High School: Special-Ed and Peer-Tutors.

Today I subbed special-ed again. I get loads of opportunities to do this, so I am used to doing it. All of the kids today were cognitively challenged and love going to school. One of the benefits these kids get is the chance to work with a peer-tutor. Peer-tutors are kids who are normal, main-line high-school kids. Most peer-tutors are obviously the best kids in the school. Not necessarily the kids with the best grades or the popular kids. Peer-tutors are, for the most part, the most together kids in a school. Kids with plans and goals for the future.

Today, I went to lunch with the special-ed kids to make sure they ate all their food and didn’t get lost. I’ve done this before. Usually I do this in middle-schools and I am busy the entire time. High school kids are bit more chill and this goes for the cognitively disabled as well. It was very pleasant to see that many of the peer-tutors spent time with the special-ed kids even when they didn’t have to.

I mean, peer-tutoring happens during class time and these peer-tutors often would go out of their way to pull some of the disabled kids over to their tables and involve them with their clique of friends who are not disabled. Like I said, these kids were not the cool kids, the jocks or the nerds. They were just the regular kids who are the heart and soul of every school talking about whatever and doing whatever, but involving special needs kids who after high school will either live with their parents 24/7 until they or their parents die or will live in institutional centers and work at small jobs like Assembly (a day program attached to the Provo School District I sub at quite often) building boxes or extracting foam from packaging molds.

While these peer-tutors are just the regular kids, they are obviously the best kids, will to risk social standing and popularity to befriend those who normally exist within a tiny, little bubble who after high-school will never exit the bubble again.


Assembly: Change Change Change

A long time ago I learned the truthyism: nothing is constant except change itself. This is not a bad way to understand the world, but for some reason some people just don’t get it.

We have a situation in Assembly that requires some people to be moved from one seat to another. Particularly one person, Person 1, but the last person we moved, Person 4, was very unhappy about it. Person 4 was convinced I thought she had done something wrong. She didn’t of course. She didn’t believe me. She actually broke down into tears. Sobbing, fifty-year old women from Boston are pitiful, but because the change was important and necessary, I didn’t budge (I can’t tell you why Person 1 had to move unfortunately).

This set the mood for the day.

A client/trainee, Person 2, who was a tiny part of the primary reason for the change is someone who taxes the patience of the faculty and other clients/trainees. Person 2’s disability makes her cranky. Constantly. She is a very nice person, but if something sets her off she complains non-stop (Hey is for horses! I can’t drink caffeine. Current events is only supposed to be on rainy days! I hate Bingo! Tell the other faculty they can’t boss me. So-and-so is bossing me! etc.). We moved her to her new location, because she has been doing very well and we had been looking for a way to integrate her better into the group.

Today, the first day of the move and person 2 is happy with the change, but one of her new neighbors was not too thrilled and started picking at Person 2. Person 2 complained. Eventually, Person 2 had to be taken outside until her “behavior” subsided. I have been working with Person 2 for as long as I have been substitute teaching with Assembly (since early February) and so I know how to weather her worst storms and to also help her understand we hear what she says, listen carefully and value her. It did not take long for me to get Person 2 to agree to ignore her neighbor at her new table. Now Person 2 and her neighbor have a long history of strife. Both are hard working, competitive women with very different disabilities. To say the least, the needling continued. The neighbor dislikes Person 2 (“She’s annoying”). We had two more blow-ups, both went outside for “talks” and both lost their end-of-day rewards for good behavior, but Person 2 is still happy with the change. Eventually, the neighbor will come around to Person 2 and everything will be fine. The stress of change eventually goes away.

It is too early to see if Person 1 likes the change. He’s sneaky. Person 3 was just fine with the change. Person 3’s OCDs are extreme and I was expecting problems, but I got none.

At the end of the day, the last thing I heard from Person 4 is: “I didn’t do nuttin. I was good. Why did you make me change places.”

Oh my!

Assembly: Grey Foam

I substitute taught the highest production team in Assembly today since their boss had her last day yesterday. Assembly is a day-program/transition department for cognitively-disabled adults for the Provo School District. The people I work with are called clients or trainees. This group is higher functioning than many and most of them love to work, but their disabilities interfere with their chances to find work except for here. They work on it though.

Today, we had work. For the last two weeks, there wasn’t any work and so everyone was excited. Grey foam is packaging material for an air-bag manufacturer here in town. Today’s foam was two inches thick with quarter-inch holes punched through. Each foam piece is four by three inches and has fifty holes cut through. Assembly has to pull each little bit of foam out of the holes. The job is quite simple and because it is simple, “foam” is the perfect work for Assembly.

There are two teams of higher functioning workers. The team I was working with is very efficient, but also very emotional. Think of mixed middle school drama and put that into the minds and bodies of adults who are in their twenties, thirties, forties and fifties.

Here are some of the things I did:

  • Reminded someone to stop tattling to me about what happened at home that I heard from her three other times today and repeated several times yesterday.
  • Remind someone to not grumble under her breath.
  • Ask the grumbler and the repeater not to argue.
  • Tell the grumbler to ignore someone on another team who is bugging her.
  • Remind someone to stay awake.
  • Tell someone to not wash his hands every five minutes because the foam is itchy.
  • Negotiate a deal as to when someone can get a snack from her lunch bag.
  • Ask hand washer to pull up his pants, he’s flashing everyone (severe plumber’s crack syndrome).

