My name is Jesus Contreras, and I would like to tell you my story:
I am seven years old, and when I turned one I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, also known as CP. That was a difficult moment for my mom and dad. My doctor explained to them my condition is special. It affects my muscle more than my brain functions; therefore I cannot speak or walk. Also, I suffer from asthma, cardiac arrhythmia, and panic attacks. I rely on a wheelchair to transport myself from one place to another.
Even though I cannot speak, my mom and I have developed a way to communicate to the extent of her knowing when I am thirsty, hungry, or cold. My mom understands what I need and she also can recognize a wide range of emotions, including sadness, anger, or stress.
I am currently enrolled in the first grade at Stafford Elementary School in Italy, TX. Before the school year started my mom and I attended to an Admission, Review, and Dismissal or ARD meeting to discuss my condition, therapies, needs, and study plan with the teacher that would be helping me during classes. I was so excited to start school, meet new friends, have the chance to develop new abilities, and learn new skills, but soon I realized that wouldn’t be the case. You see, my teacher lacked the skills to teach me and the study plan discussed at the ARD meeting was non-existent in class. My instructor used general courses to teach me and all of my other classmates. Being a special needs kid also requires me to have a customized study plan and different teaching methods, in my class all of us have different needs. My teacher also helped me understand the meaning of the word indictment, which is a formal accusation of a serious crime. What I don’t not understand, is how the school system keeps her teaching more kids like me while she is facing charges abandonment and will be in front of a jury soon. My physical and language therapies are only twice a week and fifteen minutes long each. Fifteen minutes is just enough time for me to go in, say hi, and pack up and leave.
Four of my classmates are between the ages of six and eight, but the other three are eleven to twelve, and much bigger than me. All seven of us students are disabled in one way or another, and our classroom is the last one on the left, the smallest one of them all. If we add the teacher and two teaching aids, that makes a total of ten people who are confined to a space as big as a small living room.
I get so scared when I have to go to school. My body is fragile; I only weight thirty eight pounds and measure just above forty inches. I can only be sitting in my wheelchair, sometimes I have to sit on the floor. I wonder what would happen to me if one of the bigger kids accidentally trips and falls over me on one of those occasions. Now, that thought makes me really scared.
Whenever my teacher does not understand what’s going on with me or any of my classmates, she stresses out; she gets frustrated and decides to put us on time out. Sometimes she only separates us from the rest of the group, some other times she locks us up in a separate room and leaves us there until she decides we have had enough. Sometimes I wonder why she has not received appropriate training from anyone.
My classmates and I are not allowed to participate in regular school classes with the rest of the kids. I am not asking to be there all day with them, but I know some minutes out of the day would make me want to try and do all the things they do. Things such as walk, move, and talk like them. In addition, we are not included in school events, field trips, and other school activities. It’s as if they want to hide us from the rest of the school.
I would love for all of this to change. Sometimes I wish that my classmates and I had the chance to share and learn alongside the kids of regular classes. I would love for my teacher to follow an adequate study plan, one that deals with the requirements of each of us special needs kids. It would be nice to have a bigger classroom, full of windows so we can see what going on in the outside, and cameras. I would love for my teacher to go through training courses in which she could learn about my condition and the conditions of the rest of my classmates. That would help her understand our behavior a little better and could help her differentiate between our needs and emotions. I would like to be part of all the school activities, instead of being apart and excluded from the rest of school kids.
Since I was born I have spent my short life in and out of hospitals and emergency rooms. I divide my time between doctors, therapists, nurses, injections, and lots of pain; I don’t want school to be a part of that pain. I want to wake up excited about going to class, learning new things, discovering new skills, and sharing with my friends. In my perfect world, my school would have a gym with equipment adapted for disabled kids, a playground with swings and slides adapted to us. It would have ramps so I could move through it with my wheelchair. I don’t like to be stationary under the sun for forty minutes while the rest of the kids are running around, having fun.
At my short age I don’t understand what the difference between a normal kid and a kid such as myself is. I do not comprehend why people call me special kid or disabled. All I know is that I am a kid who likes to play, scream, learn, and be happy, just like the rest of the kids. All I know is I am kid who would like to grow up and be an integral part of society just like every other kid is given the opportunity to do so.
Comment from Italy Neotribune Editor, Mike South
When I read this article, a flood of emotions come up. I believe that I have a unique insight to this particular subject and I felt compelled to write this comment.
I have a son in this same class as Jesus. He has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Without going into what all of that means, it puts him in the classification of a special needs child. Special needs is the key word here.
As a father, I did not want to accept the fact that my son had this disorder. It took me many years, and an amazing wife, to finally accept it. It is not easy, but accepting it made it much easier to deal with the needs of my child. My wife had already been working with him and when he started school her efforts only increased. Working with my son is a 24/7 job.
My son is very intelligent. Autism is not a disorder of the intelligence, it is a disorder of social behavior. For instance, he tends to not make eye contact when you speak to him but he is listening. Also, Autistics tend to be obsessive towards things and/or people. For instance, if he wants something he will spend every waking minute thinking about it.
