Monday, July 09, 2007

An Interesting WSJ Article

Today, there was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal concerning Isabel Loeffler, an 8-year-old autistic and mentally retarded girl. Her school has apparently "resorted" to using discipline in order to restrain some of her wild actions. Naturally, in today's sue-happy world where your child can do no wrong (the "Little League Mom" mentality, as my mother put it), the parents are suing the school for using their methods. To be fair, actually, the parents realize that certain methods have not been working. The article has the usual disparaging comments regarding discipline.

You know something? I haven't the foggiest idea what are good ways to interact with autistic or mentally retarded children. I don't know all the things that make them tick. I'm not going to presume to dictate to others how to raise their children, except to champion biblical principles, which I'm convinced work as well here as anywhere else. What do I know?

1. I know that all human beings, autistic and mentally retarded ones included, are conceived in iniquity and born in sin. Ps. 51.

2. That means we are all sinners in need of the saving grace of God. Corrective discipline should be aimed at the whole person, a la Shepherding a Child's Heart, by Tripp.

3. The common assumption, therefore, that children are all wonderful (indeed, often more wonderful than adults) needs some careful revision, if not upending.

4. What is more loving to a child: telling them they're wonderful all the time regardless of how they behave, or teaching them the truth that they are not the bright center of this universe?

5. We must show "special needs" children quite the same love and grace we should show to any other children. How that looks will doubtless be different from the non-special-needs child. However, it WILL include discipline (incidentally, discipline is far more than punishment for wrongdoing!), and it WILL include instructions on how the child is not equal to the universe, and it WILL include instruction about our loving and holy and righteous and wrathful-against-wrongdoing and gracious God.

Interestingly, another WSJ article today had to do with blaming Mr. Rogers for how all our children always think they're "entitled", or "special", often without working for it. Food for thought, anyway.

Now, here's a challenge for someone a lot smarter than me: take these basic principles and apply them to the special needs children.

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At 7/09/2007 01:27:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Special needs children are here to teach us how to Love others.
I just finished reading "When Discipline starts a fight". article in the Wall Street Journal. Monday, July 9,2007 page 1.

Isabel was learning behavior from the behavior modeled by by her teachers. Had that behavior been appropriate behavior Isabel would have modeled it, instead of what she learned.

This child was not disciplined by the schools she was abused for over a year by the school system. Had any parent treated a child like this they would be charged with child abuse and locked up. Instead these teachers are still in the class room doing the samething to other children.

Too bad the judge did not lock them up. Had it been up to me I would have closed the public school system and ordered the system to pay for private schooling of all of the students. I also would have ordered the teachers and school administrators to pay the parent $6 million for Isabel's education.

At 7/09/2007 05:29:00 PM , Blogger Eltinwe said...

I don't know the case.

I agree with Adrian's assessment, and discipline needs always to be in love. My rule of thumb is this: If you don't love the child, don't punish him. Furthermore, if you are angry or frustrated, leave it until you are not.

Children (and adults) with mental disabilities can be extremely frustrating to deal with and particularly, to teach. Making SOME effort at discipline is perfectly in line and not something to condemn out of hand, Anonymous.

At 7/11/2007 11:09:00 AM , Blogger Doug said...


I really think you ought to re-read the article first of all, and also re-check what it means to be a Christian.

We have never sued the school. What we did is utilize the only process available for parents when they disagree with the school about their child's program. It is called a Due Process Hearing. It is an administrative procedure and it is legally required if there is a disagreement that cannot be resolved.

Second, on behalf of my wife I thoroughly object to your negative reference and stereotype about 'soccer moms'. My wife had to give up her career to home school our child for the last year-and-a half. She is going to continue to give up her career this year as we try to re-transition Isabel into a public school. She did this because she correctly believed that we needed to do this for our daughter.

Third, the 'discipline' that the school used involved having as many as four adults hold her in her chair while she struggled, for as much as two hours (off and on). It involved a student where this type of physical restraint would be used because she was 'not talking in an adult voice' and refused to take a break. It involved her falling in a puddle of her own urine, reporting to the teacher that her shirt was wet with urine, asking to be changed, and being told 'No', you have to finish your time-out. It involved taking her back to her desk in urine-soaked clothing and being told she had to sit down and finish work before being allowed to be changed. It involved her being surrounded by a group of as many as 8 adults, three or four of whom would tightly surround her with gym mats to create a portable time-out area. It involved them 'herding' her through the school surrounded by these it mats. It involved NONE of these things being told to her parents as they happened. It involved a child who was mentally INCAPABLE of telling her parents that these things had happened to her. It involved a student who had a written behavior plan that was legally binding, yet the staff didn't follow it. It involved a child who was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder because of these repeated incidences of physical restraint and seclusion.

I would love to hear if anyone on this site uses these tactics on their own children and if anyone on this site would applaud a public school teacher would do this to your children without telling you?

Doug Loeffler

At 8/05/2007 11:50:00 PM , Blogger Holly said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8/06/2007 01:20:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the Loeffler Family,

I want to commend you for your fight. As a former educator in Isabel's education career, I witnessed the slow transition Isabel went through. I recall sitting in a meeting with Doug, the special education teacher, an AEA consultant and an assistant principal and was dishearted by the close mindedness over the interventions in place when they were not successful. Their only solutions were what was currently being done. I was then told after the meeting by an AEA consultant that I had no idea. I do know this when Isabel was in the classroom she had few problems and never did I feel she was a threat to the safety of others. However, the AEA consultant was right about one thing I didn't know because she was not allowed down to the regular classroom the majority of the time because she was in time out, didn't complete work, or was considered "out of control". I did work closely with the special ed teacher to modify science and social studies hoping this could increase the amount of time she joined us. This was consistent and we were successful in many ways. I remember how proud she was of her penguin book she helped publish. Her smile was priceless at so many moments during the year.

I am deeply sadened by how all parties handled this, me included. I should have had a stronger voice and stood up to those that were unwilling to seek alternatives.

Which hurts even more is that the district is unwilling to admit their wrongs. As a taxpayer of the community of this district, I am outraged that they continue to standby their decisions and continue to say they were doing what research told them. I would challenge them to demonstrate the research that concludes 5 hours in isolation is researched. That is right the strategy may be researched but not the way it was implemented.

How was this helping Isabel become successful?

I commed the Loefflers for seeking admistrative action rather than sue however my hope is that some change occurs to ensure that this can not happen to any child.

Take care


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