Thursday, October 29, 2009

Real Life Disrupts - and Tells a Story

I work with kids -- that's no secret -- but some of them need more attention than others, either because of learning issues, Asperger's, or high intelligence with little creative outlet. Still others have mental or emotional needs that can disrupt everyone's calm, especially if medication has been switched or forgotten, or if their wills are thwarted. Thursday was such a day, and "Donny" was such a child.

When I am brought to the library (shown in the photo to the right, during a storytelling activity back in the spring), I see that he has crawled under the row of computers in the library, is curled up in the corner, and refuses to come out.

At this point, it's not about the fact that he mocked a six-year-old kid and made him cry; it's about his refusal to admit his wrong and own his actions, and about his refusal to follow staff instructions.

I say, "Fine. When he comes out from under there and does what he is asked, he can have his snacks. Otherwise, if I come back to the room and he hasn't done as instructed, I have no problem crawling under there."

Staff person nods and goes about her tasks with the other children.

I return a few minutes later to prepare for the next activity. Donny is still under the computers.

I crouch beside him. "Did you not believe what I said earlier?"

He crawls out. "But I'm not gonna 'pologize, 'cause I didn't do nothin' wrong."

"Actually, you are. Come with me."

"I don't want snacks."

"Nobody said you did."

We track down the boy he made fun of -- who, by the way, is new to the Club, is a shy kid with a great imagination (he's in the novel-writing club), and isn't too eager to get anywhere near Donny, who is twice his size and possesses a quick temper.

The boy backs up against me, and I take him by the shoulders to reassure him. He looks up at Donny.

Donny looks over our heads and refuses to shake hands.

I send the little boy away and conduct Donny into my office, where he shouts and calls me names -- I am, among other things, a blathering, stupid, freakin' loser. He starts flailing, and I grip his upper arms to hold him steady. No one's hurt at this point.

Then he hauls back and delivers a good kick to my knee.

"All right, then." (I confess: I really want to kick him back.) "I'll let you go when you calm down and talk to me."

More name calling. More attempts to kick me. More irrational craziness i.e. all girls are liars, everyone in the room was lying about him, he accuses me of choking him, his dad's gonna sue me, and there's no way he's ever going to apologize to some stupid freakin' loser.

"If that's the way you want it, we'll just stand here until your dad arrives."

"I'm gonna tell him what you did."

"Excellent! I would love the opportunity to describe for him exactly what happened. I'll show him the precise way I held you so you wouldn't flail around and hit me. I'll tell him how you kicked me, and called people names. I'll tell him about your refusing to follow staff instructions, and your disrespect of a fellow Club member--"


Now, that's an argument for ya.

"So, will all this kicking and flailing and name-calling get you what you want?"

"I don't wanna be here anyway!"

"Will it get you what you want? Will it put you in charge, and let you have your way?"

"I don't care!"

"Sure, you do. What will this get you?"

No answer. I don't let him go, and he never gets away. He just stands there and cries. And calls me names.

Finally, when the wailing becomes more of a whimper, I ask him again if he will talk to me.


"Was that a yes?"

He nods.

"All right. Look me in the eye."

He does, and we talk for about five minutes. He's exhausted.

"I have to go to the other room" -- it's been forty-five minutes since I was supposed to be leading a different activity in the library -- "but you can sit in that chair until I get back."

He sinks into the small student desk, folds his arms, and lays his head down, still sniffling.

I check in on the staff member who stepped into the breach for me. She's doing okay with the group, so I return to my office and stuff a couple Kleenexes up under Donny's arm. One hand scrabbles out and snags the tissues.

The father arrives. His shoulders sag as soon as he sees his son in my office; I'm like the vice principal at school -- the one stuck with most of the disciplinary measures. "What'd he do now?"

Truth to tell, though I know much of Donny's background (which I will not describe here), this is the first time I or any of the other Club workers have experienced one of his meltdowns. He's usually an involved, pleasant, well-behaved kid, and I tell his father as much. After some conversation among the three of us, his father sends Donny out of the office and reveals that Donny has recently performed a far worse -- and public -- demonstration directed toward his dad (again, I will not describe the details here).

Turns out, there are upheavals in the boy's routine: medication changes, and the threat of being returned to a "normal" school, but also several family issues, the most disturbing of which is the fact that, when he asked to go stay with her last week, Donny's mother told him she doesn't want him.

That explains the "all girls are liars" statement.

I am true to my word: I tell his father everything. Dad doesn't know what to do about Donny's situation. He can't, after all, make the mother's cruelty go away, and all he can ask from us is our patience and understanding. His own is being tested.

So the story ends. Sort of.

There is no rainbow here, no riding off into the sunset. Sure, father and son leave the office in a more subdued state than when either of them entered, but there is no peace. Just an uneasy calm. The heavy silence right before the storm breaks.

But there's hope. Father loves son. And son, though he refuses to admit it, knows it is true.

"For God so loved the world..." You know the rest.

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