Questions and Anxiety Accompany the New School Year (Part 1)
In a popular t.v. commercial, a Dad skips through the aisles of an office supply store, giddily tossing notebooks and pencils into his cart while his children glare at him. The accompanying music is untimely but fitting--”It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
The ad is meant to humorously demonstrate how differently kids and parents perceive the start of the school year. Most parents delight in the end of pricey summer care and/or the constant “I’m bored!” cries of their offspring. Parents of MI kids are no exception--although we may have more anxiety over the new school year than most.
The usual questions--will my child get along with his teacher? Will he be in a “good” class or one full of troublemakers? Will we get along with his teacher?--are even more important when your child has special needs. A teacher and class setting can make or break a year for a child, particularly kids who have so much stake in everyday successes and failures.
For Children with Mental Illness, Right Teacher Key to School Success
As we approach Bob’s fourth year of public school, I know the importance of classroom placement. Bob was diagnosed bipolar at the end of his kindergarten year. His first grade classroom was a nightmare. His teacher, despite a long tenure in “special education”, knew very little about Bob’s condition. There were several “problem” kids in Bob’s class, leading me to believe the placement had been intentional. The teacher also experienced some personal issues during the year, and the class was often taught by a substitute.
I knew we were in trouble when the teacher called me in September to express concern with Bob’s behavior. As I'd heard nothing to the contrary, I’d assumed (incorrectly) things were going swimmingly. I expressed my need to know about any of Bob’s problems or behavior changes, and encouraged her to either call or email me directly. Unfortunately, that open line of communication never materialized, and I was more often than not in the dark as to how Bob was doing at school.
My concerns increased after our first conference, when I was told Bob was academically (if not socially) ahead of his classmates, and given “independent learning” projects to occupy him during instruction time. I also noticed his desk was placed in a back corner next to a shelf cluttered with knickknacks and books.
Independent learning is only useful when applied to kids old enough and mature enough to handle the responsibility--certainly not the case with my easily distracted first grader. His desk placement rendered focus on instruction almost impossible, and the easy access to small trinkets did little to curb his impulsivity. I suspected (and later confirmed) the teacher had difficulty maintaining order and the room was often noisy and chaotic.
Consequently, Bob’s first grade experience wasn’t good. He spent most of the year in the principal’s office and several days in “in-school suspension.” Not surprisingly, his days of isolation -away from the overwhelming classroom environment - were his most productive. (Part 2: Keys to Meeting Special Education Needs of Children with Mental Illness.)
McClanahan, A. (2010, August 10). Questions and Anxiety Accompany the New School Year (Part 1), HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, June 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/parentingchildwithmentalillness/2010/08/questions-and-anxiety-accompany-the-new-school-year-part-1
Author: Angela McClanahan
I think you offer some good advice but I don't agree with the "chemical imbalance" theory. There is no real proof.