There is of course more, but this is part of it. Not everyone has problems like this. There are other extreme problems, but none of those exhibit when the team is working because they love working. Everything I listed happened while we were working.

Each of the six teams in Assembly have different problems. The group I was with does not have any one who drools. There are no wheel chair bound people. There are no people who say “no” to any request and run and hide in the bathroom. On the other days of this week I worked with those groups and I loved it as much as I loved working with this group.

When there is no work, we do activities, chores and classes. The trainees would rather work. They get paid to work, not to do the other stuff, so when we are working there is a lot of fun and between some of them light competition to see who can do the most.


I love substitute teaching. I love the variety and daily change of pace. Even when I’ve done long term assignments each day is different. One of the other nice aspects is being able to look at the politics of a work environment and celebrate not being a part of it. I like getting to know students and trainees and seeing their bad sides (and subs always see the worst part of students) knowing they are essentially good people–for the most part, I hate seeing the mean in some kids and I’ve hated seeing bullying. I also love getting to know the faculty at the different schools I work at.

Today was the last day for one of the Faculty in Assembly. She left half-way through the day and got the chance to say good-bye to all the trainees she worked with. Some of them were brought to tears and some are not sure what happened. She left for the reasons most people leave: greener-pastures, better pay and benefits and a change of pace. She wanted to continue in Assembly and work at the new job as well, but conflicting training schedules ruled that out. Things like this happen.

The difference in this experience and when a teacher leaves mid-term at a main-line school is the student rumor-mill. Like Assembly, faculty do not tell students why someone leave. It rightfully isn’t their business. At school, the student rumor-mill goes into over drive. The students try to figure out why something they don’t understand happened. Particularly with popular people like the faculty-member who left today. Sometimes dark-hints from less than ethical faculty will cause student-body ire to fall on administration or other faculty. In Assembly, the trainees cry and admit how much they will miss someone, but only occasionally is there a bru-ha-ha.

When I first started subbing at Assembly, I was replacing a faculty member who left under dubious conditions. The rest of the faculty was glad to see her go, but not many trainees. When I took over, I was answering questions about the now gone faculty-member and when was she coming back for two weeks. A couple even told me it was my fault (usually after I told them to do something). Still, acceptance settles in faster in Assembly than at a main-line school.

To me, the reason is simple: constant turnover. At the institutional care most of the Assembly trainees live in, there is a lot of turn-over. The work is hard. I couldn’t do it. I can’t deal with adults who need bathrooming help and I gag at the smell of poop. There is not a lot of long term continuity and so the trainees get used to people going in and out of their lives. The trainees know I am a sub and that I work with every population group. They are used to the idea that I will be working with them one day, at a middle-school another day and then magically, I am back with them or with a different group in the facility like Laundry or Brick.

While I am very glad the particular faculty-member left today (she did give notice and was quite professional) and agree with why she went, I find the consistency of the trainees lives lacking. Even here, some of the faculty have been in Assembly for years. One for thirty-two years, but it just isn’t the same. Living on a bed of sand is not good for anyone.

Circles of Intimacy

Today at Central Utah Enterprises (CUE), I discussed the Circles of Intimacy with the staff and how it is being used with middle-school kids with the same or stronger disabilities than the clients/trainees in laundry and assembly.

I love the guys at CUE. In spite of their disabilities, they are some of the most authentic, wonderful people I know. Even the guy whose discipline problems are so severe he spends almost all his time with me with I work at CUE. The reason is when I walk in every morning, I get greeted by a chorus of hellos and hugs from almost everyone. Even the autistic men who normally do not like any physical contact will come over for a hug. The problem is this should not be happening.

None of the clients/trainees at CUE is a good decision maker or problem solver. They lack the skills to separate someone who cares for them or some one who would prey on them. Many of them are repeated victims and still they treat everyone innocently. While in a perfect world there is nothing wrong with this, we do not live in a perfect world. Far from it. To even become a person who works with the disabled, one must go through a serious background check and even then, there are predators.

The circles of intimacy is not a cure all, but it at least provides barriers. When the Pepsi guy shows up, some of these folks go up to him and give him a hug. They don’t even know his name, but they like him because he brings in the pop. In the circles of intimacy, he would be in the orange or wave circle. Someone you know, but not well who it might be best to keep away from. I would be in the yellow or handshake circle. The middle-schools have an in depth program and video series that over a period of months helps their students understand how the circles of intimacy works. If the staff at CUE could do it, they might be able to teach the same program to at least cut down on some cases of victimization.

There is a good argument against the program. Many of these guys do not have families. Many who do have families, only see their families once a year. A few still live at home, but all eventually move into institutional living. The concern is they would then never have physical contact if the staff at CUE stopped hugging them. The hug or blue circle is for family. Instilling these restrictions would eventually be heartbreaking for both the staff and the clients/trainees.

One of my best friends at CUE has no family that visits him. He is a middle-aged man who has serious issues, but is very kind and is a hard, hard worker. He is also very funny. He has been victimized by people who claimed to be his friends. He has only given me a hug twice, but both times I can tell he needed one. He was troubled because of something or the other or was telling a story about his time in jail or his prison tattoos. If he was restricted from all physical contact, he would be hurt, but if he had learned the skills the circles of intimacy program teaches, he might never have gotten into such serious problems.

While I recognize, this program would not address family members that would take advantage of the state-funds they receive (I know of two these cases at CUE), it would at least begin to help.