Besides writing curriculum for students with significant challenges, I also work with families, here in Pennsylvania. I am part of an amazing group of other parents who are passionate about helping others create a vision for the future, find supports and services, and connect parents to accurate and important information. Recently, I have been really focused on safety in the community. Every individual has a right to be a valued and integrated part of their local community. We also know that does not always come easily.
There are a lot of challenges we as teachers and parents face when we go on community outings. I wrote 2 other blog posts on this topic a while ago full of thoughts, suggestions, and a free download. Visit them by clicking below:
- Community Trips and Challenging Behaviors: Getting to know the person (click here)
- Community Trips and Challenging Behaviors: Getting to know the behavior (click here)
Today, I wanted to come at this from a different angle. An angle that I think is missing in a lot of talks about safety in the community (including the one I currently deliver to the families I work with). This comes from a very personal experience that was scary, upsetting, frustrating, and embarrassing. I share it because, as always, I think there is a lot to learn from our failures, and I KNOW there are so many parents and teachers out there who deal with this issue and no one wants to talk about it.
Keeping the general public safe while we are in the community.
The sad reality is that many of us deal with students and children or adults who have such extreme behaviors that they can actually be a danger to people they may come in contact with while in the community. I deal with this personally with my son, Jimmy, who is 22 and is a very big strong guy. I have also had a similar situation with one other student in the past, who, although not as big, was more explosive and impulsive than Jimmy is. So here is what happened with Jimmy in a nutshell. What I learned, and what tools I can share with you if you are in a similar situation.
For the past 8 months, I have worked with some very skilled and trained individuals who have been helping me get Jimmy more acclimated to being in the community. Honestly, it has gone pretty well. The only aggressive behaviors have been directed at either me or one of the workers, and that has been really infrequent. In fact, Jimmy’s behaviors, in general, decreased the more times we went on trips into the community. It seemed like a big win, and we all had high hopes as we looked for possible employment opportunities in our local community. But then I got over confident.
Jimmy was doing so well, I decided to take him to the local thrift store on my own. We had gone so many times in the past months, that I felt like this was something I could handle. What I forgot was Jimmy has a past behavior trigger of becoming very aggressive toward children who are crying. In fact, we had been out in stores numerous times the past 8 months with upset children, and although he may have glanced their way, he never made any move towards them. But, that day I took him he seemed different. I will never know why. Maybe he had a stomach ache, maybe his head hurt, maybe he just didn’t sleep well and felt grumpy. For whatever reason, this was the day he decided to revisit that terrible behavior and try to attack a 3 year old sitting quietly in a shopping cart while his mother looked through a clothing rack. I can say no one was injured, as I was able to get in between Jimmy and the child, but it was really close. He did grab the boy’s sweatshirt which scared the little guy who started crying immediately. Thankfully, Mom got her son and the cart out of the area very quickly. It was a real struggle getting Jimmy out of that store for reasons I won’t go into, but needless to say I was pretty sore the next day from wrestling him out and back into the car. We got home safely, and Jimmy acted as though it had been just another normal outing into the community.
So what does this mean for his future? How will he ever successfully integrate into our community? First, I had to really think about what it was that he enjoyed so much about going to these places. Was it the actual store? No. Was it the interaction with the people there? No. It came down to three things:
- Going for a car ride
- Attaining a new toy or book
- Stopping for fast food on the way home
So, I started thinking about how I could provide these things without endangering another child EVER. I have now come up with a list of places where I am almost 100% certain children will not or cannot be present. I am creating my own thrift store in a neighbor’s garage where he can go and shop for a new toy or book. So far, this new plan has been going really well.
I found an arcade, empty during the school day.
I found the movie theater is empty in the afternoon in between movie times. And, he LOVES popcorn.
I found a church willing to open up an empty building during the day so he could play on their piano.
I am still working really hard at finding more places we can go where I know he will be safe, I will be safe, and the public will be safe. I feel it is my responsibility as a parent (and as a teacher) to ensure the safety of all involved. That may mean I have to think outside the box, but special education teachers and parents are awesome at doing that.
I wanted to share a list of questions I came up with when looking for potential places to visit in the community. You should definitely take the time to explore some places on your own first. In addition, use this checklist in combination with the other 2 lists of questions from the blog posts listed above to help you have the most successful community outing possible.
Download the checklist HERE (no email required)
This was not an easy story for me to share, but I know there will be at least one other person out there who is in the exact same (or worse) situation that I am in. We have to talk about the tough times as well as all the accomplishments. I hope this conversation helped at least one teacher or parent.
PS If you are a teacher and want some more helpful tips on having a successful field trip with your class, then visit my blog post on it by clicking HERE.
Thank you for sharing about your visit into the community. It must have been extremely scary for all involved but I think that you have come up with great strategies that will provide Jimmy with what he needs, without you feeling fearful of what might happen. It must be isolating for you at times and I applaud you for being so reflective and thinking of strategies that support Jimmy to have his needs met.
Danielle, Thank you so much for your kind words. It means a lot to me. I know I am not alone. I also know the more we share our true stories the more it decreases the mystification.