discover. There are careers where this is an advantage. If only I could find one…

            But yeah. Neurodiversity exists. We need to draw a line between “different” and “more trouble than it’s worth.”

      • James Norred says:

         I don’t think it has anything at all to do with “liking this”, but I know exactly what this person is trying to say because like the author and awjt here I have had to live on that side of the fence, and even worse. I suffer from ADHD along with serious depression, but in the 50′s and 60′s they had all kinds of names for it among others, and there we any number of charlatans calling themselves doctors with special schools to take desperate parents money. Maybe you were not the different geek, or nerd who was teased until sometimes you wanted to die. No one wanted to be your friend for fear of repercussions from the “normals”. By the way I do love your kewl neologism there awjt. I am sorry Anna, but to me your coming off like the one of the very people we are speaking of, unless I have misunderstood you.

        • jospanner says:

           You’ve got to love the Medical-Pharma Industry.  Back in 1961 they invented a few different sorts of drug for depression.  Time passed and eventually they had to admit they did zero for depression, but what do you know, they/we found those compounds of chemicals do quite a fair job on sciatica and some arthritis.  Still today the drugs of choice with least side effects. Endep(trade name) and gabapentin should you need to know.

    • James Norred says:

      I like it, but don’t agree with all of it and you need to let go of some of the bitterness. The thing about the PAIN was good, and hits home like a sharp knife. I especially like “Blending is our best hope of leading a satisfying life…Blending in the normal world, and in our private worlds finding a good, foolproof way to let the freak flag fly high”, and as an old fart that now understands life better I take pleasure in this lifestyle. I have become good at playing the game I guess.

      • awjt says:

        Yeah, people are so _quick_ to take offense…  if you laughed and resonated, more power to you.  If you felt… challenged… you’re probably one of the cruel ones I was talking about.  There ARE good normals.  I married one.  Overall, though, irredeemables turn up everywhere.  Makes life pretty hard.  Best to ignore them and move along, find another shadow to slip into.  Or crack wise and hope they mistake me for another normal until I can get away.

        • James Norred says:

           I totally agree on the good normals, and work with two fine gentleman who enjoy my company, and pay me well for my knowledge. After all being a geek is finally popular and that often throws me for a loop. I have many friends who could be termed normals, but they are border line in my opinion leaning more nuts like myself LoL. At 59 I finally quit lurking in the shadows hoping to not be noticed, and now just be myself best I can without scaring the normals resulting in being ostracized again. It’s a fine line to dance as you well know, and I am tone def with two left feet, but I try.

        • noah django says:

           lets see here, Anna Patson:  ONE comment.  what a surprise.  feel free to ignore the interloper.

          • OtherMichael says:

            She probably wears one of those crazy helmets and rides the shortbus! What a freak!

            Let’s pour her juicebox down her sweatshirt, that’ll get a laugh from the rest of our buddies, right?!!!

            I find it somewhat ironic that in a thread about poor treatment of people with communication issues, there is poor treatment of people who communicate here for the first-time.

          • noah django says:

            チャウ(・_・ 三・_・)チャウ

          • Andy Reilly says:

            OtherMichael didn’t miss the point. Read the thread. It’s suddenly about “normals” vs “us”. And let the accusations fly! YOU’RE an interloper because you’re not one of “US”! “Well, not ALL “normals” are bad…” Are you kidding me? awjt stated it outright. “Normals are cruel”. Pretty clear to me. Funny how THAT particular bit of bigotry is A-OK. 

          • awjt says:

            As a group, normals are cruel.  That’s not bigotry.  That’s a plain-as-day fact.  Like saying psychopaths are psycho.  But I also said, “There ARE good normals.”  So if you take this as some veiled threat against humanity, you are incorrect.  This is real talk.

          • Andy Reilly says:

            Back up your opinion with some shred of statistical fact. The majority of “normals” are not cruel, just like the majority of “us” are not violent crazies. Plain as day fact. I don’t take it as some veiled threat, I take it as casting an entire group of people based on your experience with a few. Also known as bigotry. That is real talk. 

