15 April, 2010

The Joe and Zach Liberation Front

So, I mentioned to LF that this kid in Joe's class, CJ, treats Joe like a toy. LF's reaction was "That's really rude of him," and I rushed to CJ's defense--I mean, I could be really inappropriate when I was a kid, and presumably CJ has some kind of DD to be in the class. (I don't know many kids so I'm bad at reading them as DD, and CJ is the only one who doesn't have a visible disability. He's also one of two kids who can talk, the other of whom is very difficult to understand.) I was sure CJ wasn't trying to be rude or patronizing, but I figured he was just kind of impaired in these areas, and hadn't been educated about what's respectful behavior toward someone who has a lot less freedom of movement than you do.

But at this point I'm just like, what the fuck. The way CJ treats Jonathan (the boy with CP) and especially Zach and Joe is not okay. Whenever people talk about students of different abilities being together, all the focus is always on the poor non-disabled or least-disabled student who is supposedly being dragged down or traumatized by the presence of more severely disabled kids. But I can't imagine what it's like for all the nonverbal kids when the teacher asks a question during circle time and CJ yells out the answer. They never even get a chance to think about it or try to show what they know.

And mostly, CJ is just really super rude.

CJ comes up to Joe, throws his arms around Joe, slaps Joe on the back a few times, and declares, "I love Joe! We're buddies!" Obviously I'm looking on doubtfully, since poor Joe has no choice but to receive this boundless affection--but CJ reassures me, "Joe loves me! We're friends."

Okay. This bugs me. I'm not trying to say that a kid like Joe is incapable of feeling or expressing love--in fact, just today he indicated to me that he loves Easter. I haven't seen that kind of quantitative proof when it comes to CJ, but Joe may well love CJ, who knows. But I just don't think it's appropriate for CJ to constantly announce that Joe loves him, when Joe isn't capable of saying, "No I don't." A kid like CJ and a kid like Joe can be friends, but I think that CJ needs to be encouraged to think about the fact that Joe can't express himself as clearly and unambiguously as CJ can, and needs a friend who is sensitive and doesn't smother him. It's easy to smother someone who can't tell you to stop, but that doesn't make it okay.

Also, CJ will grab the other kids' wheelchairs and trainers and try to push them; pick up Joe's hand and wave it for him; try to shush the other kids when they're being noisy; wait for the other kids when they're late; and other things that are not appropriate to do with people who are your own age (and, in most cases, older).

Then the Zach thing, and admittedly, this is a really biased description of what happened because CJ was getting on my nerves. As previously mentioned, Zach is a very small, very emotional teenage boy who I am inordinately fond of and who uses a trainer during gym. Zach's trainer was being used by another kid, so Zach had to use Joe's trainer from when he was younger--I know nothing about trainers, but given that Joe is not as strong or fast as Zach, I'm wondering if the trainer wasn't suited to Zach and that's why he was zooming around incredibly fast and started smashing into walls. Because eventually that's what was happening.

Zach started running the trainer over to where the ambulatory kids were playing golf (practicing for the Special Olympics, I assume). CJ kept yelling at Zach and grabbing his trainer and moving Zach away. CJ always has a smile on his face, so I don't know if he had bad intentions, but it would have really pissed me off if I was Zach. By the time I really started paying attention, Zach was crying as he again and again turned his trainer and barreled it in CJ's direction. CJ kept confronting Zach very physically and asking what was wrong with him.

I had a feeling, though I could be totally wrong, that Zach was actually trying to run CJ down with his trainer. Maybe I just wanted that to happen. However I managed to restrain myself from cheering Zach on, and pulled/encouraged him over to the steps at the side of the gym, where I could sit down and be at his eye level. He either likes me or is a pretty easy kid as soon as anyone treats him with respect; I put out my hand, we held hands, he stopped crying, I talked to him about how CJ isn't very sensitive and there's nothing we can do about it, he put out his arms and hugged me for a long time, and then we walked around as far away from CJ's corner of the gym as we possibly could--with me pretty much always holding onto Zach's hands, both because he seemed to want me to, and because he was just going so fast in the trainer it was freaking me out.

So, eventually CJ is walking around too, and CJ comes up and says very loudly into Zach's face, "You're okay? You're better?" I was kind of afraid Zach would get upset again, but he had no reaction as CJ hugged him, smacked him on the back a few times, and informed me, "Zach and I are buddies."

Yeah, okay.

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