There is a disturbing story today regarding a young disabled man, with multiple disabilities, who was recruited into the Marine Corps for service. I have to preface this story by saying that I love the Marine Corps. I have many friends and family who have served and I am proud of them and the Marine Corps. However, this story is disturbing because of the potential consequences for anyone unfortunate enough to be in this situation.
The young man’s name is Joshua Fry and he has been diagnosed as Autistic. He was living in a group home at the time of his enlistment; in fact, it is alleged that a Marine recruiter picked him up from the home and took him to the recruitment center to enlist. The background of the story, as I understand it, is that this young man was born to parents who allegedly abused drugs. He was diagnosed as being Autistic, as a young child. Joshua was allegedly abused as a child and he had learning disabilities. He struggled in school and had allegedly developed a relationship with a military recruiter. Joshua got himself into trouble allegedly for stealing and having a weapon; and, he was sent away to a treatment facility for counseling.
In the meantime, Joshua’s grandmother had custody of him and allegedly told the Marine recruiter to take Joshua’s name off of the call list as he was “not Marine material”. It would have been easy enough to check that out by following up with the school administrators. Those words should have been the end of any active pursuit of Joshua, as a person to be considered as a Marine recruit.
For a recruiter to continue to persue an individual like Joshua; it should be considered a crime. Many special needs people would love to be in the military; however, the nature of the job requires quick thinking, reliable decision making every time, the ability to use good judgement, and, to exhibit character traits that would be of an elevated level compared to the average individual. Some individuals able-bodied or not, no matter how how they try, are not going to be able to perform at those levels and meet those responsibilities. It is important that those in the military be able to do so because lives depend on it!
For many people with multiple special needs…being able to make fast, quality decisions regarding the safety and well-being of themselves, as well as others, is difficult; even under normal circumstances, but if you add into the mix, the stress and chaos of a war situation, it could be a dangerous combination. It is heartbreaking to have someone want to serve who just may not be qualified to do so because of a physical, emotional, or developmental disability. But encouraging that same individual to go ahead and sign up should be criminal…it is not in the best interest of that individual, the military personel who work alongside of them, or the families who love and support them, to the best of their abilities.
It is being alleged that when Joshua got out of the facility and entered the group home; he had re-established a relationship with the recruiter. If it is true that the grandmother had spoken to those at the recruiting station and told them of the problems with Joshua…that should have been the end of any attempts to recruit him. If that recruiter had the knowledge of the problems that Joshua struggled with; he should not have allowed Joshua to sign up.
Joshua’s grandmother had the courts approval to be his legal conservator. Basically, meaning that he was not able to sign most legal documents because he wasn’t able to completely understand the legal consequences in doing so. He had a low IQ, he was diagnosed as Autistic, bi-polar, asthmatic, he had learning disabilities and he had also been treated in an in-patient environment. For all of those reasons and more…he should never have been a candidate for service in the Marine Corps.
Once he got to boot camp, he found himself in over his head. He got in trouble for stealing food, for disrespecting authority, and, he was not following orders. He told those in positions of authority that he didn’t want to be a Marine and told them of his history. They agreed he shouldn’t be there after talking to his grandmother; but, instead of sending him home he was allowed to graduate boot camp. Months later, he was found to have pornographic photos on his cell phone…disciplined and instructed to not do it again. He failed and again was found to be in possession…this time with child pornography. What he did is wrong definately, does he understand that? That is the question…does he know what he did is wrong; and, is he capable of understanding that his actions have legal consequences?
He was arrested and is being held on a variety of charges that he probably does not understand and is incapable of avoiding committing over and over again in the same military environment that he should never have been allowed to enter in the first place. For heaven’s sake, this is an individual that was living in a supervised setting because of issues relating to the impulsive behaviors associated with his disabilities that didn’t allow him to live independently. How in the world is he expected to fulfill his commitment to the military? What will happen to Joshua and others like him? What kind of legal discipline will he be forced to accept? Will he be dismissed from service and returned to a supervised group home setting or will he be in the prison system?
While some disabilities allow individuals to perform many tasks related to military life…there is no guarantee that those are the only situations in which they will be needed to perform in. We have to be very careful about making decisions regarding allowing those with disabilities into the military. Their very lives could depend on it.
