It’s Not That Easy

Warning: This post talks extensively about child abuse and emotionally disturbed children.

I read this today:  http://www.cracked.com/article_21646_5-shocking-realities-working-with-disturbed-children.html/   This is one of the most honest articles I’ve read about this subject.  Many people would accuse it of being overdone, embellished for shock value. 

It’s not.  I know, because I’ve seen it myself. 

My first experience with an emotionally disturbed child was in Japan.  He was five.  Immediately I was warned that he greeted adults by grabbing their genitals, to the point that all the male staff wore protective cups.  He would run forward with arms stretched straight ahead, so I immediately learned a technique of gently pushing my fingers under his wrists to pull his hands up and out of harm’s way.  One day, he was out in the play yard, and suddenly turned around and started slamming his head into the metal post under the balcony.  He was hitting his head so hard that the skin split from his forehead down his nose, and he bit his tongue.  Blood smeared all over the post and spattered on the ground.  I started toward him, and a coworker stopped me.

“Don’t,” she cautioned quietly.  “He’ll bite.  Just let it happen.” 

Eventually, he fell down from sheer exhaustion and laid on the ground, panting.  Still, everyone stood back.  They waited until he got up on all floors, spit blood on the ground, and said, “I’m tired.”  Only then did they dare to touch him.  This same child tried to slice his wrists with a pair of scissors, and when it didn’t work, literally chewed them open until a staff member tackled him, pinned him down and sat on him. 

You don’t forget a thing like that, ever. 

The article mentions hysterical rage.  I’ve seen that in action, too.  I’ve seen a slight six year old girl lift a fully loaded student desk and fling it.  She had to sit on the floor with a clipboard, because at least she couldn’t give anyone a concussion with it.  This same girl smashed into my bookshelf, knocked it down and broke it.  I’ve seen a boy run up behind a child at a drinking fountain and slam his head into it, breaking his teeth.  I’ve been knocked down, hit with rocks and chairs, and had my hair pulled out.  My teammates and I taught our classes special evacuation commands, so that when our special needs children went off, the others would quickly abandon their work and go sit in a safe classroom.

One of my students had reactive attachment disorder, as well as several personalities.  His case file was thick with the notes of desperate teachers who noted extreme violence, periods of staring into space before screaming and fleeing the room, eating non-food items, talking to dead people, etc.  The file described abuse of the baby that he used to be so heinous that it’s indescribable.  He mentioned more than once that his family pulled out his teeth with pliers.  My notes joined theirs–literally every fifteen minutes I documented his behavior on the hopes of sending him to a facility, because public school simply can’t handle that level of distress.  I wanted to help him, but children with reactive attachment disorder cannot feel.  They don’t feel love, pity, remorse, or sorrow.  They operate on pure survival.  Strangely, this child never hurt me, though he exacted his violent wrath on every other adult.  I think he felt I was useful to his general survival, because I didn’t lash out at him and I gave him food.  Children like this can recover, but it takes years of intense therapy by a skilled professional.  That’s not something an average schoolteacher is able to provide.  There was nothing I could do to curb his violence; there was no reward he wanted, no punishment he dreaded.  He merely existed.  the goals on his learning plan could not be met, because a child who stares at you during reading and says, “Hey teacher…there’s a dead man behind you with blood in his eyes.  Better be careful.” is not focused on learning.  He was focused on whatever it is he saw that I couldn’t.  I have no doubt he thought the man was there.  

“Come on,” people would say.  “Are you afraid of a six year old?”

Yes.  Yes, I was.  I hope he doesn’t remember me. 

Teachers, social workers, and many foster families deal with this every day.  Some foster families go into the program expecting to save a helpless child, only to find the child is too violent to control.  I’ve met these families.  They cry on my desk, tell be about how they woke to see their new child standing in their room with a knife.  How the child they wanted to love pushed them down the stairs.  I know a family who adopted a child who, despite their best efforts, puts her fist through their windows, cuts up her clothes and works to destroy everything they’ve given her–and, when confronted, launches into such violent tirades they’ve had to install a lock on every door, and they flee until she collapses from exhaustion.

I think we all see photos of children and think that we wish we could help them.  It’s easy to think that we could take them from their violent home, violent past, the horrors they’ve endured and witnessed, and if we give them a happy, calm home they’ll readjust.  It’s possible, certainly, with enough training, love and support.  It’s not to say that every foster case or adoption goes wrong, of course.  However, most people are simply not equipped to deal with an emotionally disturbed child.  It eats at the core of your being.  It leaves you with memories you can’t erase, and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. 

When people say it should be easy to save our children, easy to open our doors and let them in, save them from hell and give them what they need, it’s a noble idea.  I wish we could. I wish we had the resources, the training, and the awareness to do it.  But it’s not easy at all. 

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4 responses to “It’s Not That Easy

  1. Interesting and scary to read at the same time. It reminds me of some of those cases with adopted children from Russia, where middle class white people just wanted cute blonde kids and got some severely damaged minors instead, who threatened and wrecked havoc on the whole family.

  2. I remember sitting with a little boy in my lap, his back against my chest, my legs folded over his so he couldn’t kick me, my arms folded over his so he couldn’t hit or scratch me and tucked under his chin so he couldn’t bite me as he bucked against me and screamed profanity. The only connect he had was video games, I brought in strategy guides and read them to him when he was calm and stashed them when he was out of control. We managed to get through in that small way and I hated it when he left after a few months because I worried about where he was going to end up and if he’d ever get the help he needed.

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