By now, you’ve probably heard about the recent Kanye West incident. On tour in Australia, he asked his audience to stand up—unless, he said, “You got a handicap pass and you get special parking and s**t.” When a couple of people in the audience didn’t get up, he singled them out until it was confirmed that they did, indeed, have disabilities and could not stand up and dance. Then the concert went on.
Much social media outrage ensued. Disability rights groups in Australia demanded an apology. Kanye’s response: He played the victim. “I’m a married Christian man with a family,” he proclaimed to an audience. “At my concerts, I make sure everybody has good of a time as possible, so all this demonizing me it ain’t going to work after a while.”
Not surprisingly, wife Kim Kardashian had an equally weak defense. She posted a video of his performance on Instagram and wrote, “What an amazing Australian tour! Its frustrating that something so awesome could be clouded by lies in the media. Kanye never asked anyone in a wheel chair to stand up & the audience videos show that. He asked for everyone to stand up & dance UNLESS they were in a wheel chair. #JustWantedEveryoneToHaveAFunNight #TheMediaTwistsThings”
This is hardly about Kanye mistakingly calling out people with disabilities in the audience. And clearly, this isn’t about some well-intentioned singer getting bashed for no reason. It’s about him publicly leaving out people with disabilities. Think about it: How would any one of us feel if we were one of thousands in an audience and everyone was asked to engage except us? Couldn’t he have at least said, “And if getting up’s not your thing, wave your hands in the air” or something like that?
Kanye and Kim are not exactly models of empathy and goodness, but still, their mindsets aren’t uncommon. I’ve seen this as the mom of a kid with cerebral palsy. Forget about people refusing to accommodate Max—they just don’t think to include him, whether it’s kids playing a game at a party or on the playground. It’s often up to me as his mom to pave the road for him. I am always standing by, but I ache for this sort of inclusion to happen naturally.
One good thing to come out of the Kanye kerfuffle: It’s getting people talking about how we treat people with disabilities.
I recently found out about Touchless Toilet Technology from Kohler—a way to flush just by holding a hand over the tank lid, where a sensor has been placed. It’s really cool, and it seems like it would have been an excellent potty tool when I was training Max. Back then, both of us needed all the motivation and temptation that we could get. Max was day trained at school for a long time before he finally became so at home, at age 9. One key thing I learned: Parents have to be just as ready as the kids are. Potty-training a kid with special needs requires dedication, and if you’re not diligent about whatever tactic you try, your child won’t get into the groove.
I asked special needs parents on social media for their best tricks and tactics for potty training a child with special needs. May the flush be with you!
“What finally worked was using star stickers on a chart. Nicholas got to put one on every time he went. It seemed to really work for him that way (even though I still had to more or less force him onto the seat each time).”—Sarah L.
“The Clean Pants Check. We did the usual sitting on the potty 30 minutes after eating or drinking, but instead of checking every 30 minutes thereafter to see if he was ‘dirty,’ we checked to see if he was CLEAN, then rewarded him. He is autistic and was not potty-trained at 4.5 years old. It only took one month with this method.”—Peggy M.
“Lukas is autistic. We did lots of modeling and letting him see us go. We are not a shy family. No pressure. A couple of months after turning four, he just went in and did it. That was it.”—Rebecca D.
“I put a Pull-Up on over a pair of panties. She felt the wetness, which ultimately motivated her not to go in her pants, and I had the leak protection of a Pull-Up.”—Crystal S.
“My son was very stubborn. Making him responsible helped. He had to get the Pull-Ups from the drawer and throw them away. I bought toddler wipes so he could more easily clean himself. Eventually I think it just came down to…it was time. He was 9.”—Angela S.
“For my grandson, I picked a weekend, I talked about it with him and told him when he got home from school on Friday, he would be able to wear Big Boy underwear that he picked out the week prior (Buzz Lightyear)…. The two days of potty training gave him the ability to understand what holding it meant, and he had had to tell somebody. He has had a few accidents, but we never went back to diapers. He will be 9 tomorrow and completely potty trained. They said he would never accomplish being potty trained…. HA!”—Barbara D.
“We used potty-training DVDs and huge celebrations: woo-hoos, dancing, making a complete jack@$$ of ourselves.”—Devon B.
