Thursday, August 30, 2012

Crazy People in Jail - Mental Health and Criminal Justice

I’m glad that title got your attention. Now that you’re here…

I’m watching “Jail” and they just arrested this girl for failure to show up to court on a prostitution charge. She barely looks 18 and it was obvious to me (and to the arresting officer, thank God) that she has some kind of mental issue. This just made me think about all the individuals with mental diseases who don’t have medical coverage and can’t afford the proper medical attention and/or medication they need. Some of these people go on to commit violent crimes that, had they been on the proper medication or under the supervision of a physician, they never would have committed. There are others (possibly like this girl I just saw on TV) who are influenced and abused by people who only have their own interest in mind and couldn’t care any less about who they are taking advantage of.
As if that’s not sad enough, what happens after these people are arrested is even sadder. They are thrown in jail without proper medical attention and are expected to be able to function and follow orders. When you have a mental disease, you cannot be scared into or forced to follow orders. It is the disease that caused you to commit the harm in the first place! What makes you think they can surmise that they should listen to a corrections officer if they can't figure out that shouldn't have killed/robbed/attacked the victim? If a person has cancer or a broken arm, they are taken to see a medical professional to fix the problem, right? So if a person has a mental disease doesn’t logic dictate that they should receive treatment as well? Yes… I know. You’re thinking that there are so many people who claim to have a mental problem just to try to get out of their situation. But there are folks with a HISTORY of mental illness who don’t get what they should and DO have a right to!

According to the School of Social Work at the University of Washington, about 1 in 4 adults experience a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. This can be anything from depression to schizophrenia, for example. About 1 in 17 people experience a serious mental illness. Just under half of the people who experience a mental disorder actually experience 2 or more.
Please understand, I’m not saying that people who have murdered or raped or carjacked or whatever should get off light. No! What I’m saying is, let’s address the bigger issue here. Mental health courts are designed to take a different approach with defendants who have mental health issues. They typically have a designated judge and possibly a designated prosecutor & defense attorney. Their purpose is to work together to come up with a treatment plan that will address the specific needs of the defendant while still protecting the public.

A study was done to see whether or not this process would reduce recidivism and violent offenses in individuals who were arrested for a crime and found to have a mental disease.* What it showed was that the likelihood of released participants of mental health court being charged with any new crimes was 26% lower than that of individuals who did not receive treatment. And the likelihood of these treated individuals to be charged with a violent crime: 55% lower than individuals who were not treated!!
What does this tell us? Recidivism would be greatly reduced if we didn’t just lock people up then spit them back out in the street when they have finished serving their sentence. Not only that but it’s obvious that the number of crimes committed by these individuals, especially those of the violent kind, would be greatly reduced if they are properly treated!
If you like to look at things from the “what would I get out of this” angle, well, besides the fact that the chances of you becoming the victim of a crime committed by someone with a mental illness will shrink, there will be less people thrown in jail whose livelihood you sustain through your taxes!

* Dale E. McNiel & Renée L. Binder, Effectiveness of a Mental Health Court in Reducing Criminal Recidivism and Violence, The American Journal of Psychiatry (September 1, 2007).

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Mom Missing Out On Her Milestones - Children With Disabilities

“Well, this is all she’s ever known so it’s not like she’s sad about what she doesn’t have anymore”
“She was born like this so she doesn’t know any other way to be”
“Look at Sara. She was born like that and she’s always so happy” (Sara is my aunt who is now in her 60’s and deaf)

These were all things I would be told when I would get sad about my daughter being disabled. She can’t sit, walk, talk, feed herself or transfer herself from one spot to another. She will never go to sleepovers, drive, graduate from high school, or get married. Please don’t say ‘you never know’ because yes, it’s true, miracles do happen and I am a woman of faith but as things are right now, this is reality. I can say these things without breaking down at this moment but it hasn’t always been this way. (There are still days when I can’t think about these things without losing my mind but thankfully those days don’t happen as often.)

I am confident that the people telling me these things are only trying to help. I guess what I was supposed to see was that she hasn’t lost anything…she never had it to begin with. Okay, I can see the logic behind that thinking but it just doesn’t translate into real life. Not with me, anyway. I know for a fact that many people who were born with their disability are perfectly aware of what they don’t have. And believe you me, I was fully aware of what I didn’t get to have.

What I was supposed to have was a baby who would come home with me when I left the hospital. She was going to smile and sit and clap her hands. She was going to pull herself up to stand and walk across the kitchen floor. She was going to sit in a dining room chair and eat her cereal all by herself. She was going to reach up for mommy’s hand and bounce along beside her, crossing the parking lot of Target, pigtails bouncing, sneakers flashing.  She was going to kindergarten. She was going to make mommy breakfast in bed – crispy toast broken into pieces because the butter was tough to spread, a glass of OJ dripping onto the tray and a flower made from construction paper grandma helped her make. She was going to sit next to mommy’s head while mommy lay in bed on a sleepy Sunday morning and brush it and put all these crazy ponytails all over it because that’s what mommy did with grandma when she was a little girl. 

