Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Chicken or the Egg...ceptional Child

Last week, just two days before the start of Christmas break, Adam (of "go **** yourself" fame) saw his last of BMS for what will most likely be the rest of the year. A mild bout of physical violence, followed by a nasty verbal threat earned him a trip out the door.

While sad and a tad surprising, his removal from the public school setting isn't really unexpected. Adam has displayed resistant and unruly behavior which might warrant outplacement for some time now. It's just, in the past the behavior came in stints much fewer and farther between. The work refusal, horrific language, and even physical violence has steadily escalated from the beginning of 6th grade until now--his 8th grade year.

Adam has had a lot of things working against him from the start. While incredibly intelligent--and even brilliant in some respects--he has been diagnosed on the Autism spectrum, the Oppositional-Defiant spectrum, and the Attention Deficit spectrum. Any one of these eligibilities is not very conducive to a successful middle school career, but all three together seem like a recipe for disaster. That is, without the proper treatment.

On the educational front, Adam has been offered every choice, therapy, accommodation, indulgence, enrichment opportunity, learning method, and approach known to mankind. Small classes and big classes, hard-line and humor, traditional and progressive teaching; sensory approaches, counseling approaches, interest-based approaches, social approaches. I would put my two cats' lives on the line (due to the fact they're being really annoying at this second) to say that our educational team has exhausted every possible strategy within the realm of human possibility to prevent this boy from having to leave the public school system.

So why is it that we failed? Well, the fact is the answer to that question simply doesn't lie in the school. Nor does it lie in the school he'll be shipped off to next. It doesn't lie in any school. It lies in where he spends 66% of his day--HOME.

I wouldn't dare to start theorizing about the source of Adam's dysfunctionalities. It's about as futile as the debate regarding the chicken versus the egg. I suppose, however, going any further makes at least touching on the matter inevitable.

The one thing that practically everyone (teachers, counselors, psychologists, outside psychiatrists) agrees on is the fact that he needs to be medicated. No amount of punishment, bribing, talking, or silent treatment is going to remedy the crazy collision of chemicals in his brain. Adam has said as much, eloquently describing his inability to combat his lack of focus and violent mood swings. If it were up to any one not of blood relation to this boy, he would have been popping the pills years ago. But the ultimate decision rests with the parents and, for reasons which are completely unfathomable to any of us, they absolutely refuse.

Annie, who was primarily responsible for Adam's education for the past two years after 6th grade, posed the rhetorical question of what his life may have been like had his parents made the appropriate choice and sought out medical treatment. Of course we're not naive enough to believe some little pill would work magic and shape him up into the student of our dreams. But from what we've observed and from the accounts of professionals, it's more than likely he wouldn't have demonstrated the same obstinate behavior which ultimately scored a ticket to an alternative school.

What is really sad is the potential this guy had if he could just sit in a seat, pay attention for a little while, and generally mind his P's and Q's with teachers. His academic aptitude is through the roof, his grasp of math, vocabulary, and science incredible. He could have ended up a marine biologist or engineer. Lord knows plenty of revered specialists in these areas aren't playing with a full deck of cards.

If only his parents would have agreed to the meds....but in order for them to make the intelligent, well-informed decision staring them in the eyes, this would have required levelheadedness, stability, and clarity on their part. And if they possessed these to begin with, would Adam be the same poor, mixed up creature in need of the meds at this juncture? Or was it the unfortunate circumstances of his inborn characteristics that ultimately drove his parents to irrationality? Is it all one big, vicious cycle of madness?

I had a conversation with someone recently about the circumstances of our upbringings: the composition of our families, our relationships with parents and siblings, our socioeconomic status, our faith, our moral standards, our rules, etc. After discussing the highs and lows, the blessings and the challenges, we both arrived at the conclusion that we were very fortunate that all of these factors played in just the right way to produce seemingly well adjusted, spiritually mature, social, confident adults. Just one little event--or absence of an event, could have totally made the difference in how we turned out. I've seen it first hand in children and adults alike.

I guess my fascination with behavioral psychology and my strong belief that most of my maladjusted students are products of their environment makes me more a Aristotle/John Lockean than a Plato/Descartean (oh my gosh, I can't believe I'm channeling my sophomore year AP European History class), and this knowledge is both an encouragement and discouragement to my profession. If kids are a product of nurture, then there's hope that I might have some small, isolated influence for the better on their lives. The downfall of this is, again, the 66% of the nurture coming from the home--the environment which has the potential to erase any headway I might make with the kids. I fear this may be the case with Adam. He was beat when he was born.

The good news is that my faith holds the promise that the bad luck of the draw in family for Austin can still be overcome. That who nurtures us is in fact, NOT just the luck of the draw, but apart of an incomprehensible master plan. Now, there's the encouragement I need for students like Brent, who would probably be normal if his incredibly selfish and childish mother didn't yank him out of school without warning for weeks at a time to go gallivanting about with her boyfriend of the month. Man, I don't think I'll ever gripe about how my mom used to yank me out of the T.V. room when the Power Rangers were on ever again.

Due to the holiday break, there will be no homework assigned. Enjoy your family and friends during the blessed season.

Class dismissed.

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