This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Friday, May 21, 2010

What My Child Learned From Not Getting Consequences in School

Forgive me for being blunt, but at the end of Bear's junior year in high school as I look at Bear’s declining grades and spotty attendance over the last semester, send yet another e-mail, leave yet another unreturned message with the Associate Principal and [BEHAVIOR PROGRAM] office, talk to yet another counselor or [BEHAVIOR PROGRAM] Aide, talk to yet another teacher about major projects Bear hasn’t even worked on… knowing that none of my repeated requests for assistance with Bear’s steadily declining behavior are being addressed, especially now that there’s little more than a week of school left… I’m feeling a little FRUSTRATED to say the least. I am therefore officially requesting an immediate IEP meeting.

In my discussion on May 19 with the principal, Ms. D, she asked what I think would help Bear. Here are my suggestions for what needs to be discussed at the upcoming IEP meeting (in no particular order):
  • · Bear’s continuing absences and tardies
  • · Bear’s failing grades / subjects
  • · Bear’s return to the security and structure of [SPECIAL SCHOOL FOR EMOTIONALLY DISTURBED STUDENTS]
  • · Increase in supervision - escorting to and from the bus and when leaving classroom and between classes. Supervised lunch period (currently he wanders the halls rather than going in the lunch room where he'll be "trapped").
  • · Setting up effective discipline techniques and follow through : ISS (In School Suspension), detentions, shadowing…
  • · Changes to IEP – Adding functional goals and life skills, chunking assignments (breaking down large projects into smaller ones)...
  • · Transition Planning: Helping Bear find new, realistic career/ life goals and work toward the skills needed to achieve these goals
  • · Summer School
  • · Special Ed bus
[This is where I included a long list of "What My Son Learned from Not Getting Consequences at School" in this email. If I had it to do again, I would not have included this list in this email of things I wanted discussed at his next IEP meeting. It was mostly venting on my part. 

I am including the list at the end of this post, because it is important information that needed to be brought to the attention of the school, but not in a call-to-action email, and probably written in a completely different format that was more constructive rather than emotional and venting, which was unlikely to give us the desired effect (and in truth, did not).]

Do you realize… that the things you are teaching my emotionally disturbed son are helping him get to jail much faster, where he will finally get the structure and rules he NEEDS to feel safe which he hasn’t been able to get at [Bear’s high school]?

Do you realize… the liability of keeping a child in your school, without vigilant supervision, who has openly stated that he WANTS to be in a structured, safe environment, like [Off Campus Detention] full of all the kids getting caught with drugs, fighting, violent... the "bad" kids that can teach Bear lots of fun stuff!, and that he is willing to hurt someone and/or do whatever it takes to get there?

LEGALLY YOU MUST PROVIDE F.A.P.E. (Free Appropriate Public Education) 
Let me be frank. I do not approve of what you are "teaching him."  I do not think he should be allowed to continue on this path until he graduates to behaviors you can’t ignore or he drops out of school. Let me be even MORE clear: You are failing in your legal duty to provide Bear with an individualized appropriate education while keeping him and his fellow students safe!

No matter how much you want it to be true and pretend that he is, Bear is not "normal."  He has very little conscience or impulse control, and if he thinks he won’t get caught or that his actions are justified he makes choices that have the potential to be lethal.
 For example:

  •  Over the summer, he was caught taking a very realistic air gun to school, and told the police he intended to trade it for drugs. He was kicked out of summer school, but had no other consequences!  {He was taking a remedial math tutorial so he could pass the standardized math test, he'd already failed twice. He failed it again, but was promoted to the next grade anyway!} 
  •  He has taken drugs to school with the obvious intent to sell them. He very clearly does not understand that not taking his meds and trading/selling them to others can have lethal consequences (for himself and others) due to the types of meds and the dosages he takes. The school administrator was informed, but I was told that since no one saw the drugs (they refused to search him at the time), there was "nothing they could do." 
  • He has left campus unsupervised with a female student and got poison oak on parts of his body normally covered by underwear (you can figure out what he was most likely doing at the time). The school took no action. Not even trying to figure out which student it was to warn her parents. 
  • He threatened a special ed student (while she was in class and in front of the teacher) and demanded her car keys (basically stole her car). He does not have a driver's license or even a permit!! He drove several other students off campus (all of them skipping class) and had an accident at a nearby Sonic (drive-in fast food place). The school said they would follow up with the campus police and press charges for terroristic threat for what happened in the classroom, but nothing came of it. They assigned Saturday detention for skipping class, but when he didn't go, there were no follow up consequences.
  • Despite repeated thefts of property belonging to the school and other students, the school has done nothing more than a few half-hearted attempts to discover who the property belonged to to return it. There were no other consequences. 
  • Stood out of sight of school cameras and taunted and scuffled with another student until the student "started" a fight with Bear (which Bear made sure was on camera). Despite the testimony of all the other students as to what he did, there were no consequences given to Bear for fighting, because "the other kid started it."
  • Accused a student from another campus of coming on to Bear's high school campus to beat Bear up (over a dispute about a girl). Bear claimed he was hiding in the woods to avoid the boy, and that's why he skipped class and missed the bus home. When I finally found him, he was roughed up and claimed the boy had found him. We called the police and Bear gave a report (yes, we suspected Bear was lying, and warned Bear that there were very serious consequences to making false accusations). The school did go to the effort of discovering that Bear was in the school Shop the whole time messing around with the equipment and tools (the shop teacher noticed that he was there at one point, but did nothing about it). There were no consequences from the police (neither the on campus or regular police, both of which were informed about what actually happened). The shop teacher told Bear he was "disappointed" in Bear and he was not to be allowed in Shop without supervision (this was not enforced).
  •  In addition to other, sociopathic actions, Bear has clearly stated he would not report someone with plans to blow up a public building (like a school). 


The school has repeatedly stated that Bear should not be told he cannot join the military or police.

Over the Christmas holidays, we (his parents) decided that we and the school had exhausted all possibilities of getting Bear to choose a different career path than the military or police, and finally told him the truth – that he was not eligible for service because of his psychiatric history and medications.

This should have been done years ago when Bear was still in middle school to give him time in high school to focus on vocational skills better suited to his abilities.  Instead of helping him find new, realistic goals and motivators, you have allowed him to fall through the cracks.

Bear is told by the school that he can take care of himself in the real world and is college material. 
  • He doesn’t even know what a resumé is! 
  • He cannot fill out a job application
  • He cannot fill out a medical history questionnaire. 
  • He has no job skills
  • He has only basic math skills.
  • He doesn't understand money, budgeting, banking, taxes...
  • His Independent Living skills are practically non-existent. 

Who’s going to help him how to fill medication prescriptions? Who is going to teach him how to apply for and maintain all the Medicaid paperwork? Who’s going to pay for his meds if he loses Medicaid (over $1000 a month)? What about when his Medicaid runs out when he turns 19? Someone has to do it and he won’t let us.

Transition Meetings
During Transition Meetings, Bear's skills and abilities are never mentioned. He's allowed to set and work toward unrealistic goals. He thinks he is capable of working full-time, supporting himself, graduating high school, and going to college.

He doesn't know how to study and has never even had homework. He receives many, many accommodations in high school that wouldn't be available elsewhere and is not really successful there. As a special education student with limited capabilities due to his documented brain injuries causing significant memory issues, among other things, and multiple diagnosed mental illnesses. Why is he being told that college (or even trade school) is even an option?!

Academics aside, without these skills and abilities, how would he even support himself in school? He is eligible for college scholarships because of his Native American heritage and his time in foster care; however as a special education student he would need to go to years of junior/community college first. He would need a lot of help, but because of his issues, he cannot ask for or accept that help, especially from us, his parents, and he doesn't have the skills needed to apply for help on his own.


Bear won’t graduate high school until he’s almost 19 (assuming he makes it that far). Knowing that he is at extreme risk for dropping out, his IEP must include some functional goals and life skills so he can at least have a hope of getting a job and taking care of himself.

Also, Bear's IEP should say that he is unable to handle long-term projects.
Example: He has a major project in World History due, that if he fails to turn it in will take him from a 96 to failing. He manipulated his Grandmother into sculpting an art piece for him that, despite the fact that he hasn't done or turned in any of the required steps (like proposed topic, thesis statement, rough draft...) and the sculpture didn't actually meet the assignment requirements, would probably have gotten him a good grade if I hadn’t let his teacher know. He needs his assignments "chunked," broken down into steps that are individually turned in and graded (with accountability), rather than be expected to be organized enough to do this on his own.

