I’ll be honest. I was not looking forward to the 3-hour school consultation on my schedule for one morning recently.
There are many reasons why I don’t do very many school consults these days. Suffice it to say that I spent years getting a massive indentation on my forehead from banging my head against the same walls day in and day out when I did full-time work in the schools.
Moving on from that type of work has been a good thing for me both personally and professionally. These days I do a school consultation either as a favor for a friend who works in the schools, or to support one of my patients.
The consult this week was to support a 2nd grader in my practice.
He’s a great kid, but has lots of neurological challenges that make things challenging for him in a school setting. He’s been bumped around to 4 different buildings and multiple programs over the last 3 years. The current team has worked with him for a few months, and asked if I would observe and meet with them to discuss supports and strategies.
I wasn’t sure exactly what I would see, but this child had shared some positive things about his experiences there so far. Most importantly, he has continued to tell me how much he likes one of the teachers. This child is very intuitive, and senses immediately whether someone likes him, is afraid of him, will support him, etc.
The fact that this teacher had made a good first impression was promising. I’m a big believer that if a professional doesn’t establish a strong positive relationship with a child, then not much good can come of any intervention or program. So, I knew heading into the consultation that at least that piece seemed in place.
The consultation went much better than I expected, and I ended up being glad I went.
The team working with this child is doing many things right. Here are some of the highlights:
- They genuinely like this kid, enjoy his quirks and sense of humor, and communicate their appreciation to him through their verbal and nonverbal interaction. Even when negative behaviors occur, they continue to communicate that they like him as a person even though they don’t like the behavior.
- The teacher is kind but firm, and the child knows that the teacher is not afraid of him. This is hugely important, especially with children who use verbal and/or physical aggression as a coping mechanism to avoid things that make them uncomfortable.
- The team matches the complexity of the environment to what the child can handle. They recognize that as the level of complexity in the environment increases (more peers, more staff, more noise, more activities, more complex task demands, etc.) this child’s functioning starts to beak down. They are willing to back up and simplify the environment and expectations in order to support his ability to stay emotionally and behaviorally regulated.
- They set expectations and support the child to meet them. While they may back up and reduce task demands at various times if the child is getting dysregulated, they continue to push forward and help him meet bigger challenges. They do not just give up if he refuses to do something, or stop giving him new tasks.
- The building administrator sets a tone of acceptance and maintains an expectation that her staff will work to meet this child’s needs appropriately. She communicates with the team, and works to support them in problem solving challenges that arise. She doesn’t throw her hands up and try to get the kid out of the building because he has challenging behaviors.
- They have been willing to be flexible with the length of this child’s school day, recognizing that his neurological system can only tolerate so much. They have not tried to force him to manage any longer day than he can handle at this point.
I’d love to say that everything is great and this child is going to be able to move forward in this setting. Unfortunately, there are various district-level issues that are getting in the way of this being a long-term placement for this child. The nonsense of school district politics and processes is the subject for another post.
For now I’ll celebrate what this team of people is doing right, and be grateful for however many days this child is able to stay in a supportive environment with people who care about him.