15 years later: Success on the horizon

My story is not quite a success…yet. My 15 year old son has been struggling since daycare to conform and attempt to do what is expected of him. At seven months old his father was killed in a car accident, which began my son’s life of undesirable behaviors. It was hard having a toddler that had so much unexplainable aggression. He wasn’t normal; I knew it, family knew it and his caregivers knew it. So my journey for answers began.

I will skip through Kindergarten. It was horrendous. Constant calls, suspensions and tears were a weekly part of our lives. I tried desperately to get help from the school, but despite all the trouble my son was getting into, I was told, “he’s just all boy” or “he’ll grow out of it.” Unfortunately, the next eight years would bring more of the same. Complete testing and an ADHD diagnosis in first grade solved zero problems. Medication failures, a new diagnosis, therapy and an attempt at private school followed to third grade. Homeschooling, online schooling and alternative school were last-ditch attempts at help when our school district failed. Another diagnosis -- ODD -- was rendered in Junior High, but those years were simply filled with more suspensions, calls from school, and tears.

I am educated; I have a college degree. I have tried and failed at many behavior modification plans, reward charts and parent management training programs. I have made every bad parenting mistake there is to make, seriously. I have spent years researching, reading and learning about my son’s severe behavior problems. The most pivotal fact I learned from all these years of research is that his challenging behavior is not done on purpose and it is something that should not be taken personally. If I would have spent those years learning how to help him work through the situations that trigger his challenging behaviors rather than punishing those behaviors I believe we would have already been completely successful.

Over the years I have advocated for him at school, holding meetings with teachers and administrators once warning signs go off that we are headed down the familiar “acting out in class” path. I try to give them the do's and don’ts on how to effectively teach my son. By now I clearly know why he acts out and what his triggers are in a classroom. If a teacher gives me a situation where my son has acted inappropriately I can usually pinpoint the direct cause. Unfortunately this information falls on deaf ears if I am unable to wave a magic wand and fix his behavior; and believe me, they think I have one.

My son has been described as cocky, manipulative, impulsive, distracting, an attention seeker, unmotivated and many more undesirable adjectives. Most recently one of his High School teachers called him a “douche bag” in front of the rest of the class (and yes, the teacher admitted this in front of me and the Principal).

This year has brought us to seeking help from the Psych world again. More testing and a new report were needed in order to “formally” address my son's issues at school. Go figure. For years I have been trying to tell the school district that there are triggers that prompt my son’s undesirable behaviors; which is why he can be great in one class and an outcast in another. The classes that he is acting out in and failing expectations are classes that have teachers that get involved in power struggles with him, just want him to be quiet, and have completely taken his challenging behaviors personally; to the point of lying, name calling, deliberately trying to embarrass him and telling me that he will not win in the classroom. All of which can be described as simply and clearly as bullying in the highest form. Yes, my son is being and has been bullied by many teachers throughout the years.

At this point, I have reached out with the Superintendent in hopes that something will happen. Ideally the school will allow me to present Dr. Greene’s Plan B to the faculty that are directly affected by my son’s challenging behaviors and require the flow chart to be utilized fully. They are taking me seriously now that I have made waves and teachers have openly crossed the professional conduct line. Thank goodness they did, really, because although this has been going on for years this is the first time any teacher has ever admitted that fact.

The school district is textbook Plan A and does not take suggestions well, but for the past 10 years I have been extremely cooperative, offering teachers suggestions along the way to help my son get through the year. Some have been receptive, but most just want to give him detentions, suspend him and point out that he is living up to his reputation. But I am not going anywhere. I know success is possible and I will not stop until it is achieved. Most of all, through this fight I have been able to look at my son through, as Dr. Greene says, “a different set of lenses”, to find the most caring, humorous, intelligent, and outgoing teenager imaginable. Doing so has mended our severely damaged relationship, and although I have never given up on him, he now truly knows that I understand him and will always be here to advocate for him. That to me is a success that needed to be built before I could ever conquer a school district. Now it isn’t just me fighting for this understanding and success, but also my son striving to improve the school system for not just him, but all the students who are labeled as behavior problems in school.