This weekend was great. Cole had a swim meet. Bryce had two play dates. We watched sports on TV.
9:00 Monday morning my phone rang. I looked down and the caller ID said, “The Frost School.” Shoot. My heart stopped.
"Bryce is upset. He's throwing things. Banging his head and threatening to hurt himself or a classmate. Anything happen over the weekend that might have gotten him upset?” they asked.
Nope. Our weekend was great. Even Monday morning was great. Bryce woke up, ate breakfast, got his shoes and socks, and brushed his teeth. In fact, he did all that on his own. That's a huge win for anyone who knows what kids with mental illness or developmental delays are like.
“Well,” the social worker said, “another student might have said something to upset him.”
Of course, I was upset that Bryce was having this incident. I was worried for Bryce. How long would this episode last? How far would it escalate? Would he hurt himself or someone else?
These calls used to be frequent. They were incredibly frequent when he was at public school – once a day, if not more. I would often have to pick him up from school as the public schools are not equipped to deal with situations like this.
Bryce's school, The Frost School, is a non-public, therapeutic special education school operated by Sheppard Pratt Health System. Bryce has an IEP (Individual Education Plan) that provides him full-time special education services. All of the students at Frost have IEPs, and all of the students at Frost have some type of behavioral or emotional challenge that allows them to receive their education at Frost.
Now that Bryce has spent a few years at Frost, the calls are less frequent, but they do still occur. And sometimes the cause of the call may be because of incidents with the other students; this can happen when your child is at a therapeutic school. There are so many benefits to Frost, but there is also the fact that all of the students have their own set of challenges, which can be seen as a potential downside. Some people might worry that this is a big negative and may avoid schools like Frost. Is that warranted? Possibly. But, in my opinion, the positives FAR outweigh the negatives.
Positive – the students understand each other and support each other. They see other people like them and do not feel isolated.
Negative – challenging behaviors that can trigger more challenging behaviors.
Positive – teaching moments when these behaviors occur. Since the staff consists of special education teachers, behavior specialists, social workers, and therapists, when incidents occur, there is immediate feedback, therapy, and interactions to process what has happened. The kids are given time to cool off in appropriate settings, and are treated individually based on their own needs and behavior plans.
Negative – frequent disruptions in the classroom.
Positive – staff that is trained to handle these behaviors.
Positive – small class size. Bryce's class has five students, one teacher, and one aide. Plus there is additional support staff available to the students.
Positive – there is occupational therapy, speech therapy, a quiet room, a climbing wall, a newly remodeled library, and more. Bryce's class received a grant for therapeutic horseback riding. We have a weekly family meeting where the parents get together and talk about what is going on. We share not only about our children, but about our lives as well. We have become friends. It is something I look forward to because these others moms get it. I could go on and on.
There are tons of positives. But Monday, when my son was upset, the negative jumped out at me.
But, was it really a negative? Life is full of challenging behavior. Life is full of people who will be mean to my child, who will challenge him. Life is not simple. Life is not all puppies and roses.
So, if Bryce is going to face challenges and face negative behaviors, wouldn't I rather him face it:
- in a school where there are many people trained to handle it?
- where he can have immediate therapeutic supports to talk to?
- where there is a safe space for him to go?
Tracy Greenberg has become a strong part of the Sheppard Pratt community. She is mother to Bryce, who attends The Frost School, part of the Sheppard Pratt Health System. She gives her time as part of the Consumer Advisory Council, a group of family members, former patients, former students, and employees of the health system who are dedicated to improving our quality of care and enhancing recovery from mental illness and addiction. Tracy also works as a supported employment outreach coordinator at Family Services, Inc., part of the Sheppard Pratt Health System, which develops and implements in-home and community-based prevention, early intervention and psychiatric rehabilitation services for children, adolescents, families and individuals. Follow along with Tracy through her blog.