I spent two hours today in a local screening meeting. We were discussing a student who has been at our school since head start. He's been on our radar as a student we are concerned about since at least first grade. He's very, very bright. I think that is actually part of the problem. Academically he is fine, as a result we feel like we're doing our job as a school. However, he has significant issues with social interactions. He frequently says things that are offensive, hurtful, even cruel. He does not understand that people are hurt by him. Many of us have been concerned that if he does not get help he will have serious problems in the future. We've been trying to get his mom to get counseling for him and/or the family. I firmly believe that he needs counseling and we will keep doing all we can to push for this.
This child is not easy to label. If he were we'd have dealt with this years ago. We discussed a wide range of possible ways to serve this child with an appropriate label: autism, emotional disabilities, or other health impairment. None seemed to fit. I'm fine with that. I don't feel a need to slap labels on students all willy-nilly. What matters the most to me is that we help students. I don't feel that I can give this child all he needs on my own. We kept returning to the idea of counseling. Again, I think that is critically important for this student.
But...I finally got so frustrated with the whole situation (he's in 5th grade, we can't keep waffling!), I gave a little speech.
In the past, when I've come to local screening, my goal has been to get a label for a child. This has nothing to do with our school. We will get kids what they need no matter what label they have, it's what we do. When I want a label for a child it's because I want to know that if they move or when they head off to middle school they will still get the services and accommodations they need in order to learn. I feel just the opposite with this kid. I don't care what label he does or doesn't have, I care that we figure out how to help him. I'm afraid that what we'll do is say that he doesn't fit any category, he needs counseling which his family needs to deal with, and therefore we wash our hands of this.I don't normally do this sort of thing. In ten years I've been through a lot of local screening meetings. I've never felt a need to preach to the committee. I was close to tears today. In the end, I think we're going to create a 504 plan for this child (similar to an Individualized Education Plan but probably more appropriate for him). That's fine. But I'm still unclear on how we're going to help him. Maybe next week's meeting will answer that question for me.
By the way, it probably goes without saying, but this is a great kid. For all of the difficulties and challenges we face (he and his teachers) he has many wonderful qualities.