The Other Side Of The Story: The Oconomowoc Girl Scouts And The Autistic Child!!
According to Magi's parents, Magi has been involved with Girl Scouts for the past couple of years. After the original Girl Scout Troop that Magi had been with grew too large, Magi tried to join a special needs troop in Oconomowoc. All four other girls in the Troop have various physical disabilities.
I've also subsequently learned that this Troop was formed specifically to help one girl with a very unique physical disability.
In any event, according to Magi's parents, Magi admittedly acted out a bit during the first meeting which she attended. Here's the account of the situation which appeared in the paper: "In the new group, with her dad beside her and her mother behind, Magi didn't like sitting in "circle time" and sharing ... . When she bit herself, her parents spoke to her. When she threw a fit, her mother pulled her off by herself. When they worked on a mat-weaving project, she did fine. At one point she got up and ran, but her dad caught up."
After the meeting, a troop co-leader called Magi's parents and told them not to bring Magi back because of "her behavior and their concern for the safety of the other girls."
I'm certainly sympathetic to the situation that Magi's parents find themselves in. Still, as I was reading this story, I couldn't help but wonder if there was another side to it.
After discussing this matter on my radio program yesterday (including speaking to Magi's mom, Michelle), I received a lengthy e-mail from the parent of another girl in the troop who was present at the meeting that Magi attended. According to this second mom, she submitted her letter to the newspaper in response to Laurel Walker's column but was told that it would not be published because it was too long.
One of the great things about the so-called "New Media" though is that we're not confined to 200 words or less. Therefore in the interest of promoting my own personal "Fairness Doctrine", here's the e-mail I received from Christine Lisiak of Oconomowoc:
"As with many things in life, there are either two or three sides to a story. In many cases, there is Party A’s side, Party B’s side and somewhere in between there is the truth. Rarely, there are just two sides to a story. Oddly enough, this may be one of those situations.
It is unfortunate that Magi’s parents have decided to use the media as a means to publicly discuss their daughter’s diagnosis of autism and how they think it relates to a Girl Scout troop created for girls with special needs. What they hope to gain from this could have been accomplished by a more practical, honest, and less public means.
As a parent to one of the girls in the Troop, I would like to clear the air and provide an impartial perspective on this incident. Due to my daughter’s medical issues, myself or my husband stay with her in case an emergency presents itself. Therefore, I was at the meeting. I am especially happy I attended this particular troop meeting as I was witness to the hour in question. I have a moral obligation to defend my daughter, her friends and our wonderful troop leaders. The “special needs” troop was created because there was a desire to have a “safe place” for the girls while encouraging them to participate in Girl Scouts. While my daughter is the only girl in the troop without a physical handicap, she does have a significant medical condition where she needs to be in a “safe” environment and with people that can pay close attention to her in case she were to have a seizure and injure herself. With that said, I would also mention that the other three girls in the troop do have physical disabilities which put them in a position where they all rely on the predictability of their surroundings. All the girls depend on adults to make sure they are safe and comfortable. With that, I have put my trust in the troop leaders to provide safety and care for my daughter. I will continue to put that trust in them as I stand by their decision of notifying the Klages family that this troop was not the most appropriate troop for Magi, or for that matter, any other child that would possibly endanger one of the girls.
I would also like to dispel some of the inaccurate statement that the Klages’ have shared publically. I can’t begin to understand what it would be like to care for a child with an autism spectrum disorder. I can understand that a child with such a diagnosis may have difficulty coping with a new environment. My daughter has difficulty adapting to new environments as well. But simply put, the actions of Magi posed a physical threat to the fragile lives of the girls in the troop. I wonder if the Klages ever once asked about the nature or severity of the other girl’s disabilities. I do know that one of the troop leaders told the family at the meeting that her daughter had brittle bone disease. Did it ever cross the Klages minds what the ramifications would be if the unpredictability of their daughter’s actions were to have injured the young girl who has brittle bone disease? Furthermore, if your son/daughter had brittle bone disease, a debilitating disease, would you knowingly keep them in an environment that was possibly life-threatening?
To add to this challenging story is that the parents were not honest and forthcoming with the severity of their daughter’s disability. As a matter of fact, it was my understanding that when we were told another family was thinking of having their daughter visit our troop, a troop with enrolled members that already had met a few times to see what the troop was like, we didn’t learn anything about Magi. We didn’t learn anything about Magi because the troop leaders weren’t given any substantial information about Magi themselves, even though it was requested. The family was very vague. This was not fair to the troop leaders or the parents in determining if they should allow their daughter to be in an environment where an injury could occur. On the other hand, the troop leaders were forthcoming with the Klages in identifying that most of the girls had severe physical handicaps.
On several occasions, Magi acted like a typical girl in an unfamiliar environment. On several occasions, either the mother or the father needed to run after Magi or intervene in other ways. On several occasions, the way in which the family tried to “influence” Magi’s behavior was overwhelming to the other children.
Regardless of whether or not there are two sides to this story or a third side, somewhere in the middle, there is more to this story than meets the eye. It is clearly unfortunate that the media failed to do their due diligence to understand more about the story and that there are several lives at risk. It is not simply someone who is discriminating against this child with autism. It comes down to this: Two troop leaders were very concerned about all the girls’ health issues. Two troop leaders realized that if a girl in their troop was injured at the troop house, it would inevitably result in a visit to the Emergency Room, permanent damage, or even become a life-threatening situation. And finally, two troop leaders who have a desire to provide a safe environment for girls who can’t protect themselves in the same way as other kids can.
I would also like to mention that the 17 year old boy who became an Eagle Scout should not even be compared to Magi. Individuals diagnosed with Autism can suffer from a wide range of symptoms at varying degrees of severity. Some children fall on one end of the spectrum and others fall someplace else. Making assumptions and comparisons along with accusations made without research is a very bold and daring move on the part of the Klages family and the Journal/Sentinel.
Proud parents of a Girl Scout Brownie,
Gregory and Christine Lisiak"
For what's it's worth, I've also heard from others who have personal knowledge of the situation who feel that the Girl Scouts are not getting a fair shake in all this.
I don't claim to know what the right thing to do in a situation like this is. If (and I say "if") the behavior of one child is such that it interferes with the ability of the other four children to fully participate in the activity, do those four children have rights as well?
In any event, at least you now know that there are two sides to this story.