Sunday, December 6, 2009

Making progress

I went to a meeting at Big Guy's school on Thursday. Although the topic was how to find the right high school for your child, the announcement called the meeting Discharge Planning. Big Guy attends a therapeutic day school; he has a severe anxiety disorder.

Sitting in the school cafeteria the other night was the first time in the past seven years that I have been among other parents who have been through what we've been through. The social worker who led the meeting said, "Virtually all of you have gotten here the hard way." The daughter of the woman next to me has been hospitalized three times in the past two years. Big Guy has had extended hospitalizations twice, once at age seven and once last year. We've been to the ER many times, and had to call 911 many more. Having to call 911 on your own child sears the heart and bleeds the soul. You get better at it with time.

The social worker commented, "You've had to deal with the difference between the child you thought you had, and the child you were given," and we all nodded. I don't know the diagnoses of the other children at the school, but they range from being on the autism spectrum to early onset bipolar disorder and other severe mental illnesses. These parents have had it rough. There was one woman who said she has four children, two of whom are in residential treatment. I can't imagine that; it's a layer of hell I didn't realize existed.

Big Guy is new to this school, having started in July. His previous school was a cinderblock building in the middle of a treeless section of the city, a place that was all justice and no understanding. At least half the student body was there for behavioral problems, not emotional ones. The city mixes the two, as if it's not sure what the difference is. When we were looking at new schools last year, one administrator explained that because of budget issues the kids who get placed in private schools are increasingly the ones with behavioral problems. If a child has an emotional disorder that causes him to sink quietly, the school system will allow that to happen. If the child is interfering with the rest of the class, the system will find a way to remove him.

Big Guy's old school wasn't quite Dickensian, but no one ever returned to the mainstream from there. We visited schools that were worse, including one where the admissions officer told us cheerfully, "Things are a lot better since we stopped admitting so many gang members." Still, Big Guy had to deal with things at his school that would have made even a healthy person anxious. If we hadn't succeeded in getting him out of there, I do not think he'd still be with us today.

This new school is wonderful. It's beautiful, with over a hundred acres of greenery, paths in the woods, and a horticulture program. The staff are superb. They are caring, insightful people who truly seem to be able to work with Big Guy and make progress. Big Guy is happy, and he's working hard.

The school goes through ninth grade. My big question on Thursday was whether it's harder to get into a therapeutic high school if you apply in 8th grade or 9th. Thankfully, there's no difference. We can keep Big Guy at this school for another year. Deo gratias.

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