When a family is dealing with a complex disease or a perplexing disability, the stress and frustration for those involved can be overwhelming. The challenge of effectively communicating your child’s needs while maintaining clarity with physicians and educators is the juggling act that parents encounter. The following testimony is from one of our staff whose experiences as a family child care provider, a director, and a parent are not unlike those of the parents we serve! 4C is here to support families educationally and supply resources in the 23 counties that we serve. We strive to encourage a better appreciation of the dynamics involved in a special needs family and how to make it work to the benefit and support of the child. Parent Counselors are available to assist with an individualized search to support resources available within our community.
Parents of children who exhibit unusual or extreme behaviors are faced with many tough decisions, among them the decision whether or not to medicate their child. Medications for ADD, ADHD and other disorders are now commonly prescribed for more and increasingly younger children each year. “But medicine is not always the answer,” says a 4C staff member and mother of a child with special needs. “And even when it is, it’s only part of it.”
That is where caregivers come in. While her son went through multiple diagnoses and a variety of prescriptions, she was lucky enough to foster a relationship with his teachers and develop strategies to help him where medication couldn’t.
She remembers a time when a teacher reported that her young son was acting out in class, climbing on top of desks and making a scene. She was shocked. Her son was usually reserved, more likely to suffer from shyness than outbursts like the ones described.
“Misbehavior isn’t always what it seems to be,” she cautions. The source of her son’s behavior that day turned out to be anxiety about a field trip. He assumed that if he misbehaved, he would be forbidden to go. Sometimes caregivers need to dig a little deeper, ask questions, and devise solutions unique to the child instead of what might be standard practice.
One strategy: letting him stand at his desk: “Standing was his teacher’s idea,” says this former family child care provider and director of a child care center. “She asked me, ‘How does he eat dinner at home?’ We’d always let him stand. It never occurred to me to share this with his teacher, but we started to work as a team. It takes a really good relationship to make sure that you both understand what you’re seeing in the child.”
The more children are medicated, the more it seems like this is the first and best option, the only option for a child who just won’t sit still, or who throws severe temper tantrums, or is painfully shy. With her experiences as a mother and a child care provider, this 4C staff member knew that her son needed more than medication, that all children do.
“There was no magic bullet,” she says. “He needed strategies. It wasn’t just the medication or just the behavior management plan. We had to find a way to make them work together, and to work as parents with the teachers and relatives who cared for him.” Another strategy: encouraging him to carry a fidget in his pocket.
Patti Craig, 4C consultant and program manager of Promoting Resilient Children in Cincinnati, knows that these situations can be complicated. “All behaviors represent feelings, stress and anxiety,” she says. “Understanding what those are, instead of just disciplining the behavior, gives you a much clearer picture of what’s happening for the child.”
Patti also knows that sharing concerns with parents can be difficult, and advises that teachers should work from day one to establish a rapport with families. “First sharing the strengths of the child with their families will make it easier to have those more difficult discussions later about behavior or concerns,” she says. “We all want the same things for children in terms of success, and if we stay focused on that vision instead of the specific behavior or concern, we can develop a much more appropriate plan that everyone participates in.”
Beginning with observation and information gathering, a teacher can build a picture of the whole child: how a child transitions, communicates, his or her ability to engage in learning. If a child is stressed or anxious, it’s important for a teacher to understand why, to ask questions of parents and examine those troubling behaviors in the context where they occur. If a child is biting, when are they biting? During pick-up and drop-off times? When they are vying for a parent’s attention?
When parents and teachers share common ground and communicate freely, effective strategies can be developed. Strategies like the ones devised for the 4C staff member’s son were crucial not only in helping him adjust and grow, but also in helping the family and his teachers give him the best care possible.
“Now my son is medication free,” she says. Though medication was part of his plan for success, his positive growth and his ability to perform socially and academically was made possible by a collaboration between teacher and parent.