Next Step Therapy Blog: ‘Assumptions’

Tracy 1Tracy Cowles, CEO and owner of Next Step Therapy, submitted the following article:”Assumptions”

If you were to take a poll of the general population and ask them what the number one thing wrong with our society today is, you would get many, many different answers. You would hear about both political parties, you would hear about the implosion of the education system, you would hear about parents that don’t parent. I would expect other answers to involve immigration, government officials who can’t get a budget signed in eight months, people who have eliminated God from their lives, and spoiled rich people.

I have a different point of view (well don’t I always?). While I think that there are a thousand things in our society that we could improve upon, the number one thing that I see these days that literally is rotting our society to its very core is our ability to jump to an unsubstantiated conclusion based on virtually nothing – our assumptions, based on two sentences on social media.

There has been a saying out there forever; never “assume” because when you assume, you make an ass out of u and me. Truer words were never spoken.

We hear a story, and we immediately jump in with comments. Even though we weren’t there, don’t know the people involved, and the situation doesn’t have anything to do with us.

Here’s what happened that made me write this blog. On New Year’s Eve, a five year old autistic boy from Allentown, PA (five hours from here?) disappeared from a party/get-together at night, in freezing cold weather, wearing no shoes, and without a coat. Hundreds of people searched for the little guy, but unfortunately, his body was found two days later in a canal.

When I saw it on my newsfeed, I thought, “Oh, that’s terrible. His poor parents.” The end. Never occurred to me to write a blog, or address it in any way.

On the Monday after New Year’s, a friend said, “Did you see where that five year old autistic boy died in Allentown? You should write a blog about that.” So I asked, “What part of that story would I write about?” My friend said, “Well, a reminder to parents of special needs kids, especially parents of autistic kids, that they can’t be getting loaded at a party! Those kids need watched all of the time.”

My friend is a lovely, caring human being who would do almost anything for virtually anybody. However, on THIS topic, we had a little go-around. I asked her how she knew that any alcohol was involved at all. None of the articles that I had seen had described any type of drinking. Her response, “Well, it was New Year’s Eve!” Readers, join me in a little exercise to help you understand my thought process. Think about all of your family members, all of your co-workers, all of your close friends, and all of your neighbors. How many of them got blitzed on New Year’s Eve? What percentage? If you eliminate all of the elderly, the kids, the tee-totalers, the people who worked night shift, the people on medication who can’t drink, the recovering alcoholics….blah, blah, blah, I would bet that only around 3-5% of the entire population of the U.S. of A. actually had ANY alcohol on New Years’, and that out of those that did, probably only 5% of the 5% of drinkers actually got ripped. The fact that an incident happened on New Years’ does not necessarily mean that alcohol was involved.

“Well, it was a party.” No, the media reported it as a party. In some reports, it sounds much more like a family get-together. They could have been playing cards, or twister, or binge watching a Netflix show. Nowhere was it reported that this was a drug/alcohol fueled raucous party.

One of my friends said, “Well, I went to a party New Year’s Eve, with my kids, and I checked on them every twenty minutes!” Uh huh. Yep. Good. Good for you. But, how exactly did you come up with the 20 minute decision? Based on experience, you know that your child can entertain himself for 30 minutes, so checking on him every 20 makes sense to you? Understood. But, if you check on your kid at 9:00 PM on the dot, and your kid, for whatever reason at 9:02 PM decides to sneak down the stairs and walk out a door, he’s gone for 18 minutes before you check again. How far can a five year old child get in 18 minutes if they are hoofing it, and you don’t know what direction they went? Half a mile? More? If that happened to you, where you were at a get-together, and your child disappeared, some people would say, well, you should have checked on him every 10 minutes.

Some people would say that child should have been within your sight every second. Some people would have said, “Are you kidding me? Both of my kids could have been sat in a bedroom when they were five years old with a TV, a tablet, games and toys, a plate of cookies and a cold drink, and I wouldn’t have to check on them for hours! Jeez…what’s wrong with you parents that your kids won’t behave and entertain themselves????” A twenty minute “check on” period is arbitrary. It works for some people with some kids; it doesn’t work for other families with other kids. The news reports that I read said that Dad was routinely checking on this child, and it was the dad who discovered that he wasn’t present at 11:00 pm.

