He's Just A Troubled Kid

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

I recently connected with a former friend from many years ago in one of those "So, how's life been treating you" conversations.  I'm not terribly fond of these catch-up calls, but he called me so I was able to ask questions and listen which I prefer to do.

In the course of family updates, my friend spoke of his nephew, saying he was struggling, was not terribly social, spent most of his time in his room, and said, "He’s a troubled kid.”  My first reaction was - what an antiquated phrase - yet kept asking questions, hoping to perhaps offer some insights into how he could help him.  Wrong assumption on my part.  Understanding his issues and wanting to step in to help was far less important than conveying - multiple times - that he’s troubled. 

After hanging up, I thought to myself ... why is this phrase still used to describe a struggling child?  I can't ever recall hearing anyone refer to an adult as a troubled adult.  It's not only a poor generalization, but it conveys nothing of substance.  To me, it's like looking away from something unpleasant.  You're aware of it or may have seen it but no...not getting involved.

We’re quick to toss around “labels” (both accurate and otherwise) when it comes to adults – he’s depressed, she’s bipolar.  And while labels can be obstacles based in fear and the unknown, once *it* has a name, we've got a starting point.  And this certainly holds true when we're talking about a child or young adult.

I understand well the reluctance of parents to label a child or teenager and many resist at every turn.  It's easier to say that he's going through a phase or she's just introverted.  But that's not good enough and certainly not for the child him/herself.  Not only do parents need to know why their child is struggling, but sharing this information - and relevant details - is important particularly when it comes to family and those close enough to the child to try to make a difference.  We already know the alternatives and few have positive outcomes.  Not to mention the need for the child to learn self-advocacy skills based on their understanding of themselves.

We’re quick to label one of *those* kids as being in special education yet even today, many lack real understanding about just what this means.  Just listen to the line in the film Admission where one of the college admissions officers exclaims, “The kid was in special education.”  So what?  The uninformed assume that this is an automatic roadblock preventing a struggling child from succeeding in school, college, or life.  I think not.

Much continues to be said - and needs to be said - about mental health issues and our children.  There’s a push to bring these issues to the fore to ensure that those who are struggling can access the support they need.  And while our words (or labels) can harm if used as a weapon, they can also embrace.  Failing to use the appropriate words to describe a struggling child is the same as looking away.  It's not an easy choice to make and there are risks involved, yet the same applies to any new ground.  The longer we remain in the past and keep looking away, the harder it's going to be to turn a troubled child into a supported child making strides forward. 

- Debra I. Schafer, CEO

Snap Out Of It...

I love this line from the film "Moonstruck," when Cher tells Nicholas Cage to snap out of it after he says he loves her (she is planning to marry his brother).  It's a favorite that I often use when a particular topic arises. The topic is labels and let me first say this...no one likes to be labeled anything.  Labels are restrictive and create barriers.  They convey things to others that are often incorrect and can be discriminatory.  But...they can also open doors and create avenues that may otherwise not be available to pursue.  And they also help to bring explanations and reason to things that may truly need clarity.

All this to say, it always confounds me when I hear a parent say that they know their child is struggling yet don't want to have them evaluated.  My initial reaction is to empathize, saying that I understand that finding out "why" can be scary and overwhelming.  It taps into fears of the unknown, of what we may *think* we know about something, and of what finding out will really mean.  But it takes less than 10 seconds to move from an empathetic reaction to a "snap out of it" response mode.

No parent wants to think or be told that their child has autism.  Or is bipolar.  Or has ADHD.  What parent would ever want their child to be "labeled" no less to face the reality that others will know about it too.  What parent would wish therapies or being pulled out of class for support on their child.  None.  But parents who resist or refuse to "face the music" need to realize a few facts:

  1. They need to separate their own preconceived notions and "what if's" from the realities facing their child.
  2. They need to recognize that every day, week, and month of delay is precious time wasted.
  3. They need to understand that the label is essential to securing the supports and services the child may need in school...and beyond.

When I hear a parent express their concerns, I ask whether they prefer speculation or knowing.  Whether the status quo is working.  Whether their child is on a trajectory of success or failure.  Of *course* every parent wants their child to be healthy and happy.  To get good grades, make friends, and be successful in the world.  These are foundational desires all parents share.

Yet many children have been struggling for years, taking a huge toll on the child in immeasurable ways.  Repeated "F's" on tests can be seen (and can be devastating to the child), but it's the things out of view - the sense of failure, of not feeling smart, of always having difficulties - these are the things that can take away a child's desire to even try anymore.  And it doesn't matter if the child is in 3rd Grade or is 15-years-old; feelings of despair accumulate and struggling saps the drive and hope for a better tomorrow out of the youngest of children.

Do parents who resist an evaluation and "label" think that the struggling is going to stop at will?  That the child is intentionally failing math, purposely not making friends, or planning to have behavioral issues in school?  Of course not.  And this is where the "snap out of it" message needs to be said...and heard.

It is incumbent upon parents of children for whom struggling defines their existence to put their own fears aside and mobilize.  With the end of the school year upon us, summer is the time to secure an evaluation and to plan for how to make things better in September and beyond. Yes, this may mean special education services, frequent meetings with school, and involvement of private clinicians and outside experts.  But which vision do you choose...pretending the issues don't exist, hoping they'll just go away with time, or telling your child that you're now "on the case" and that things are going to improve?

A label is words.  Dyslexia.  ADD.  Asperger's Syndrome.  They only have power if parents allow them to.  These words are also doorways to answers and strategies that will move the needle from failure to success, defined differently for every child.

If you happen to be one of the parents who have allowed your own fears to override getting the information - and diagnosis - your child needs, please...snap out of it.  Your child is depending upon you to do so.