Words of Wisdom

Youth is wasted on the young.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Dangerous Professions: Bullfighting, Lion Taming, Teaching

Slugger is not the only problem child I have to deal with.

This week, as well as being punched and kicked by the aforementioned little charmer, I was pegged in the head with a whiteboard eraser by WildBoy. You've got to admire his aim.

WildBoy had been my major concern up until the arrival of Slugger. WildBoy is 10 and, before the age of 1, was a victim of such terrible neglect and abuse that he has been left emotionally scarred, for life. He only attends school up until morning recess and, after clocking his teacher in the face with his pencil case back in May, has also been attended by a large, male, teaching aide. The purpose of this was to ensure that he could be safely removed from the classroom situation if he 'lost it' but I am happy to report that things have been progressing well with him and he has not caused me much concern, until Tuesday.

The thing is, lately we have been so preoccupied with Slugger that WildBoy almost seems normal in comparison. Unfortunately, he is a ticking bomb and it doesn't take much to set him off. You see, WildBoy believes that he is intrinsically 'bad' and doesn't deserve the good things that happen to him. He is in a constant state of 'fight or flight' and too often descends into 'fight'. WildBoy believes that no-one can possibly love him (after all his parents didn't) and therefore he might as well push you away as fast as he can, or give you a reason to reject him, so he can 'cut to the chase' as it were. In proving that you will indeed, inevitably, send him away, he confirms his own understanding of the world, which is comforting and affirming for him, in an unhealthy way.

I have been working with WildBoy once a week to try and establish some academic baselines so his mum can target his patchy learning at home. He has missed so much school and had so much focus on his behaviour, that his learning has fallen behind and, although a clever little boy, his lack of skill is now a source of enormous frustration to him. Our sessions have varied in both content and success but we have been making some progress in the Maths field. Last week I pushed him a little too far.

I knew I had bitten off more than he could chew when he started scribbling over things with a whiteboard marker...notably my hand. I stayed focused and kept encouraging him and we made it through the 20 minute activity by the skin of our teeth. I was quick to point out how he actually had been able to do it after all (albeit with a huge amount of prompting and support) and breezily got up to put things away before walking him down to meet his mum. As I stood with my back to him, trying valiantly to shove a folder back into the overcrowded resource cupboard, I felt the shock of a sharp pain through the back of my head. Spinning around I saw the offending whiteboard eraser on the floor at my feet and WildBoy standing whitefaced and mortifed at his own actions, some feet away.

I was so taken aback that I did all the things you're not supposed to do with ODD children. Firstly, I questioned him.
"Wildboy, did you throw that eraser at my head?"
No response; 'fight or flight?' was probably racing through his mind.
"I didn't appreciate it." I said, breaking yet another ODD behaviour management rule: don't communicate a value judgement.
He responded by throwing two large rubber dice up onto the top of the cupboard.
The adrenalin rapidly departing my system, I started to think clearly again and switched to jovial encouragement.
"Come on mate, mum's going to be waiting downstairs. Let's go and tell her how well you did on that maths game."
He raced to the door and physically blocked the way; I think he thought I was going to tell her what he'd done.
"Maaaaaate," I said, in my best impersonation of an Italian builder," You don't wanna go there do you? C'maaaaarn...."
This seemed to do the trick. He relaxed, smiled and looked at me suspiciously.
"Where'd you get that from?" he queried."I've heard that before."
Of course he has. It's what his foster dad does when he starts to get aggressive. He had given me the strategy on a previous occasion, when I asked how he handled the physicality, but I don't think WildBoy had ever heard it coming out of the mouth of a woman before. It was enough to defuse the tension and we made it safely out of the door and downstairs to mum.

On the way he was still 'sparking' so I asked him if he was feeling angry. On his positive response (an achievement in itself, being able to identify his own emotions), I suggested he kick the brick wall. He did so. Then I suggested he kick the tree. He did this too. Then I suggested he thump the stobie pole and that was enough to break his mood. He looked at the concrete ediface and then at his fist, decided against it and laughed up at me.
"You're silly Mrs A!" he announced, and raced off into the waiting car.

On reflection, I wonder if he hit me by accident. He may have been trying to throw the eraser up on top of the cupboard. There are large cushions up there and it may have simply slipped off and down onto my head. In fact, when I think about it, that would match up with the look of horror on his face. The thing was, I had pushed him too far too fast. I had made him feel unsuccessful and that is unsafe. Unsafe for him I mean. For WildBoy, unsafe expresses itself physically with random aggressive behaviour. In the past he has pulled posters down off walls and overturned the nearest thing when he perceives himself 'threatened'. Really, throwing things onto the cupboard was a pretty tame response.

His foster mum and I talk about him a lot. What will become of him? Will he ever be recovered enough to fit into society? He only attends school up until recess time because he can't be trusted in the playground and around the other kids. His life is rigidly controlled to create security but as a result he has no passions and no interests. He can't play team games because he is unco-ordinated and thumps other kids if they beat him to the ball. His fine motor skills are too poor to be a model maker or artist. He has played the drums but this didn't last long as he couldn't take instruction and the teacher gave up. And to add to the mix, just yesterday his mum told me they think he is Asperger's and, at ten, he is well into puberty.


But we'll keep battling on with him. He didn't ask to be the way he is and to have been treated the way he was. Somewhere out there in the world there is a purpose for him. I just have to make sure I don't rush him into it too fast.

image credit


BrightenedBoy said...

"Somewhere out there in the world there is a purpose for him."

I almost cried when I read this. You have no idea how much it means to these children, how essential it is, for them to have someone who believes they could have a place.

When I was a small child a psychologist told my parents that I would never have cognitive functioning beyond that of a five-year-old.

Sometimes they're wrong. Hold out hope.

Arizaphale said...

Someone should have shot that psychologist. Probably your parents.

Elisa said...
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Prasetyo said...
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chaoticfamily said...

You are a true teacher and although it's tough, just think of the differnce your making in these kids lives.

Maggie said...

That just breaks my heart! I give you all the credit in the world..you are amazing!