We strongly suggest you support and encourage Bear to live at home and take his medications while in school, because without the structure provided by us, he will not have the support he needs to graduate. He has already stated that he plans to stop taking his meds when he leaves our home (he doesn't believe he has the "labels"/diagnoses so sees no need for meds).

In addition to the fact that going off his meds suddenly can kill him, go back and look at Bear’s 7th grade records if you want to know what he was like when he wasn’t on the correct meds and dosages. His out of control behavior then is how he qualified for [SPECIAL SCHOOL FOR EMOTIONALLY DISTURBED STUDENTS] and 7 months of residential treatment (not to mention the legal justice system).

 Are you aware of the liability of a 5’9” 220lb angry child who is raging and out of control because he is off his anti-psychotic medications?
Recently a [BEHAVIOR PROGRAM] staff member mentioned to me that he'd observed what he believed was Bear pocketing his mid-day meds. This type of thing needs to be followed up on and reported!

Bear has been skipping lunch to avoid detention and being “trapped” in the cafeteria [once they enter, students are not allowed to leave the cafeteria during lunch time]. He uses this unsupervised time to work out in the weight room, hang out in the ROTC hallway, play with the equipment in shop, steal things from other students and the school, and who knows what else.

Bear has been allowed to avoid the cafeteria (to be free to wander) so he is not eating lunch and his meds (assuming he's even taking the ones at lunch time) are not as effective on an empty stomach. He has also been observed gorging himself on sweets and drinking caffeinated beverages which can also affect his behavior. He has money on his lunch card and we do not give him sack lunches or “pocket” money (although he is very much an entrepreneur and is frequently seen with sugary snacks and drinks), so he should be eating in the cafeteria.

He needs to be supervised getting on the bus. Bear takes a special-ed. bus because he was not safe on the general-ed. bus. He misses the bus often, requiring a family member to come pick him up. He does this whenever he wants to do something after school or just hang out with his friends.

Bear is not capable of handling the skills and responsibilities needed to operate a potentially deadly piece of machinery. He does not have a driver’s license, nor do we intend to help him get one any time soon because he cannot be trusted to be where he is supposed to be when he is supposed to be there, cannot be trusted with money, cannot be trusted out of direct supervision, and he cannot be trusted not to use the car for illegal, immoral and unsafe purposes. This means he must ride the bus.

We are extremely concerned that while we are able to supervise him fairly closely here at home, he is unsupervised for significant periods of time at school, and this could be endangering other students. Bear manipulates others and is incapable of having healthy relationships. I know he tends to prey on students, especially girls, with issues like his own (like those in most of his classes). He has enticed others into joining him in risky behaviors (skipping class, being unsupervised in the shop classroom, going off campus in a "borrowed" car driven by him (an unlicensed driver), fighting...).

If he is allowed to be with others unsupervised, you are leaving yourselves open to a wide variety of liabilities.

By the way, the case of Poison Oak he got when he skipped class on Monday was in some places on his body that are usually never exposed by my son - who wears at least 3 layers of clothing at all times (he wouldn’t even let the doctor see the rash - he would raise his shirt to show the rash on his bellybutton or lift his shorts up even an inch - let alone what he claims is under his boxers. Luckily he was willing to remove his jeans and the doctor was able to diagnose him from the small amount of rash showing below his shorts). I strongly suggest that you see if any of the girls he’s been hanging around with lately that also skipped class at that time have poison oak --You might want to talk to them or their parents about personal health and safety issues (like using condoms).

Bear has learned that accusing staff of things like sexual harassment and discrimination can get him what he wants. Staff need to be warned to document any discipline, consequences, or unusual behavior to protect themselves. I also strongly advise never being alone one on one with him.

While at [SPECIAL SCHOOL FOR EMOTIONALLY DISTURBED STUDENTS], staff was constantly saying that he shouldn’t be there because he was doing so well, but the truth is that’s why he was doing so well! To feel safe, Bear needs the structure, rules and support that [SPECIAL SCHOOL FOR EMOTIONALLY DISTURBED STUDENTS] gives him.

When Bear does not feel safe his focus becomes totally on controlling his world until he achieves that security. It is as if he is in a overwhelming, loud, terrifying active war zone all the time. Imagine trying to focus on and learn math while under direct enemy fire.