  19. there are laws that require that each children be treated as an individual and taught to their individual needs.  i never saw this happen when i was teaching.  in fact, the i.e.p.s were basically useless, as were the logs and reports of the children, because children behave so differently depending on who is interacting with them (not to mention how rapidly children change as they grow).  i actually had better success with the “problem” students than the others, because the problem ones were not being influenced by the teachers from their home class.  i almost invariably wishe that all the support staff would leave the room so that i could actually interact effectively with the students.

    it can take a year to get a student to trust you.  by then their whole world has changed and they may not even see you again.  another huge problem in special ed.  the school year itself is a problem because if it`s too close to the end of the school year (maybe as much as 3 or 4 months), the teacher or staff says there`s no point in doing anything about it until next year.  this happens alot in regular schools too.  and it`s a wonderful excuse, i`m sure.

    someone like me, who actually advocated for the kids above the adults, becomes very unpopular very quickly.  of course there were always a few people who would quietly applaud me, and of course the kids loved me, which just made the adults angrier.

    • panda1 says:

      ditto to that. No one wants to hear complaints. You have to be a strong person to stand up for whats right. Anonymous, I dont want you to think that I haven’t physically or verbally stepped in when I saw something that was wrong. i have filed formal complaints in the past and will continue to in the future when I see  verbal and physical abuse or education being deprived. Now what my superiors have done with this knowledge or the BOE is another story, but I have always tried to make sure that the children I work with are treated with dignity and respect even to the piont of be ostracized and harassed,  I try to do my part, now parents do yours. Pay attention to your children. Love denotes action. And yes when the children like you it only makes your coworkers more angry. And i hate when people applaud me because they could have done it. I feel ike: “shut up, you saw it too.”

    • jospanner says:

       You did well to stick it out.

  20. More importantly, I missed out on key milestones that others take for granted. Teen movies depress me. I was never there. There was no Breakfast Club, no Saturday detention. We had no jocks, as we had no sports.

    If it’s any consolation, you didn’t really miss anything important. I was there for these things and believe me they weren’t all that great. Even in Breakfast Club, remember that they all hated each other until they got high and chilled out.

    Harrowing story though, glad you were able to live through it and be able to tell the tale.

  21. fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

    The part of this story that I’d like to know more about is how the writer ended up getting transferred to an out-of-district specialist program.

    In most cases, the per-student cost(which is picked up by the student’s district, it’s a legal requirement) of sending a student to a specialist school is enormous compared to keeping them in the local public school system, even if you need a smaller SPED class, or even an aide to do so.

    Also, the legal requirements of IDEA(parental ability to make them stick vs. school admin dependent on parental involvement and resources, of course…) specifically include a ‘Least Restricted Environment Placement’ requirement, and a veritable alphabet soup of evaluations and documentation, including an independent outside eval at district expense if the parents want one, to do much of anything. 

    Unless the school really wants a kid gone, or the parents are willing(and able: even with comparatively mild and inexpensive ‘reasonable accommodations’ this can involve unpleasant interactions between parents and admin, sometimes with lawyers involved) to put some pressure in the right places, or there is a special requirement(like blindness) so overt that it can’t possibly be ignored, there is a very strong incentive to keep them in system. Even if you are just going to be doing some punitive warehousing, that can generally be done much more cheaply on site.

    The private Catholic school can boot any students it wants; but the public district is theoretically held to a considerably higher standard when getting rid of somebody, and also has to pay for wherever it dumps them. Did admin manage to steamroller or flimflam author’s parents to get past the various procedural boundaries to getting rid of him? Were his parents actually on board with this, or even in favor? What went down such that admin would send him offsite rather than using the more common mechanisms(some well intentioned, some less so, some effective, some less so, depending on district and time) for dealing with more prosaic sped cases? 

  22. lishevita says:

    It is exactly these sorts of things that I have fought to protect my youngest from experiencing. I’m sorry that you went through this, but I am grateful that you have been able to share your story. I hope that it helps other parents to protect their children who think or act or behave differently. 

    • yarnbomber says:

      My parents were excellent.  However, sometimes they trusted “professionals” who were callous, malicious, negligent, or deliberately uninformed.    I am glad that you are the Champion for your youngest.  You are his(her) best advocate, and frequently, his(her) ONLY protector.  

      If there is any way I can help you or your family, please let me know.  I know sometimes even a different perspective can help.