“Learning to point to icon on his speech app led to being willing to sign/verbalize needing to go. Didn’t happen until age 12 after trying many other ways.”—Peggy R.
“Repetition. We just did it over and over and over and over (you get it) until it stuck. Oh, and Reece’s Pieces.”—Patty H.
“I bought those little tablets that you throw in the water of the toilet, they come in all different colors. I guess it’s kind of like target practice: Once they pee on the little tablet it starts to dissolve nd turn the toilet water whatever color the tablet is.”—Stacy S.
“A giraffe puppet trained mine! They wouldn’t do it for me, but they’d do it for the puppet.”—Kristen R.
“For my daughter, I painted her toenails while she sat on the potty. She was fascinated by watching me do it and it would keep her still and help her stay put for a few minutes.”—Rosie R.
“There is this funny song about poop in Brazil, with a video clip and everything. I used to sing it for my son, making voices and faces, while he tried to do number 2. It worked really well. This is the link. Yeah, it’s a poop singing!”—Andrea B.
“He wanted a doctor kit so I put a brand new one on top of the entertainment center out of reach and said he had to use the potty and get out of diapers to have it. Every time he asked for it I just said, ‘You know what you need to do.’ I didn’t push him to use the potty. One day he decided he wanted it enough and did it. He was almost 5.”—Jennifer R.
“Had a treat box in the bathroom filled with cheap toys my son loves from Walmart and Big Lots! When he did his thing, he would get to choose one.”—Kay T.
“I used Daniel’s favorite, M&M’s, plus I kept a potty chair in the family room for emergencies!”—April G.
“A Lalaloopsy mini doll as a reward for poop on the potty. I bought an eight-pack for $44. Best money I ever spent. After two years of potty training for poop, this finally seemed to work at the age of 6.”—Christie C.
“I told my son with Sensory Processing Disorder that we couldn’t go to Disney World the following week, because Mickey didn’t let kids his age who couldn’t use the potty into Disney World. I only told him this because his OT and I agreed he was not doing it purely out of stubbornness, at that point. I wish I had done it sooner because 48 hours later, he was completely day-trained.”—KLW
CUE: LET IT GO
“Nothing worked. And we tried EVERYTHING! He just had to be ready. We finally just gave up, told him he could stop trying and wear Pull-Ups as long as he needed to. He self-trained the next day. He was 4 and we’d been trying for two years. I think just stepping back and taking the pressure off, letting him set the agenda and be in control of the process was key for him. He has Asperger’s.”—Angela C.
Where you live can have a major impact on whether your child with autism will end up in an inclusive or segregated class, according to a study in the journal Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities. Looking through U.S. Department of Education data from 1998 to 2008, University of Kansas assistant professor of special education Jennifer Kurth found that “considerable variations exist among states in placing students with autism spectrum disorders in inclusive, mainstreaming, self-contained and separate schools.” Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just IQ and other child characteristics that determine what kind of class a child with autism will end up in.
On average, about 37 percent of students on the spectrum spent at least 80 percent of their school day in inclusive environments, reports Disability Scoop. Yet there was a wide range in stats, from 8 percent of kids in inclusive classrooms in Washington D.C. to 62 percent in Iowa. All in all, states in the Eastern U.S. have more restrictive placement rates than those in the Western U.S. The states that tend to favor inclusion: Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, West Virginia and Wisconsin. States that tend toward more restrictive settings: Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina and Washington D.C. Surprisingly, Kurth’s findings did not indicate that state funding had a clear-cut impact on placement.
What’s the takeaway for parents of kids with special needs? Same as it always is: It’s up to us to make sure our children get the education and services that are the best fit for them. Educators and other experts may steer us in one direction, but as parents, we have the right to push for the educational settings in which we feel our children will flourish. We also have to work with the realities of our school districts, no matter what the law is. My son is in a private special needs school, and our district pays for it. Several years ago, I looked into the possibility of including him in a local public school. At the time, our district had fired all of the long-term aides and brought in hourly workers. Our district liaison said to me, straight up, that the quality of the workers was dubious and that my son was better off staying put in his special needs school. I could have pushed it, I could have tried to find my own aide, I could have done any number of things. In the end, though, my husband and I felt that the special needs school Max was in was the right choice for him.
