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Dear Dr. Albers and Ms. Larsen,

I am writing to you in response to a story I recently read regarding a principal in your district.  I am sure that at this point you have read or heard about the Raw Story piece on Kimberly Taylor.  I am sure that you, just like me and every other parent of a special needs child, were horrified by the audio tape of Ms. Taylor embarrassing a child in front of the school and saying, “This is a retard.”  I am sure that you, just like me and every other parent of a special need child, were horrified by Ms. Taylor’s use of profane language, of the anger and hate in her voice, of her abusive and demeaning language.  I am sure that you, just like me and every other parent of a special needs child, were horrified to the point of knowing that Ms. Taylor does not belong in a classroom or Principal’s office.

Obviously something happened along the way though.  I can only imagine the political tightrope you as administrators must walk.  At some point, someone, a misguided friend of Ms. Taylor’s perhaps, brought enough political capital to a meeting with you and your boss and bought Ms. Taylor an insignificant one week suspension.

Here’s the thing  though – a one week suspension, for what is clearly heard on those audio tapes, is not even a slap on the wrist.  Her punishment was essentially a one week vacation – one that she obviously needed.  Her punishment sends a clear message to the parents of Hilltop School – that you see their children as “retards” and “animals”; that you are okay with putting their children in the care of someone who has no qualms about using not only abusive language but abusive tactics; that it’s okay if their children have to go to school every day afraid.

That is horrifying.

But here is the even more horrifying thing you and your colleagues have done – you have sent a message, not just to the parents of Hilltop School, but to every parent of every Special Needs child everywhere.  In this age of Social Media and the Internet, information travels at the speed of thought.  You do not live in a bubble and the policies you set forth regarding your Special Needs population, as vile as they are, let other administrators and principals know that, at the very least, you can get away with this kind of behavior with nothing more than a one week suspension.

Is that how you want to be remembered?  Dr. Albers and Ms. Larsen believe that a child’s dignity, a child’s humanity, a child’s innocence is worth one week.  We present the Albers/Larsen Policy.

Truth is, I don’t think the administrators in my district would tolerate this kind of behavior, but I know that I am lucky to live where I live.  I hear constant horror stories from parents in other towns of administrators and principals who stonewall families; denying services for as long as they can.  YOU, Dr. Albers and Ms. Larsen, have given them new ammunition; at the very least you’ve given them permission to take their frustrations out on the very kids they are supposed to nurture.

There is but one way for you two make this right – you must fire Kimberly Taylor; completely – no alternate job with Haverstraw; you must cut ties with her and never, ever allow her into a classroom again under any circumstances.  Additionally, you need to hold accountable the person or people who chose to give Ms. Taylor a measly one week suspension instead of firing her in the first place.  If those people were you, then resign, but only after firing Ms. Taylor.

There is nothing wrong with a principal who uses a firm hand and tough love.  Abusive behavior is neither of those.

Make this right.

Sincerely,

Luau

Kimberly Taylor is the principal of Hilltop School and can be heard in an audio recording saying the following to students in her charge: 

“It’s important you’re on your best behavior.  If someone falls in dance, don’t laugh because I will rip your [expletive] out of there. It’s important not to embarrass yourself. Your family take pride in yourself. I will embarrass you, you all know me, if you don’t give a [expletive], neither do I.”

“‘Cause guess what; everyone knows this school is for kids that have behavior problems, so it will be a normal thing if we drag you down and pull you out.”

 “This is a retard. How embarrassing, a disgusting embarrassment, get him the hell out of my sight.”

Amy Albers, Ed. D is the Assistant Superintendent of Student Services in West Nyack, New York.

Julie Larsen is the Assistant Director of Student Services in West Nyack, New York.

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I originally was going to write this post for special needs parents. Then I decided that maybe I should include siblings and grandparents. That led me to cousins, extended family and friends….in the end, this post is for everyone, anyone…any person who is loved.

Are you loved?

I can pretty much guarantee, whoever you may be, you are…there is someone out there who loves you…your parents, your children, you family and friends. Long lost connections…someone who looks back through time…

Somebody loves you.

And because of that, you owe a debt.

***

Yesterday I wrote about how the pandemic of inactivity was killing us, causing 1 in 10 deaths worldwide. Putting that on par with smoking and obesity, that means that at least 30% of all deaths in the world are relatively preventable…that 30% of all deaths are the results of a slow suicide.

But Luau…

I can’t quit smoking.

I’m too big and can’t change my body.

I’m too tired and depressed to be active.

Bullshit!

Would you want your child, or your spouse, or your mom or dad to slowly take their own life? Would you buy those excuses from them?

No, no you wouldn’t.

***

There is a wonderful website called the “Oxygen Mask Project”. It was created by two Special Needs Moms to inspire other Special Needs Moms to help them help themselves, because in their own words, “To care for others, you have to take care of yourself as well.”

As is so often the case, what is good for the Special Needs Community, is just as good for the rest of society.

We owe a debt that can only be repaid by taking care of ourselves to all those who love us, because in the end, isn’t that what life and happiness is all about…Love?

Without it, what’s the point?

