Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Liberty and Choices for All

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Liberty and Choices for All

Article excerpt

In the February 1993 issue of Exceptional Parent, we published Profound Truths by Kathleen M. Fagley in which she described her family's decision in 1984 to place their three-year-old son, Evan, in a residential program. We received an almost instant response from you, our readers. Some parents were thankful that the use of residential placement was discussed. Others expressed their disappointment and anger at families like the Fagleys and have continued to criticize Exceptional Parent for publishing articles about residential placement. We are concerned because the letters we have published suggest that loving, caring parents are fighting with one another, somehow becoming polarized on this issue.

Attitudes about residential placement have a long history. Some critics seem to continue to equate placement in a contemporary residential program with the inhumane and tragic institutionalization of children and adults with disabilities that was so common 20 to 30 years ago. Although we must not forget our vivid, personal memories and the horrible photographs of the way our society treated children and adults with disabilities in the past, there have been vast changes, unimaginable three decades ago.

When we first began Exceptional Parent in 1971, there were so few alternatives for the care and education of children with disabilities that institutionalization was often the only option families could afford; the family's only decision was whether to place the child today or sometime in the future. In the minds and hearts of parents, institutionalization was viewed as a sentence to life in prison, or even a death sentence.

While in the United States today there still exist some troubling institutional settings that isolate residents separated from communities and/or fail to provide humane care, parents and people with disabilities have choices -- choices that are no longer the "lesser of two evils." Many residential programs offer a variety of creative programs that include many opportunities for community participation. And yet, although there are decent choices available today, why do so many caring and dedicated parents and professionals continue to react angrily to articles and advertisements about residential programs for children and adults with disabilities?

First, although much has changed, parenting has always been, and will continue to be, a challenging, energy-consuming, stressful and usually thankless task. Parenting a child with a disability and/or special health care needs will continue to be even more challenging, energy-consuming, stressful and thankless. …

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