A Special Education

Insight into troubled kids, and ourselves.

Things We Need You to Know: Tuning in to the Voice of Troubled Kids

Are we willing to really listen to troubled kids?

For those who would be caregivers of children with significant emotional and behavioral problems, the learning curve can be very steep. The off-putting, disruptive and sometimes dangerous behavior from these kids, often in response to efforts to help them, seems to suggest they don't want the help; that they would prefer we left them be.

Though my blog will generally focus on discussing what the research and clinical literature has to say about troubled kids, sometimes I think it's important to wonder about another perspective . . . that of the kids themselves.

Below is a brief attempt to capture some of what I've learned about what kids with emotional/behavioral difficulties (particularly those who have experienced significant loss and "attachment disruption") might want us, their caregivers, to understand about them.

It is important to wonder about the "voices" of these children. Research and clinical experience are crucial, but so is the experience of those we're intending to care for.

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Things I Need You To Know . . .

I need lots of attention.
Even when I swear at you, I still need your attention.
I will talk endlessly about stuff like video games because that's all I'm really good at.
I will do odd, quirky things that always seem to get weird looks from people.
And when I tell you I don't care, it really means I just don't know how to let myself care.
The four letter word that makes me the most uncomfortable is "SPED"

I don't want to be here because it means I failed in order to get here.
I've never belonged to things much in the past.
I learned a long time ago to reject you before you can reject me.
Did I mention that I want your attention?

I'll be looking for ways to get control by hitting your buttons,
And by "splitting" you against one another,
And against my family as well,
And by sparking other kids to get in trouble
Because control is something I've been without for quite a while.

My file says I'm not retarded but I think I am.
My diagnosis crawls through my file like some sort of bug I want to squash.
You will misunderstand me.
You will assume I'm being "lazy" or "manipulative" or "nasty" on purpose.
I really just don't know what else to do to not have to feel the way I feel.

Every day, my medication is a reminder of how I'm sick but you can't see how.
Bald kids with cancer get cards and warm smiles.
I get blamed and punished because I'm bad.
And even if you tell me I'm not bad, I won't believe you.
It's your job to say nice things to me, so again, I won't believe you.
But did I already say (because it's hard for me to focus on things and I forget). . .
I really want your attention?

I just want a chance to fit in; to do something right once in a while.
I just want to feel okay for a day.
I just want my family to be proud of me for once.
I just don't want to have to remember all the bad stuff from before all the time.
I just want you to follow through on your promises to me (because others haven't).
I just don't want you to confuse my actions with who I really want to be in the future.
And yes, before I forget, the future means almost nothing to me.

I will try to embarrass you.
I will try to make you angry.
I will try to make you nervous
I will try to make you hate me
Because then I will know I'm not crazy for feeling these things myself
Because then I will know who I can begin to trust.

And trust is five letters because it's better even though it's hard
Four letter words are just easy but if I can get to five letters then
Maybe I can make it to six, and then . . .
Maybe I can start CARING. . .
And then maybe, just maybe, I'll let myself believe I deserve your attention.

Mitch Abblett, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, supervisor, trainer and writer, specializing in work with troubled youth and their families.

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