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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Let Me Get Back to You...

Today I had a parent come to school crying and wanting to talk to us, the child study team, about her son. He is a high functioning autistic boy in Kindergarten. She picks up her son at school everyday and discusses her son’s progress with his teacher. His teacher does not agree with his placement. He is currently mainstreamed with pull-out resource room and a full-time personal aid. The teacher reports to mom her difficulty with keeping the child engaged, seated, and from doing whatever he wants. The teacher comes into the meeting and she’s persuading us to reconsider his placement. Mom continues to cry and repeatedly voices her apologies to the teacher for her son’s inability to listen.

As the school psychologist, the faces around the room (including the principal who’s joined the meeting) are looking in my direction for answers. I know nothing about this child, so I immediately start trying to gather information. I ask mom if she also has the same problems that his teacher voices and ask her how she works with her son at home during homework assignments, transitioning from play to bedtime, etc. Mom allows him to throw a tantrum and then spends a great deal of time cajoling him from the floor with prizes and promises to prepare for bed or whatever is on the agenda. The teacher looks to me and says things like, “I can’t just let him throw a fit on the carpet, he’ll distract other kids, it’s not fair to the other students to keep rewarding him, for allowing him to do whatever he wants, etc.”

I ask for more time to at least observe the child, for the team to evaluate his placement, and determine if there are any interventions that can be put in place. The principal defends the teacher by saying, “You all are here only 1 day a week, we are on break next week, so we won’t see you guys again until 2 weeks…in the meantime, the teacher has to deal with these issues and the student loses out on education.”

I have observed autistic kids in classroom settings, but I have never directly worked with an autistic child. I have read the basics on autism, but I do not have a repertoire of skills to use immediately as this teacher and principal wanted. How do we handle situations where we really don’t know how to deal with a particular student or an issue? I tried the, “let me get back to you” and luckily we were able to convince the parent, teacher, and principal that we needed more time and it was in the child’s best interest.

As new psychologists, do you feel that we have been prepared to handle situations like the one presented here from our educational program? Do believe that your externship will give you the tools you need to handle situations where you have absolutely no hands on experience with a particular disorder and decisions are needed immediately?

This blog was created by Rosa DeAngeles


vincent said...

No, I don't think that we've been properly prepared to handle situations like the one present; however I don't think that it's possible to prepare for any situation in the classroom. I think you need the hands on, trial and error, type experiences in order to make you better at your job. I am looking forward to the externship because I like the idea of making mistakes under supervision and having feedback on your performance. I think the externship experience will give me a lot of useful tools and catch phrases to use when dealing with parents, teachers and other team members. The one problem I see in all this is that while I think it's totally normal to not know everything, unfortunately teachers, parents and administrators are probably going to expect that you do. If you can convince them to give you time to research unfamiliar scenarios and are comfortable admitting that you do not have the correct answer then it's all good.

Anonymous said...

We are absolutely not prepared to deal with every situation! Similarly, our externships will not prepare us with every resource that we need. However, this issue is not one that only the field of School Psychology faces. Like in most helping professions, there are no absolute answers, largely in fact because of the nature of the job. It is merely impossible to be prepared simply because we are not able to hypothesize the innumerable situations that could occur within the walls of a school, clinic, hospital, etc.

I am starting to see that we, prospective School Psychologist, have similar personality characteristics. For example, we all must feel comfortable in one way or another to assume a leadership role. However, with this same desire to lead and delegate may come the need to know everything and anything because we are “the leader”. This same positive attribute may cripple us and affect our ability to lead.

It is important to allow others to see that we are still human, despite the nature of our job that requires us in some sense to “wave our magic wand” and fix everything. It will behoove all of us as prospective School Psychologists to understand that not everybody knows everything! If we realize this early on, we may become much more approachable.
It is important to call on our team when needed and use the many resources within the school. In this case, seek out the autistic teacher; gather information about the nature of autistic children, effective treatment interventions, and personal successes and failures.
This is something that we, the leader, must instill in our team (teachers included) in order to effectively resolve the case/problem of the hour or day. So, even though we are not essentially “leading” when engage in team collaboration, we are setting the standard for that child study team, which is collaboration and communication. This is NECESSARY when dealing with children with diverse disabilities.

judy said...

1-rosa, i think the trick in handling situations we are not familiar with is to do exactly what you did - professionally ask for more time. really, would a parent want a half assed intervention, or would they rather wait a little longer for an intervention based on lots of information and totally individualized? In your situation, it’s important to win over the parent, because you and the parent have more power than the principal and her teacher. In this case, you have IDEA 100% on your side. As for the case you’ve described, what’s the deal with the 1:1 aide? Is she/he qualified? Who is instructing the aide? Also, you’ve heard this out of me before: too bad for the teacher. Her job is to learn a new trick or two and accommodate all students, especially since the push is toward full inclusion. Gen ed teachers need to progress. That’s the job right now,today, in 2008. Do the principal and teacher think that getting this child out of the school will stop inclusion? It’s not going anywhere.
2- as for our preparedness, I think that by the end of our externships, we should be very ready to work as FIRST YEAR school psychologists. All the training in the world can’t prepare us for more than that. Luckily, we’ll be part of a team; hopefully, we’ll get along with our teams AND be good professional matches. j

Katie said...

Because this field is everchanging I don't think we are ever going to have all the skills and knowledge to handle every situation. I feel that our education and experience has given us a broader knowledge of many different circumstances. It is a great foundation to continue to develop our skills. We have dabbled in many areas and currently we are experts of none. This is something that is hard to understand because parents and teachers expect us to be experts on everything.

I believe our job is to find a happy medium. We have to find a way to communicate effctively with parents and teachers while protecting the best interest of the child. Sometimes being able to admit that we aren't the expert in a certain area but we plan to work together to find the best answer to a students situation is better than pretending that we know the answer to something we don't know enough about.

MikeC said...

I feel like I am in almost the exact opposite position as you right now. I work at a place where if I'm called into a classroom because a kid is laying on the floor off task, my intial reaction is "you called me for this? nobody is bleeding". well not that extreme but you get my point. But on the other hand, my current place of employment does not prepare me for some of the things I will be doing in a public school setting.
It is impossible for us to be prepared for or experience everything that we could possible go through in any school. It also sounds like you were put in a tough position where results were needed without any chance of observation and intervention development. I think the "let me get back to you" or "I'll come up with something I just need..." is sometimes all that can be done.
Continuous professional development, reading research, interacting with colleagues can all help us to strengthen our skills and give us added tools that we can use.
It sounds like in this case, there is a parent who wants to help and that is good because he is getting away with alot at home and that needs to stop. She may have to deal with more tantrums but if she sticks to a schedule at home and continues communication with the teacher things can work out. If not, just put a jock strap on him.

judy said...