Ukeru Systems Gave Us Hope

By Tharen Koelsch

Like many other families with a disabled child, our journey has been a very difficult one. The abrupt and unexpected diagnosis, unplanned adaptations to our lives as well as the continued struggle to try and find any resemblance of the word “normal,” it’s not for the faint of heart. Yet, despite the challenges, there are huge moments of love, success and empowerment. For both me and my daughter, Grafton and the Ukeru Systems method totally changed our lives.

As a former preschool teacher and director at a children’s gym, I have spent nearly two decades dedicated to the care and teaching of children. When thrusted into the unknown environment of special education, however, I had to rely on others. I accepted seclusion as part of the education system, a method of using solitary confinement for my then elementary school child. I am one who tries not to believe in regret – any mistake is a lesson for me, and it has led me to the person I am today. Yet, looking back at that moment, now etched in my memory, I wonder what our lives would have been had that not been our path.

When COVID closed schools in March of 2020, my daughter suddenly began to hit her IEP goals, some that had been in place for years. Her aggressive behaviors, mostly observed at school, were nearly gone. As I eventually pulled her to homeschool when I foresaw virtual learning being a recipe for disaster, I saw more growth. So, when given the opportunity to enroll at a Grafton school, I was terrified for us both as we entered those doors again.

My fears were completely unwarranted. I finally felt at ease when my daughter was in a school setting; no constant stream of phone calls, no daily behavior notes, and finally, for both of us, no more tears in pain or frustration. Goals continued to be reached, or at least constant documented growth towards them. Funny anecdotes came home from school, and I finally felt others were seeing the hilarious child that I knew and loved. Despite her lack of speech related to her hearing loss, she was always smiling and talking and hugging those entrusted with her care.

In the midst of her healing, I found my own. I fully feel that seclusion should not be deemed that, as it sounds like such a soft welcoming place when it, more often than not, isn’t the case. I needed to show others that the soft pads utilized by the Ukeru Systems to protect teachers and students should be in every school. I enrolled in the parent training class, learning exactly how the system is used, as well as how I can adapt it at home if needed. In my opinion, the constant use of solitary confinement was traumatic to my daughter, and certain instances trigger flashbacks to where my daughter’s little body was in true survival mode. Her small brain did really think she had to physically fight for her life. I will not shy away from the fact that she has had physical behaviors at home, but she is now met with pillows or being placed in her room, like a “normal” child. There was a learning curve, and lots of discussions with those that know her best as we actively try and avoid those triggers. In her time with Grafton, however, she has not had one single instance of the pads being used for behaviors. To say Grafton and Ukeru Systems have saved both of our lives is not an understatement.

I had struggled with anxiety, high blood pressure and depression during the years of seclusions. I felt like a failure, both as a parent, and then as a teacher as well. If I couldn’t “fix” my child, how could I be a success with other children in their education? Entering the Grafton school, and other factors related to my daughter’s time in public schools, however, I realized it was the systems in place, accepted for decades or even longer, of how to treat children like mine. The systems needed a change, not the children. It was a basic lesson any good teacher or leader will tell you; if multitudes in your care are struggling, you change yourself, don’t expect others to change. I finally had found my place in the world, speaking up for my little child who couldn’t do it for herself. My life’s purpose and passion has been discovered, and I am still working on doing all I can to help change the outdated systems. And for this mom who has had issues with keeping her mouth shut stretching all the way back to high school, it seems quite fitting.

I fully believe Ukeru Systems should be in place in every school setting, as well as in residential homes and other settings for the disabled. I hope to one day see it come to fruition, as again, for those that have had their rights taken away, exemplified by lawsuits and state and federal investigations into seclusions, it will take time for them to heal. It really does only take one person, though, to set off a chain reaction leading to true change; one teacher or parent speaking up, one principal or one school board member putting their foot down can make amore hopeful future for these children.

I’m just a mother, happy to have a new look on life now, and Grafton and Ukeru Systems helped me find it.

Tharen Koelsch

Writer & Grafton Parent