It can be sooooo frustrating. You KNOW what you need to do, but no matter your intentions, after a couple of successful tries, those "bad habits" creep back in and you one again beat yourself up because you know better. Why do we do it to ourselves? Why can't we just break the cycle? Here's a thought: those habits are not just habits. Like the old Trojan Horse, the habits are more than the actions that they appear to be. They just might actually be remarkable disguises for our anxieties.
As a disabilities rights attorney, this is important. Many of my clients don't think they have anxiety. They think they are lazy or uncommitted or careless or some similarly unflattering thing. And so they blame themselves when things go wrong, instead of considering that some combination of accommodations and services could help them through whenever their "bad" behaviors surface. Legal protections matter, because they give us time and space to work on the underlying disabling anxiety (or other condition) while continuing to progress in their school and work environments.
This is not cheating. This is getting a chance to keep moving while you do double work: the work you do for school/work PLUS the work you do to neutralize your disabling condition through medications, therapies and practice.
In Unwinding Anxiety by Judson Brewer, Brewer suggests that the key to breaking our bad habits requires that we start by breaking the habit open to reveal the anxiety. Start by mapping out the anxiety trigger that sets off the bad habit. Discern how our bad habit can actually be seen as rewarding. Then create and practice a new habit that is more rewarding than the old one.
It sounds sooooo easy! But it really requires creating a lot of new habits that are difficult to establish, the most important of which, I think, is being kind to ourselves. I'm intrigued by the possibilities and that's why I've ordered this book for myself. I hope that if these sound like what might be helpful to you, that you go ahead and try it out for yourself. Maybe form a book club / support group. Maybe even get professional psychological services from a private practitioner or group/hospitalization program. It will take time and a lot of persistent that will be hard to maintain. Give yourself the grace to try and to get help.
Adjusting to life as a new college student can be hard. You're living away at home, meeting new people, figuring out how to manage your time, and this year (2020-21) doing it in the middle of a pandemic. Good students who have never had academic difficulties sometimes discover the hard way that there's something different needed to keep things together in college. And you figure it out when you get your grades during Winter break and see grades that don't belong on YOUR report card.
First, take a deep breath. You're probably not going to get kicked out and you're probably not going to lose all your scholarships. At least not right away. But you do really need to take this seriously to keep everything together.
Winnie was upset. At the end of lunch, a few boys asked to sit next to her; she agreed. Then they asked her about her opinions on abortion. Upon hearing that she was not inclined to limit a woman's ability to make that choice, they then asked "so could we just stick a gun up her vagina and shoot?" "How about using a machete?" "Oh, I know, a bazooka!" Stunned, she told them to go away. Thankfully, the bell rang and she got up and headed for class.
What could she do? The boys were being dumb, and they had not directly threatened to harm her. A friend in the next class diagnosed the boys as idiots and shrugged his shoulders. Winnie tried to forget it.
The next night it still bothered her, so she told her mother. Together, they decided that there was no reasonable reason for the boys to talk to her that way, and that the boys' decision to use such violent imagery was deeply disturbing and inappropriate. So they went online and filled out a "bullying" report of the incident, including details about the time, place, specific words, and a request that the boys be schooled on appropriate conversation in school hallways.
Two days later the school dean called Winnie's mom to thank Winnie for her report. The details allowed the school officials to find videotape of the incident, discover that the boys were actively bothering other students immediately after Winnie's encounter, and determine their identities. The boys had then been schooled by the deans, by their athletic coaches, and by their parents. They are new freshmen who the school officials now know require additional supervision and support to ensure that they gain better social skills for their own benefit and for the sake of a safe school environment. The dean is hopeful that this early intervention will increase the boys' chance of maturing into fine young men.
Winnie is looking forward to receiving written apologies from these boys in the near future. The experience has taught her that sometimes, the institutional response packs a better "punch" than retaliating with her own fists. The boys have learned that there are consequences to their behaviors, and with luck are on their way to learning better behaviors that will serve them well throughout the rest of their high school years and beyond.
Weird things happen in high school. But the weird events can be opportunities to teach children the lessons they need. The boys are being schooled on more socially appropriate behaviors toward their schoolmates. Winnie was also schooled on the importance of sorting out the facts and standing up for herself by enlisting the school administration to manage and maintain the peace. May you be similarly satisfied with how your school handles the weird events that are part of every high school career.
I had the honor of participating in a ground breaking initiative at OppLoans in Chicago called Oppt for Accessibility. The initiative is shedding light on the many ways in which OppLoans can be an inclusive environment for employees of all abilities.