Repay your debt daily…30 minutes at a time.

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When you are the parent of the child with special needs you gain a certain perspective on the concept of achievement.  You learn to celebrate the ordinary, the mundane, the trivial milestones, because when you are a parent of a child with special needs, you know that in some cases, the ordinary becomes extraordinary – the words “I love you” passing over the lips of your daughters, a genuine hug of comfort, an extended moment of eye contact – all of these things that we take for granted with our neuro-typical children take on a much greater weight.

When I look at runners, talk to runners, read posts by runners, I wonder if they understand that they too are extraordinary.

Recently there was a bit of a brouhaha online about a certain runner who attempts to inspire others to live a healthy lifestyle.  Some of the more serious accusations thrown at her aside, one that particularly irked me was that she is just a middle of the pack runner, even slower by other people’s standards – that it was no big deal that she ran 52.4 miles (or 100 for that matter) in one day, that her training mileage was mundane compared to other, “real” ultra-marathoners.

It wasn’t that I felt she needed defending.  She can take care of herself.  What bothered me was that the idea of running 50 miles in a day, or biking 200 miles in 3 days, or running 40 miles a week was nothing to celebrate because it wasn’t serious enough.

It takes away from the “extraordinary” that every day runners do every day.

  • If you get up in the morning and run, you are extraordinary – I don’t care if it’s 3 miles or 15 miles.  How many people hit the snooze button and are now “running” late for work?
  • If you strapped on your running shoes during your lunch break, you are extraordinary – how many of your co-workers are stuffing their faces with a meatball grinder while you sweat out a quick 5-miler?
  • If you put in a short run after work, you are extraordinary – too many people are managing the stress of the day with a bourbon at the local watering hole instead of a run.
  • If you prepared for bed with a run after putting the kids to bed, you are extraordinary – how many of your fellow parents crash into their own beds or onto the couch after the kiddies are asleep?
  • If you have entered a footrace of any distance, you are extraordinary – how many people have said to you, I wish I could do that.
  • If you have run a marathon, no matter what the time, you are extraordinary – you are part of an exclusive club (around 0.1% of the population)!

Runners like Scott Jurek, Ryan Hall and Kara Goucher are all truly extraordinary.  Their feats are incredible, but here’s the thing, they obviously have physical gifts that you and I do not have.  I am truly impressed by what they are able to accomplish, but I am always more impressed with those of you who live every day lives, working towards keeping a roof over your heads and keeping your children fed yet still manage to find the time to run.

I know elitists exist in any group of significant size – those that believe they are innately better because they are faster or stronger.  There are runners that are faster and stronger.  That shouldn’t minimize or trivialize the accomplishments of the rest of the community – just like those of us with special needs should not be marginalized or trivialized in society.

Did you, will you run today?

Yes?

Then YOU are extraordinary.  Don’t let anybody tell you different.

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When I tell people about running marathons, almost universally the response I get is, “I could never do that”.  My answer always is that just about anyone can run a marathon.  All you have to do is try, let go of preconceived notions about yourself and try on my running shoes.  Spend a week, a month, a year in my running shoes, widen your perspective and you will be hooked.  Just because you don’t understand it or don’t get it doesn’t mean it’s bad or not for you.

***

Reading through a friend’s facebook feed the other day I came across a post regarding the movie The Change Up.  There is a movement among some to boycott the movie because one character refers to another’s twin boy by asking if they are retarded.  When the father responds no, the friend asks, “are you sure, this one looks a bit downsy.”

I’m not going to go into the fact that the humor is on the offensive side of the fence and, in my humble opinion, unimaginative.  Anybody who reads this blog or my wife’s blog regularly knows where we stand on the word “retarded” and its use as either humor or insult.  The same goes for using those with Down’s Syndrome in a similar manner.

What got to me was the response of a particular fellow who snapped back at my friend with the following comments:

Isn’t this taking political correctness to an extreme? What would be acceptable, “what, are they hindered? Are you sure[?] this one looks a little suppressed”. Then after a month we couldnt [sic] use the H word right? cut the shit.

Somebody responded:

wow… cut the shit? tell you what, let’s make YOUR kid ‘retarded’ for a week. after, you can let me know how you feel about the world using him/her as a laughing point, k? better yet- why don’t YOU cut the shit. *disgusted*

To which he said:

First of all, I’ve done more direct volunteer work with “Retarded” children and adults in my lifetime than you could do in three lifetimes. I’ve done so since I was a child with my Mother. so that alone gives me my right to an opinion. I personally worked every Pat’s home game for two seasons at a concession stand at Gillette with every penny going to down syndrome. My point is it’s one thing to say directly a person with down syndrome “what are you retarded?’ that’s ignorant. But to reference the condition as Retarded or “downsey”. Is harmless in my eyes. there is a difference between “Special needs” and Down syndrome or retarded. Retarded is a gentle dictionary term for someone who is hindered from functioning in the same capacity as someone who is not “Retarded. Retarded WAS the kinder and gentler term as opposed to Mongoloid or even as they were scientifically referred to in the 1920 as idiots. I’m just tired of all this cock and bull false sensitivity you tree huggers throw out there to make you feel better about your own pitiful lives and I wonder when enough is enough.