Obviously he is not receiving the education (FAPE) he is entitled to under these circumstances. 

Bear has brain damage. It will not go away, but with help from those involved with him and encouraging hard work and motivation on his part he can become a functioning adult.

Bear is not getting the education he needs and deserves, despite the fact that the accommodations he needs are required by law (FAPE). He is under-supervised and is a danger to himself and others. HE NEEDS HELP. WE NEED HELP. 

Please contact me immediately to schedule an IEP meeting. 

Mary TheMom
[Contact Info]


No Consequences for Not Doing Schoolwork
Bear has thoroughly learned the lesson that as long as he turns in something, anything, eventually, whether he did the work himself or not - he will still pass. And even if he doesn’t pass there are no consequences.

 Bear has been told that late projects will not be accepted and even been given forms and contracts to sign to that effect, but when he doesn’t turn the project in, he’s told he can have an extension. He knows he is not held accountable for missing work, coming to class unprepared (if he shows up at all), and turning in major projects thrown together at the last minute (To protect the teacher, we did not share with the school the fact that she put him in a room with a student known to have a crush on him for him to "finish his project." Knowing full well that the girl would, and did, do the work for him).

He Can't Fail
He’s learned that he can coast on the good grades he earned last semester. He’s learned that teachers will not let him fail, especially if he’s “close” (i.e. pretty much anything above a 60). He’s learned that it’s only the final score that matters, and the teachers' "creative accounting" means that will be a 70 (passing).

Adults are Easily Manipulated
This year, ROTC taught him that he can talk someone into giving him extra credit and teachers will even go back and change a grade from the previous 6 weeks from a 40 something to passing. He’s apparently about to learn that if he loses his uniform and does nothing about it that his parents will have to pay the $250 and have no way of making him pay it back (he still owes money for the neighbor’s lawnmower that he borrowed and destroyed, not to mention our lawnmower, and everyone’s bikes and skates that he “fixed” until they were ruined… but that’s not your problem).

Grades and Standardized Testing Don't Matter
Last Summer, he learned the lesson that we can’t make him do any work in Summer School, and we can’t even make him ATTEND Summer School (the high school holding Summer school that year didn’t bother to tell us that he wasn’t showing up and even during the part he attended, he couldn’t have done much or his grade would have been higher than a 30 something). He’s also learned that it doesn’t matter if he fails Summer School or the TAKS test{State Standardized Testing}, he still gets promoted to the next grade. This of course was most significant in 8th grade when he was promoted to high school after failing the Math TAKS 3 times. He has continued to fail the Math TAKS every year since.

No One Cares if You Don't Show Up
He’s definitely learned that school attendance is not important, tardies are no big deal, and if someone makes you mad or you just don’t like a class, teacher, or students, you have every right to get up and walk out. If you get caught, then you get to hang out with and enjoy the full attention of a male person (usually the AP) who listens and cares. If you get detention and don't show up, nobody does anything about it.

Detention is Fun
He learned that the worst thing the school can do to him is detention, which probably won’t happen anyway. I was told several times he would receive detentions that he never received. Not only did this make us, as his parents, look stupid (or worse, like liars) to Bear for our warnings, but it also reinforced his belief that he’d “gotten away” with something.

He did get a few detentions, but by the time they were given, the actual offense(s) was forgotten (or justified in his head) and it was no longer about his poor choices, but was “our fault” he was in trouble (because we’d pushed for the consequence).

Bear actually enjoys detention (I’m not sure what the rules are, but I suspect that he manages to get around them). He gets attention from teachers and to hang out with other students, and he volunteers to help the teacher so they allow him to wander around. He never has homework, so the teachers have nothing for him to do.

There are also no consequences to skipping or missing detentions. We had to pull him early from a couple of detentions because he had therapy, and he was supposed to make up the time at lunch, but he learned how to avoid that too (if he didn’t go into the cafeteria no one could make him attend lunch detention).

He Can Control Adults
He’s also learned that adults are stupid, easily lied to and manipulated, and not to be trusted (that last part he already “knew,” but this has reinforced it).

Bear tries to be in total control of his part of the big, scary world. He’s learned he can even get adults to jump through hoops by accusing people of things like sexual harassment, and if they don’t get in trouble then it’s because they are liars who are “out to get him.”

