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

I finally hit send!

Please forgive me for being blunt, but as I look at Bear’s declining grades and spotty attendance over the last semester, send yet another e-mail and 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.

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 I would like to have 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 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 : ISS, detentions, shadowing…
· Changes to IEP – Adding functional goals and life skills, chunking assignments - requiring breaking down large projects into smaller ones...
· Transition: Stepping up on helping Bear find new career/ life goals
· Summer School
· Special Ed bus

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 to sign to that effect, but when he doesn’t turn the project in, he’s told he can have an extension (although he might lose 10 points for each day late). 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. [Should his IEP say that Bear is unable to handle long-term projects? An 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 didn’t work on the project at all until last night, would probably have gotten him a good grade if I hadn’t let his teacher know.]

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 65). He’s learned that it’s only the final score that matters, and "creative accounting" means that will be a 70.

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, everyone’s bikes that he “fixed” until they were ruined… but that’s not your problem).

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 session 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.

He’s definitely learned that school attendance is not important, tardies are no big deal, and if you 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.

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

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 and threatening to take it to Dr. C (the school superintendent) when he realized no one was going to change anything, because they didn't believe him.

He learned that stealing, statutory rape, and taking drugs, tobacco, gang paraphernalia and weapons to school, are 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 or would require a thorough investigation, in which case it’s usually set aside and forgotten by the school.

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 the [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 is willing to hurt someone and/or do whatever it takes to get there?

Let me be clear. 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: I believe that you are failing in your duty to provide Bear with an individualized appropriate education while keeping him and his fellow students safe.

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: He has clearly stated he would not report someone with plans to blow up a public building (like a school). He was caught taking a very realistic air gun to school, and told the police he intended to trade it for drugs. 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.

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).

Everyone keeps it a big secret from Bear that he’s “not normal.” This means he 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.” If Bear believes, and thinks most people believe 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. Bear has brain damage. It will not go away, but with help from those involved with him and hard work and motivation on his part he can become a functioning adult.

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! He needs the structure, rules and support that [SPECIAL SCHOOL FOR EMOTIONALLY DISTURBED STUDENTS] gave him to feel safe. 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.

Over the Christmas holidays, we decided that we 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. Bear lost his motivation (getting good grades and doing well so he could get into the support of the military and do well there). This loss of motivation and identity sent Bear into the tailspin that he is in now. His grades dropped from As and Bs to Ds and Fs. He began skipping school regularly and became even less concerned about being tardy. Instead of helping him find new goals and motivators, you have allowed him to fall through the cracks.

He’s 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 18. However, 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 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 the parents be notified?

He is also being told by everyone that he can take care of himself in the real world. This is a kid who doesn’t even know what a resumé is! He cannot fill out a job application. He cannot fill out a medical background questionnaire. He has no job skills. He thinks he is capable of working full-time, supporting himself, graduating high school, and going to college. 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 will need to go to junior/community college first. He will need a lot of help, but because of his issues he cannot ask for or accept that help, especially from us, his parents. How is he going to support himself at age 17, 18 while attending school full-time?

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.

We strongly suggest you support and encourage Bear to stay home, because upon running away from home, it is unlikely his first priority, or that of those he finds to live with, will be making sure he correctly takes his meds for the “labels” (diagnoses) he is convinced he doesn’t have. 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. This 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 an [BEHAVIOR PROGRAM] staff member observed what might have been Bear pocketing his mid-day meds.

Who’s going to help him fill those 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? Not us. He won’t let us.

Bear has been skipping lunch to avoid detention and being “trapped” in the cafeteria unable to wander. He uses this unsupervised time to work out in the weight room, hang out in the ROTC hallway, play with the equipment in shop, and who knows what else.

Bear has money on his lunch card. We do not give Bear “pocket” money (although he is very much an entrepreneur and is frequently seen with sugary snacks and drinks). He avoids the cafeteria (to be free to wander) so he is not eating lunch and his meds (if he's taking them) are not as effective on an empty stomach. He has also been observed gorging himself on sweets and drinking caffeinated beverages which can also effect his behavior.

Bear does not have a driver’s license, nor do we intend to help him get one any time soon because he is obviously not capable of handling the skills and responsibilities needed to operate a potentially deadly piece of machinery. 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 (which he’d need to be able to handle to get a job to earn money for a car), and he cannot be trusted not to use the car for illegal, immoral and unsafe purposes. This means he must ride the bus. Bear takes a special-ed. bus because he was not safe on the general-ed. bus. He misses this 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.

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 on his bellybutton or lift his shorts up even an inch - let alone what he claims is under his jeans, shorts, and boxers). I strongly suggest that you see if any of the girls he’s been hanging around with lately that skipped class at that time and have poison oak --you might want to talk to them or their parents about personal health and safety issues.

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

Bear is not getting the education he needs and deserves. He is under-supervised and is a danger to himself and others. HE NEEDS HELP. WE NEED HELP. Please contact me when you’re ready to address this. ###.###.####.



Struggling to Stand 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. 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.