A Tale of Two Afterschool Programs, Part 1
When my son started elementary school a couple of years ago, I was delighted to find that there was day care on the school grounds. He was in morning kindergarten, so he went there after school at 11 AM. I wasn’t crazy about how small the day care room was, but I was told that they used the playscape outside extensively. The big draw was that Lawrence was right there on school grounds, and would be picked up at the door to his classroom.
In retrospect, I realize that we weren’t given any information about how discipline was handled, which I now know to be a red flag. About a month after school started, my husband, who was working at home, got a phone call - “Come pick Lawrence up.” Apparently another boy had been throwing cupfuls of water under the stall at Lawrence when Lawrence was on the toilet. Responding with an ADHD child’s impulsivity, Lawrence charged out of the stall, grabbed the kid and stuck his hand in the toilet. (I know I shouldn’t find this funny, but I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing when I first heard about it.)
I explained that Lawrence has ADHD, and therefore tends to act before he thinks, but they seemed totally uninterested in hearing what I had to say. It became clear over the next few months that the response to most infractions was to ask us to pick Lawrence up. Once my husband started working across the bay in San Francisco, that was not at all feasible. And anyway, I was wondering what I was paying these people for, if they couldn’t even handle disputes between children. In over two years at preschool, we had never been asked to pick Lawrence up. A preschool teacher would talk to us when we picked him up at the end of the day if anything had happened that they were concerned about, but all the teachers loved him, and there were very few problems.
I reached the end of my rope with the elementary school day care last fall, when Lawrence was in first grade. The day care supervisor called me in a dither and said Lawrence had been talking inappropriately. I was somewhat surprised, since he has never done that, and asked for details. Apparently he was telling other children that his penis hurt. Well, he had hurt himself badly enough the previous week by falling flat on his front on the playground that he had an ice pack on his crotch for half an hour at home after I picked him up, and it still was bothering him to some extent. Given that my husband and I were pretty matter-of-fact when we talked to him about it, he may not have realized that there was anything inappropriate in talking about it.
But the woman I talked to was very upset that he mentioned this in front of kindergartners (a whole year younger - gasp What a pervert!) and girls. Many of his friends are girls. He doesn’t think of them as girls, per se. They’re just other kids.
I reiterated that he has ADHD and is sometimes a little tone-deaf when it comes to social skills, but said I’d explain to him that it was not something he should talk about in front of other kids. I understood that they had to be concerned about other parents’ reactions. But the supervisor made him feel terrible about the whole thing, as though he had done something really shameful. That upset me, and what concerned me was that he might absorb that kind of attitude from them. He already was used to being considered the bad kid at day care, and I was beginning to get extremely worried about his emotional well being.
I asked the supervisor what their disciplinary procedure was as far as escalating the situation. What were infractions that would result in a phone call to the parents? What were some infractions that the parents would be called about immediately and asked to pick up the child? Did they have any information they could give me that would give some examples? No, they had nothing of the kind. (Granted, they probably wouldn’t have listed sticking another kid’s hand in the toilet even if they did have written examples, but still…)
I had to wonder - had they never dealt with kids with ADHD before? Obviously they must have. I don’t expect Lawrence to get special privileges because he has ADHD, but the supervisor seemed to be totally lacking in understanding, and had no interest in rectifying that situation.
On top of the disciplinary process, or lack thereof, I had found that the kids didn’t go outside every sunny day, and not at all, of course, if it was raining. If there’s one thing a kid with ADHD needs, it’s to run around outside and blow off some steam.
There was no question in my mind. Lawrence needed a new afterschool program. Time to start looking.
Deborah Gray wrote about depression as a Patient Expert for HealthCentral. She lived with undiagnosed clinical depression, both major episodes and dysthymia, from childhood through young adulthood. She was finally diagnosed at age 27, and since that time, her depression has been successfully managed with medication and psychotherapy.