The one consequence to Bear’s actions that he hates - was being escorted everywhere, but he feels he got that to stop by accusing Mr. P of sexual harassment. When he realized no one was going to change anything, because they didn't believe him, he threatened to complain to Dr. C (the school superintendent). He didn't have to, because the school stopped forcing him to be escorted.

Even Real Crimes Have No Consequences
He learned that stealing, statutory rape, fighting, and taking drugs, tobacco, gang paraphernalia and weapons to school, are all fine because no one will catch you.

Well, except Mom, who searches and investigates, but her findings don’t count at school. Even when caught red-handed by the school, he’s learned how to lie and manipulate the situation so that it can’t be resolved immediately and/or would require a thorough investigation, in which case it’s usually set aside and forgotten by the school.

He's "Normal," and Those Few Saying Otherwise Are "Out to Get Him"
Everyone keeps it a big secret from Bear that he’s not "normal.” This is not "helping his self-esteem," this is preventing him from learning how to cope with his disabilities.
Being told he's normal, means, Bear has no idea why he is put in places like [SPECIAL SCHOOL FOR EMOTIONALLY DISTURBED STUDENTS], has behavior staff following him, is unable to understand and control his emotions and behaviors, is in study skills class despite not having homework, and has “labels”/ diagnoses.

Therefore, he chooses to believe that people who say he needs this help are out to get him, or being mean, or lying to him. I do not believe you are going to be able to convince him that the labels are accurate, but he does not need to be lied to (even by omission) and have people reinforcing his belief that he is “normal.”

 The Consequences of Being Told He's Normal
If Bear believes, and thinks most people believe, that he is “normal,” then he has no motivation to do the very hard work of coping with, and hopefully healing, his issues, behavior and disabilities.

The inappropriate defense mechanisms, memory and learning issues, maladaptive coping methods, and inability to handle relationships appropriately that stem from his many diagnoses and traumatic childhood will continue intensifying and causing more and more severe problems for Bear and all who deal with him.

If you really think Bear is a “normal” teenage boy with “a few issues,” then you can keep telling him that, but I hope you truly understand the consequences (I know he doesn’t).

He Can Move Out at 17
Bear is hearing at school that he can move out at age 17 (in less than 2 months!). Texas legal code states that runaways MUST be physically returned home until they are 18However, I am aware that enforcement of this is often left to the discretion of the county, agency or department that finds them.

 Bear is being told by peers, school staff, and the SRO {police officer permanently assigned to the school} that no one will make him return home, and he shouldn’t have to put up with the strict supervision provided at home (despite the fact that he obviously needs it).

What is the school’s policy on runaways? Assuming he shows up to class will we be notified?


Anonymous said...

You know, if you change his name legally to "Bear", you wouldn't have to do so much search-and-replace before you post on your blog : )

marythemom said...

He he! Right before Bear's adoption he realized his sister changed her name and decided he should too. One of the names he considered was Bear. He also considered Pono. We decided he didn't have a good reason to change his first name. We made his birth last name his middle name since he was the last male with his birth last name and didn't want to lose it, but had said he wouldn't feel like part of the family until his last name was changed.

Find and replace wasn't a big deal for "Bear," but the acronym used by the special school is also a semi-common word, so when I hit search and replace it replaced ALL of the words, not just the school ones. I had to go back and find all the spots it replaced the wrong word.


Lulu McCabe said...

I love your blog! I am working on a post myself about school. And I was linking back to something you said once, months ago, and saw your recent writing about Bear. THANK YOU! I swear we're living in a parallel universe. I am going nuts trying to get the public school T. attends to recognize his need for a highly structured, safe environment that meets his behavioral needs. Instead they've taught him all the lessons you recount here - he can skip class, manipulate adults, etc. ANYWAY! Thanks for putting it all down. I'm gobsmacked sometimes that the child welfare system isn't held to account to do a better job with schooling options for traumatized kids and those with special emotional needs.

cshellz said...

wow...nicely said. And I really like how you reinforced that while he was supervised at home it's the schools job to supervise at school and what the lack of could mean to his future. I may need to borrow a few of your phrases for my school :)

Lulu McCabe said...

Oh, can I also add: like Bear, our kid ALSO wears no less than three layers of clothing at all times - jeans, shorts AND boxers, even when it's really hot. Who knew? You just made me feel so much less crazy.