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Support is key when dealing with disabilities

POSTED September 28, 2010 9:52 p.m.

My very first job was working at a home for physically and developmentally disabled children. I started out in the laundry room, then worked my way to the kitchen and, finally, became a certified nurse’s aide.

The facility was relatively small with only 40 beds, and was owned by a local family. It had a good reputation and was not by any means a sad place to visit. However, I remember quite clearly seeing behavioral aides put children who were “acting up” into time-out closets.

These same behavioral aides were also called upon to physically wrestle children to the ground when they were “out of control.” At bedtime there were a few children who were actually put into full-body restraints that were then tied down to the bed frame.

These types of behavior control methods seem like torture today. But 20 years ago, they were considered humane ways to deal with difficult behaviors.

Before going into journalism, I worked not only at the children’s home I mention above but also at a home for adults with physical and mental disabilities, a hospital and an in-home care company. Throughout my medical career, I often worked with children and adults who had violent behaviors that made helping them with everyday activities a struggle.

That is why when I read in the Modesto Bee about the woman who was booked into the Stanislaus County Jail on charges of attempted homicide and torture related to the stabbing of her 13-year-old autistic son, I was saddened but not shocked.

The Bee reported that Anitra Hankins was detained after she called 911 and officers found her son lying in the hallway with his feet bound by rope and with multiple stab wounds.

I know nothing of this particular Modesto woman’s circumstances or the specific disabilities of her son. But I have seen what some families have to do to make it through each day with a handicapped child. I have worked in homes where all doors have four deadbolts to prevent the child from running into the street. I have seen homes that have mats covering all surfaces, except the couch, because a child living in that home often ran himself into the walls.

Not all handicapped children behave this way, but quite a few do have violent tendencies. I have heard therapists say that usually the violence comes from the child’s inability to communicate a need or want.

I do not know if Ms. Hankins was dealing with difficult behaviors on a daily basis or if she just lost it and went nuts. I do know that every family who has a child with disabilities needs support.

They need the support of family members and friends and the community. Many families qualify for county-paid respite hours. This allows the primary caregivers to get away — even for just a few hours — to go shopping, to visit friends or just leave the house, while qualified medical professionals care for their child.

During these tough economic times, we need to ensure that those who rely on county funding to get respite hours are not denied this important service. Everyone has their own struggles they have to bear throughout their life, but it is our duty to help our neighbors by lightening their load whenever possible.

Those who feel they are all alone in the world are the ones who end up making drastic decisions that cannot be undone. Take a minute this week to reach out to someone struggling and offer a little bit of support. Sometimes that is all it takes to give someone hope the future will be better.

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.

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