  23. awjt says:

    “If I could have convinced more mutants that they were mutants, I could have freed thousands more.”  -Harriet Tubmutant

  24. panda1 says:

    I am so sorry that you experienced this and am well aware that this is the story of so many and maybe even worse than you experienced. I want to commend you for making it through this ordeal and coming out of it an intact person, not letting your past dictate you’re future. I work with children with special needs and I see how so many young people are being failed. Currently, I asist in a classroom and am working towards teaching children with special needs in the hopes of improving children’s lifes on into adulthood and keeping them no matter what their diagnosis out of these private facilities. it seems as though your school was making an attempt at behavior protocols, and to call them unsuccessful is an understatement. believe in the behavior protocol system and believe when used properly you can discipline a child in a way that gives them confidence and dignity and helps them to prepare for mainstreaming. In my career I have seen too many people perform behavior protocols in a way that humiliates, injures, patronized, and abuses a child. You were taught by ingorant people with no talent or teaching skill, and no humility to follow procedures correctly. I am sorry you went through that. If you are an educator and you read this article and see that its talking about you. Or this article makes you feel that you dont have proper teaching skills, or paience, humility, the desire to give respect to people because they exist…PLEASE FIND OTHER EMPLOYMENT. The strongest thing you could do,.. the most admirable thing you can do is realize where your skills lie and if its not in teaching, have the strength to stand down,,because what you do has an impact on the lives of others as this article shows. May I say anonymous, that there are beautiful programs to help teach the learning disabled and education in teaching is more readily available. However, the problem lies in people not following procedure or being able to filter and determine the proper technique for various situations. I, personally, would stop doing my homework if it were too easy and fruitless…what would be the point. If the teachers wanted you to do the work they should have presented more challenging concepts…many educators would rather punish than empathize. Empathy is in short supply and so humility and as long as this continues account like these will be the norm.

    Also, may I draw attention to a sensitive subject that I know will make others angry. The accountability of teachers comes into play, but also the accountability of the PARENT. I have seen things happen in schools over my decade career and am surprised when parents don’t complain. I have seen parents send their children to school who can not/ will not sit down, have no eye contact, can not write their names, aren’t potty trained, do not know there number from 1-10 (at least). If you don’t teach your children anything, or you dont care educator won’t care. If you are sending your child to school dirty, they wikk be humiliated in school. I have seen all these things and they are becoming more prevalent. Fight for your children parents, educate your children, discipline your children. If you send your child to school where they have to follow rules and you do not provide rules for your child at home you are setting your children up for failure. I spend many months, usually the first three months of school correcting parenst mistakes and every holiday the children come back from. They could be getting more education and approval from their teachers and peers if you like the teachers would also do your jobs. anonymous, you say that your mother had cancer, i’m sorry, but where was your father when you were getting your jaw stitched, or when you brought it to his attention that you no longer wanted to go to that school? If you rparent had complained maybe something would have changed. I see far too many )crazy, knit-picking) parents complain about good teachers while the horrible ones remain. All I can do is my part…and I say it starts at home. Parents equip your children with the tools for success, good manners so that people will like them, build their self esteem, allow them to come and talk to you when they say something bad happened, dont ignore them, dont put wrong thoughts in their head, buit dont ignore them either.

  25. alsoanonandigetit says:

    As the father of a seven-year-old little girl diagnosed with Autism, ADHD, and ODD, it was hard to read this. The program she’s currently in uses a lot of the same philosophies, methods, rewards and punishments to modify behavior. A lot of Skinner, but without the shock collar. Before entering this program the middle school had a great deal of difficulty knowing how to handle her. She was thrown out of first grade multiple times for “fits.” And her mother and I attended quite a few meetings before we figured out the IEP process. When we were at one meeting, during the school day, there was an incident in her classroom. She’d had another meltdown and they brought her out in the hallway and were “restraining” her. I was horrified by what I saw. Two assistants and a teacher had her pinned to a piece of carpet in the hallway, they held her knees and elbows to the floor as she snarled and snapped at them like an enraged animal. I asked them to release her and I took her outside to talk. She was out of control and couldn’t be consoled. She would not listen and couldn’t calm herself down. And yes, I absolutely thought that she was in that state for the most part as a reaction to how they were treating her. But I also know a kid like her is hard to handle without a lot of tools.

    The program she’s in now is another short bus institution, and I was already very familiar with special education as both of my brothers have Down Syndrome. But this is different. The schools are different. My brothers and I were in grade school almost four decades ago when special education was in its infancy. I already knew about the stigma, and self-fulfilling prophecies, and the pluses and minuses of mainstreaming versus segregation. My older brother’s development went a bit farther than my younger brother’s and as a result he was much more aware of his difference with the rest of the world, and it made things much more difficult for him. With all of those experiences in mind I search for what is best for my daughter. And I’m never sure about anything.

