I was lucky enough to work in a charter school on the west side of Chicago from August of 2015 until June of 2016. This experience was fun, rewarding, educational, and exhausting. Not only was I brand new to the education field in general, but I was thrown into an under-resourced school with a diverse spectrum of children that had many different needs that were often unmet. There were many children at this school who did not have opportunities to see clinicians or receive diagnoses, leading to the development of “problematic” behaviors throughout their elementary school years. While working there, I learned the importance of cultural context when it comes to a diagnosis of a developmental disorder. Many children had ADHD, but were untreated because the parents did not feel their children needed support from a doctor.
There was one girl in particular who was simultaneously adored and feared by the faculty of this elementary school. She was in the third grade and was diagnosed with ADHD, yielding her the nickname “the wild child.” She went off her meds about a quarter of the way through the year, and then never went back on. She was the sweetest little girl when she wanted to be, but also knew how to manipulate just about every teacher in the school. Her mother was noncompliant with staff requests to come in and meet, meaning she was unable to update her IEP that year and that her structure at home was very mismatched with her structure at school. Despite these challenges, everyone at the school cared deeply for this precious little girl. We tried many incentives to get her to stay in class/focus, including giving her a quarter every time she stayed in class for at least 15 minutes. Despite her love of coins for the vending machine downstairs, this ploy did not work. She could be found roaming the halls at any time of the day, as she had very little regard for consequences. She would burst into classrooms that were not hers and disrupt her friends with her signature cackle. But still, we didn’t stop caring.
After about three months of little to no progress, she had to be suspended until her mother was willing to come into the school. Unfortunately, her mother then threated to pull her out of this charter school, and consequently she was let back in to ensure that she was at least attending school somewhere. Around the end of the school year she moved in with her father, who recently had gotten out of jail. I spent part of my summer working with her through our summer mentor program and I was able to see progress being made with both her behavior and her hyperactivity. With occasional visits back to my old stomping grounds, I am happy to say that she is doing better this year and is able to actually stay in class for the majority of a class period.
This experience taught me many things. Not only are disabilities part of a medical construct, but they are also affected by one’s culture and their social determinants of health. She came from a family that had many obstacles in their lives, and barriers to receiving quality medical care/education. I absolutely loved working with her, despite the stress and exhaustion it sometimes caused. And the highlight of my visits back to her school are the massive hugs she undoubtedly gives me.