Friday, August 22, 2008

The Phone Call

Every parent who has a child with emotional or behavioral special needs knows about "the phone call." So much so that it has almost become a cliché in these circles. Every day your child goes to school, you are panic stricken each time the phone rings, and you hold your breath, almost to the point of endangering yourself, until you can read the caller ID. If you get through the whole day without a phone call from the school, it's almost like Christmas. If you get through a whole week, it's like winning the lottery. If you see the school's name on the caller ID, you feel like you're going down with the titanic.

I, like many other parents in my situation, have received my share of phone calls. In fact, I will "one-up" my peers by saying that I have even gotten "the phone call" from the principal of a school my children do not even attend. Public school started a week earlier than our school did. Tommy and Will went down to the school, as they were used to doing all summer, to ride bikes and scooters in the empty parking lot. We had forgotten that the school was in session, and when the principle came out to tell them they could not ride there because pick-up would be starting soon, Tommy was non-responsive and ran off - and then proceeded to scooter across the parking lot. Will,
I was told was, was very cooperative and provided them with our phone number. Not one of Tommy's shining moments.

Occasionally we have worked things out over the phone, but most often I have run to the school as quickly as I can in hopes of doing as much damage control as possible. Last spring, in a session with our Behavior Therapist, Nathan, we talked about a recent phone call and how Tommy was unable to tell the teacher what was wrong. He was also unwilling to get on the school's phone and tell me what was going on. But, when I picked him up, he was able to talk to me when we got into the car. We started to brainstorm about ways that Tommy could get my attention when he was in school and save ourselves from an incident, and "the phone call." Naturally, it hit Nathan and I at the same time that Tommy needed a cell phone. He was in forth grade now, was a very responsible child with his belongings, and really had no friends to call, so there would be no abuse of the privilege.

It seemed like the perfect solution. I plugged in speed dials for myself, his dad and brothers. He knew that if something was really starting to go wrong, all he had to do was hold down the number two and he would get me. What an incredible sense of relief and control this has given him. We have avoided several incidents this way. Tommy takes great pride in having called me to work things out before he loses it. He also takes great pride in being trustworthy enough to have a phone. It has been a big boost to his self esteem.

I have also been able to call him if need be. One day I-40 was shut down and it took me two and half hours to get to the school (normally a 25 minute drive). I was able to call him several times and update him on my status, keeping him calm and in the loop. He also takes the phone on bike rides, etc. in case he gets hurt or lost and needs to contact us.

I would recommend getting any child with control issues a phone, if they are mature enough to handle the responsibility. There are, however, a few issues with this method. His teacher became concerned because he would speak to me, but still not be able to tell her what was going on, so she was not up to speed on how to proceed. We have to make sure that Tommy at least tells the teacher that he called me, so she can touch base with me to find out what happened. Furthermore, cell phones may not be allowed at your child's school. We got permission from the head of school, who thought it was a great idea. If you are in public school, you may need to get it included in an IEP.

There is always a feeling of triumph when you have taken something that has haunted you, like "the phone call," and turned it around to work to your advantage. And though it's nervous making to put control into the hands of a child who is often out of control, sometimes it's just what they need.


AngelConradie said...

oh. my. word.
my knucklehead is ADHD and i have had so many "phone calls" i've lost count...
i agree, its an awesome thing for a kid with issues.
i gave my son a cellphone when he went to the 6th grade (he's 17 now) and he's been fantastically responsible with it. he's never lost one or had one stolen and i can get hold of him or him of me whenever wherever.

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