Monday, April 1, 2013
Life, Love and Understanding
Once upon a time I used to work as a case manager with mentally ill children. I did this for over ten years and I enjoyed almost every moment of it. I worked in both an inpatient and an outpatient facility and met some truly amazing kids.
Most of the children and adolescents I worked with had behavior problems. The majority of them were ADHD and had some sort of mental illness such as Bi-Polar disorder. All of these children had been teased at school by their peers and usually were bullied because they were different. I don't know how many hours I spent working with these kids and I tried to give them the tools they needed to survive in an unforgiving world. Even at young ages, they knew they would never looked upon or treated as 'normal' kids. Because of their behavior outbursts, many of them were even labeled by their teachers and other adults (even their parents) as problem kids and were often made to feel as if they were somehow less than other kids their age.
This always broke my heart. I loved these kids and most of the time, all it took was a little attention, understanding and patience with them, and they would literally bask in knowledge that someone loved and believed in them. Some of them also had learning disabilities, and had been teased by their peers. Most of these children were either in special education classes or they were so behind in their studies they would pretend to not care if they learned anything or not. Even some of the parents of these children had reached their wits end and would brush their kids off, because they were simply sick of the drama and the difficulty it can be by raising them. I honestly never understood this way of thinking. Yes, it took a lot of dedication and understanding to get these kids to trust, and eventually work hard. Most of the time, after weeks and even months of working with these children they would start to take pride in what they accomplished and some would even start to set goals for themselves. The sad part of it is: I think people forget that even children with these disorders will crave and thrive under praise just as any other kid would do.
There was one child I worked with that really changed my life. His name was Ryan. He was thirteen and had serious anger issues as well as Tourettes and Bi-Polar disorder. When I first met him, everyone had given up on him. The kids at school teased him because of his Tourettes and some feared him because of his anger outbursts. When I first met him he tried to act like he didn't care that others made fun of him, but I'll never forget the pain in those big brown eyes. For months, I worked with Ryan. We worked through some of the issues he had and he learned some positive coping skills to deal with his anger issues. I spent many days helping him study, giving him a shoulder to lean on and sometimes being a sounding board to him when he had a bad day. After a year of solidly working with Ryan, he changed into a more well-balanced, happy child. When he finally returned to school, he started making the honor roll, became a popular football player and ended up graduating and going to college. He is one of my success stories and to this day I'm proud to have known him.
It angers me that these children are often labeled. Not only are they labelled from their peers, but they are often labelled by the adults in their lives too. I remember one teacher telling me that one of the children I worked with was thrilled because it was the end of a school year, and this child was finally going to be the next teacher's 'problem' the following year. I also had the feeling that this child would be stereotyped as a problem child even before any of the faculty worked with him. Instead of giving the child a chance, they had already chosen to black list this child and immediately decided they were going to have a hard time working with him. I thought this was outrageous and very sad. Now, don't get me wrong. There are MANY, MANY amazing teachers out there. If it wasn't for these wonderful teachers there would be even more children struggling to belong in school, but unfortunately I also worked with a lot of teachers who had a negative attitude. They were burned out, overworked and underpaid and just didn't care anymore.
It's been many years since I've worked with these children. Some of them live happy lives and some of them have had a more difficult journey making good choices as they try to fit into a society that is very unforgiving and stereotypical one. I wish people would stop and truly think before they either label some of these children as problems OR brush them off as if they don't matter. These kids have so much to give to the world, if only people would try to see it.