Thursday, March 10, 2011

Just Words

After the massive meltdown I described in my last post, things moved rather quickly. We got an intake appointment with a cognitive behavioral therapy program specializing in child trauma, and we also got T into an alternative school that seems like it's going to be a really good place for him.

The principal of the new school took the kids on an orientation tour. She showed them the restrooms and explained that they are a) safe, b) extremely clean and c) always locked, only to be unlocked by a hall monitor when you have been officially excused for a break. This sounds like a small thing, but for complicated kids coming from a large urban high school where the bathrooms are a shadowy setting for drug deals, gang graffiti and filth, this is a big deal. Safety is everything to kids like T, as are clear rules and calm enforcement.

The principal also explained that the teachers have all been instructed never to agitate the kids, to find something positive to say in every interaction, and to call the parents whenever there is a disciplinary issue. She explained that she never suspends kids from school (hallelujah - I have been incensed by "trash cleanup in lieu of suspension" at the old school, which seems to turn at-risk kids into unpaid janitors). Classes have no more than ten kids, sometimes fewer.

I'm also grateful for the child trauma therapy program we found (and for the advice of people who commented on my last blog post who helped me clarify what we were looking for). We had a two-and-a-half hour intake interview. In layman's terms, I feel like this therapy program is hardcore. I appreciate their clear focus on core trauma, over behavioral symptoms.

I feel good about all this. I feel we have tapped into options that have been set up by knowledgeable people to help meet the extraordinary needs of kids like T. I commented to my mom today that I don't feel hopeful, per se; hope would suggest being attached to a particular desired outcome. I try to stay very aware that we are not trying to "fix" anything. Instead, I feel satisfied--that we are doing the best we can, that we are seeking out environments where T has the opportunity to develop and evolve, and that there are people out there who understand kids like him. In a weird way, we have achieved the only desired outcome we ever really had, which was for T to have a home with people who love and understand him, and to feel sufficiently secure that he can begin to sort out his past and define himself (which is no doubt going to continue to be a very messy and occasionally frightening process).

I realized through all this that I have been somewhat deferential to some of the professionals we've encountered along our path, and that T benefits when I am a loud, proud, assertive, knowledgeable advocate. I am reminded of Advocate Mom and her binder. Although I am an advocate mom myself, I have sometimes allowed the counselors and social workers we deal with to minimize or ignore his needs, leap to conclusions or recommend hasty solutions without paying enough attention to his abuse history. I thought that they knew better than I did, and to be honest, I also feared that they would judge me unfit in some way. His behavior can be very difficult, especially in public, and I can fall into an attitude of begging forgiveness for his misdeeds. In addition, becoming his parent has involved an obstacle course of home inspections, certifications, and other bureaucratic intrusions, and on some level, I reacted to that scrutiny with a certain defensiveness.

I am reborn after the last few weeks. I realize now that there are no answers, and that nobody has a more certain knowledge than I do about what T needs, even when I feel profoundly uncertain. I live with him, care for him, listen to him, argue with him, empathize with him, and I probably know him better than anyone has ever known him. To get him what he needs, I need to cut through the various agencies and bureaucracies involved by educating myself about their language and using their words to connect him up to the best quality services that are available. I had the help of a very good friend in doing that recently, backed up by some very thoughtful comments on this blog, and it really made a very big difference. Asking for "an elevated level of care" rather than just "help", for example, or knowing to request a "trauma-focused program" rather than just "therapy" makes all the difference in the world. At the end of the day, either words obscure, or they pinpoint complexity, and wielding them properly is very powerful.


Lynne said...

You are amazing!! It took me years to figure out what you have just written. There are no easy answers and we have to do the best we can for our kids. And we are the only people on Earth who really "get" them.

My Younger Kid went to a school similar to what you describe when he lived at home. No suspensions. 1 staff for every 2 kids. That principal is one of my all time favorite professionals. She was the first person outside of me and my husband who committed to my kid. I hope you have found some professionals to do the same for T. The school and therapy sound really promising.

Good job, Friend!! I so wish we lived closer. I would bring you a bottle of wine!

SRR said...

I had a long comment composed after your last post, but it got lost. I'll try to shorten this one. Most of my experience applies to my bioligical daughter who had aspergers/anxiety issues that we undiagnosed until she was in her mid-teens. She lived in a cycle of frequent rages during this whole time. Life was very hard for her, and those around her. She is now a rather calm and articulate young woman. So a very different story than your son's, but there are some commonalities.
1. I was just telling my daughter yesterday about how a top pediatric neurologist diagnosed her with ADD when she was younger. We laughed loudly together, because that is SO not her problem. The experts DO NOT know as much as you do about your son.
2. At the same time you will sometimes find an expert that will GET your child. They can make all the difference in the world. In our case it was the head of the therapeutic school where we ended up sending our daughter. She was the first expert that understood, and she got it almost immediately. I walked out of our interview meeting on clouds, it was such a relief.
3. Prioritizing our daughter's feeling of safety over academics is one of the smartest things we did for her. She was able to catch up on the academics later.
4. Look up EMDR therapy. I used this along with tapping for some therapy for myself. EMDR is supposed to be particularly good for PTSD. It didn't do much for what I was struggling with, but I think it has some real potential.
5. I am so impressed with with wisdom, love, and persistance you are showing in a difficult situation. These kids don't come with instruction manuals, and it can be so hard or impossible to figure out what is needed.

Very, very best wishes to you and your family!!!

Jen said...

"...nobody has a more certain knowledge than I do about what T needs". Yes. You are his mother, and you can trust your instincts and gut feelings.

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