Family-tested solutions
for Special Needs

Toddler and mother playing together

Family-tested solutions
for Special Needs

Toddler and mother playing together

Imperfectly OK Parenting Part 2: Inclusive Classroom Drop-Out

Child sitting on a bench with legs not touching the floorAt age 11, our David suddenly began to believe he was a T-Rex on a mission to kill all humans and make the world safe for the return of prehistoric creatures.  His love of dinosaurs had broken through a fine membrane between lifelong passion and psychotic break. The night before Thanksgiving, he was a wild thing–biting, scratching, kicking, trying to run off into the woods.  We took him to the only psychiatric facility in the region that accepted kids under 12.  He remembers this as “the horrible hospital.”  For a kid with autism, it definitely was.

Exit from the Inclusive Classroom

He left the hospital 10 days later because the insurance was used up.  Nobody pretended he was better.  Everybody knew he was a danger to other children.  For a while, the school provided a personal aide who acted as a kind of reverse bodyguard.  Her job was to make sure David got through the day without hurting anyone.  His settings were: (1) attack mode, (2) medication zombie-state, and (3) bewildered/despairing remorse as he calmed down from an episode.  We had clearly reached the end of our six-year effort to keep him in an inclusive classroom.

SED School Colors

The school system recommended its special center for “Seriously Emotionally Disturbed” students because at that time there was no autism program that dealt with aggressive behavior.  I pulled into the rutted parking lot for my first visit.  (Fun Fact: The muscle for keeping an open mind is located at the pit of the stomach.)

Knoxville Adaptive Education Center was a small experimental program for about 80 children from first grade through high school.  The building, long abandoned by the cheerful primary school next door, looked worn out and prison gray.  Random splotches of purple graffiti obscured the entrance.  I saw a class of middle-schoolers walking through the corridor in a straight, grim line with heads down, monitored fore and aft by large men. I thought: We have come to this. 

Under a Weighted Blanket

My husband Ted and I agreed because we seemed to be out of options.  (Yes, we tried homeschooling several years before. Don’t ask.)  Remarkably enough,  we found no-nonsense, compassionate staff who were flexible about meeting his needs. They knew how to deal with the roller coaster changes in behavior he experienced from an ongoing attempt to balance his medications. If he cowered beneath a weighted blanket all day, his teacher calmly lifted one edge now and then to slide in a worksheet or a cup of juice.

During the first three weeks, David’s teacher called me every afternoon to report on his progress.  She didn’t sugarcoat the truth, but nothing seemed to faze her.  “Going home for a tall glass of wine now,” she told me. “It’ll be okay. Tomorrow is another day.”

Start worrying. Details to follow.

David wasn’t exactly getting an education, but the center seemed like a very shabby but serviceable oasis in the desert.  I got manicures and started a freelance writing assignment.  Of course, like many mothers, I secretly believed that active worrying kept disaster from the door.

That’s when the hammer fell.

Continue to Imperfectly Okay Parenting Part THREE: My Thelma and Louise Moment

Go Back to Imperfectly Okay Parenting Part ONE: Wholeheartedness


Wendy Besmann

Wendy Besmann is the Executive Director of Get There Project. Her books include Family Road Map: A Step-By-Step Guide to Navigating Health, Education, and Insurance Systems for Families with Special Needs, Young Adult Road Map: A Step-By-Step Guide to Wellness, Independent Living, and Transition Services for People in Their Teens and Twenties, and Team Up for Your Child, A Step-By-Step Guide to Working Smarter with Doctors, Schools, Insurers, and Agencies. She and her husband Ted have two sons, Elliot and David, who live with special needs. Wendy and Ted split their time between Knoxville, Tennessee and the University of South Carolina campus, where Ted is an engineering professor and Wendy is a "vintage" grad student in Public Health.

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