My presentation explored how being parents of children with disabilities could impact company employees, particularly when navigating the administrative process at schools. These parents seemed to have very academically talented students who also need supportive services and accommodations to fully realize their potential. This situation could cause an insufficiently trained school team to conclude that the students' academic potential is proof that accommodations are unnecessary. To the contrary, academic talent is not inversely correlated to the need for accomodations. These situations may be best resolved by having attorneys participate in your meetings with the school.
After this meeting, I am hopeful that employers like OppLoans might establish educational consulting as an employee benefit. Having regular access to an attorney like me to coach employees through the process of documenting the need for accomodations, working the process to establish an appropriately robust accommodations plan, and monitoring and managing the plan to ensure their students thrive at school. In addition to the immediate educational needs, parents need guidance on the processes to ensure a smooth transition to college and other postsecondary options so that their children develop into the capable adults they are meant to be.
If my services sound like they may be helpful to you and your child, please contact me.
Last night I attended a marvelous educational session hosted by Barrington 220 and Barrington Youth and Family Services featuring Jim Kling, a behavioral consultant that helps families struggling with household chaos that can be exacerbated by our children's special needs. When our children struggle with health conditions, they can often have trouble "keeping it together," especially at home. This is especially difficult when our kids are doing a beautiful job of "keeping it together" at school, at church, and at other public places, saving their frustrations until they get home, where they "take it out" on everyone and everything.
Jim and his team work with parents to develop a home environment where kids have a safe way to release their frustrations at home. He teaches us parents how to make adjustments to how we parent, with a focus non-confrontational methods. We learn how we deal with our children's behavior, allowing us to maintain consistency in the face of our children's sometimes volatile behavior.
I thank Barrington 220 and BYFS for introducing this talented man to our community. His team is available to help parents nationwide, and if you think he might be helpful to your situation, I encourage you to give him a call. His webpage is www.alternativeteaching.org and by phone at 847-289-8699.
It's finals week, and the library is crammed with students getting ready for their exams. Laila, a high school junior, is part of the crowd. After midday Christmas service rehearsals, she parks her car in a parking spot reserved for people with disabilities, leaves her assigned placard displayed properly on the dashboard, and rushes into the library for an afternoon of studying and meeting with her math tutor.
Somebody sees her when she parks her car and walks in to the building. Laila looks fine to the observer, so the observer calls the police to notify them of an alleged parking violation. While Laila is in the library, a police officer issues a ticket with a $250 fine for parking improperly in a space for disabled. The ticket was issued in spite of Laila's properly displayed permanent disability parking placard.
Laila comes out of the library after several hours of productive study, sees the ticket and is devastated. Why was the ticket issued when she was authorized to park in the spot? Why did someone call the police to get them to issue the ticket? Why does she have to deal with this in the midst of the crunch to get ready for finals?
Fortunately, Laila knows a good lawyer who is busy making her dinner at home (that's me!). First, we get control of her immediate situation by writing a letter to the village administrative adjudicator explaining what happened, why it should not have happened, and requesting the ticket be dismissed (we will personally deliver it before school on Monday). Second, we determine that it was possible that the police officer did not see the placard as it was on the dashboard on the passenger's side, and we agree that in the future that she will always hang her placard on the rear view mirror. Thirdly, we mourn the hubris of strangers who pass judgement on her right to use parking spots reserved for people with disabilities like her, and also that a police officer would issue a ticket in error when Laila has done nothing wrong.
My beautiful daughter lives with several disabling conditions that are not visible to the untrained eye. She works hard to overcome her disabilities through the use of therapeutic practices and medication, successfully participating in school and community activities on most days. By using accommodations like reserved parking for people with disabilities, she generally maintains a level of functioning that keeps her in school, in choir, and out in the community. However, even using all available accommodations, she struggles to function like a "normal" person. Whenever possible, she chooses to address her disabling conditions in the privacy of her own home, where it might be a little more obvious that she really isn't "fine."
Laila is not alone. According to 2006 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12.6% of American adults live with a mobility impairment. That's over 3 million American adults; over 750,000 adult New Yorkers; over 250,000 adult Chicagoans; and over 3000 Barrington area adult residents (calculated based on 2016 Census geographic population data and 2016 Census age demographic data). If all people with mobility impairments used canes, walkers and wheelchairs, we would see a lot more people using these devices in public. But a great many people with mobility impairments do not use these devices, rendering their impairments invisible to the general public. They are the experts in determining whether they should use an assistive device like a wheelchair or an accommodation like a parking spot reserved for use by people with disabilities.
