The first “Note of Discipline” arrived on Friday. I felt its coming like a building headache. The disorganization was starting. Papers were already going missing. Notes to teachers were met with, “All children are expected to comply/confirm” and my stomach churned with stress. I had SUCH high hopes for this new school. After the war zone of elementary school and the chain-mail armor level meetings I endured like preparation for entering a battle field, I felt that finally getting her diagnoses in order would bring calm and order to middle school. OH MY GOD how wrong I was! Having had ADHD all my life, I know the struggle of trying SO hard to do all the things that need to be done, the endless lists and forgetting and failures that you are judged over. So, my heart aches that my sixth grader is now facing the same struggles I did and still feeling like she’s drowning amidst it all.
The note mentions that the teacher had to have a discussion with my child because they were “restless and inattentive” in class. Um, she has Autism and ADHD, so this is kind of a given. I’ve worked ENDLESSLY for years on end to get her the services and accommodations she needs to get extra help. So now, because of who she is and the behaviors that are a part of her, she is now being given detention. She is going to made to sit alone with a teacher in the cafeteria in front of all of her peers for lunch. I am THE furthest thing from a helicopter parent, but I seethed with anger when I read this. She has so many confidence problems and spent the past two years being bullied (subtlely enough that the teachers didn’t see, but I heard the tears every day) and I’d hoped this year would be better.
So, I wrote a “professional yet strongly worded letter” to several people at school. I kept my cool and acknowledged the necessity for order in the classroom, timeliness for arriving in class and so forth, but also asked why the school was employing negative punishments as a way to counteract this type of activity. Do they think that increasing her anxiety is going to help her pay more attention?
Growing up as a child with ADHD in an era when it was pretty much classified as, “your child is bad” was a terrible struggle for me. I made many bad choices and my education and social existence suffered for it. When I got to college and started taking psychology classes, one of the FIRST concepts I learned was that negative reinforcement is not effective. It may temporarily help the child recognize they did something wrong and they are being taken to task for it, but if the goal is to change the behavior, you need to approach things from a different angle.
I am not advocating getting rid of punishment by any means. If my daughter behaves inappropriately, she needs to EARN BACK her computer/tv/friend time or whatever goal she has by showing a willingness to acknowledge what happened, think about it, apologize or correct the behavior (clean up toys/messy room etc) and then return to normalcy. I don’t march her into a room filled with her friends and announce that she did such and such and stand there with her for a half hour while her friends enjoy their playtime. The school is suggesting that this is an appropriate way to deal with things.
While you can sit in a room filled with teachers and other professionals, even while they acknowledge that your child’s behaviors are unique and they have been diagnosed with several disabilities, there is still this strong reluctance on the part of several people to actually transcend that acknowledgement into the classroom. “Punishing” a child for being restless, something that is part of them, accomplishes nothing. They are making her despise middle school already and that apathy will spill over into her enthusiasm for everything due to her hyper-focusing on things with her Autism. I’ve talked about it so many times I’m exasperated, yet once again, it’s beginning.
School just started two weeks ago and already they are on their second three day weekend. So, the entire time, I’ve been listening to all the worry about the lunch detention. Gone is all the joy about joining a club, making new friends, the work they are doing in class. ALL of it has been replaced by anxiety and worry over the detention. WHEN will they learn?