I was going to have a little girl who would call me mommy.

So maybe she doesn’t know what she doesn’t have. But I DO. So if I cry or am sad about the fact that I missed out on my milestones please understand that I am allowed to mourn for the child I thought I was going to have. The one I did get is smart, funny, confident, strong-willed, gorgeous, loving, strong, protective, a daredevil and an awesome kid to have around! And the truth is I would not be who I am right now if I wasn’t blessed with her. But that does not mean that I can’t mourn for the little girl I was expecting. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Modeling and Disability

A fellow blogger and parent of a child who is disabled commented on a note of mine on Facebook regarding a little girl who has Down Syndrome that was chosen to be the main model for a swimsuit designer. He, like many, has issues with having this cutie pie – and others like her – being used in advertising.
Let me start off by saying that I have mixed feelings about advertising the fact that a kid with Down Syndrome (or any other disability) is the main attraction for a clothing line. There’s always gonna be people (like me) wondering if this kid was chosen as a PC move by the designer in order to ramp up media coverage thereby increasing sales. I hate the thought of my kid being used for someone’s bottom line. On the other hand, I would have loved for my daughter to have been considered beautiful enough to be a model if she didn’t have Cerebral Palsy so why should I feel differently since she does have it? Who am I to take away someone’s opportunity or blast them for choosing to go the modeling route just because they fill a niche – the disability niche. There’s nothing inherently wrong with choosing this as a career, disabled or not.
He feels “the use (abuse) of handicapped kids in fashion advertising [is] to promote the delusion of inclusion”. I ask: Why is inclusion a delusion? Is it so farfetched to believe that one day people of ALL kinds will be used in advertising? Hell no, it’s not! It was not too long ago that blacks were NOT included in fashion advertising, least of all as the main model or on the front page but that has changed, hasn’t it? I’m not saying it’s perfect but the reality is, when we talk about black models, we don’t talk about “inclusion”. Why not? Because it’s the NORM.
Here’s another question I have regarding my peer’s statement. How is it an abuse? Because the swimwear designer purposely picked a kid with Down Syndrome, most likely in part because she felt that would get a buzz going about her line and thereby up her sales? Let’s expand on my example above. Maybe initially designers and magazines started using black models for the wrong reason – sales – but today it is because it is quite obvious that people of any skin color can be beautiful. And yes, for sales. That’s what magazines & clothing designers need to do: sell! And they will pick the people that they think will do the best job for them. When we look through a regular ol’ catalog for women’s wear, for example, we are not going to see fat, hairy women with warts and greasy hair.

                                       Uhh, yeah, this won't make me wanna buy anything!

We are going to see the beautiful women; the elite; the glamorous. That’s why they’re called models. They are the ones that will show off the clothing the best (in the eyes of the designer and of the general public).
Again I say, with able-bodied folks, designers want to pick the best of the best. Why should it be different for disabled folks? Should they get special treatment because they’re, well, special? NO! I don’t want my kid to be picked for ANYthing just because she’s in a wheelchair. Don’t feel sorry for her. Believe me, she’s got a great life and doesn’t need you to feel sorry for her. But if she deserves an accolade, pat on the shoulder or photo shoot spread, then by all means, bring it on!
The more I think about it the more I realize that I would much rather designers include these kids (and adults for that matter) even if it’s for the wrong reason because it gets wheelchairs, Down Syndrome, walkers, AFO’S, splints, hearing aids, etc., into the mouths of the general public. Honestly,  I can't wait for the day when we as a society don't feel the need to announce the fact that a cover girl is someone who has a disability because then I will know that someone who is seen as "different" today is just another part of the crowd, like me. That’s only gonna happen by getting more people like our kids into these publications.

We only have to talk about “inclusion” when it’s not happening. Once it gets on a roll, it just IS. Get it? 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Communication Needs On A Flight

Flight Attendants Don't Know Everything?