    The program she’s in now seems to be more effective in helping her navigate the world. She’s also on Concerta, which I’m also skeptical about. I’m not sure that’s having any real effect. If it helps her to remain calm most of the time, it may also be increasing the intensity of meltdowns when they occur. There have been times since she’s started taking the medication that I’ve almost been afraid of her. The intensity of her anger and the hatered in her eyes are hard to process for this father of a seven-year-old. Sometimes, the hatred and anger are directed at me. It can be scary, and I worry about it. I think about the kind of hatred Adam Lanza had, and how a person can blindly do what he did. And I worry for my daughter.

    My kid is in a good school district, they have plenty of resources and actually serve surrounding communities, not just our own. My daughter recently had the experience of having a new child introduced into the program. A kindergartner who, on her first day, screamed and raged for most of the day. Being Autistic, it was hard for my daughter to witness and experience such intense stimuli; the loud screaming and the broken up rituals made it a very difficult day for her. But when she came home, for the first time I think I saw a flash of self-awareness because of that new student. She knew she could be like that, and she knew that she was progressing. I felt bad for her having such a rough day, but I also wondered if it wasn’t the most productive day she’s had in the program.

    When reading this story, I was shocked to discover so many similarities with the program my daughter is in, though there is rarely if ever the use of restraints, but there are rooms for “cooling off.” And there’s a papasan chair for long timeouts. Because of HIPAA, we aren’t allowed to ever visit the classroom because technically it’s outpatient hospitalization and all the kids are patients. I have relatively good insurance but the amount they paid toward this was spent on day one. The rest has been paid for by Medicaid. The program is run by the school district, county health services, the state education department, and a private nursing service. I like the program for her. And more importantly she likes the program, a lot, actually. She has her bad days where she’s dropped multiple levels on her behavior scale and gotten only a handful of points on some daily reports, but generally she’s doing okay. I think they have really good people for her to work with. The student to adult ratio is 2 to 1. 10 kids in the class from kindergarten to 5th grade, a teacher, two assistants, and two health professionals. If she can reach the top of the behavior scale and remain there for two months, they’ll try to move her back to a regular classroom. With a paraprofessional at first, but the goal is to have her in a regular class, on her own. I really hope this happens, but wonder about relapses. I’m less confident than her counselors and administrators about how quickly and permanently this can happen. Thank God for IEPs.

    She has a sister a year older, and her mother and I get a lot of support from my wife’s amazing parents. I know raising any kid isn’t easy, and I think my daughter has amazing potential. She loves drawing and art, music and computers. She’s likely to end up fully employed and living a reasonable life. But it will be a bit of work, and there are plenty of challenges ahead. I realize things may not go great, and she may need our help for the rest of her life. She’s a good kid, and I love her to bits, but I don’t suppose all fathers get frightened by their seven-year-old kid, at least not this early. 

    Anyway, thank you for sharing your story. I completely understand your choice for anonymity. It doesn’t really matter what others think. You have enough to deal with, and it’s your life, your identity, and your stigma, not theirs. It’s not on you to be their hero, you’ve done enough just telling us this, here. Thanks for that.

    • panda1 says:

      may I comment on restraining techniques….as a person qualified to do them and having the necessary temperment. This is why I have had to perform child restraint. Okay lets say you have an autistic child..actually you don’t have to have any disability to be subjected to restraint. This is how it happens. You take a parent who doesn’t have proper child rearing technique or proper parenting or disciplinary skill. Maybe doesn’t even have patience or is tired from work. Take a child, with no disability.

      Scenario: The child wants candy. You say no. The child starts screaming. You still say no. The child starts kicking. You still say no. The childs bites you.  You give in. This is just one example. Children, everyone, learns through information or experience. When events like this happen on a constant basis they form a pattern of how your child sees the world and how they interact with it. When everytime you say no to your child they scream or hit or engage in undesirable behavior your no becomes yes. Then this is the behavior they are going to perform everytime they want something. Why? Because it works, simple as that. If you, the parent, are tired from work (we all are) and you come home and ignore your child until they throw a tantrum or they do something by accident like break a glass and you yell at them. Then well, this is what they are going to do to get your attention, it breeds a pattern. Or if you let your child hurt people, hit people, steal etc. because you  feel bad that you dont spend enpugh time with your child this builds a pattern that its okay to hurt people mommy and daddy dont care.

