Ashley loves the outdoors and sitting on the grass in the sunshine. Her sense of touch is especially strong. She enjoys the swirling of water around her in a swimming pool, lotion, and the texture of fabric as she folds clothes.
Ashley has limited verbal communication. She communicates feelings of affection by reaching out to hold the hands of family or friends. She loves saying “mom” and asking “you have a purple pen?” As a girl, being unable to articulate her desires or frustrations sometimes led to her lash out physically. Over time, the physical outbursts led to destruction of property and began to threaten the safety of the people around her.
When she tore the refrigerator door from its hinges, her parents sought the advice of professionals. They were informed that a state institution for people with intellectual disabilities had specialized programming that could help Ashley manage her behavior. They admitted Ashley to the facility with the understanding that she would stay there for a few weeks or months and then return to her home and community.
Five years later, Ashley was still under the supervision of the institution. She spent long years in the ward with cinderblock walls and few choices. Finally, she was able to move into a townhome on the campus and attend a self-contained classroom in a local high school. Unfortunately, one day she ran into the street without clothing on. Thankfully, she was returned to the ward safely. However, she lost her apartment, freedom and access to outdoors.
Not surprisingly, her socially inappropriate behaviors increased. She hit, kicked and pulled hair and stripped off her clothes in front of peers. Before long, the school district refused to serve her in a classroom. She went from five hours a day of school to having an instructor visit for 2 hours a week. When she wouldn’t engage with the male teacher assigned to her, his visits trailed off.
When her mother visited, she found Ashley spending day after day in her room without clothing, attention to personal hygiene, or any kind of activity. As she had done for years, Ashley’s mom advocated for a less restrictive placement and appropriate educational services. When her efforts were met with failure, she called the DLC for help. Our Abuse and Neglect Team went to work seeking a less restrictive residential placement. They contacted the Division of Services for People with Disabilities and requested that Ashley’s case be sent out to community residential providers in the hopes of finding other options. Multiple providers responded. Ashley’s parents were concerned about switching schools. They thought that moving to a new home and a new school would be too much for Ashley to handle all at once. After several months, Eaton Alliance offered a placement within the boundaries of the local school district, where Ashley had been attending school before she was removed from the classroom.
To address Ashley’s educational needs, our education team filed a State Complaint against the school district, asserting that they had not placed the client in the least restrictive environment and had failed to provide her with a free appropriate public education. DLC attorney, Laura Lee Gillespie, remembers, “It was clear that the focus was on control of Ashley, not on her potential as a productive member of society and a student in the public schools.” The Utah State Office of Education agreed. Ashley was awarded over 100 hours of extra instruction time to compensate for the district’s failures. She has since returned to school full time.
Now Ashley returns from school to a lovely apartment that she shares with a roommate. She is learning to shop at the grocery store and engage in other community activities. She enjoys sitting on the grass. When she arrives home, she is already looking forward to the next day. She loves making choices at snack time. She has a chair of her own where she can sit and choose what TV show she wants to watch. Many days she relaxes by just folding clothes. But recently, she went out for pizza with her roommates and staff. She has a lot to learn about the world outside the institution, but seems happy.
The DLC hopes other clients can experience similar success, in both school and residential settings.