When we took my son to school for the first time it was a big change for him. There were a lot more kids around and he was not used to that. So we talked with the school staff there at Stafford and we switched him to a smaller class. Now he is able to spend a few hours in the larger class as he gets used to it. I can tell you that it has taken years, not months, to get him used to it.
Let me try and paint the picture here. You have all seen the kids at the store that are crying and screaming and you think to yourself ‘that parent needs to get control of that spoiled kid.’ Maybe after reading this you will think twice.
An autistic kid does not look disabled. I have taken my son to the store before and he wants to buy a toy. He expects to get this toy because he has no concept of money or how society exchanges money for goods. He doesn’t understand why I don’t just give it to him. He starts to scream and cry. He cannot be bribed with ice cream or threatened by physical punishments, they have no affect on an autistic child.
Now we are at a crossroad. One fork, we give in, the kids is happy, and we continue to shop. The other path is that we say ‘no’ to the child and deal with the screaming. Dealing with the screaming is not easy. You can not spank this child because he will not understand why you are doing it! You literally cannot do anything to a child at this point. I can’t tell you how many times I have walked out of a store, calmly dragging out a screaming child, dealing with all of the judging stares that are shot my way.
Ask yourself, what would you do? Often, we buy the toy! Its too easy, life continues, and I can keep my hair for another year.
Take these screaming (often spoiled due to the threat of hair loss) children into a structured environment, like school, and one of the biggest challenges they face in the first years is discipline. It will be different for each kid. Discipline should be an agreed upon system with the parent and the school. We chose to implement a time-out system. Time out at school must look really mean to an outsider, but its the most affective tool that the school can use. It must be done at home as well, or it looses its effectiveness.
In my opinion, a parent must spend a lot of time, at the beginning, to develop and help enforce these systems. Not all parents spend this time.
Life outside of school
For parents of special needs kids, school is only one of the tools for success. The public school system has many programs for kids and families. The Ellis County Co-Op has therapists that will come to your house and help council you and your family on the success of your child. The Italy School system has done many things to improve the school’s ability to meet the needs of these “special needs” children, including: Adding a motor skills lab, Increasing the size of the CBI room, Adding new teacher’s aides, and (another big one) Listening to the parents.
As parents, we have the opportunity meet with the administration all of the time. We discuss better ways to increase academic and social interactions. They have been a huge help and every time we have given a suggestion it has been discussed and integrated when feasible.
We live in a small community. We all work together to raise our kids, and better our community. The IYAA is a good example of our organizations that are geared towards raising healthy kids.
The Italy ISD Special Ed department competed in the Special Olympics this year. It was very touching for us parents that have special needs kids to see the whole high school cheer and congratulate the kids as they arrived home with their medals.
Italy is our home and we want to see it get bigger and better as the years pass. Just like our kids, our community will not grow without dedicated members of our school and community.
There are many kinds of people in this community, There are some who work hand in hand with others to build and improve, and then there are others that complain but are unwilling to do any work to help improve it.
If you have a problem with any aspect in the community try addressing through the proper channels first. I know for a fact that they will listen and adapt to the needs of the child. Schools are large, government funded organizations so do not be surprised if it doesn’t happen over night. Parents have more sway over how the school is run than any one administrator.
Parents with special needs children need to be at the school working with the administration, not against them. I have been to numerous events, including the special olympics, with other parents and we work together with these kids and their teachers. I encourage all parents to do the same.
Don’t just sit back and complain, come join the rest of us that are working for a better future for our kids and our community.
Comment from Richard E. Beason, 6/5/13-11:06am
Mike, Thank you for relating your experience with the school system here in Italy. As a taxpayer I am pleased to see that the system is using our money in what appears to be a very effective use of funds available to care for our special needs children, and as a member of the community I am pleased that the system has shown the compassion to address the needs of all the children.
Comment from Amber Droll, 6/6/13-11:53am
I am a Special Education Teacher (Resource/ Content Mastery) for the Ennis Independent School District and have 3 children who attend Italy ISD. I am very saddened to see Jesus’ story on the Neotribune. Like Mr. South said, there are proper channels to address regarding concerns of your child’s education plan and treatment in the classroom.
I have met and spoken to the new Stafford principal (Johnathan Nash) several times at school board meetings. You can tell that he is very passionate about his new position and the well-being of our students and he even has a child with some special needs as well. I am sure he would be more than willing to assist you in this matter if you would call him and express your concerns. If for some reason, you feel that he is not handling it to your liking, then you could attend the school board meetings that are held usually the 3rd Tuesday of the month. The agenda is always posted on Neotribune at least 24 hours before the meeting takes place, and the article always end with a statement that says “everyone is encouraged to attend”. If you arrive at the meetings 15 minutes before start time, you can sign up to speak to the school board directly about any concerns you may have.
And of course, TEA (Texas Education Agency) is extremely useful when you have concerns about what might be going on in your child’s school district.
One other thing I agree with Mr. South on….. Italy is a small community. Many of us have lived here a very long time, and even more of us want what is best for our children. Regardless of the size of a community, following the chain of command regarding any issue is truly crucial no matter what the situation may be. Following this chain of command is also the most effective and positive way to get your concerns addressed. I really hope this chain of command was followed through before our community online newspaper was utilized.
Best of Luck