When I tell people I am a school psychologist most folks conjure an image of me in an Eames chair seated across from a child on a couch, saying things like, “Tell me about your father.” In reality, I test kids in borrowed broom closets – the makeshift offices of all special education staff.
Testing is mandatory and useful, but insufficient. Observation yields the more important data. I watch kids in the cafeteria and on the playground. I see how they interact with peers and how they respond to requests from teachers. I’m gathering information to give to the adults who love them. The parents and teachers who struggle to help them each day.
A list, in no particular order, of the questions I’m frequently asked:
Does my kid have AD/HD?
How do I teach a child with Dyslexia?
My kid bites/ hits/ picks his nose …insert any behavior here. Is that normal?
How can I get him to sit still for more than 2 minutes?
Should I put my kid on medication?
Why doesn’t he follow directions?
How do I get her to do homework?
Is it okay to give Ambien to a 6-month-old?
No one has actually asked me that last one, but since the birth of my second child I’ve dreamt of marketing a sleep aid for babies and calling it Bambien (patent pending).
I do my best to answer all of the questions. This is the fun part. I get paid to spend uninterrupted time with still-developing humans. Since the sole function of my job is to evaluate, I’m not busy trying to make dinner or teach 24 other students at the same time. Parents and teachers don’t have this luxury.
I observe, play, prompt, listen, interpret, and document. It’s like assembling a puzzle from an incomplete set of pieces. Parents and teachers supply the corners and build out the frame. I find the middle pieces, one at a time, and build inward until a clear picture forms. A mosaic of a child’s mental health.
Except, it’s rarely as pretty as that.
The final report is not a colorful mural, but a typed document of black and white intended to convey the same level of complexity. This is the not-so-fun part. Charts and diagnostic codes, as required by law, make the reports clunky and difficult to understand. The beauty of the child is lost. When I hand evaluation reports to parents and teachers they jump to the last page in search of the bottom line.
Is there a diagnosis?
I tell them a diagnosis is not an answer, but a lens providing a more focused view. A diagnosis helps us understand behavior.
The real answers, the things that foster change in day-to-day life, come from each child’s individual quirks. The way she talks to the lunch lady instead of her classmates. How he’s memorized all the state capitals but is flunking geography. The detailed maps she draws when she’s supposed to write words. His love of cats and all things Star Trek. These are the data that should drive intervention. This is the stuff of healing. Join in their interests and celebrate their differences. When quirks are recognized as strengths the real treatment begins.
So, what did the doctor say?
She told me our child is a work of art.