Bottom line: Regional differences may exist in terms of classroom placement for kids with special needs, but parents everywhere know what’s best for their child.
The web has been buzzing over a vile incident involving a 15-year-old with autism in Bay Village, Ohio. A group of teens asked him over to their house, purportedly to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge geared toward raising money for the disease. Instead, as the teen stood in a driveway in his underwear, a bucket full of urine, fecal and spit was dumped onto him from the roof. The boy’s mother, Diane, discovered a video of what happened on her son’s cell phone. Police say that the group of teens who committed it could face delinquency chargers. The parents released the video, hoping to raise awareness about bullying.
People have been justifiably horrified, with many speaking out against bullying. Last Friday evening, his community held a rally with people holding signs such as “No room for hate.” Comedian Drew Carey has offered $10,000 in reward money to help find out who was behind the incident. All over social media, people have denounced what happened.
As horrific as this assault was for this teen and his family, as extra-upsetting as it is to those of us who have kids with special needs, the outpouring of support has been heartening. Still, it’s sad that it takes a shocking incident like this for people to spread the word that people with special needs deserve respect. If that were to occur regularly, though, events like this could be avoided. Not entirely, of course, because there will always be rotten apples. But if kids were raised to treat peers with special needs as their equals, children with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other special needs would be less subject to derision, exclusion and bullying.
This isn’t just about making sure kids with special needs are included in school’s anti-bullying messages; this is about parents talking with their kids about children and adults with special needs from a young age, so children grow up with that equality mindset.
Here’s a challenge for parents to take. It involves no icy water, just a willingness to help kids understand the diversity of people that exist in this world, and to talk about it with them.
• Explain to your child how everyone has differences, and that some kids and adults have ones that are more visible—and that different is OK.
• Point out even though a child may act, speak, walk or talk in a non-typical way, in many ways they are like other children: ones who like to play, laugh, eat ice-cream, read bedtime stories…you know. That they feel happy and sad, just like they do. That they are kids.
• Help make kids aware of the ability in disability, and that everyone has their own kind of talents. If you do not have any kids or adults with special needs in your circle, google images of Special Olympics athletes—a good conversation starter. Or poke around blogs by parents of kids with special needs to help your child get a sense of what our children can do.
• Discourage the use of the words “retard” and “retarded,” which perpetuate negative stereotypes of people with disability. (If you don’t get what’s so wrong with them, watch this video.)
• Make this an ongoing conversation, just as parents regularly talk with kids throughout childhood about race, ethics and other all-important topics. Encourage them to ask you questions.
• Bridge the gap that can exist at parks, playgrounds, parties, when kids may be hesitant to approach a child with special needs. Encourage interaction. Tell them to just say “Hi,” as they would with any child.
I hope you’ll take this challenge. It’s not just for the sake of kids like my son—it’s for the benefit of your child, too. Teach your child to welcome and respect people with special needs and you will raise a better human being.
Among the many things I wished for when Max was little: a daycare that specialized in kids with special needs. We had a regular sitter, but when she was on vacation or called in sick, leaving Max at a regular daycare was stressful. Sometimes, my husband and I ended up taking off days from work.
I was so thrilled to read about A Place For Grace in Saginaw, Michigan, a daycare center for kids with special needs that opens September 2. Its founder: a mother of a child with special needs. As Jenny Dumont recalls of her struggles finding daycare for her daughter Emma Grace, now 9, who has intellectual disability, “She was having meltdowns four times in one week and I got called in to pick her up and when I got in the caregiver was doing the best she knew how. I got really frustrated and thought, Why isn’t there a place for children like Emma?”
Jenny Dumont and daughter Emma Grace
A Place For Grace has teachers trained in special education, along with a sensory room and toys for kids with special needs. It will ofter preschool for children ages 3, 4 and 5 (who missed the school cut-off) and aftercare for kids ages 5 to 16. The goal is to offer full-day childcare for school breaks and special days by Summer 2015, including therapies in accordance with children’s IEPs.
If you Google “special needs daycare center” in your area or state, some might crop up—key word being “might.” This country is sadly lacking in daycare options for children with special needs. It’s astounding, though not surprising, that this one was started by a parent of a kid with special needs. Parents like us often have more than our hands full and yet, we best know just how needed services like this are.