Routines introduce order, structure and predictability and help to manage anxiety. Prized possessions can become part of a routine and routines disrupted can be very distressing.
Jessica’s first two days at her new school were a bit rocky. To think the third would be better would be a huge mistake. It was devastatingly worse.
There had been specific reasons that we made sure to clarify that when at school, Jessica would be allowed to take her phone, keep it with her, and use it to call me as she needed.
Jess has several prized possessions. One is her collection of CDs. Another is her collection of decks of cards. Her most important possession is her cell phone. Not only was her phone her prized possession and a major part of her routine, but also because of her communication disorder, her ability to call me for help was a critical need for her. I understand her inside and out. When no one else understands what she is trying to convey or what is upsetting her, I become her autism interpreter.
Jess is extremely protective of her phone and worries constantly that it might break or that someone might take it. We (family) are seldom ever allowed to touch the phone. Every now and then, she will ask us to dial a number for her. If we do, she has to be reassured repeatedly that we did not delete anyone’s number off of her phone.
Her phone even impacts her wardrobe as she will only wear pants that have front pockets. Anytime she leaves the house, the phone is always in her front pocket. If something or someone bumps her (anywhere on her body) she gets concerned that it may have broken her phone.
Day 3 – The Big Hullabaloo
On Jessica’s third day of school, I got a call from her by 8:49 a.m, only 15 minutes after she had arrived there. Jess was sobbing uncontrollably. Between episodic sobs, she managed to convey to me that she had gotten into a disagreement with her teacher and that the teacher had taken Jessica’s phone away from her.
This was a such a major violation to Jessica it caused her to hit her teacher. Based on the rare occasions I have seen Jess so upset that she starts whacking away at someone, I imagine she lit in pretty heavily. By the time she had called me, Jess was in the office of the head of the department where she stayed the rest of the day.
But wait… there’s more…
When I spoke at length with the head of that department, I was told that Jessica’s relationship with that teacher was “irreparable” and they would have to find a different class for Jess. Other than the obvious (hitting as well as the fact that the teacher totally did not seem to get Jess), why was this relationship being described as irreparable?
This is why. When Jess had gotten to school that morning, the teacher demanded that Jess had to put her phone on the teacher’s desk for the day. Naturally, Jess told the teacher a resounding “NO!” So what did the teacher do? Call me? Consult anyone else at the school? No!
That teacher FORCED A HAND INTO JESSICA’S PANTS POCKET AND TOOK THE PHONE. Having experienced and witnessed Jessica’s super-human grasp when she feels threatened, unless she was forcibly restrained I cannot imagine how that teacher overcame her resistance. No wonder Jess hit!
Let’s put this incident into perspective for a minute. Jessica was 24 years old. A full-fledged adult. And, another adult just put a hand into Jessica’s pants pocket and wrested the phone from her. Now THAT is a violation. The department head described it to me as a violation of Jessica’s basic human rights and said the teacher was being reprimanded.
Nauseating and disgusting.
This week, my baby Hannah had a birthday and turned 23. Madison is 24 now. If another adult forcibly reached into their pockets to take their phone from them, I imagine they would be completely appalled, freaked out, resistant, and would be justified to file a complaint against the aggressor. If someone did that to me, I would want to knock them out.
Now, as I write this, I seriously feel the urge to say, WTF? Only, not wtf, but for real. What in the world was that teacher thinking? I am talking about a school/center for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and autism. A school that has been around a very long time. A school that, in my opinion, based on our experiences and my observations is in no way, shape, or form prepared to take on autistic adults.
- We literally had two years invested in this.
- THIS was the place had I never wanted to have to send her.
- THIS had been my last resort.
This happened on a Friday. Two days later I was scheduled to be out-of-town for a mandatory 4-day training class for my job. I had less than two days to try to calm and soothe Jessica. How could I get her emotionally prepared to go back to school, assuring her that this time it would be with a different teacher who could be trusted.