School Systems & Mental Health

My son is currently a junior in high school.  It is spring semester and he is currently being home schooled by a district approved teacher.  He is receiving only 10 hours of instruction each week.  His last placement, a therapeutic school, did not work out.  He was there for only a year.  Despite providing the intensive individual, group and family therapy he and I desperately needed, the school wound up not being the best fit for him.

In total, my son has been placed in four different special education schools throughout our State.  If you are unfamiliar with the process of placement in special education, it involves a lot of work and time.  First you have to identify schools that, on paper, appear to be a good fit for your child.  Then the school district has to be on board.  If they are, parents & children are sometimes required to participate in intake meetings at the schools and psychological evaluations as a condition of admission into a program.  If children are accepted, then IEPs (individualized education program) are drafted and finalized – sometimes requiring more time off for meetings with the school district to complete.  This process takes several months from start to finish.  You can imagine the time my son and I have spent doing this four, and now five, times in the last 13 years. 

This is only one facet of our very complicated and difficult journey involving his mental health issues.  For me, I had high expectations from his last placement in the therapeutic school.  This program integrated intensive individual, group and family therapy as part of its curriculum.  Students and parents were required to attend all of these weekly sessions in order to remain in the program.  The staff and clinicians were constantly trained when it came to children’s anxiety, withdrawal, depression and other emotional issues.  So for it to not work out with my son – who has severe emotional issues and who desperately needs therapy – has been extremely disappointing and has left him and me feeling forlorn.

I have learned a great deal along this incredibly difficult journey.  One of the most eye-opening learnings I have unfortunately come to experience is that many, maybe even most schools, do not have the wherewithal and long-term vested interest in dealing with children who have severe emotional issues.   My son is rigid and dogmatic in the way he thinks.  He is willful and just does not have the skills to be flexible.  Many adults cannot handle the wear & tear of this type of personality, which I completely understand.  But unfortunately, the interactions that result are often negative.  I know, because I’ve all too often experienced them myself with my son.  For much of his academic career and his life, he has encountered the vicious cycle of negative responses from caregivers, teachers, staff and even family.  So many have labeled him as problematic, troubled and impossible.  Very few have empathized and viewed him as a child, and now a young adult, in tremendous pain and in need of help.  It takes a great deal of awareness and compassion to see the latter.  Over the years, through continuous therapy and my own self-work, I always try hard to see my son’s experiences through his lens.

So here we are.  This week, he has his fifth intake at a special education school that he previously attended (and at which he performed relatively well).  This school may not check all of the boxes but it is the one at which he thrived the most.  So all I can do, having been along this journey with him, is to support him and to pray for the best.  As a parent, I desperately hope that his last year in high school will be a turning point in his life; one in which he can finally experience integration, competency, self-confidence and self-worth.

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