Questions and Anxiety Accompany the New School Year (Pt 2)
(Part 1: For Children with Mental Illness, Right Teacher Key to School Success)
As second grade approached, I was determined to make it a better year. I met with the principal to discuss classroom placement; specifically, I wanted to ensure that my son Bob, who has childhood bipolar disorder, wouldn’t be placed with all “problem” kids, since noise and chaos would exacerbate his own behavior issues. I also wanted to address parent/teacher communication, so I could closely monitor his progress. Further, I wanted to contact his teacher prior to the start of the year, so we could address my concerns before the hectic first days.
Luckily, the principal agreed.
Bob was “hand-picked” for a veteran teacher known for her calm demeanor and experience. I emailed her a few weeks before school started. In my email, I told her I respected her ultimate authority in her classroom, but offered my suggestions to (hopefully) help things go smoothly in class.
Parent-Teacher Cooperation Helps Children With Mental Illness Succeed in School
The teacher took my suggestions to heart, as I discovered during back to school night. (Bob’s desk was in the front and center of the classroom, far from any distractions—a good start.) Although she admitted having no prior experience with childhood bipolar disorder and special education needs, she was able to develop a relationship with Bob none of his previous teachers had accomplished—helped along, I like to think, by the observations I shared with her initially.
I’m sure the fact Bob began his current (and so far, successful) medication regimen six weeks before school started strongly impacted his second grade success. But I don’t think the small accommodations made by school staff can be discounted. To the contrary, I believe they made a world of difference.
Occasional Positive Feedback on Special Needs Student Brightens Parents' Outlook
With the exception of parents who also work as school teachers, we aren’t trained in early childhood education. Most of us are equally unfamiliar with the laws surrounding education and mental illness (special education law). We are, however, experts on our own children—possibly the most powerful knowledge to be had where their education is concerned.
Regardless of your child’s particular psychiatric diagnosis, it’s imperative to stay in close contact with teachers and school staff. They spend the majority of your child’s day with him and are likely to notice critical behavior changes or other problems right away. They should also know of changes to your child’s treatment, so any adverse affects can be communicated. It’s also nice to get the occasional positive feedback. So often, we are only made aware of what our child is doing wrong; it felt great to hear what Bob was doing right. The most important tool we can arm our school-aged children with is direct communication and involvement with their teachers and other school staff.
Bob will begin third grade in just a few short days. I still feel the same nervousness I normally do (and likely will every year), but having a successful year under our belt gives me hope for the future.
McClanahan, A. (2010, August 12). Questions and Anxiety Accompany the New School Year (Pt 2), HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, December 2 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/parentingchildwithmentalillness/2010/08/questions-and-anxiety-accompany-the-new-school-year-part-2
Author: Angela McClanahan
I have been fortunate enough to have the ability to be in daily contact with Christopher's mental health nurse, psychiatrist, elementary school principal, counsellor, teacher and teacher's aid. The new principal was a mover and a shaker, and immediately place Christopher on a life skills program for the last year which eliminated his hatred and resistance towards school. The small school of 140, which is across the street from my house bent over backwards to help him for 8 years. He still succombed to his illness, but I suppose did better than he should have considering his problems.
He just started high school and I have the same support with the high school counsellor. She is aware he is decompensating, ill enough to be in hospital (which will set him back further), so we are working out the bugs of his near perfect program - he manages to sabatage any good intentions put into place.
So we keep out fingers crossed and I have respite for 6 1/2 hours per day.