      I know that child restraint looks bad, but it is something that  I had had to do and will be doing in the future in certain severe cases over simple things like saying “playtime is over” “write your name on your worksheet” “you dropped that could you pick it up” . This is the pattern created by the parent and often they take no responsibility. Everything your child has learned they’ve learned from you. Children are not adults, they are not in some democratic discussion as to what bedtime is or how many oreos they can eat.  Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no. Stop compromising and negotiating with five year olds. I see parents who are screaming and cursing at there kids and telling them they cant have anything, or acting like they are parties in the U.N. negotiating if its worth it to go to war. If your child looks angry its because long for discipline, someone responsible and loving, and authorative to show them what to do, essentially how to live and they arent recieving any direction. They are lost as to what to do or how to react in certain situations. They don’t know right from worng. But you do, And you fail your child when you dont discipline them dont give them the tools to live and function in a society with rules. Now your young child is taking on the responsibility of an adult because they are essentially raising themselves because you dont give their lifes any order.

      I understand children being  angry when they are non verbal, but as long as there is no problem with their vocal chords or tongue they can learn speech. You just have to take out the time. Clean your house areas, put desired objects away where your child has to interact with you in order to recieve the item because if they have a social disconnect maybe they dont feel the need to talk to you when everything they want is in front of them and you are failing to teach them properly about the world then they dont really want to talk to you because they feel you have nothing to offer. or they think your stupid. I always feel like many children with behavior problems think that adults are stupid and we have no clue what their doing, but its very psychological like: “look so and so really thinks I’m crying. Look at them consoling me. hahaha” They believe that they are gettin g over on you but they are really hurting themselves.

      Also, know parents that when you act out of control or you are overly emotional you upset your kid. Especially if your child is non verbal, because if you didnt speak how would you communicate. Body language, body energy, signals. Children are very intuative to this. Just like a dog knows when youre scared. People are animals and we give of energy too. If you are upset your child will be upset. If you calm down your child will calm down.

      Yes, with children with severe behavior problem, That I see, that stem from lack of attention in the home or lack of order in the home I have had to perform restarint to protect myself and other students from children who dont tak eyour no seriously. They believe that if they act out this much then the answer will be yes. Not because they are bad kids, but because they have learned this. I usually only perform restraint on kids who bite. i dont want to be bit. Its not for dominance reasons. Its for safety..or so that the child doesnt harm another child, or the child engages in to aggressive a physical fist fight where either party can be harmed. I have restrained children who like to harm others or get a kick out of highly negative attention, that being fighting and trying to get the entire room to look at them fight. I also perform planned ignore…where I just say no and then walk away. Usually the child will start screaming, I ignore it. Crying, I gnore it. Hitting themselves, I ignore it. Then they attack or another student or lunge at me. If I can ignore it I do. Sometimes I block. Or I just remain on the other side of the room to avoid attack and proceed with the day. Some children throw desks, I gore it until they are calm. when they are calm I have them pick up the desk. But, some children attack you, literallly follow you around the room attacking you or lunging in a way that hurts themselves. Then I use restraint. Which is crossed arms, no exerted pressure. I dont exert any force as long as the child isnt voilent. And by force, I mean, using power to keep their hands down. I dont engage in any moment, myself personally, or applying any energy if the child is not. And is the child can sit still on their own I quickly end my restraint and continue with the school day, with my answer still be the no I began with. The worst discipline I gave to the child is that I kept my word dispite all their tactics. It works. Usually, this happens during the beginning of the school year, when children are new and test boundaries. Some children I have worked with have such low self esteem from being yelled at from their previous schools or from acting out so badly at home that their parents snap and overreact that I don’t discipline heavily until I build esteem in the child. First I only acknowledge the right that they do and not the wrong, dont push work output too hard, dont do too much correction or discipline unless they are harming other students which is unacceptable. Then after maybe two months when they know the rules and see that they are cared for and have a safe environment I ask for quality and kind behavior. Some behavior protocols dont work because the parent or teacher dont acknowledge that the child is so used ti negative attention that the negative attention becomes positive. Like: I dont care if you yell at me as long as you are paying attention to me. Teachers alone can not fix the problem fully the relationship between teacher, student, parent is a sacred trinity you have to communicate and actually implement healthful teachings. Because behavior problems happen to children  in general. not just special needs children and it is not a symptom of their diagnosis. I know this is hard to hear but when everyone acknowledges accountability and make the necessary changes then your children will reap the benefits. Also, non verbal childrens behavior problems need to be address but along with healing the main wound which is lack of communication…give your child words, expressions, sensitivity, time, look them in  the eye…you cant learn if you can focus on anything. I know that what I do works because children have thanked me. I had one student hug me out of no where and say: “Sorry for the way i acted last year.” I said: “I know.” The boy said: “No, really Im sorry.” I told him: “When you know better you do better Its okay.” Children thank me, they hug me, they ask me to help them on their work, they tell  their classmates to be quiet while they learn. I’m saying this because I discipline children properly.A child you discipline properly, spend time with, let them know you care, provide them with social examples appreciates that more than toys and the candy you gave them when they screamed. Child rearing is difficult. It takes a sober look at ones self and ones priorities.

