Lauren (21), Autism, Blount County
"Why can’t schools treat people with disabilities like they have a future?"
Lauren is deaf. She uses a cochlear implant. She loves that cochlear. She also is on the autism spectrum, has some delays, and has an intellectual disability. She takes a lot of medication. She just cut back on a couple medications, which is nice.
I would say even though elementary school was crazy, post-high school has been the most challenging for us. Just before Lauren graduated I got remarried and moved to Blount County, and we live out in the country. While she was spending her days out there
my husband and I were working in west and downtown Knoxville, she would be at home because there was nothing for her. School did not prepare us or her in the least.
There were times when she was in school that I felt jealous because the “regular kids” would get all this attention about college, and college representatives coming along and meeting them at the school and all this excitement. Lauren got nothing. Absolutely
nothing. There is all this money that they take up for lottery tickets that is supposed to go for education. Students with special needs just get completely over looked, but they can benefit from an education too. Lauren got nothing. I guess I didn’t know
how angry and jealous that would make me feel. After high school she was floundering emotionally and she would just not know what to do with herself. She still kind of wanted to be a high school student, but she didn’t want to go back to school. She can stay
(in high school) until she’s twenty-two but we were utterly discouraged about staying because her special education program at her high school was changed so much it was not beneficial.
I hate to admit it but her future scares me a little. I’ve looked a little into group homes for Lauren, but she’s not ready. I really think that there will come a time when she might be ready, but not right now. She tried a program in Smyrna just for people
with disabilities or brain injuries where a person can go and learn a trade. We tried it for less than a week and it did not go well for her. There’s not enough structure for her. Especially since Lauren has a problem knowing how to connect with people.
She’s quite friendly once she starts talking to people, but she doesn’t know how to make that initial connection and how to make friends and how to have a relevant conversation. So when she was there in Smyrna at that program she was all alone. There were
tons of people around and she knew when she was supposed to go to lunch, she knew where her room was, and she kept up with her key. However, she didn’t know how to interact with people such as asking someone if they want to see a movie or eat together. That
just never sparked for her.
Lauren has been tied to me like my shadow and if I’m not around she worries about me. As much as I love her, I would still be very proud of her if she learned how to be more independent. I think she’s getting there, but there are a lot of fears. Because
of those fears I wonder if I have taught her enough. So I am a little nervous about the future. I think that, I pray that, I live long enough to get her into some independent living type of setting, whether she lives in a group home or she has someone live
with her. I think she could do that. But since Lauren takes so much repetition (i.e. practice/teaching) I think it would take a while before I would see that happen.
Why can’t schools treat people with disabilities like they have a future? They treat them like this is all they are ever going to do. Maybe it is, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe all they’re going to do is work in a restaurant cleaning tables.
And that’s fine. But don’t treat them like that’s all the potential they have. I feel like there are no standard rules on how they should be treated. There should be and those rules should be posted right outside the door. Just like businesses have a mission
statement. I want to see them have a mission statement saying what is expected, targets and goals, and if a child achieves it or goes beyond it, great. If they don’t achieve it, at least they’ve gotten something done. If you set the bar really low then the
kids are just going to sit there and pick at their fingernails and rock and hum and do nothing. Lauren got no kind of post high school guidance before leaving high school.
Another thing I would like to see is when schools turn in their report card for how they’re doing. I want to see where those dollars are spent on kids with special needs. Anytime you ask for something to be done such as a field trip or something they tell
me they do not have the money. If I mention wanting to switch placements,(such as move her to Tn School for Deaf) they urged us not to go there. To me, that made me think they only care about my child as a statistic that gets the school money. They don’t really
care about teaching her as a human being. I would like to see some kind of accounting on how they spend my tax dollars on kids with special needs. If they have the money and spent it, show me the where it was spent. They should be able to account for every
penny they spend. However, they’re not asked to do that by anyone. They should also make that account public information.
I didn’t even realize the school wasn’t doing what they were supposed to do for Lauren. I just assumed they were. When Lauren was in middle school, I went to something called Partners in Policy Making. It is a wonderful program and I think that every parent
should get involved. You spend a weekend going to workshops, learning about legislation and meeting the people who make the legislation. I also networked and met other parents going through the same thing. The connections are important.
I am lucky that I have a really good husband (Lauren’s stepfather) who is very supportive. If you have someone who is very supportive, be it a husband, neighbor, mother, or somebody then that helps a lot.