Dr. Joan James has taught at the K-16 levels for over 40 years in a variety of settings including general education and special education (those with learning disabilities, mentally impairments, emotional disturbances, autism, etc.) in inner-city, rural, Native American reservation, university laboratory, and dual-immersion schools. She has a strong learner-centered teaching philosophy, writes educational articles, and presents at education conferences on the benefits of engaging, memorable, and motivating experiential (hands-on, minds-on) learning. She and her husband raised 3 daughters and are enjoying their five grandchildren.

Background Information

My grandson, Christian, was only 8 years old and in 3rd grade when the school and his parents had implemented many behavior plans and explored many intervention options, but nothing seemed to help much. They had run out of ideas to help him and were considering sending him to a residential treatment facility.

What Was Happening

Even at a young age (5-8), Christian’s behavior at home and school was out of control most of the time. His behaviors included hitting, kicking, biting, and spitting on the other kids at school, refusing to comply with teacher directions and throwing huge temper tantrums when authority figures at home or at school tried to make him do things he didn’t want to do. He would throw things across the classroom or the room at home, yell and cuss at adults and other students and try to involve them in power-struggles, and occasionally run away. Christian also struggled to stay focused during class instruction, especially when he was required to sit still and listen. Consequently, the school had referred Christian for special education testing and during his initial IEP meeting in kindergarten he was identified as being severely emotionally disturbed along with having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anger management issues, impulsivity, and Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD). He was put on ADHD medication and provided with a full-time paraprofessional at school. The other kids were afraid of him and, therefore, Christian had no friends. He desperately wanted to have friends but didn’t know how to interact with others socially. Christian wanted to behave more appropriately, but his ADHD, ODD, anger that quickly developed into rage, and extreme impulsivity made this very difficult for him. Because he couldn’t seem to be the person he so much wanted to be, he was occasionally depressed and sometimes exclaimed that he wished he was dead. In response, the doctor prescribed mood stabilizer/anti-depressant.

Christian’s parents and the school personnel met often and implemented many of their brainstormed strategies, but none of them seemed to help much. The main way the school dealt with Christian’s extreme and disruptive behaviors was to remove him from class and put him in an isolated in-school detention or send him home. As a result of being removed from the classroom so much during his kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd-grade years, Christian missed a LOT of instruction. He was intelligent but had missed so much basic instruction that essentially everything being taught was out of reach for him. Now, added to his emotional, social, and behavioral issues, he had significant academic issues. All these issues contributed to a hatred for school, learning, and himself which he displayed in both depression and negative, out-of-control verbal and physical behaviors. No one knew what to do with Christian – everything had spiraled out of control and was getting worse by the day. As a last resort, the school and his parents were considering a residential treatment facility.

To avoid sending Christian to a residential treatment facility, we (his grandparents) offered to have Christian come to live with us. At that time, I (his grandma) taught a multi-age 4th/5th grade class at a student-centered, project-based school, and was able to enroll Christian in my class. We readily learned that helping Christian develop age-appropriate emotional, social, and behavioral maturity and overcome all his emotional outbursts, anti-social actions, out-of-control behaviors, extensive academic issues, apathy, and outright hatred for school and school-based learning was going to be an uphill battle all the way. During the previous four years, attempts were made to manage the symptoms of these issues through medications (ADHD/anti-depressants). The causes of these issues, however, were still boiling beneath the surface.

To be continued ...

– Dr. Joan James, June 2019

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