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"I began to hear complaints almost from the first day." Mobility and independence.

"I'm glad you could see us right away." Mrs. Lane, a stout, dark-haired woman in her early-fifties spoke quickly. "Sam, our youngest son, has just been excluded from his school until Monday." Sam is 14 years old and entered this junior high school in the seventh grade this fall. He has been acting up in school all fall. He finally aggravated his English teacher so much she asked the principal to expel him. We have a conference with Mr. Class, the principal, on Monday and we don't know what to do or say.

"In the summer, we bought Sam an electric wheelchair. This new chair has made it possible for him to really take off by himself. And he has really turned into a holy terror since that time. No matter what I try to do or say, he says no. It's not just me. He does this everywhere. He has been just terrible at school. He talks in class, and, as far as I can make out, he has become the class clown. He's running his wheelchair all over the school, knocking down furniture and scaring people to death.

"I've heard complaints from the first day. First, the gym teacher called me. In elementary school (in gym), he used to go just to watch, but now he tries to play in the various games and he is a menace, according to the gym teacher, with the way he was using his wheelchair. The gym teacher, Mr. Drew, talked with him; somehow they were able to reach an understanding. Sam has his own program but can watch and help in games if he gets Mr. Drew's permission. But I guess it was his English teacher, Mrs. Davis, who finally said that she wanted him out of her room. She says that he is always talking no matter what is going on in class and she can't stop him. Whenever he doesn't like something or when she says no to him, he wheels himself out of the room. Mrs. Davis called me and asked for a cooling-off period. That was yesterday, and I'm glad that you can see us today.

"I'm at my wit's end. We've tried to talk to Sam and he just smiles. His older brother, Jim, who is 17, and his sister, Julie, who is 16, think we've spoiled him rotten. This is the first time we've ever had a serious discussion about Sam with our other kids. For years, Sam was a very good youngster. My husband says Sam was overly compliant. He did whatever we asked him to do. As a baby, Sam was unable to move much or even crawl.

"We've gone through all kinds of exercise programs and rehab programs. We've had to struggle to get him accepted into regular classrooms. He has some speech difficulty, but he's worked on that very hard. No matter what challenge there was, Sam rose to it.

"This behavior started this summer as soon as we got the chair and has gotten even worse since he entered junior high school. Last June, the junior high school people weren't sure exactly which course levels he should fit in or how to handle him.

"The school is barely accessible. In fact, they moved two of his classes to the first floor of the building so that they could be accessible to him. I don't think Mrs. Davis, his English teacher, has forgiven him for the move. So after all the concessions had been made by the principal, who's an awfully nice guy, for Sam to behave this way is very discouraging.

"When I talk to Jim, he doesn't seem to see it the same way as I do. Or, at least, I feel I'm getting no support.

He feels that kids this age often act up. He said he was no angel. I should let Jim speak for himself. So Sam's behavior gets encouragement from him.

"On the other hand, his brother and sister tell us that I've always spoiled Sam. They feel I've brought Sam up so that he believes he can do whatever he wants.

"So now we need to do something to stop him. But I've tried everything. I don't know what else we can do."

I know that what Sam's doing has to be stopped." Mr. Lane, a tall, heavy-set man in his late-fifties, spoke quietly "And I do agree that I enjoy some of this. Here's this poor kid who's had to be wheeled around all his life. We've always had to find other people to make sure he got places, to take care of him. In elementary school, there were kids who took turns wheeling him to different activities when it was necessary. Of course, in elementary school he spent most of the time in one room so that it wasn't that much of a problem.

"At the same time, I remember every June going hat in hand - trying to negotiate with the elementary school principal - to get a teacher who would accept him, listen to him and give him attention. And that's the way we started junior high school.

"Ruth and I had to go to the junior high school in June. We get along great with the principal, Jim Class; he's an old friend of mine. But he was frank and said that he had to negotiate any arrangements with his teachers. He couldn't tell them what to do. He finally was able to get a program that we thought was appropriate for someone with Sam's intelligence. Sometimes people don't realize a child can be quite intelligent even if he's in a wheelchair and has difficulty speaking clearly.

"When Sam got the new wheelchair, he got tremendous pleasure out of being able to take care of himself. I sure don't want to stop that! I don't think Sam is ready to listen to a lot of people right now. I can remember that the seventh grade is a wild time for most kids anyhow. I can remember how I envied the kids who could speak up and talk back to the teachers. I was always a very compliant boy, a lot like Sam. And I wish that I could have told the teacher to stop, to get off our backs.

"So, I do have a somewhat different feeling about Sam's behavior than my wife does. We have not talked much to our older kids about Sam. They've been terrific in helping at home ever since he was born. Occasionally, Ruth and I will sit down with them and ask if there is something special we can do for them because we know how much time and energy we take with Sam. But in a funny way, this is the first time we've had a chance to ask them what they think of the way we've dealt with Sam. Maybe we need to listen to them more.

