Wednesday, October 03, 2007

When a School Becomes a Mental Health Facility

One thing about teaching in a public school is that you get kids from all facets of society. You get kids who have two loving parents, and kids who have parents who would be hard pressed to give an accurate description of their child should he or she turn up missing. You have kids with clean clothing, and kids who are in desperate need of a bath and some clean laundry. Nice kids, mean kids, spoiled kids, ignored kids, abused kids, adored kids - you name it and we've probably seen a kid like that walk through our doors at one time or another.


I have never, in my life, seen so many kids with so many mental issues as I've seen this year.

We have a kid who proudly proclaims that he's on meds because he's bi-polar and that although he did threaten suicide last year and spent a week in a hospital, he's doing much better this year. He's not kidding, Mom has been very up front with us about his issues.

We have another kid, also bi-polar, who arrived with a supportive but overwhelmed mother and two inches of paperwork from the mental hospital she spent most of the summer with due to her suicide threats. This one has a problem with anger, authority, and generally dealing with life, and has already landed in alternative school. It's sad, because when she's doing well, she's a sweet kid who's actually quite smart, but when the demons take hold, watch out.

And then we got Scratchy Boy.

Scratchy Boy arrived two weeks ago and we support-teamed him that first day. We were his third school in six weeks. Mom moves a lot due to her job and now she and Scratchy are living with her current boyfriend. Scratchy hasn't been at any one school, here and in other states, for more than several months at a time. Consequently, he hasn't been anywhere long enough to get tested and identified as emotionally disturbed, and therefore isn't receiving any kind of help for his problems.

And he has problems. Oh, does he have problems.

The notes in his file were scary enough - "hears voices in his head", "damages property", "bangs head repeatedly on wall when frustrated", "violent outbursts" - quite honestly, it looked like we had the makings for schizophrenia on our hands.

He endeared himself to his classmates by rapidly running his hands back and forth across his head and screaming "It's snowing!" as the dandruff flew. He scratched and itched and scratched at flea bites so bad that we were sending him to the nurse twice a day to try to see if there was anything she could do to get him to stop scratching until he bled. He steals things from other children (and was a bit upset when I caught him in the act). He refuses to do any work whatsoever. None. Nada. He won't even put his name on a piece of paper. He will, however, hum, play with pens, draw his cartoons, tap his pencil, rock back and forth, mutter, kick at chairs and yell at tablemates for no reason whatsoever. (I have him sitting with the two most patient kids on earth, bless their hearts). Today he pulled his shirt up over his head, tucked his arms in to his side, and assumed a fetal position for most of class.

At least he was quiet.

This kid needs help. Badly. The other students pretty much leave him alone because, as one of them told me, "Scratchy is weird and he's scary." He's gaining nothing by being in our classrooms and he's certainly not getting any treatment for the demons that are attacking his mind. However, he has to be in our rooms, with our other students, until we go through the long and tedious process to get him tested and identified as emotionally disturbed so he can be placed in the ED unit and receive help.

I've seen this process take over six months.

I think it's criminal to put a kid like this in a regular ed classroom. He's receiving no benefit from being there - he needs drastic psychological help and he's not receiving it. He's disrupting the class and quite frankly, frightening some of the other kids in the room. Who's to say that one day his violent outbursts won't involve another student? What then? Do the other parents know that by law, until we get this kid identified, or until he ends up in jail or alternative school, he's there in the classroom with their kids?

And what is it about our society that we're seeing more and more of these kids walking through our doors?


nbosch said...

I don't envy classroom teachers these the pressures of making AYP are at their highest, special ed is emptying resource rooms and self contained classrooms back into the regular classroom. I keep thinking "perfect storm" and "tipping point". I wonder when parents of the regular every day kids are going to say " *&$#, no---this is not working!!"

Darren said...

To answer your last question, Mrs. Bluebird: I think it's the resurgence of liberal politics.


Ok, enough fun.