      • yarnbomber says:

        For all your verbosity and idealism, this has not been my experience.  I have been harmed, and seen countless others harmed by capricious, incompetent, lazy or malicious staffers.  In my own experience, for every time such “restraint” behavior was actually necessary and/or helpful, it was misused hundreds of times.  

        Accountability in personal behavior is important, but it will not come from abusing the most vulnerable at their most vulnerable time.  It frequently makes things worse both in the short-term and long-term.  I agree that the way to prevent a ‘meltdown’ is to prevent the damn thing, but that is not always possible, especially in people who are already scared, for whatever reason.

        I have seen far more deplorable behavior from spoiled “normal” children than I ever have from the “special” population.  

    • Dv Revolutionary says:

      As the parent of an ADD and ODD 10 year old girl Concerta isn’t made to calm kids down. It’s a rebrand of Ritalin, it’s a stimulant for concentration. It intensifies things for the kid and it intensifies things about the kid. Not saying she shouldn’t be on it just trying to help you understand where the rage issues come from with a stimulant medication. You might supplement it with strattera, a different non-stimulant ADD med with some strong antidepressant effects.

      For the record my daughter is on concerta and has similar rages. It’s awful to see your kid that angry and unhappy. Don’t be intimidated by an angry kid be unaffected and in charge.

      My experience with my school system and IEP is completely different than yours. I am in a rural school system we have done many meetings because it’s the law but the school doesn’t seem to actually do anything in fact they seem to have forgotten everything. As some academic issues have been upstaged by behavior issues I’m just outraged that I have to keep pushing them to do anything. Why even have meetings? Do they need tips on how to deal with my kid? For emotional issues they have one part time councilor they share with a different school. For academic help they are willing to offer nothing. I take her to the doctors, I take her to the therapists, I give her the meds, I spend hours every school night wasting her childhood getting her to stay on task with their absurd amount of homework while the meds are wearing off and during that time it appears I am often exposing her to the curriculum for the first time.

      They are just a big testing factory. I have an intelligent high scoring kid on meds who can be random. It’s the random bit on testing days that scares the pants off them. Their overreactions are epic.

      I soo badly want to take her off the meds and unschool the kid.

      • awjt says:

        I’m right there with you.  My kids & school situation could be described exactly like yours.  Sometimes I think, sell the house and contents, quit my job, take the kids out of school and learn to live off the land as cheaply as possible so we don’t have to deal with all the Normals BS…

    • jackbird says:

      Parent can’t visit 7-year old at school because HIPAA?  Rings alarm bells.

  26. sjcottrell says:

    Thank you for sharing your story.  I can only imagine how difficult that would be to share.  As a parent of borderline special-needs children, I’m always trying to learn more about educational choices for my quirky little oddballs.  I can too easily see them being sent to a school of this sort. 

    As an aside, you might want to look into EMDR as a treatment for your ongoing anxiety.  I have honestly found it very helpful.

  27. Patrick Corrigan says:

    I will say that I used to work at a residential facility and this guy nailed it dead on. I was one of the good staff, i’d take down the bullies picking  on kids and look out for the kids that needed help, not the thugs that just challenged everything and tried to beat up the weaker kids. It’s a mess. Kids bullying kids. All sorts of kids lumped together in one group that didn’t need to be together. There was no real help unless a staff took time to sit down with a kid who needed to talk, but as they say the squeaky wheel gets the attention… so the kids that acted up the most got the attention while the good kids got shafted. As one person I could only do so much. There are good staff out there, but it’s like this in facilities for the most part. It’s very sad. I quit working at mine and work part time with a friend’s daughter who has high functioning autism, i’m barely making ends meet right now, but I’d rather live this way then to go back to a facility. Feel free to add me on google plus I could chat all day about what happens at facilities. I’ve worked in several different ones in the va/md/wv region.

    https://plus.google.com/105487691178942874763/posts

  28. Jen Onymous says:

    Great article, but with one omission…

    I wish the author had initially told us why he was initially turned out of two schools.

