When Discrimination Starts in Elementary School
Over a decade ago, I received a frantic call from my son’s elementary school principal that Luke was “out of control again,” and “used a pencil as a deadly weapon to jab his teacher in the arm.” He told me that the police were on their way, and if I didn’t get there soon, they were going to have him arrested for assault. My son was six years old at the time.
Hurriedly, I told my college students that class was dismissed. I raced to the car, hit the gas pedal hard and roared out of the college parking lot. At the same time, I was yelling at God asking him when my son was going to get the help he needed. Twenty long minutes later, I ran into the elementary school and into the room where my son was. There were books and toys thrown all over the floor, chairs overturned, and a table broken in two, which is how my heart felt.
My son sat alone on the floor, sobbing like a wounded animal caught in a trap with no way out. There was a police officer standing “guard” over him; the principal and three other teachers were doing the same. I flung myself to the ground next to my son, pulled him close to my chest and whispered, “Mommy’s here, don’t worry, it’ll be all right.” The teachers silently watched with arms crossed over their chests. The principal said that something had to be done about my son because “he’s simply too dangerous and needs to be put in another environment.” I could feel his anger and judgement filling the room.
Getting My Son the Help He Needed
This has been our life for 10 very long and stressful years. My son has early onset bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorder and ADHD.
Over the years, I have fought different school districts for help to no avail, while my son fell behind academically. He has been in and out of public schools. He has tried countless medicines that haven’t worked. He’s experienced short stays in psychiatric hospitals. Insurance wouldn’t pay for residential treatment or home school. He was put in juvenile detention when he was 15 for hitting his teacher’s aid.
Right after he turned 16, he announced he wasn’t going to take his meds anymore. I begged him not to do that, but he didn’t listen. Slowly he exhibited extreme aggression and became hyper manic. He refused to go to a hospital saying that he didn’t need another “freak show.” He said that no one can help him.
I knew he was overdue for another hospital stay. We’d recently moved to a small town on the Texas coast to be closer to family and have a slower paced life in hopes that it would help him do better. I didn’t know the local hospitals yet, so it was going to be hit or miss. Thankfully, it was a hit.
I called for a mental health deputy to help calm him down and get him in the car. He was amazingly kind to my son. I never knew there was such a thing. He transported my son to the hospital, which turned out to be literally and figuratively the first real road to my son’s recovery.
He was in the hospital for three weeks. The psychiatrist helping him was outstanding. After trying a few medications that didn’t work, he asked me if they could try Invega Sustenna injection once a month. Not knowing anything about it, I did my research and said okay. We had tried everything else, I thought maybe this medicine will be the one. And it was. It has been the key to my son being able to think clearly and calmly for the first time in his life.
Turning a Corner
Since that time, Luke’s been able to attend school about three days a week. It’s not a traditional high school, but a half day program that works with all types of kids that haven’t been successful in regular school. He attends weekly counseling. He is now more stable than ever, so he can work on his anger and mood swings. All that would never have happened if he had not been placed in this last hospital.
I’m so thankful that my son is thriving for the first time in his life. I have had to let go of a lot of anger towards his former teachers and administrators for being so inflexible in attending to his needs. He was child with mental illness. He needed their help and compassion rather than their judgment. He needed proper accommodations and counseling.
Today, we are focusing on Luke gaining some ground on all the learning he never received. Luke has filled out a job application and hopes to get a part-time job. He is even thinking about community college—all things that he and I never imagined could be part of his future.
Though I was afraid to make the move to a new town and a new doctor, this decision has been the best one for my son’s mental health and stability. I feel as if God answered my cries for help. I know that my son and I have a long journey ahead of us, but we’ve made real progress. For the first time, we have hope.
Leslie Cappiello is the single mother of four children. She is an International Baccalaureate high school English teacher as well as an instructor at a community college. In order to understand bipolar more and help with her son’s treatment, she obtained a PhD. She has self-published a novel, The Magic of the Monkeys. She was the Claes Nobel Distinguished Teacher in 2016, and Outstanding Teacher in 2017.
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