Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Memories: Inner City School Battles

Daughter's first 3 years of school were exceedingly difficult.  We did not live in a good neighborhood, and her school was rather chaotic.  With her extreme PTSD, she found it very difficult.  It was a major battle every morning to get her off to school.  The school refused to believe there was a problem.  When her PTSD was triggered, she'd shut down.  They saw her as a quiet, compliant student.  They informed me that no child wants to go to school. 

She began cutting herself when she was in first grade.  Her first therapist was not very helpful.  She had done battle with a school before, and lost, so she was unwilling to go to battle again.  I remember sitting in a meeting with the school psychologist in which she informed me Daughter was like her children, and they were all perfectly normal.  I said, "Oh, do your children cut themselves on the fresh air return of the furnace because it's the only sharp thing they can find in the house?"  She was horrified, "Of course not!"  Daughter did.  They refused to acknowledge the problem.

Part of the challenge was she still was having trouble communicating.  She could now talk and form complete sentences, but she was unable to explain why she was so terrified of school.  She became obsessed with the Power Rangers.  I didn't approve, and didn't want her watching it, but then she began insisting she had to wear pink every day like Kimberly on the Power Rangers.  I realized she was seeing them as capable of keeping themselves safe from monsters, and that identifying with Kimberly was making it a little easier to get her to school. 

With second grade came a new therapist and psychotic episodes.  Her teacher was off sick, and the subs couldn't control the class.  A little boy mooned the class one day (but Daughter couldn't tell me).  She was convinced there were snakes in her desk.  She began poking herself with sharp pencils in school.  We had her evaluated and an IEP meeting.  The teacher insisted there was absolutely nothing wrong with the child, the problem was the parent.  We set up a safety plan-- if she felt like injuring herself, she'd go to the principal's office.  I began getting calls to come get her, she wasn't safe.  They still refused to acknowledge that it wasn't working for her to be in the regular class room. 

The principal observed, and reported Daughter was quiet and well behaved.  A special ed teacher observed, and reported Daughter looked terrified and didn't seem to understand what was going on.  Finally, we got an independent psychological evaluation.  The psychiatrist wrote a letter, explaining that Daughter was having psychotic episodes.  Sister took a day off from teaching her class of emotionally disturbed children to come and advocate for Daughter in a second meeting.  Daughter insisted on being there to speak for herself.  She informed them that there were snakes in her desk and monsters in the classroom and the teacher couldn't keep her safe.  The teacher scoffed, the independent psychologist informed her that for Daughter, those snakes and monsters were real.  We finally got her into a smaller class for children with emotional problems.  She was less overwhelmed, and it was easier to get her to school. 

I realized that part of the issue was that I was often the only white person in the room at these meetings.   I was seen as the enemy, depriving Daughter of her cultural heritage.  The other children, knowing Daughter had a white mom, began calling her a skunk.  I didn't find out about this until years later-- she couldn't tell me at the time.  It was an ongoing guessing game, trying to figure out what she needed and why she was acting out.  I spent hours rocking her and singing to her in the evenings.  It was a hard time. 

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