Dealing With A Behavior Disorder
Just take a deep breath and count to ten. Let it out. Do it again. And again. Repeat as long as necessary.
There is a new student on my caseload. He just turned six and is in kindergarten. Although today, I learned that he had, until he came to us, been in a classroom for an hour and a half each day. The other six hours of the school day was spent in a mental health facility for anger and aggression issues. Hakeim is twice the size of other kindergarten students. He is not fat, but he is tall for his age and stout. He wears clothes meant for high school kids.
He is a cute boy. He has dark skin and shoulder length black, curly hair. His eyes are a dark golden color. He has the smile of an angel. And the temper of the devil.
Hakeim is the product of a father that has been incarcerated since before he was born. A father he has never really known. His mother is just now coming to grips with the reality of having a son with special emotional needs. She is trying to be a good mom, but it is hard.
It is hard because her son is not the normal six year old kindergarten boy. He has some extreme emotional issues. Issues that have led to extreme violence. Issues that have led to him being suspended from his previous school and from riding the bus.
Although Hakeim has been at our school since before Christmas, these issues just came to surface this previous week. On Monday he threatened to beat up another boy at recess. I heard him say “If you go under the slide, I am going to beat you up!” I made him sit at recess, explained why this was not appropriate and reported to the principal later.
Tuesday, he made good on his threat. The other little boy came under the slide where Hakeim was hiding out. Hakeim pushed him down to the ground and began to pummel the other little boy. The little boy’s nose was bleeding before I could get there. I was only three steps away.
On Wednesday, when he was sitting at a separate table at lunch as part of his punishment from the day before, he threw a banana at a boy who was watching him. When confronted about this, he threw is lunch tray to the floor, with food going everywhere.
On Thursday, while still in my room all day for in-school suspension, he tried to push me down. He refused to do his work and threw pencils around the room. He refused to go to time out when asked and had to be restrained when he tried to hit another student.
Thursday night, I called his mother. The principal and the counselor had already called, but I wanted to talk to her myself. This is when I learned about all of his previous problems.
When Hakeim was just two, he bit a cousin so badly that he needed stitches. At three, he was kicked out of his first day care. By four, he had been kicked out of two more. All because he was hitting, kicking and biting the other students. Whenever someone got into his personal space or touched him, he would strike out.
Right before his fifth birthday, Hakeim’s mother found out about a special mental health facility that specialized in young children with aggressive tendencies. They worked with him, and taught him coping skills. They diagnosed him with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and clinical depression and started him on medication. His days started getting better. That is when he started going to kindergarten for the first time.
When he came to us in December, he had only been in a classroom for less than two hours per day for less than two months. He had never been in a classroom with more than ten students. He had never been in a classroom without a one-on-one paraprofessional.
When he came to us, we were not told about all of these issues. He was put in an all-day kindergarten classroom. There are twenty-two students in the classroom. There is a para in the classroom, but only for an hour per day.
His mother told me that she had not told us all about her son’s behaviors because she wanted to give him a fresh start. She didn’t want anyone to know his history, because he had been better since the treatment program and medication.
Once I found out all of this, I changed things for Hakeim. I removed him from his regular classroom. I put a desk in the corner of the classroom that kept his attention on his work and away from the rest of the activity of the classroom. I gave him assignments that were not too easy and not too hard. I kept him away from recess and only let him go outside when I was there to watch over him.
That was only today. But today, I got to see the good side of Hakeim. He worked on his assignments all morning – only stopping to ask for clarifications on the work. At lunch time, he sat at his separate table and ate all of his lunch and cleaned up his mess afterwards. He stayed with me and worked on the computer during his specials time.
At the end of the day I walked him out to his bus. I asked him how he thought his day went. “It was good, I think,” he said. I agreed with him. I asked him if he was ready to go back to the bigger class on Monday. He thought about it for a minute before he answered.
“No,” he replied. I asked him why not. “If I am in the big class, the other kids get too close to me. I am scared that I will hurt someone.” I smiled down at him. I told him how proud of him I was.
Then he said, “I know how to calm down when I get mad.” I smiled again, and asked him how he did it. “I just take a deep breath and count to ten. Let it out. Do it again. And again until I’m not mad anymore.”
I think he will do okay….