Why Not Ask? — 5 Minutes for Special Needs

Why Not Ask?

by Deborah


In my 47th ranked state (in services provided to people with disabilities), it seems that most children and adults with developmental disabilities love going bowling and to the mall.

The love of those two places starts early – grade school ‘community based instruction’ almost always involves a trip to either a bowling alley or a local mall. As children grow into adulthood, the pattern is the same. Go to a local mall almost any day of the week around lunchtime, and you will see groups of adults with developmental disabilities seated in a special section of the mall food court. Their ‘staff’ will be with them but usually seated at another table. Since these two trips got their start as ‘community based instruction’, in what subjects are the children being instructed, and why do the adults still need instruction?

Bowling is not something my family does for recreation. I have no problem with people who do like to bowl, but it seems a little strange to require my child with developmental disabilities to engage in a pastime that she will more than likely never do outside the school day. And, my oldest child, who has no developmental disabilities, wonders why his sister gets to go bowling frequently on school time and he has to study and take tests. I don’t have a good answer for him.

Trips to the mall are very similar to the bowling trips for my school-aged child. I’m really not sure in what subjects she will be instructed during the trip, but I do know that the teachers usually have time to get their errands done. Perhaps they are teaching my child how to be helpful and carry shopping bags. Or perhaps, they are instructing her on how to make unhealthy lunch choices from the mall food court.

Since there are no tests administered at the end of the day or week on subjects taught while bowling or malling, I’m not sure whether or not my daughter is making progress in this area. My cynical, sarcastic side thinks maybe that is why the practice needs to continue into adulthood for people with developmental disabilities.

What about visiting a museum? What about a trip to a zoo or a local radio or television station? How about discovering the life cycle of plants and perhaps preparing my child for future employment by visiting a nursery? Or, another good choice for future employment could be encouraged by touring a local manufacturing plant? A meal at a nice restaurant would be a good place to practice manners, or a trip to a local park or playground would be a great way to work off some extra energy. For the adults, how about a concert, a trip to a retirement community or the library or local bookstore?

Or better yet, why not ask the children and the adults what they would like to do? I think we might find that people with developmental disabilities do not love bowling and malling as much as some people may believe.

Ahh, but maybe that’s the reason they will never be asked.

Email Author    |    Website About Deborah

In addition to her job as a computer engineer and her single parent responsibilities, Deborah is president of a state-wide family support group for families whose lives are touched by deafblindness, and is a tireless advocate for all people with disabilities. She writes at Pipe Cleaner Dreams and her writing has also been featured in local magazines and newspapers. Ashley’s story has also been chronicled in a book by Jonathan Mooney titled Short Bus Stories.

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1 Terri September 10, 2008 at 4:34 pm

Amen, my sister!! OK, you’re not my sister, but you are articulating my exact thoughts!!!! Thank you!

2 Veggiemomof2 September 10, 2008 at 5:28 pm

My mom is a bus driver for the state school for the handicapped & I’ve asked her this exact question. She said the “reasoning” they have for taking the kids on a field trip to Walmart is to teach them how to interact w/the general public. I’m not sure why when the kids in her school will never be out on their own, but at least the teachers get their shopping done on the clock! :S

3 Rickismom September 10, 2008 at 6:20 pm

YES!!!!! ASK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I think is it so pitiful when people are not given choices

4 Patricia Hensley September 10, 2008 at 6:31 pm

As a school teacher, I wonder what goal on the IEP they are trying to achieve by going bowling. I have taught high school students by taking them to the mall because it is showing them appropriate behavior in the mall. I would also have them purchase items, teach them how to ask where the restrooms are, and basic safety precautions. Buying food from the food court is also an good skill to learn. We have also talked about the different occupations that it takes to run a mall from janitor to office workers. By sitting apart from the adults/students, you are simulating a more independent environment than when you sit with them. These are just examples that might happen on these trips.

5 Amy & Emma September 10, 2008 at 8:27 pm

Oh my goodness, you have hit a hot button of mine! I see this in my area as well – mostly kids from our high school’s life skills program. I NEVER see groups of kids with developmental disabilities at any of the places you’ve mentioned. Nor do I see them at banks, pharmacies, farmers’ markets, or garage sales. I understand that there could be value in going to the mall or going bowling. But going there exclusively? I love the points you’ve made.

6 Deborah September 10, 2008 at 8:36 pm

Thank you all for your comments. I just knew I couldn’t be the only person who felt this way.

I even bought a membership to our local science museum for everyone in my daughter’s class – teachers and aides included. They could go as much as they wanted during the school year and it wouldn’t cost them a thing. The children love the place – I know because I take many of them there on the weekends.

The class went ONE TIME during the school year.

7 Sandi September 10, 2008 at 9:39 pm

When I saw the first sentence in your post, I thought “we must live in the same state!”…so I popped over to your blog, and sure enough, we do.

You are spot-on about the field trips! When my daughter attended a local school that’s all they did on field trips, bowling and mall food court. After finally getting a change of placement to a special needs school (the local school could not/would not deal with her behavior issues…ugh!…but that’s another story) she now gets to go on way cooler field trips! 🙂

8 Tamie September 10, 2008 at 11:02 pm

I feel SOOOO blessed to live in California *only* because we receive wonderful services for Jacob. Otherwise we’d leave the state, but we stay because we couldn’t pay out of pocket for what he receives here.

He’s only 4, but in his program, he goes on community outings anywhere we want him to. Gymastics class is his favorite, but he also goes to Wal-Mart and McDonalds because these are difficult for him to handle and it helps to practice so that if we have to take him, he isn’t so bothered by them. We’ve also practiced appropriate public restroom behavior (no lying on the floor or running your hands across the urinals!). We even had a supervisor who said she’d be willing to go to church with us on a Sunday to see if there was anything she could target in his programming to help with appropriate behaviors there.

I would be SOOOO frustrated in the situation you describe!!

9 Deborah September 11, 2008 at 8:50 am

Sandi, email me privately and let’s compare notes about where we are in our state. I couldn’t find an email link on your site. But, there is one on mine.

I look forward to hearing from you!

10 Melody September 11, 2008 at 11:10 am

Yes, choices, please and thank you.

11 Stephanie September 11, 2008 at 11:29 pm

My MIL provides adult day services. They frequently take outings to thrift stores, malls, movies and the zoo. I’ve never encountered school agers out and about. This makes me wonder, however. Too bad. Life could be a lot richer with a variety of experiences.

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