    • Patrick Corrigan says:

      That doesn’t matter Jen. That could easily reveal his identity. Everyone makes mistakes when they are kids, some kids are just unlucky in that they are the one’s that get caught. I could say 100% that everyone growing up on this planet has done something when they were a kid that if in the wrong place at the wrong time could have landed them locked up somewhere or have special action taken that would have changed their life, like it did for this man.

    • Marja Erwin says:

      Could be that they chose to deal with bullying by transferring the victim. It happened to me, although only from one school to a second, not a third. Don’t assume that because someone got screwed, they must have done something to deserve being screwed.

    • Jen Onymous says:

      Folks–not trying to blame the vic here, far from it.  I am just curious if it was “autisticy behavior” vs “too smart and got picked on behavior” vs something completely different.

  29. pedagogyofthedepressed says:

     Hi there,

    This is the author of the article.

    Several of you have criticized my decision to write anonymously.

    I respect your opinion – it is a valid complaint. Perhaps I am, by not “outing” myself, helping perpetrate stigma against people who were in alternative schools.  But if I out myself, I must give up my career aspirations. Keep in mind: my research helps more people than my becoming the next Augusten Burroughs ever will.

    Secondly, I’m not a fan of radical self-transparency. Privacy is important, and as Erving Goffman pointed out in the early 60s[1], we present different personas in different contexts. Do we criticize Kay Redfield Jamison or Elyn Saks for waiting for tenure to speak out? No – we commend them for overcoming adversity, and once they had secured tenure, telling their story.

    Finally, if I give up a field I am passionate about, if I make my life, my career, dedicated to my past, then I’ve let my past win. I have the right to pursue a career I love which helps better society and doesn’t trigger a fight or flight response.

    REFERENCES:
    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Presentation_of_Self_in_Everyday_Life

    • Promethean Sky says:

       I respect that position, even though I disagree with it. However, I am known for jumping into hopeless fights, consequences be damned, so take that for what it’s worth.

    • James Norred says:

       I perfectly understand, and at one time was in your position. I am actually grateful you had the courage to write this at all because I went through the same thing, and not trying to one up but even worse. I was in a couple of institutions run by quacks, and some pretty unsettling things can happen in those places let me assure you. I went through all of this in the 50′s and 60′s when treatment was medieval at best, just in new buildings. I suffered textbook ADHD, and later developed sever depression. I was very disruptive in class because everything interested and distracted me except the boring monolog by the teacher. I had already read, understood, and filed the data for at least a week ahead of time and was totally bored. This got me put into several schools from hell and later in life with a misguided idea of what friends were, fell into the wrong crowd landing in a state juvenile facility for near a year. I can’t begin to describe the fight for survival that was. Abuse was the sport of those in control who regularly created fights among the boys there for the shear please of watching them fight. Rape was a constant threat, and I was lucky being 6′ 3″ and around 200 lbs with anger management issues, but I heard the muffled screams of the meek many of times at night.

      I am now considered bipolar as is my wife who was fired from a job when the company she worked for found out. For many years I worked as a professional, and as you mention exposing my condition would have ruined me. Now I am an old fart with a special needs child. She was diagnosed with Listeria Meningitis at birth and suffered brain damage. She later suffered additional brain damage from shunt failures and a cyst that formed in her left ventricle. I only mention this because of the pain I feel for her in the way children and people in her situation are ostracized. The most shocking thing I witnessed was how pregnant women react around Sarah because they see in her their worst fear, that being having their child being born with a disability. This came to my attention when one of Sarah’s therapist, who was a young pregnant first time mother ended up quitting her job because of this. She wasn’t cut out for the profession she chose I guess. You have to have a strong stomach to go to the county clinic (the Mental Health and Retardation Clinic) to see the doctors and get your meds. I have to rely on this because I cannot afford insurance like so many others, and try getting insurance for pre existing mental health issues. Even worse have it on your medical records. Welcome to socialized Medicine is all I can say folks. You see all kinds of mental disorders in that waiting room, if you want to call it that. I find it more like a stock pen with the buses picking up and dropping off from schools, hospitals, and jails from all over the county. In a word, degrading.