As for those of you who have been blessed with a special child, you know as well as i do, your lucky ones and god’s chosen ones. You should also know that any of those children only want to be treated like anyone else. that’s includes joking teasing and loving. they don’t need to be shielded and understand more than most would give them credit. [To another commenter], I’d take a walk in your shoes any day and love it. My contribution was not years ago, it’s been off and on my whole life. I thoroughly enjoyed watching people look at me in horror being my usual “off color” self with my buddies and then laughing their collective asses off when they would all conspire to pelt me Mozzerella cheese balls from the pizzas we were making at Gillette. And guess who got all the hugs at the end of the day. that’s right this guy. I’m just saying lighten the fuck up. being ignorant does not make you a bad person, it just makes you ignorant. One without knowledge. You don’t have to change the fucking words, change some minds. Do you think your going to reach someone by scolding them for using the only words for it they know?

Educate. Don’t further isolate your kids by Trying to make others feel bad when I’m sure their intention weren’t. This society is over sensitized and overly pussified.
Next thing you know we will be electing a Special Needs president to compensate for our years of ignorance.
(yes i know that one was bad. I just had to get an Obama dig in here)

This was my response:

I think you are melding two issues. I agree with you that this Nation has become weak due in large part to this “everybody wins” attitude. If everybody wins all the time, nobody wins…however, we’re talking in part about a group of people who to a large degree cannot defend themselves, and when you are talking about certain subsets of that community, parents who are also unable to deftly defend their children. I am ALL for good natured teasing…particularly about things we can change, but let’s not make fun of a person because they were born with an extra chromosome or have a brain disorder…it just ain’t funny…

flatulence…now that’s funny!

So here’s the thing.  This guy firmly believes what he is saying (writing) – he really believes that he has done “more direct volunteer work with ‘Retarded’ children and adult in [his] lifetime than [the respondent – a parent of a Special Needs Child] could do in three lifetimes.”  He really believes that we [special needs parents] are all tree huggers who throw out “cock and bull” to make ourselves feel better about our own pitiful lives, and yet turns around to say that those of you who have been blessed with a special child, you know as well as i do, your lucky ones and god’s chosen ones.”  For him to then say “You should also know that any of those children only want to be treated like anyone else. that’s includes joking teasing and loving. they don’t need to be shielded and understand more than most would give them credit.” just goes to show that he doesn’t understand that sure we all want to be teased a little, but only if we are able to dish it back.  Teasing is good when it is a back and forth, not a one way street.

This guy here, this guy is why I continue to work for awareness, why I continue to run with my Autism Speaks pin, why I sometimes tell people that until you have walked in the shoes of a Special Needs parent, you cannot know what it is that they go through, what it is that pains them, what it is that scares the living daylights out of them and keeps them up all night.

The commenter said that he would walk in my friend’s “shoes any day and would love it.”  How about walking in the shoes of a parent whose kids have been wiping their shit on the wall for the past 18 years?  Tell me you’ll love it then.  Obviously he doesn’t get it.  I hope someday he may take a walk in our shoes, not just for the workday, not just for 24 hours, not just for a week.  I hope that he is given the opportunity to truly understand what it is we go through on a LIFETIME basis.  There is no end of the week, month or year for us.

Do I think we need to lighten up sometimes? Sure.  Sometimes we get trapped in our own storms and cannot find our way out.  Do we need to be able to laugh at ourselves? Absolutely.  Do our kids (and adult like them) need to learn to do the same?  Totally.

But there has to be a better way to do that instead of making these kids punchlines that will carry far beyond the movie theater.  What the commenter fails to understand is that once people see that it is acceptable to make a joke about “retarded and downsey” people in the theater, they will take it with them to their workplace, their playground, their community, at which point what was originally meant as harmless humor (and I don’t doubt that the writers of the screenplay meant it as harmless) ends up getting used in spiteful, mean-spirited, cruel ways that can cause much greater long term harm.

Honestly, I may still go see the movie.  Tropic Thunder had a similar issue, and quite honestly, that moment aside, I thought it was hilarious.  I just hope that people will think twice about laughing at the expense of someone for just being.  Laugh at the funny faces runners make at the end of a race, laugh at the fact that I almost pooped my pants in my last marathon, laugh at someone’s politics, be comfortable enough to laugh at yourself (said the skinny kid with the huge melon – yeah, that’s me).  Heck, laugh at public figures for saying ridiculous things, but don’t make fun of our kids just because they have autism or down’s syndrome or any other debilitating disease.

Quite frankly, that’s lazy and weak.  Maybe the commenter will be “blessed with a special child [and find that he is one of the] lucky ones and god’s chosen ones.”  I wonder if he will still feel that way when 10 years later he still hasn’t heard his child speak a single word, or a simple “I love you” or received a single hug.

Truth be told, I hope for his sake, and for the sake of that child, he doesn’t – I don’t think he has the feet to fill our shoes.

***

By the way, there is a tree hugger in our family.  It is little Brooke, who literally goes up to trees and hugs them.

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