Recruiters are expected to persuade prospects to sign on the dotted line and become a member of our military service. However, people with documented low IQ’s, learning disabilities or medical or emotional issues that would prevent them from performing their duties in a safe and timely manner should not be “encouraged to join up”. This feels a little like it is taking advantage of someone’s lack of understanding. It is an unfair advantage to have knowledge that they could be put into situations that are not within their capabilities of handling appropriately; and, still encourage them to join the service.
We are in a time of war, men and women are needed to serve. However, it is wrong to recruit people who are at a disadvantage intellectually, physically or emotionally. This issue is going to become more of a problem because of some changes being made to the educational requirements across our nation. Many special education students are caught between a rock and a hard place with the raising of educational requirements to graduate. Many of them will no longer be allowed to get a diploma…they will be getting a certificate of completion instead. Some of them will have to go to high school for 5-6 years, as the additional requirements are phased in. This is already resulting in many students either dropping out of high school or choosing to get a GED. Many more will try to seek a position with the military because of the lack of jobs available for special needs persons. Just because someone is disabled or has special needs doesn’t mean that they are not patriotic; it doesn’t mean that they don’t want the respect that being in the military can give them. Many would love an opportunity to be a hero for their country by serving. This makes them vulnerable to outside influences when it comes to signing up.
It is important that the Marine Corps does what is right in this situation for Joshua and others like him. He was out of his element here; and, it should have been stopped by those in a position to do so before he ever signed on the dotted line and spent one day in boot camp. Many eyes will be watching. Parents, agencies, friends and educators…please be aware that your special needs students are vulnerable to the desire to serve their country. It is admirable, but they are also vulnerable to recruiters who need to put people into the service and are more than willing to talk to your students in a way that makes them even more determined to serve; whether they are fully capable of doing the job safely, or not.
What are your thoughts on these issues?
Our local school told us at the IEP’s this year, that with changes in special education requirements(sound like national or federal changes)…that students in the special education program are now being encouraged to pursue a certificate of completion, as opposed to a diploma, when a special education student nears the end of their high school career. The reason being that for many of the students, the classes that they have already taken are not going to count towards graduation requirements. Therefore, they will end up going to school longer. For some students, it will mean that instead of 4 years of high school…they could end up attending classes in high school for up to six years.
I think this is very unfair. From what we have been able to understand so far, for those who insist upon a diploma as opposed to a certificate of completion…it will be almost impossible to attain. In our school here in Michigan, the special education students will be blended into some regular education classes; and, then they will have what they are calling a workshop, which is supposed to be more like a 30 minute homestudy class, where they are supposed to get more help with problem classwork. The issue is that many of those workshop teachers will be regular education teachers who are not trained to work with the special education students who require more help and in some cases specialized teaching techniques–something that will require more than 30 minutes time from a teacher who has to divide up those 30 minutes with a classroom of students who need help.
This feels like a social experiment that is going to go horribly wrong. I am frustrated because I have a child who is going to be caught up in the middle of these changes. I have a son who also is a special education student who graduated in the last few weeks…he was able to get a diploma. This is no small feat. In this day and age of financial uncertainty, anything you can do to improve your employability is important…having a diploma is better for getting a job than a certificate of completion when it comes to getting hired.
I was told by an administrative person that employers and schools of higher education are aware of these changes and are cooperating with these changes by honoring certificates of completion when it comes to going off to college or for getting jobs. I do not believe this is true. I firmly believe that most employers are unaware of these graduation requirement changes and will view a certificate of completion as being “less qualifying” for a job than a diploma.
First off, at this point…even many teachers and administrators are still trying to figure out exactly what all of these changes will mean for both staff and students. Many parents of special education students are not understanding how these changes will impact their families. It is the students who were already in high school and have completed a year or two or three towards graduation that are going to fall between the cracks. I am already being told of students who were Juniors this year, who have discovered that this impacts when they will “graduate” and are dropping out of school because they do not wish to go to school for an additional year, or two longer, than they had expected. When they also discover that many of them will not be able to get a diploma after all of their hard work….and will get something that appears to be less than a regular education student gets; I believe that even more students will drop out of school.