"Sam does expect that people will help him. I've always thought that's terrific. On the other hand, obviously, it can sometimes get him into trouble. It is time to stop him. But it's almost as if we've unleashed something that seems to be out of our control, and it may have to run it's own course. But at the same time, even Sam is telling me that the end of the course has come. We're going to have to do something real by Monday morning." I'm sorry I've made so much difficulty for my parents," Sam Lane moved closer to my desk in his wheelchair. "I know sometimes when people first meet me they don't understand what I'm saying. How about you?

"I don't know what's gotten into me either. Sometimes I wish I could stop what I'm doing and listen to what teachers tell me. But for the first time in my life, I can get away from people who are bothering me.

"My mother says I've become the class clown. But, at my old school, people put up with me but they didn't really play with me. In this school, I watched my old friends develop new friends right away. I see boys and girls having a good time together after school and on the way home. I sort of feel out of it, lost. At least now people come up and talk to me; kids know my name. And I don't know how to find some other ways for this to happen.

"My parents have been great to me. I know I'm upsetting my mother and I really love her. But sometimes I wish she would get off my back. Maybe that's the way I feel in English class. When the teacher talks to me, I feel she's getting on my back and I just have to get away from her. Am I really crazy? And what do you think we can do?"


The Lanes came about their 14-year-old son, Sam, who had just been excluded from school for misbehavior. Sam had just entered the local public junior high school; from the first day, he had been defiant and disruptive in all his classes. Sam had begun using a power wheelchair in the summer and now enjoyed leaving classrooms when teachers asked him to stop his acting up. A shy, withdrawn boy in elementary school, he had become the "class clown." Mr. Class, the principal, made it clear to the Lanes that the arrangements he made so that Sam could be in classes that fit his intellectual ability might have to come to an end if his acting up continued. He would have to restrict Sam the way he would any other difficult child.

Mrs. Lane was bewildered by her son's behavior. She was concerned that this behavior was enjoyed and implicitly encouraged by her husband. Mr. Lane admitted he's delighted in Sam's behavior. It represented the freedom that not only he wished for Sam, but had wished for himself at a similar age.

Entering junior high school is a challenge for all children. It is a period that has been labelled a time of identity challenge. At this stage of their lives, adolescents are trying to understand who they are and what they will become as adults. There are new friendships to be made and old friendships to give up. As their bodies change and they become interested in sexual issues, they need to redefine their relationships with both girls and boys.

Youngsters strive for independence from their parents with their first steps as toddlers. In adolescence, independence from adult supervision can be a daily struggle for both parent and child. Sam's physical limitations make him more dependent on others and, from infancy, had inhibited the traditional steps towards independence.

For youngsters like Sam who have physical limitations, these challenges can also arouse specific anxieties and fears. The awakening of sexual issues makes them concerned about their relationships with boys and girls because they fear their bodies will continue to "betray" them. They feel they are not as "attractive" as their peers and that they cannot participate in as many activities. For Sam, who had been so dependent on others for so much of his life, the powered wheelchair provided him with his first opportunity to challenge his own limits and his dependence on others. As all adolescents who struggle for independence from within their families, Sam carried the struggle on to the other important adults in his life - his teachers.

Mr. and Mrs. Lane, particularly Mrs. Lane, had constantly worked to make sure that Sam was going to be given an opportunity for a decent education. This required negotiating continuously, class by class, teacher by teacher. Now in the junior high school, they met with the principal to ensure that teachers would adapt their physical environment and their attitudes so that Sam could be in the most appropriate academic group.

Since so many things had been made possible for Sam, his brother and sister considered him "spoiled." Sam did expect that everyone would accept and help him. He was accustomed to the encouragement and support of everyone. He was delighted by his ability to challenge the requests made by adults but was unprepared to deal with their disapproval. He wanted to stop but did not know how without just "giving up." These issues had not been discussed by Sam and his parents. They were delighted with the opportunity to do this.

Regular meetings throughout the course of the school year were held with Sam to discuss his concerns about his behavior and his relationships with the other youngsters. Once a month there was a separate meeting with his entire family so that they could express their own feelings and reactions about Sam and his behavior. They could also examine their own expectations of each other and themselves as family members. By the middle of the school year, Sam stopped being the center of attention in the family meetings, and his behavior in school began to improve. Then the Lanes began to discuss the growing independence of all of their children and how they would deal with their own lives after all the children left home.

This case has been selected from private practice and consultation files. The names and circumstances have been changed to preserve confidentiality.
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Author:Schleifer, Maxwell J.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Jan 1, 1990
Previous Article:From ritual to repertoire: a cognitive-developmental systems approach with behavior-disordered children.
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