School Issues

Sometimes school and childhood mental illness don't mix well. At least, that seems to be the case for my son, who has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The use of restraints for children with mental illness in hospitals and schools is common and legal. While instances of abuse and overuse do happen and should be taken very seriously, this post isn't meant to debate whether they should be eliminated in treatment. Neither is it meant to promote the use of restraints. Instead, this is a look at how my own family has experienced them.
Back to school tips for parents of kids with mental illness will help you and your child manage the back to school season with all its excitement and anxiety. We get new clothes, supplies, and worries. When a child has a mental illness, we also have to consider psychiatric medications, whether teachers can manage behaviors, how the school handles disciplinary actions, and childcare for the days our kid is asked to leave early or gets too anxious to go at all. Below are some going back to school tips to help prepare you and your child with mental illness.
The definition of the least restrictive environment is part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). It mandates that children with disabilities should learn alongside their regular education peers as much as is safe and possible. Why is it so important that our children with mental illnesses be included in the least restricted environment?
The transition to middle school from elementary is tough for any kid, let alone kids with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Middle schoolers are hormone-riddled, parent-defying, not-quite-adolescent bundles of angst who suddenly find themselves more independent and socially engaged than ever. Many of our kids with ADHD spent years just trying to manage one classroom in elementary school. As parents, we're just as anxiety-ridden when we have to figure it all out again when our children transition to middle school.
Twice-exceptional children are gifted children with mental illness, and they often get overlooked in school. A mentally ill child's problem behaviors may mask their strengths, or their behaviors may frustrate teachers so much that teachers overlook the child's strengths. These gifted kids with mental illness are twice exceptional and we should recognize them and push them as much as we do the typical gifted child.
Separation anxiety in children is an intense fear of being separated from a loved one. It's considered normal in infants and toddlers. In older kids, it may be a sign of an anxiety disorder. As the parent of a child with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD), I often find myself wondering if what he experienced in early childhood was separation anxiety or the signs of the emotional disorder to come.
The stress of change can be difficult for any child, but for children with emotional and behavioral disorders, the stress of change hits harder. They often can't predict their own behaviors, thoughts, or feelings, so it makes things worse when they can't predict their environment either. Life isn't very predictable, though, so how do we help our children with mental illnesses better manage the stress of change?
Managing disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) in the classroom isn't as simple as knowing how to prevent DMDD behaviors. Yet parents of children with DMDD are often expected to have immediate solutions for teachers and caregivers in our children's lives. Symptoms of DMDD are tough for even parents to handle, and immediate solutions don't exist, but there are doable small steps that can help manage DMDD in the classroom.
You can sometimes predict that a mental health setback will happen, but still, when it happens, a mental health setback seems to come out of nowhere. I got a call from school staff this morning saying that my son was disrupting the class. He had been out of his seat, kicking chairs, and refusing to do work. In the background of the call, I could hear his teacher attempting multiplication lessons while the paraprofessional explained quietly that my son was now on the floor, unmovable and unresponsive to everybody. He was no longer allowed on Friday's field trip. The staff put the phone to my son's ear so I could try to talk him, but he hung up on me instead. After months of doing amazingly well at school and home, this was definitely a mental health setback.