themighty logo

We Need to Talk About the Abuse of Children With Disabilities in School


Editor's Note

If you have experienced abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

I saw a TV interview today that made me angry. It made my blood boil. It made me sad. It absolutely broke my heart. The interview was by a local TV station, interviewing a family as they sue the person who abused their son who has disabilities.

The devastating part is that I know and love this family. Though I have only met them in person one time, I love this family! I’ve watched them on Facebook for years. I’ve met this little boy with his vivacious smile and twinkling eyes. I’ve had lunch with this beautiful mamma and know her kind, loving heart.

While I knew some of the details, I did not know the depth of the abuse. I did not know it went on for months. I did not know of the multiple physical marks the abuser left on this boy. I did not know that he now struggles with PTSD. I didn’t know how badly he has regressed, even losing his speech. And I did not know the extent of the physical abuse that has been reported and is now in evidence.

This family is standing up and demanding the abuser be held accountable and face charges, as well as the school district that employed her, as the abuse happened at their school. The abuse happened several years ago, and now this family is reliving all of this trauma all over again. One of the things the mamma mentions in the interview is how the abuser kicked her son across the room. Kicked him across the room!

The community should be outraged. Not just the families with a child with a disability, the entire community! Their tax dollars are being thrown away by this school district and their lawyers, when the evidence is overwhelming that multiple events of abuse happened. The abuse was witnessed by another employee and they came forward. Other employees knew about it, and yet the school district asked the abusive employee to resign rather than be fired, which allows her to continue to work with other children. Once the parents got involved, the school district changed their story, denied the allegations and even hid paperwork.

This family has been ostracized by their community. This poor mamma has been called names to her face, had hate mail sent to her, and was treated so badly that they had to move away. And yet there are indications that their son was not the only one who was targeted by this abusive employee.

This happens all over the country. Schools hide the abuse, denying it happened.  And this kind of abuse most often happens in a segregated setting, in special education classrooms. These classrooms are often to the back of the campus, out of sight.

Our children with disabilities are most vulnerable when they are in a segregated setting. Many of them do not have the capability to talk about hurt or abuse and verbalize what happened.  Would this kind of overt abuse happen in a general education setting? I think it’s much less likely, because the other 25 children would run home and tell their parents.

Why is this story so personal to me? Why does it make my blood boil? Because I have seen abuse happen in schools firsthand. I see the stories on social media all the time. I have witnessed an aide lifting a child by his wrists and “walking” him across the parking lot while his pants and diaper fell down around his ankles, and laughing hysterically.

I have helped a family while they listened to a teacher testify in court why she thought it was OK to send their child(and other students), as a disciplinary measure, outside to stare at the sun for 10 minutes — in Arizona.

I have seen students being held in a “seclusion room” crying for help.

I have seen videos of kids being dragged down the hallways.

I believe strongly in inclusion. I believe passionately that all students should be included.

But mostly, I have always felt my son was safest in a general education classroom instead of a segregated setting. I have fought intensely to keep my child and others out of a segregated setting, arguing with school staff and districts, and enduring long and often combative IEP meetings about what is best for my child.

So yes, my blood was boiling. I hope yours is too. But under that anger is heartbreaking sadness and fear. This mamma experienced my worst and ongoing nightmare. So if you see a family with a child with a disability in your community, in your neighborhood, please reach out to them. Send them a warm smile and tell them how beautiful their family is!

In addition to the extra care of their child needs, in addition to the extra monies they spend on therapies, doctors, specialized resources and tools, you can’t see so much of what they are going through. You can’t see the worry; you can’t see the stress.

We need your voice.

We know better.

We need to do better.

We need schools to step up.

We need to be partners with our schools.

We need you as a neighbor and a community to watch out for my child and other vulnerable children like him. We need you to teach your children to be kind, be strong and to stand up when they see an injustice.

I’m sending prayers and hugs out to this mamma and her family, and I want us all to do our part to protect kids like her son from abuse.

Getty image by GolfX.