This is devastating; special education students are already at a disadvantage in many areas socially and in the job market. This is just one more (large) obstacle to having some level of independence and success. There needs to be a public outcry at the injustice of it all…on a local level and on a larger scale. Do you have any knowledge or experience with these changes?
When you first become a parent you think that love will conquer all things that get in your way while you parent your child. However, there are somethings that can’t be conquered. You can’t undiagnose a child who has been labeled special needs; and you can’t be the biological parent of a child that you didn’t give birth to. As a parent, your greatest tool is love…but love isn’t enough to make bad situations go away.
However, you can find ways to improve aspects of the quality of your children’s lives; and yours, as the parent of a special needs child or the parent of an adopted child. No matter what the situation, or what the diagnosis is…it doesn’t change the fact that you love your child.
Disppointment is a real life shadow when experiencing obstacles raising children with challenges. It can’t be avoided. But love isn’t enough to change limitations imposed by a specific diagnosis…but, love is enough to find ways to still enable as much independence as possible. When love isn’t enough to fill up the empty spots left by the void of a biological parent in their lives…it is enough to show compassion and empathy to help them understand that the empty spots don’t have to lead to destructive behaviors.
The truth be told; special needs children and adopted children need a strong advocate in life, in school, and in medical settings. No one knows your child better than you, the parent, and no one will fight harder for them; to get the things that they need, when they need it. Parents are on the front lines of battle for their child.
When love isn’t enough to magically make everything perfect and ok…it is enough to give you the courage and strength to face the challenges before you and your child; and to find ways to be successful and achieve the milestones in life, that you know your child will benefit from. Love is enough to provide acceptance and encouragement to be growing as a person to be the best person that they can be.
Ok, I know in practical terms…teaching independent living skills along the way while raising children is just common sense. However, as one of my children is approaching his last year in high school…it feels like I have an egg timer alongside of each day.
My son is a senior in high school. There is not much time left to teach him some really important lessons. Where we live, in a rural setting, there is not some great program available to him to continue educating him after graduation. In Michigan, if my son goes for his diploma at the end of the year; as opposed to a certificate of completion…his educational opportunities as a special ed student come to an end. If he wanted to continue in the school system, he could choose a certificate of completion…but, the only available program for him is a daily living skills program. While that is a valuable tool, it doesn’t in my opinion outweigh the benefits of going for the diploma.
Because we live in a rural area….there is not much opportunity for employment, in general, let alone if you have special needs that can hinder your employability.
The things that are important to my son at this stage of his life…are dual edged. He wants to drive a car. He wants to hunt. He wants freedom to make his own choices. He wants to work. There is nothing wrong with wanting those things…but in some cases, those very things are difficult to achieve or not in that person’s best interest.
My son’s abilities are limited because of several factors. He reads at a first grade level…and that, is with difficulty. He has problems with assessing safety situations. He is wanting to work…but sometimes, has trouble staying on task and focussed. These issues are going to limit his ability to hunt, to drive, to live on his own without some sort of safety backup plan.
Our plan is to work with him on planning meals and grocery shopping; he also likes to hoard food and eat it almost as soon as it is purchased That won’t be condusive to living on his own if he cannot somehow understand the concept of planning and executing a plan for purchasing and divying up the food purchases to make up meals for a set number of days at a time. He will have to show more care with personal hygene; it isn’t high on his list to change his dirty clothing when going away…he just doesn’t think about it. He will need to learn to think ahead for those situations.
We are wracking our brains trying to come up with some type of job that he is able to do and excited about doing. Many of the types of jobs he wants are not realistic. We have enrolled him in an class that will be working towards teaching him an employable skill. I think he will take pride in this; if he continues to enjoy it once he gets into the curriculum.
Housing, we are blessed that we were able to plan ahead for this years ago. We purchased a house next door to us years ago with the intention of using it for independent living skills for our boys as they became ready. This will allow close supervision but also allow for them to feel independent and “free” to be a grown up.
This year will hold many surprises and advancements. It is an exciting and scary time for him and for us. We all have a lot to learn as we transition to adulthood together! Here is a great link of things to consider when easing into independent living: http://www.teachersfirst.com/sped/parents/transition/eric-lifeskills.html