When you see a "normal looking" person who parks their car in a designated spot for people with disability, please refrain from interfering. Many people have conditions that you cannot see, and some even appear "too young" to need such an accommodation. Particularly when a person has properly displayed a parking placard, you should accept that they have have gone through the rigorous process of providing the proper medical verification to the state and that they are authorized to use the parking spot.
If you're wondering "what harm is there if you call in the police to issue a citation?" the answer is "quite a lot." For my 16 year old who has worked hard to function as an independent high school student, receiving the ticket confirmed her fears that she needs to be able to defend herself from random adults who don't believe that she lives with disabling medical conditions. It reinforced her fear that the world doesn't seem to think she has a right to live her life as independently as she can. It distracted her from the important work of preparing for finals. It forced her to engage her mom (and her lawyer) to properly contest the ticket. If her mom had not been her lawyer, it could have forced her to find a way to pay the $250 fine.
It is my prayer that this post helps encourage us treat one another with more respect. That we allow people with disabilities to use the parking accommodations that help them live their lives. That we trust one another to use the accommodations that we need, and that we understand that we do great harm when we challenge a person's right to use an accommodation. My daughter wants to get her education, get a good job, and make a positive difference in the world. All she needs is to have a chance to participate, free of harassment from her right to use accommodations that help her fulfill these goals.
Now available in paperback and e-book on Amazon!
Children living with disabilities have a legal right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education in the Least Restrictive Environment. Mother and attorney Mari Hoashi Franklin created this book to help parents navigate the process of defining the reasonable accommodations and necessary services that will help ensure full inclusion for their children.
With this guide, parents can focus on their role as parents without needing to also become expert educators and attorneys in the process. We cover 504, IEP, ADA, IDEA, HIPAA and more only far enough to help parents feel confident that the system can be successfully worked to ensure full inclusion for our children. Step-by-step instructions to document your child's situation and to secure appropriate accommodations - including sample forms and letters - are designed to enable parents to appropriately lead supporting medical professionals and educators through the process of securing appropriate accommodations and services in the school environment.
Emotional Support Animals
Airline rules on Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) have recently been in the news. These animals are critical tools for their handlers, but they are not the same as Service Animals which must be allowed in all public places. Airplanes and housing establishments are required to accommodate ESAs, subject to a few federal rules. But what to do when the ESA doesn't seem needed, or if it is misbehaved or dangerous? Do the rest of us have any rights? As the great Finneas (of Finneas and Ferb) would say, why yes, yes we do. Here we go:
ESA and the Rights of the General Public
Potential Conflicts with an ESA
Rights of an ESA and Their Handlers
I hope this information puts your mind at ease when encountering an animal in a public place. You always have the right to expect that an animal will not threaten your health or safety. If you have conditions that require separation from the animal, it is your right to be accommodated. You should not concern yourself if you don't "see why" someone might need an animal with them, as long as the animal does not bother you. And if (and only if) an animal does not conform to expected health or behavioral standards, you do have the right to have have the animal removed, and if you were harmed to be compensated for that harm. If you require any assistance in resolving a dispute regarding an ESA, or if you would like to determine whether an ESA would be appropriate for someone you know, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 847-977-9051.
All children with a disability that affects their ability access to public education have a constitutional right to accommodations. Determining whether a student receives accommodations and services depends on the child's individual needs.
For a time, the state of Texas had set a maximum percentage for students participating in special educational services. Even once the state eliminated the cap, the school system continued to exclude students from necessary services simply because they had trained teachers and administrators to deny services. It created a culture where services were automatically denied. The state has been ordered to remedy the situation, and have already started securing the resources to do so. New York Times, January 11, 2018.
“Every child with a disability must have appropriate access to special education and related services that meet his or her unique needs,” Ms. DeVos said in a statement announcing the regulatory action. “Far too many students in Texas had been precluded from receiving supports and services.”
Our children need parents to establish an appropriate 504 Plan or IEP when appropriate. Any time you have school policies, classroom and homework rules, testing environments, physical layout, or other aspects of "doing school" that get in the way of your child being their best student, it is appropriate to stop and consider whether "doing school" requires some ability with which your child struggles. Disability does not refer to your child's ability to be an amazing student; rather, it just means that the school did not anticipate the flexibility required to unleash your child's ability. Please contact me if I can be of assistance in that process.
Mari Franklin is a counselor at law who specializes in helping students secure accommodations at school.