ACK!!! 11:00 PM! What five year old is up at eleven o’clock at night? Really? People. People! Many, many, many parents (including yours truly) have allowed a young child to stay up on New Year’s Eve to see the ball drop. As a treat. As a new experience. Because mama didn’t want woken up at six AM when she hadn’t gone to bed until after midnight.

I read between the lines. I heard the unspoken comments. “Well, this was clearly one of those welfare bimbos, nineteen years old with three kids to three different dads who can’t be bothered to parent her kids.” Well, no. If you read the articles, you’ll see that both mom and dad were present, and there was a 16 year old sibling. This family has been together for some time. Nobody, ever, in any report, said welfare.

So, to emphasis the point that I’m trying to make, enjoy the following stories:

My business had been open about seven months. We had just started taking outpatient kids. A mom brought her 12 year old in for treatment. “Matthew” was 12. He had never spoken a word, didn’t follow any verbal directions, and couldn’t complete Kindergarten work. My Occupational Therapist got him down to a treatment room and “worked” with him for close to an hour. Mostly, Mathew bounced off of the walls and tried to find a way to escape. The OT brought him back to the office/waiting room….where he proceeded to lunge, drop to his knees, scoop something out of his mothers’ purse, and cram it into his mouth. Four adults standing there. Two therapists with Masters’ degrees, his mother who knew him best, and an office manager who was taking online classes to get a “certificate” in autism. The four of us lost control of a child with Autism, a child with special needs. Had that child crammed a handful of pills into his mouth, between the lawsuits and publicity, I probably would have lost my business. Fortunately, it was just a pack of life-savers. Paper and all. If three professionals and a mom with 12 years of experience can lose control of a kid within the space of four seconds in a closed off office environment, how hard is it to imagine other scenarios?

Story number 2: Back in the day, on top of being a speech therapist, I had a Partylite Candle business. I had hired many people. I did my own demonstrations in other peoples’ homes, and mentored/trained the dozens of others under my “branch.” After my speech therapy job, I would pick up my two year old, Noah, at daycare, and take us home. Then I would listen to messages, and start my second job. One day, one of my Partylite hires had a serious issue – she had gotten a “bounced check” from a customer, and I needed to walk her through the procedure, which involved looking stuff up in the manual, and pulling up the appropriate demonstration letter to send to her. After maybe 10 minutes of going from one place in the house to another, and pacing while I talked, it suddenly dawned on me….I hadn’t seen Noah in quite a while. I started going from one room to another, calling his name. No answer. I told my hire that I had to go, hung up the phone, and began a frantic search. The doors were all closed and locked. Now I’m running from room to room, calling his name, looking under beds, telling him to not hide, Mommy needed him now. No answer. Finally, finally, I hit the kitchen again, and my brain kicked in. The TV on the counter was on. The high chair was facing away from me, angled to the TV. I had put Noah in the highchair, given him a snack on the tray, and turned on his favorite show. And there he sat, totally engrossed in his show, having his snack, like the good little boy he was. When I rounded the high chair, the relief that I felt at seeing his beautiful smile cannot be described. However, within seconds, I was mortified. I am a speech therapist. I am an expert on swallowing. I know how easy it is to choke. I put my little guy in a position where I couldn’t see him, and let him eat on his own. If I had come around that highchair and found him purple….well, there is an excellent chance that I would not be writing a blog, or running a company, or much of anything else. I don’t think that I could have ever forgiven myself for doing something so stupid.

Do you know why Disney World and other amusement parks have specific “lost child” booths and train their entire staff to spot a distressed child alone? Because it happens every day. The vast majority of you reading this can remember a time that you as a child were separated from your parent, or as a parent, turned around and a child was just “gone.” How many times have you had a few children swimming, counting heads every minute or so, only to count and find yourself one short? Coming out of your chair like a Jack-in-the-box, adrenalin coursing through your body, sucking air….only to see that the “missing” child is walking on the pavement on the other side of the pool? How did that child get out of the water and start walking on the other side, while you were SITTING RIGHT THERE WATCHING?

I have one relative, one relative by marriage, and one friend who have all had an “incident” at a swimming pool where a child needed to be pulled out. Three. My relatives and friends, for the most part are educated, sober, responsible people. In two of these episodes, there was no alcohol involved, and in two of these episodes, there were literally a dozen adults present. In one of these events, the child required CPR and a three day hospital stay. Fortunately, this child survived with no lasting negative effects….30 seconds more, or a panicked adult, or if no one knew CPR….probably a dead child.

