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For Love of Bureaucracy

  • Posted on October 17, 2012 at 9:51 AM

As the mother of three children with special needs, I kill more than my fair of trees. Not by choice, mind you, but by necessity. In the United States, having children involves a lot of paperwork. When those children have special needs, then that paperwork seems to quadruple.

Along with the paperwork comes the need to navigate bureaucracy. I’m not ashamed to admit that I get tired of it. There’re only so many ridiculous forms you can ask me to sign before I lose my patience, and then my temper.

It’s pretty early in the school year, but I’ve already hit my mark. For those with a different experience, the first day of school in my area involves a long, snake-like line of paperwork. Some of it is electronic, but that does little to make it more bearable. In this long line, one of the last things was an off-hand request for updated vaccination information.

It had been a difficult summer and I didn’t know if Alex’s vaccinations were up to date. While there are those autism parents who are adamantly against vaccinations, I’m not one of them—I recognize that even though Willy regressed around the time of his vaccinations (18 months), he was clearly autistic before then, had we only known what to look for.

So, it’s not that I was against vaccinations; it was simply that I didn’t have time to take care of them nor was I sure that he was not up to date. Either way, it could wait until his check-up.

Nobody mentioned a deadline.

I heard nothing more about it until I received a letter from the school. Because I don’t open my mail immediately (with a few exceptions), the letter went into a pile. When I got to it, I read the request and saw that I wouldn’t be able to fit another appointment into my schedule, and didn’t think much more about it.

On the request was a waiver I could fill out. For religious reasons or for medical reasons—and I think there were one or two others—I could refuse to give my child the shots. All I had to do was sign. Except, I didn’t refuse. I just didn’t have time at the moment. So, I didn’t sign the waiver.

The week went by and I didn’t think anything about it. Until my husband got the call, that is. He had to wake me up, because I’d only gotten two hours of sleep the night before, and I had to get out of bed, get dressed, and get Alex from school. He wasn’t allowed to be there. If he were to stay, I would have to sign paperwork that wasn’t true. I hadn’t even verified that Alex hadn’t gotten his shots last year (since they’re usually done by age, not grade, and Alex is behind a year).

So, after a minor fuss, I took Alex home. Once the need for them was verified and the proper paperwork was signed, he was fine to go to school. Today he got his shots and the electronic paper trail can take over.

And that’s the thing that gets me. This paperwork has absolutely nothing to do with improved immunity or what-not. With so many exemptions, how was Alex and his non-vaccinated self a danger to anyone? There’s no current outbreak to protect him and others from. This was NOT urgent. Yet, Alex missed a day of school because our bureaucratic ducks weren’t in a perfect row and that’s just absurd.

And that sums up my “love” of bureaucracy: Rules are created that must make some sort of sense on paper when you’re the legislator on high, but make no actual, practical, real-world sense when you’re funneled through a system that is more concerned with paperwork than the original issue the paperwork is designed to address.