This week a student was dropped from my roster. This happens all the time for a variety of reasons: they moved, they transferred to another school in the district, they've been expelled, they dropped out of school all together. This particular student was different. He had already moved this year and started at my school after the first quarter. His first day in my class he seemed on top of things. He was quiet and very polite and did his work. That same week I attended his IEP meeting. I found out he lived with his mom and his cousin, and had been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiance Disorder. This surprised me because, as I said, he was so polite and well behaved in my class. I also learned that my class was his favorite because he wanted to go to college to study Psychology. I was hooked. I wanted to do everything in my power to help this kid, and make that happen for him.
The next week he was suspended for fighting, threatening to bring a gun to school and use it.
I was shocked and disappointed. I then found out that his records from his previous school finally came, and his diagnosis was being re-evaluated. He was now diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In a lot of ways this made more sense. When he came back after his suspension, he was different. He refused to work. He told me he didn't like my class anymore, or any class for that matter. All he wanted to do was fight. He was going to be a professional boxer. That was his dream now.
He continued to get in trouble, get suspended, or just miss school. The cousin he moved here to live with could no longer deal with his behavior and his mom was fed up too, so he was moved to foster care. He turned 18 this month, which meant he could now refuse services that came with his IEP and he was free to leave school. Last week I attended another IEP meeting with him. He chose to continue services, but transfer to adult day school where he could finish his credits in a non-traditional setting. This is probably better for him, but it leaves me feeling a bit empty.
At the same time that all of this is happening, my father-in-law was experiencing a manic episode. In an attempt to relieve his tremors, the doctors had introduced a new medication and lowered the dose of previous medications, which resulted in a manic episode. He was fully aware of the beginning stages of the episode. He asked my husband to watch out for him, be on the look out for manic behavior.
Within a few days, the symptoms were worse. My husband tried to remind him of his request, but now he just wanted to call it his extra energy. Over the next couple weeks, he's signing up to audit a class, he's not sleeping, planning business presentations, and then the big kicker: he buys two cars. So today my husband and his sister spent almost 12 hours at the hospital going through the ridiculously long process of having him admitted. This is after weeks of daily phone calls, visits and doctors appointments trying to get the right dose of medication. The mania won, they're at the hospital, but the battle isn't over.
I can't help but think about my student. His mom and cousin couldn't deal with his behavior anymore. They left him. The school system doesn't know how to deal with his disorder. They punished him. He's 18 now. Our country doesn't know how to deal with his disorder. We have quit on him.
I'm not saying I blame his family. It is not easy to be the one on the receiving end of the behavior, the mood swings, the recklessness. But I realize how lucky my father-in-law is to have family that will sit all day at he hospital. That is love. It is painful, relentless, difficult, unconditionally supportive love.
What about Keeshawn? Who is going to love him unconditionally? Who is going to support him when he's down? Who is going to monitor him when he's manic? Who is going to take him to the hospital and get him the help he needs? Who is going to sit there all day with him? What will happen to him?
The reality of his future is too overwhelming to think about. He is a victim of a lack of mental health awareness in this world. We are not equipped to help him, so we just don't. We assume his behavior, his choices, his outbursts were of his own volition, and so we punish him. We punish him for his chemical imbalance. We punish him for being born different.
On this day of thanksgiving, who will be thankful for Keeshawn? Where will he be? Will he be eating a big meal, surrounded by family members? Will he feel loved?
He will be in my thoughts, and I hope that he has a happy day, a full meal, and a warm bed.