Bucking the Aide

Z was a very sweet person, I'm sure she was a great employee, and wanted to help in every way she could. And I mean every way possible. I was a freshman in high school, could not stand adults, wanted little to nothing to do with my parents, could not wait to gain every ounce of independence that ever existed, and wanted to vomit every time I thought about how I had a "babysitter at school too."
The match just wasn't right. Although it was quite some time ago, if I remember correctly her responsibilities were to walk in front of me when classes changed, go in the elevators with me in the event it got stuck, help carry the lunch tray, and escort me to homeroom in the mornings and out to the bus in the afternoons. That was Plan A. Plan A was my "Non-Fractured State-of-Being." Plan B was my "Fractured State-of-Being" and was never implemented because she...well... I.. should admit that I may have gotten her "re-located" before the year got too far along.

"So here's the salad bar, and that's where the pizza is, and that's where everyone gets friieess.." This was the ordeal every single lunch period. If you have met me in person you will find out quickly that I have very little patience and even less tolerance for people who underestimate my intelligence. The first few times I let her re-introduce me to what FOOD was, and how the cafeteria was set-up. My friends would catch my eye as they stood in line -- first looking at her and then giving me a questioning look, like what is she doing Sandy? I didn't know what to do so I just rolled my eyes. By the second week of school I was not having this "lunch time icebreaker routine" anymore. Instead of allowing her to hold the lunch tray for me, I grabbed the lunch tray in one hand and steered my chair's joystick with the other - praying that I wouldn't tip or spill anything over. It was probably pretty rude of me to leave her there feeling and looking pretty useless, as I got my food and went over to sit with my friends. Looking back on my behavior now I cringe a bit at my arrogance and adolescent attitude, but not without a wicked grin.

"Sandy, your person is here..." My friend whispered to me in class. My person. The idea of having 'a person' might seem entertaining to any 14 or 15 year old, but once you realize that 'your person' always shows up around school during the most inconvenient of times -- you can get pretty frustrated with 'your person.' I looked up and there she was standing by the doorway, ready to take me out of class 5 minutes early to the bus before the stampede of hundreds of boulder-backpack-wielding teenagers stormed the halls. My last class was English and my 9th grade English teacher was probably one of the most engaging teachers a student could have in their entire educational career. I noticed that whenever Z came into class he looked at her and gave her a curt nod, acknowledging her existence and her purpose, but still a little unsure of her necessity.
"So for homework -- if you are on the B List, it's your turn to bring in a short story to be peer-edited in class!" He twirled a yard stick in his hand and jumped in front of the whiteboard where the assignment was written, what freshman would dare to forget an assignment when it was delivered with such gymnastic zest?! I purposely packed up my books and binder as slowly as possible, not wanting to leave class early while intentionally irritating Z.
"You know, Sandy, it's safer for you to leave school a little earlier. This way we can avoid the --" She tried explaining to me for the zillionth time. I wasn't interested in hearing her excuses or reasons, I zoomed off and went to go meet up with my friends who had decided to congregate conveniently in the middle of the hallway. School officials and administrators were always concerned about me not being on time for the bus, but unlike the regular yellow school buses -- my wheelchair accessible van was only there to pick me up and drive me home. In my mind, that driver would have to wait until I was done socializing and gabbing with my pals.

"The school called me this afternoon. They say that you're not following your aide." My mother began one afternoon. "So? I don't need her mom. It's dumb that she's even there. I get my books out by myself, I don't use my locker, she doesn't even go in the elevators with me because she's claustrophobic! I don't need her around during classes. She stands outside the elevator door and listens to make sure it doesn't get stuck! It's THE DUMBEST THING EVER! What if it does get stuck and she's outside listening? How is that going to be useful?" I ranted and raved.
We were new in town and my parents didn't know the special education department well enough to know who to go to, or even the process of what to say.
"She might not be helpful to you now but when you have a broken bone..." My parents cautioned me.
"I'll figure it out when that happens. My friends can help me." Already, my friends found it highly enjoyable to ride in the elevators with me, to cut lunch lines, practice driving by steering my wheelchair, and even preferred to ride in the accessible van when we went on field-trips. I was rarely ever without a group of classmates or friends hanging around me in high school, be it during school or after school during one of my nerdy after-school activities (debate club, newspaper, literary magazine..)

"Hey, Sandy -- can I see you after class for a few minutes? We need to talk about the short story you handed in" said my English teacher. He exchanged a few words with Z and she left me to talk with my teacher. I was nervous. Had I done something wrong? Was my plan completely juvenile and uncalled for? For whatever reason I have always been a very secretive person, never telling anyone what I am planning or what I am up to until the events are already in play -- or in this case until the decision has already been made.
I wrote a fictional short story that paralleled my real-life day-to-day experience with my aide. There was a fictional version of me, a fictional high school, and a fictional but fairly accurate portrayal of 'my person.' Uncertain of who to talk to or even what I would say, writing a short story was my way of "complaining." Now my English teacher wanted to talk to me after class about it?! Uh-oh.

"So your short story.." He flipped through the pages and I could tell he was trying to find words for the conversation.
"Yeah. Um, well it wasn't exactly following the assignment rules because I know you asked for something fictional. And I tried to make it fictional... but it's mostly.. pretty non-fictional I guess."
"It's great. I loved it. I can really sense your frustration through the story and the way you tell it and the way you've developed the characters."
"Oh, cool. Thanks." 
"I'm going to -- well, with your permission..I'd like to give this to the woman who runs the special education department here at the high school. I'm just going to tell her to read it. Nothing else, does that sound okay to you?" 
My thoughts raced. I had a teacher on my side, some form of documentation to back-up my frustrations, and a resounding (albeit adolescent) gut-feeling that I just did not need an aide.
"Okay. Yes, I think that would be really helpful." 

After the department head read my story she called a meeting that included my parents, the nurse, my guidance counselor, and myself. The agreed upon resolution was that I would no longer need Z around and the replacement 'my person' would be a walkie-talkie. Every morning it was my responsibility to pick-up the walkie talkie from the nurses' office and remember to drop it off after school was over. All of the assistance that I needed was physically related -- whether that was getting stuck in an elevator (I would contact her), or if she knew there would be a fire drill she would make sure I was already on the first floor, etc.
Needless to say I was thrilled with the changes that were made. It also meant that I would no longer be receiving services from the special education department, aside from Adaptive Phys. Ed. From Kindergarten through Eighth Grade I had an I.E.P. (Individualized Education Program), with my lack of an aide and other services (speech therapy, occupational therapy etc) I got a 504 Plan instead. This worked better for me because a 504 is more flexible and is more of an accommodation guideline rather than a rigid plan. Since I would only need more one-on-one direct assistance in the case of a fracture my 504 Plan was enacted for this purpose.

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One Response to Bucking the Aide

  1. Great blog yet again Sandy - you have me in stiches!!


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