Friday, May 21, 2010

Doing the Best He Can

No week is easy with T., though they have a certain amusing rhythm, but this one just kinda sucked.

I've written often about T.'s ability to bond, which is extraordinary in a child with his background. He has a strong capacity (and even longing) for intimacy at home. Building and maintaining that bond is a first priority for us. It can make life at home a lot of fun. However, when we're all out in the world going about our daily business, outside our family life, things get messy. T.'s ability to bond does not extend to adults outside his most intimate circle.

This shows up in a pattern of defiance at school and he has conflicts with every male teacher he's encountered in the time I've known him. For a hurt child with PTSD whose been through 16 homes, school is a horror shop of noise, chaos, inconsistent authority, lax structure, social anxiety and occasional threats of physical violence.

His vulnerability does not, of course, manifest as such. It shows up as what I call peacock behavior - busting out the colors. The first time I attended his parent/teacher conference, I hardly recognized the kid that some of his teachers were describing - a defiant show off who pushes buttons. Then I realized that the teachers who describe this "other" T are all men, and tend to be the ones whose approach to discipline is to challenge him in front of other kids or threaten punishment they don't necessarily deliver. They trigger his most difficult behaviors. He doesn't even know what's happening - they set off a physical, limbic reaction in him.

All this leaves T. in a highly stressed state much of the time and he self-medicates by smoking - marijuana when he can get it, and it appears one can readily purchase it in the hallway between classes. The school is so short-staffed that lunch and break periods have turned into an anarchic sort of bazaar of vices. (And this high school is in the top 3 in the entire county.) So we are addressing that too, and it kicks his already tenuous situation at school up a whole other notch.

None of this is new, and we were more or less prepared for this when we started this whole journey. And I love him so much through it all. The thing I'm learning is that it's necessary to settle in to the rhythm of it - to stop responding to the drama and turmoil of the school week as a series of crises and just accept that it's where we are right now. I need to be a fierce advocate but I also need to maintain the endurance to advocate for him for a long time, so I need to weed out any desperation or self-deception that creep in. That's essential to my own well-being, of course. But achieving that resilience is also necessary in order to show him that we accept where he's at right now, and while we insist on a few really important rules and expectations, we never, ever change our minds about him. That's hard to do when you're exhausted.

Mary the Mom turned me on to a writer who said something so memorable. "Assume that the child is doing the best he can." To be honest, some days, I recite that to myself and think "Oh wow, really?" And he is. He absolutely is. He gets up and goes to school every day and mostly goes to his classes and he either gets As or Fs. He frequently acts out such that he is nailed for "cleanup in lieu of suspension" which in my book means "let the troubled kids substitute for janitorial staff because we don't really want to deal with them." And this is the best he can do right now. So my job is to talk to continue to get him to therapy, to talk to his counselors and the principals and vice principals and deans and teachers and try to work out the right equation for him so "the best he can do" can eventually grow just a little bit better.

We have an upcoming summit that we requested with one of the vice principals and his counselor. His intellect needs to be fed and challenged, and his anxiety needs to be soothed. He ought to be in a special school for kids with unusual emotional needs and behavioral challenges. He needs teachers who are cognizant that they are dealing with a CHILD, not a man, and that he will give back what he sees reflected in their eyes. Finding that in a large urban public high school system is tough.


Anonymous said...

If you have not already done so, read Lost at School by Dr. Ross Greene. You will love it. "Kids do well when they can." :)

GB's Mom said...

I so hear you. Keep on fighting the good fight.

SRR said...

"Assume that the child is doing the best he can"

I love that quote. Best wishes finding a good school placement. We were able to find one like you describe within our public schools and it was wonderful for her. So they do exist in some places.

marythemom said...

OK so who was the writer?!

Keep looking for some alternatives within the school system. The program we got Bear into was a HUGE secret. You are his greatest advocate.

Ever since I saw "The Blind Side" I can't stop picturing T as Big Mike (that would make you Julia Roberts). LOL


Lisa said...

I highly agree with getting T into a school for emotionally disturbed kids. I did that for my son and it made everything so much easier. He didn't use up all his energy at school trying to keep it together, so he had energy to invest when he got home. I suggest if he is able to get into an SED school, maybe he could take some classes at a community college to challenge his intellect and give him a taste of what education is supposed to be like.

Best wishes,


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