Recently, a grandma took her two small grandchildren on a walk in the woods, like she has probably done dozens of times. A good grandma who wanted to spent time with the grands, a good grandma who was sharing her love of the outdoors. She didn’t sit them down in front of a screen and expect them to entertain themselves. She took them outside! Good grandma. Right up until the minute the two year old disappeared. One minute she is singing a song with the granddaughter, or having a fun fantasy conversation about princesses, and she turns around to ask the two year old who is behind them if he would like a cookie when they get back…..and he is not there. Frantic searching and yelling – absolute terror, with a side note of logical thinking, “He’s two. He can’t have gone far. Maybe he went back to the house.” Only, they didn’t find him until seven days later, in a field, dead. This poor, poor grandma most likely just wants to curl up and die. She probably can’t meet her child’s eyes, and probably doesn’t feel like she can ever spend time with other grandchildren. A child gone forever, a family shattered, and a caregiver filled with love who now feels like an empty, hopeless shell.

Every last one of us has awoken to find a toddler beside our bed, demanding chocolate milk, with the bottle of chocolate syrup uncapped and upside down in their hand, a trail of chocolate from the kitchen to the bedroom. Every last one of us has walked into a room and found a toddler with a package of markers drawing on the wall (bigger canvas!) YouTube is filled with videos of children who cut their own hair with scissors. (I did too.) What I hear from people is “Well, a toddler that gets into something that they shouldn’t while I didn’t know about it isn’t the same as a kid being killed.” No, it’s not. But, what I see that some of you don’t see, is that if your child can wander around your house without your knowledge for several minutes, and get into things that they shouldn’t, without your knowledge, they also could have gotten out a door and into traffic. They could have slid the sliding glass door that you were SURE was locked, and fallen into the pool. There but by the Grace of God go you and I.

When did we become these people? These people that automatically assume that when someone dies, someone else must clearly be demonic and at fault? When did we forget that everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt, just the same as you and I want for ourselves and our children?

I’m not writing an article today about how parents of special needs children need to have eyes on their child 24/7, and aren’t allowed to go to the bathroom, aren’t allowed to sleep more than four hours a night, and can’t ever have a telephone conversation. I’m not going to write a blog about how parents of autistic kids should never attend a get-together or family function because they might get distracted. Because it’s crap. It’s totally unrealistic. Every parent needs down time, friendships, relationship time. Parents of special needs kids even more so.

This family in Allentown that has lost a 5 year old child has dealt with more than a month of grief. There have been no charges filed, because they did nothing wrong. These people lost a child. Their hopes and dreams are gone. They think about his last moments, and wonder if he was scared. They wonder as he slipped into the water if he thought about mommy and daddy….and their agony is a living, breathing thing under their skin. These people don’t need judged. These people need prayer, and kindness, and lifted up. They need support, and letters from other parents of Autistic children who understand their plight.

Judgement never helped anyone. Judgement allows the judger to feel superior, but never, not once, helped the person being judged. Assumptions without facts have caused so much damage and chaos. As far as I am concerned, these assumptions that we make, without thought, without feelings, without putting ourselves in another person’s place, is a cancerous boil on the butt of our society. It can only make us sicker, and eventually kill whatever it is that makes us human.

Those of you who watch a video on Facebook of drug addicted newborns shivering uncontrollably, not sleeping for 48 hours…..yeah, it’s horrible. I’ve been dealing with these babies for fifteen years. But, when you watch that video and post comments about how those 19 year old parents should be shot….should go to jail for the rest of their lives….while you don’t sign up to be a foster parent to those babies…..I just have to ask. How does your outraged judgement help that baby? How does it help society? How does it help eliminate the problem? It doesn’t, of course. It just fuels the negativity.

What I seem to grasp that others don’t is that the person flipping out today about the drug addicted young parent may very well find themselves three years from now with a beloved son/daughter with a needle in their arm and a hidden six month pregnancy…..a drug addicted, potentially damaged grandbaby of their own.

When we see that a child is missing, our first thought should be for the safety of the child. Our second thought should be for the parents who are shattered. Our third thought should be to be absurdly grateful that it isn’t our kid. Our fourth thought should be, “What can I do to help?” There is no room in tragedy for blame and judgement.

God forbid, dear readers that something would happen to one of your children or grandchildren this week. If it did, I would hope that people would shower you with love and support, not with blame. Be kind, and check yourselves when your first reaction is outrage.


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