    • fuck that. good for you. way to be strong in the broken places.

    • WoodGas1 says:

      Public schools are not a paradise for “weird kids” either. When I was 4 yrs. I old got my cerebral cortex reset by Naegleria fowleri. Thanks to heroic doses of antibiotics and the wonderful plasticity of young nervous tissue I eventually recovered. Like you I took to books, dangerous things, those. My textbooks were all finished the first week of every school year, abyssal boredom followed, But, in a large student body, quiet cells are ignored if they test well, more books. The persons that “corrected” your behavior (real or perceived) were adults (putatively) and trained (perhaps at boot camp). In public schools this is largely left to other students. Imagine the repercussions that would attend an honest question like “wouldn’t communism be a good way to govern if the people in charge were honest?” (or democracy for that matter). When my friends were heading to college, I didn’t “re-enlist” my self education has done me no harm that I am aware of, but then, I wouldn’t be would I?

  30. I applaud your courage for coming out with your story. I worked in group homes during the early 90′s. I saw and was deeply affected by residents who had been institutionalized and were only then finally able to lead a semi-normal life. It changed my plans for my life and I am now a special education teacher and doctoral student who is working on how games and positive reinforcement deepen learning experiences. In my life I have seen how just knowing a student is what makes a difference. In your experiences, it seems like the “educational” staff did not want to know you as they did not consider you capable of real human experience. I am so glad you have proved them wrong.

  31. Tarak Xformer says:

    Google search Northwood “Point Sheet”, best result:
    http://www.breathing-underwater.com/portfolio/documents/standards/standard10/Observation%20Journal%20-%20ED.pdf

    The Pathways Schools at Northwood, 1200 University Blvd., West, Silver Spring, MD 20902, 301-593-8680. This school is based out of Northwood Presbyterian Church. There are 24 students total. The student population is mostly ED, but there are some LD as well. The class I observed was all ED. From what I could tell, the student body was almost entirely African-American, with the exception of a few Hispanics.

    Pathways handles many different types of ED including severe anxiety, depression, PDD, Aspergers, ODD, Bi-Polar, and PTSD. The school is a non-public institution that only accepts students financed by the district; no private pay students. Most students complete a high school diploma, though some can only complete an attendance certificate. The students are all on IEPs and on the Point Sheet Management System.

  32. When I was 13 I was sent to a Christian long-term “drug rehab” when I tested positive for cannabis use after running away multiple times. I was there for 14 months and had a pretty similar experience and ended up developing a pretty mean case of PTSD that’s lasted well into my early 30s. I’m glad to read that you still made it through and are doing well. The fuckin’ 90s, man. All that “break the child’s will” crap really messed up our generation.

  33. ChuckieJesus says:

    Did my time in psych juvie in the eighties. I went in broken, came out broken. Nothing changed except for the pattern of the cracks.

    And yeah, I still have nightmares about the cinderblock and plexiglas place that kept me for three years of my teenage life. Never had a prom, never had a graduation, don’t have a real alma mater I can mention anywhere. I have one friend left from those times, and she says she still has bad dreams of it, too.

  34. orangedesperado says:

    You know what ? I think there is a big difference between a person who has been clinically diagnosed with Aspergers than a person who has done a DIY internet quiz diagnosis on themselves, to determine that Asperger’s is the get-out-of-jail-free-card for acting like an asshole. Here’s a big long article about this very topic:

    http://nymag.com/news/features/autism-spectrum-2012-11/

    I don’t think anyone wears their difference as a “badge of honor”, particularly when that difference has had them ostracized and abused, and completely scarred from militaristic special education.

  35. awjt says:

    It’s a stigma, not a badge.  If it were a badge, we’d have the Autistic Olympics and the Autistic Medal of Honor and a bunch of other drivel.  But we don’t.  Instead, we have the autistic get-the-eff-away-from-me look, and the I-hope-we-don’t-have-an-autistic-child fear, and the autistic school and the autistic bus and the autistic group home. Oh, and the autistic meds that recently replaced the autistic shock therapy.

  36. yarnbomber says:

    Hear, hear!  I think there is never an excuse to just act like an asshole.  I give my parents “mad props” for teaching that to ALL their children. 

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