>a parents 10 rules for educating a child with Special Mental Health Needs.

>Reading the news this morning, I saw an article about the Arizona shooter that talks of warning signs concerning his behavior and what parents should do when their child exhibits them. Then I saw another article about a first grader in Los Angeles that parents want expelled for allegedly stabbing one of his classmates with a tweezer. I use the word “allegedly” on purpose.

My wife and I are extremely active in the academic lives of our kids. I welcome anyone to spend a couple of days with us if they don’t think that we are. I personally talk to my child’s teacher everyday when I pick him up. Our other boys teacher talks to us regularly as well, but has an open door that I use on a regular basis when I think that she ought to know something that could affect the day of my two boys in her class.

What can you do?

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A Parents 10 Rules for Educating a Child with Special Mental Health Needs.

  1. Be involved. Even if you have a job, you can still be involved. Use a telephone, email or stop and visit before school. Don’t wait until a problem occurs to get involved.
  2. Listen to your child talk about their day. Ask questions about what they are doing and what went on. You aren’t being nosy, you are the parent. It is your duty.
  3. We made the decision for either my wife or I to be a stay at home parent. Yes, we don’t have a lot of money. But when you are raising a child with special mental health needs, sometimes you don’t have the luxury of working a regular job. Currently, my wife has the opportunity to pursue her passion of being a school teacher, so I am the stay at home parent. Are we poor? Depends on your definition of poor. We are lucky in that we have two parents in our house. Single parent household’s don’t have that luxury.
  4. Talk to other parents when you are at the school. You don’t have to tell them your life history, but you can listen to their insights as to what is occurring in the classroom. Sometimes the story you hear about your child is inaccurate. Most of the time that won’t be the case. You can share your insights as well. Your child talks about their day, share some of what happened with the parent of your child’s classmate.
  5. If your child starts having difficulties with their school day, be proactive in doing something about it.
  6. Want to learn something about your child? Observe recess, or ask the recess teachers about your child. Does he/she interact with other children?
  7. Pay attention to your child’s school work. What is their handwriting like? Do they bring school work home? Go to parent/teacher conferences and talk to the teacher.
  8. Don’t assume that your child is innocent all of the time. Sure, every parent likes to think their child is innocent, and often times they are. But if your child suddenly starts having trouble, maybe they aren’t so innocent.
  9. Share your child’s medical or mental health info with the school. Have the school share the child’s records with the doctors.
  10. While you don’t have to like it, sometimes school is not the best place for your child.

The school has an obligation to all of the children in their district. Schools should be a safe place for kids.

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Number 10 frightens me. We have always asked about the other kids in M’s class. How is he affecting their education? Remember this. Your child has a right to an education. But, so do the other kids in his/her class. I am not saying that you should pull your child at the first signs of distress. The school is legally obligated to work with the child, and parents to provide an education for every child in their district. Communication is the key.

Do what is necessary. We did not want to put M in the hospital. It took a long time to get to the point where we thought it was necessary. We did so in part as a result of a plan that we implemented with the school the same day we decided to hospitalize him. A plan is only good if it is followed. Be proactive. If you suspect mental health issues, or the school suspects it, do something about it. Get a child psychiatrist or psychologist involved. There is no stigma in asking for help. No man is an island. We did threaten a civil rights violation against our child’s school. We started asking for help long before his behavior’s escalated. The initial response was that there wasn’t a problem to respond to. My wife is a teacher in special education. She knows those laws better than the average person. We know what the obligations of the school are. Without the supports that he needed, things happened.

Is M innocent? No. Is the school? No. Are we as parents? No, but I can honestly say that we feel like we are doing everything that we can. To the point of getting second opinions and demanding that the mental health team hospitalize our child.

If we don’t advocate for our children, who will? When we placed M in the hospital, the doctor kept talking about waiting lists for various places where he might need to go. Are those waiting lists my problem? Yes. M can’t get the care he needs if he can’t be in a position to get the care. And if no beds are available, what else am I supposed to do? At any rate, M still has a right to an education. And the school still has an obligation to provide it. Even if it costs them more money or resources.

There should be a number 11. Do not forget about other kids in the house. They are as affected by the child with Special Mental Health Needs as everyone else, as are you, the parent.

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