I have no idea why we're getting more of such kids, but I do know why they're showing up in our schools and not in an alternate placement like they would have been when I was in school. I think you know why, too.

EHT said...

Oh my dear.....I will pray for you.

In a class last year I had 3 violent students, 2 bi-polar, 3 autistic (all at varying levels of verbalization), 1 Aspergers, and 1 with Encopresis (sp) meaning that he does number 2 approximately 4 times daily in his pants. That's 10 students out of 24....

It was a rocking and rolling and smelly year.

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

I think Darren has a point. Whereas before, these kids would get treatment for their maladies in an appropriate placement, they now inhabit our classrooms, although for what purpose, I cannot imagine, since they certainly aren't being educated.

Nor is probably anyone else in the room, and we as teachers are powerless to do anything about it.

I certainly feel your pain.

Cheryl said...

It only takes 6 months to move them there? You're lucky.

ppsparent said...

I can't resist countering Darren's point. The "resurgence of liberal politics" which began exactly when?! I'm not sure how old this kid is, but the last 7 years of his life were doing a time of rampant conservatism, big government, big torture, big threats conservatism, egged on by Fox and radio personalities.

And all of those things? They are definitely scary and weird.

I do see a lot of parents online blogging about getting their kids diagnosed. Young kids. Kids that don't need to be labeled and diagnosed so early. I'm sure by the time those kids are well into school, they'll be on all sorts of medications and have many, many labels.

There's very little feeling out there for helping your kid learn the things that are hard for them and encouraging their strengths. Everyone has bought into the idea that someone else out there knows better, if only they can get that person to label and treat their child.

Not that *this* kid doesn't need a lot of treatment, but there's a lot of parents out there getting their kids diagnosed with everything. Kids that might have been a little weird, but perfectly within the bounds of ordinary.

Is there any way to get the mom to take him somewhere on her own? Can you talk to her about your concerns for his unhappiness, lack of friends, lack of continuous education and then slip her the numbers of community resources? The kid may be close to being a danger to himself or others. And the flea bites? Child and Youth services?

A Parent said...

I had to respond because your description sounds so much like the way that many of my son's teachers have seen him, especially during early elementary school.

My son does have bipolar disorder, a diagnosis that took several years to arrive at. He also has some bona fide learning disabilities--which also took a long time to clarify.

On the other hand, although I am a single parent, my homelife has been exceedingly stable over my son's lifetime. Although we haven't moved, the longest that he attended any one school prior to sixth grade was 2 years. Only once did I initiate a move, and that was the only time that he started a new school at the beginning of the school year. All of the others were mid-year, most preceded by some very ugly refusals to carry out plans, lots of demands to come pick him up during the school day, suspensions, etc. Only one move included any transitioning.

Every school that "got rid of him" promised that there was a special program that would get him the help that he needed. Mostly that was not the case. Generally the receiving school/program was not very happy to get him (especially when it happened after all the suspension days were used up).

One of the things that did NOT help was teachers/schools who wanted to do an end run around IDEA by determining in advance was the least restrictive placement was (anywhere but here) and refusing to follow through on any interventions that might succeed without moving there.

Early on, he had one teacher who was really very helpful, thoughtful, and willing to creatively problem solve. She was not well supported (one of the problems with placing kids in regular ed, is that somehow the supportive personnel are never assigned to make that work) and I am sorry to say carried far more than her load. It sounds like this is the case for Ms. Bluebird.

I do wish that we could get the unions, or somebody, on the side of moving appropriate supports out of the resource rooms. I have never understood how it is supposed to be helpful to any kind of learning to throw together all of the kids with all kinds of disabilities across several grades. My experience is that it's very difficult for teachers to manage much beyond worksheets. Never mind that these are the places least likely to have appropriately certified teachers.

My son has had very stable and normal behavior for number of years now, thanks to medication and outside counseling. I don't know if he will ever recover, however, from the loss of education during his early years, or the emotional effects of being removed from so many educational settings.