Sunday, April 25, 2010

Public Schools and Teens with Special Needs

The title is of this post is decieving. Makes one think that these two things - public schools and teens with special needs actually go hand-in-hand. I don't have a child that cannot be present in a regular classroom. I have the invisible kind of special needs kid. The kind of teen most often overlooked for support. Bright but unable to manage his time, organize his materials, perform consistently in class. On paper he tests high in most areas, has no real glaring gaps in aptitude, has a high IQ. Yet he struggles every single day in the classroom. Each day he fails at something - fails to hand in work, fails to complete long-term projects on time, fails to stay engaged. The classroom isn't working for him. Yet he is consistently seen as 'the problem'. He cannot conform.

Imagine you go in to work everyday unprepared. You cannot understand nor do you have the tools or the support in place to effectively change. Your boss is constently writing you up, you suffer the consequences both in your career and with your peer group. Worse yet, you cannot remove yourself from this job. You have no choice but to continue down this road. How do you turn this around? This is the life of 5%-7% of the students attending high school.

Yes, ADD - the catch all for a large group of students who are struggling in a worn out system unable to support a growing population of students. "It is estimated that on average about one child in every classroom in the United States needs help for this disorder."
I can't help but agree with Dr. David Katz when he challenges that we are over medicating and over diagnosing because we aren't allowing children to do what they need to do - get up - get physical and be more engaged when appropriate. Here is his intro video.

I am intrigued by Dr. Katz's work and he may be laying out a plan to be more effective with these students in the future. But what do we do with the student struggling in tenth grade now? He has not had this progressive environment. At this point he is frustrated at best and developing negative coping mechanisms at worse. Maybe he disengages entirely - the work is insignificant - he's not going to reach for it because he'll never make the leap. Or maybe he self-medicates using the easily accessible drugs or alcohol circulating around his school. He most certainly will gravitate to a group of kids with a similar outlook - familiar struggles. These children are pegged by the administration and staff as "difficult" students. They live in detentions, suffer suspensions which only reinforces their opinions that this situation is a losing game. "46 percent of children with ADHD had been suspended and 11 percent had been expelled.6 Taken together, expulsion and dropout rates approach 50 percent – an alarming statistic, since children with ADHD compose up to seven percent of the population.7"

I am struggling to support my son everyday. I'm trying to hold down a career, afford the basics and honestly I am having trouble holding on. Each year I approach the instructional team and each year I am disappointed with their response. They correspond with letters citing the multiple assignments missing, the lack of interest, the consequences. I feel for the most part they are laying the weight of the problem on my son - an me and offer little support to break the cycle.

There is a special classroom for kids like him - there is that kind of support - the kids are pulled from the regular classroom and the stigma around this support is palpable. It reinforces the differences, validates the failure and the class is made up of such a broad group of needs. Your kid is pretty much placed on the island of misfit toys. Yeah - that will help his self-esteem, that will allow him to bridge the gap.

I am frustrated - I need an alternative I can afford.