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paras in the art classroom


From: Jean Womack (jeaneger_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Mon May 20 2002 - 08:39:27 PDT

Undoubtedly there are many ways of getting disabled and other students to do
things they don't want to do, including threatening them with various
penalties--which only works to the degree that they are afraid of their
parents, their caretakers, their teachers, or afraid of getting bad grades,
of flunking a class because the para does not bring them to the class, of
being isolated away from their peers, etc. A person might even threaten to
kill them, or sue them, or take their home away from them--of course that
would be illegal, and then one would have to threaten them again not to tell
anyone--then we would be getting into child abuse and child molesting,
wouldn't we? Taking away the controls on the wheelchair so the student
could not get away and justifying it by saying they are not supposed to act
like teenagers and do wheelies and donuts and race around--well there's
always some way to justify taking away the tiny bit of independence and
mobility that a disabled student has. It's not quite like Chinese foot
binding, is it? My point is that desensitizing a student to brushing on the
thigh, which is an area of sexual stimulation, should be against the law and
should not be done. The student is desensitized to sexually stimulating
touch possibly from a stranger, then displayed to a substitute teacher whose
attention is directed toward the students body and then what's next?
Multiple partners? Video cameras? Nasty pictures on the Internet? No, I
do not want to be drawn into some paraprofessional's fantasy of prurient
interest. There's plenty of that stuff in San Francisco already and chicken
hawks just waiting for the babies to fall out of the nest. The student will
have been trained to accept sexual stimulation as pacification instead of
the genuine affection and caring relationship that the person really craves.
No one ever tells her what her rights are or that she has a right not to be
touched below the waist, or at all, if she doesn't want it. She has a right
not to be desensitized. She has a right to turn down "medical treatment."
The health people will have justified it by saying the disabled person has a
right to a sex life. Guess how I know all this. The person will have been
drawn into the sex trade and no one is there to rescue her because the
system has forced her into it. The assumption is that the person is so
disabled that she or he will never be able to find a life partner--that's
the assumption made by people who think that you have to fit the army weight
charts and look like a starlet in order to find someone who will marry you.
Well, just look around. Life isn't like that. I think it's a police
matter, unless the police are in on it too. Maybe there's nothing I can do
about it because no one was around to rescue me for most of my life. I did
not know the law and no one told me the law--for about 30 years, so it was
no accident. It was systematic enslavement of a disabled person--a bullemic
person. I escaped it when I stopped drinking. I did not know that it was
against the law for a man to have sex with a woman when she was so drunk she
could not say no. I might add that NO ONE told me to stop drinking until I
was past menopause and no good for anything anymore. My father used to send
me a birthday card every year that said "Go out and have a drink."

The para did not want to read to her the list of resources that were
available to her. I think a first step toward recovery for that young woman
would be to tell her and her para what sexual practices are legal and what
are not.

I might add that, as a substitute, I have not had a chance to develop a
relationship with those people, and now I that I wrote about it and talked
about it, I probably never will. But people do strange things when the
substitute is there, that they might not do around the regular teacher, so
then you get insights into what's beneath the surface.

> Subject: Re: paras in the art classroom - brushing technique
> From: Melissa Enderle <>
> Date: Sun, 19 May 2002 19:53:27 +0000
> X-Message-Number: 23
> Dear Jean,
> Although I cannot say for sure why the para was brushing the student's
> I can give you an example of how and when it was used on one of my
> with special needs.
> I had a student with microencephaly (which results in severe cognitive
> disabilities) who displayed some autistic behaviors and was tactilly
> defensive. Despite my best efforts, he refused to touch, much less work
> any sort of art material I introduced. When speaking with the occupational
> therapist, she said that she would try brushing him right before art
> With a plastic brush, she firmly but gently brushed his arms. She
> that this was a way of desensitizing him and getting him used to touch.
> also wrapped him tightly in a blanket as another technique. Even though it
> didn't make much sense to the non-trained eye why one would do this, I
> have to say I noticed a dramatic improvement. First, he stopped screaming
> when I came in - a welcome first step. I started my goals simply -
> the material was good. He began to tolerate hand-over-hand work and began
> initiating reaching for the materials - including clay.
> So, hopefully that is what the para was trying to do.
> As for the para appearing to be unwilling to involve herself or the
> in the art experience, that is a whole other issue. Sometimes the para
> doesn't know what to do. Or perhaps his/her personal experiences with art
> have been negative. With some, just asking them to do a particular thing
> all they need. Others need direct modeling. Ask the para for advice or
> approaches used in other classes, as he/she works with the student all day
> and may be able to offer insight. Hopefully any uncooperative or abusive
> para will be promptly removed from the situation, with better matches
> occurring. Having a good communication with the classroom/special ed
> teachers and therapists is immensely helpful for the students with severe
> needs.
> On 5/19/02 6:11 PM, "Jean Womack" <> wrote:
> > I subbed in a ceramics classroom last week. The paraprofessional came
> > with a girl in a wheelchair, probably a cerebral palsy patient. On
> the para was brushing the girl's
> > arm with a small plastic brush. She said it relaxed her. But the girl
> > started screaming and did not stop until the para took her out of the
> > classroom. She
> > didn't want to do that. She didn't want to read to the girl the list of
> > student resources that I had passed out to the rest of the students.
> > Finally I told her she could not brush the girl on the leg in my
> > and she should leave. What I said was, "not here." After she left, I
> > the Special Ed department head and complained about it. I
> > What is your experience with the arm and leg brushing of disabled
> > by paraprofessionals?
> > Jean Womack
> | Melissa Enderle |
> /)| |(\
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> __( ( art teacher/ adaptive art /_) ) )__
> ((( \ \ /_) / / / ) ))
> (\\\ \ \_/ / \ \_/ / ///)
> \ / \ /
> \ _/ \_ /
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> Melissa Enderle