I’m home sick today from work. When I’m sick I’m pretty pathetic. I apologize to everyone a lot and like to lay on the couch and and watch movies that make me cry. I realized today that the movies that make me cry that I usually watch are ones on at-risk kids. It’s quite ironic isn’t it that when I can’t be with my kids (clients), I am still with them in spirit. These types of movies make me remember why I go to work and what’s at stake should I not. I guess I just like to feel really guilty and crappy emotionally, if I have to feel crappy physically. Instead of feeling sorry for myself today, I thought I would write a little to encourage parents, teachers, and everybody else to inspire ya’ll to make a difference in a life today.
I don’t know if I shared what I do with you all. I am a therapeutic support staff. Some people say that we are “glorified babysitters” and sometimes families think of us like that too, but that’s not the case to me. I take my job very seriously. Right now, I am working in an emotional support classroom in seventh and eighth grade with kids that I have been around for over two years. They are children with Autism, oppositional defiance, separation anxiety, attention deficit, bipolar, and many other diagnoses. While I only work specifically with one child, I feel for them all. They stand up against things every day and sometimes they just can’t cope. My goal is to give the kids strategies and skills to function in everyday settings independently. And all it really takes is patience, time, and a willingness to pay attention.
For example, one child who we’ll call Rudolfo, lives with his grandmother because both of his parents are in prison at the moment. He disrupts class and breaks into crying hysterics on a daily basis. He also has a very kind and sympathetic heart. If he decides he won’t do something and wants to be a problem, he will lash out first at those closest to him relationship-wise. He really only needs to be reminded that those people care about him and be asked to help them out in some way, and he’s good. Find what motivates your child and help them realize a way to work through it using their strengths.
Another child, who we’ll call Grimaldi, tries every day to get us to call his mother, and should she show up for him he will run out to her car and cling to her until she will take him home. Sometimes we’ve had to call the authorities because he was running around in the parking lot trying to stay away from his tss. There is one thing to know about Grimaldi that’s the key: he respects people who respect him. Because I have given him nothing but respect, he listens to any request I ask of him. While the teachers try to bribe him and mom threatens him, I ask with a please and thank you and he responds in kind. When the teachers asked me what they should do, I said simply to respect him and to ask only what’s necessary. Sometimes we get caught up in the little things- feet flat on the floor or sitting up straight- when we feel out of control of a child’s behavior. I find that’s not helpful. Pick your battles.
My girl is special. She has an Autism spectrum disorder and is overwhelmed by trying to be perfect in other people’s eyes. She will shut down and refuse to work if she has messed up in some minute way. Teachers often throw their hands up and walk away because they don’t know what to do with her. She won’t move on, starts crying, and becomes destructive on a small scale. If they push her to keep going, she may yell, throw or push things, and sometimes crawl into the corner and cry. Because I know her so well and I watch her everyday, I know what to do. When she sighs, I encourage her. When she cracks her knuckles, I tell her to slow down. When she cracks her neck, I set limits. When she pauses before destroying her paper or project, I step in and present her with a fresh start. I don’t do this to make her dependent on me; I do this so she knows what she needs.
Two days ago we were moving through what we tss call a “crisis cycle” like the one I just described, and I knew she didn’t need me anymore. She had already cracked her neck, and her partner started to rush her and insist that they move on. Just as I started to walk over I heard her say: “You’re fine. Everything’s going just fine. You take care of this and I’ll work on drawing that.” That is what I say to her before she gets to the destructive point. She even used my tone. I walked right out the door, so she couldn’t see me and just watched because I knew she had it. She told me yesterday she doesn’t want to have a tss next year, and we talked about what her teachers and I need to see to make that happen. Give them a positive feed that they can play over on their own to get them through the tough stuff.
I have seen teacher after teacher (parent after parent) try to bribe these kids, try to argue with them, reason with them. These kids aren’t stupid. They know what you’re doing. You’ve got to put in the time. You’ve got to build trust, and most importantly; you’ve got to be honest. Don’t give them stupid demands. If a rule is stupid and they have to follow it, tell them you know it’s stupid but they’ve got to do it anyway. If you’re angry, tell them. Let them see how you handle your anger in the correct way. If you screwed up, admit and apologize. That’s what you ask of them, right? It’s really okay that you aren’t perfect and you won’t get any where with these kids trying to pretend. Don’t give up on them. Some of these kids expect you to give up. Many of them have been in and out of institutions because their families were unable to handle their behavior. You’ve got to stick it out. Once that child knows there is no way that they could screw up bad enough to push you away, they’ll stop trying and begin to trust you and let you in. It gets worse before it gets better, but if you can make it; it does get better.