I just finished reading an article about how a teen with autism that uses an iPad for communication was told to put the device away by a flight attendant on an American Airlines flight. When I read the headline, “Airline iPad Policy Sparks Disability Dispute”, I thought I would be angry by the time I finished reading the article. But then I realized, this is the perfect teachable moment.
The teen’s aide explained that the iPad was her method of communicating and the flight attendant (according to the article) responded by saying “with all her years of flying that she’s never seen or heard anybody using an iPad to communicate before”. She was simply following Department of Transportation guidelines and the policy of the airline. The first thought that came to mind was – how old is this lady? Then I thought – how is it that people still don’t know about this great age of technology that we live in? Also – how does such a large corporation such as American Airlines still not have their policies reflect these great advancements? Of course these things are obvious to me; this is the world I live in. So it’s unfair to automatically assume that someone is just being a big jerk. With that in mind, I’d like to take a moment to educate those of you who are blissfully unaware so that you don’t become the jerk in an article over a misunderstanding.
Communication Needs

For someone who is non-verbal, taking away their communication device, whether it is an iPad, DynaVox or flip cards is like taping your mouth shut with duct tape. Would you like to sit through a flight or car ride or football game and not be able to express your thoughts or feelings? I know sometimes you wish you could tape someone ELSE’S mouth shut but let’s focus here. Really picture yourself doing something you do daily – chatting with a coworker, ordering food, explaining medical symptoms to a doctor, telling a joke – and do it with duct tape over your mouth.

Some of you may think, “ok so I’ll just gesture with my hands, point to what I need or nod my head”. Let’s see what would happen if you tied your arms down to your body so that you couldn’t use them and couldn’t stand up or walk, either. That’s how it is for people like my daughter. She can’t do sign language and her pointing and gesturing ability is limited. You might also think, “it’s just a short plane ride – what’s the big deal?” Well, besides the fact that that’s just plain stupid, what if the person has a medical emergency coming on (for example, some people get auras right before they have a seizure) or a leg cramp or just realized they need their medication or need to use the restroom? All very important reasons to be able to SPEAK!
The End Result
For those of you interested, according to the article the teen was able to keep out her iPad after an intervention from the pilot. Thinking about the commotion that must have gone on that would prompt the pilot to mediate, I would have been very embarrassed if it was me in that teen’s shoes. I’m sure there were some jerks on that flight who were annoyed that their flight was being held up “over an iPad” but now that you know why it’s so important for some to be able to hold on to their personal devices YOU won’t be that jerk if the situation ever arises! Hey, you may even be able to intervene on behalf of the person who can’t communicate as easily as you can! And that person will be blessed to have a good Samaritan around at just the right time!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Handprints on the TV - A Milestone In A Family With Disabilities

We reached another milestone today. Handprints on the TV screen. I’ve been unknowingly waiting for this one and I couldn’t be more excited than if the boy had recited the alphabet today at 10 months old!


One day, when the girl was 9 years old, we came home from the mall or somewhere and were “unwrapping”. That’s when we remove the chest harness, unbutton and remove the coat, unwind the scarf, strip off the sweater and take off the shoes. It’s a process as many of you well know! We were doing this in the dining room and I dropped her shoes in the corner, out of the way of her wheelchair so it wouldn’t block our path. I gave her a snack and took her to her room to stretch out in her bed and watch some TV. The unwrapping can take up to 10 minutes, depending on how cooperative the girl is and how many layers I need to peel off of myself, and the snack about another 15. Getting home from the mall can be exhausting!

Innocent yet mocking
When I got back to the dining room to clean up the snack mess I noticed her cute little black Mary Jane’s sitting in the corner of the room. Suddenly, the room shrunk to the tiny spot they took up and I was paralyzed. I remember thinking specifically, “Those shoes could be anybody’s shoes.” Walking up to my main door, anybody visiting my home would know immediately that there was somebody in this house that needed some assistance due to the wheelchair ramp. Other clues could be the wheelchair accessible van in the driveway; once inside, the backup manual wheelchair that is usually rolling from room to room with no permanent storage spot; the communication device that’s almost always on the dining room table; the roll-in shower; the bed rails...

But these shoes – these she wore without her orthotics (leg braces) so they were just regular ol’ shoes. Those shiny little shoes, so innocently sitting there. Mocking me with a deceitful beauty. It occurred to me that nobody could tell that their owner was disabled. They could have belonged to a blonde who had a thing for tiaras; the winner of last year’s Suffolk County Spelling Bee; the star of Abby Lee Miller’s Dance Company. That last thought was the one that froze me. My throat closed up and my chest tightened and they just sneered at me, filling my head with thoughts of little girls tapping, twirling, hell, just WALKING in them. But the soles of these were brand spanking new. They had been worn at least a dozen times yet not a scuff, not a scratch, not a scrape on them. They belonged to a little girl who did not tap nor twirl.


My boy gives his mother the privilege of living through the things that most moms cringe at. I know a mom who is so anal about handprints that she wipes her microwave free from said prints several times a day! When her children were little, like 3 or 4, she would clean up their room WHILE they were still playing with their toys. Me? I’m going to leave the prints up for a while. When the TV is off, I like walking past it and seeing the proof that there is an adorable little boy in this home who is going to grow up to run, jump and yes, walk.