I may look like the other 4th graders in your classroom, but I am not. I’m different. My birth family’s repeated traumatic sex assaults and beatings have had a powerful and lasting impact on my body and mind. I don’t love or trust anyone and don’t feel loved or trusted at all.
The reptilian, fear activated part of my brain, the amygdala, is actually larger than other children’s. This interferes with my ability to sit still in a classroom and I’m unable to concentrate on the things you are talking about. My mind is always filled with fearful thoughts and anxiety about the next bad thing that’s about to happen. It couldn’t be otherwise.
The Prozac I’m forced to take (about a third of foster children are medicated by psychotropics) makes me stupid and slow and I hate that. Some foster seven year olds know what the “suicidal ideation” on the side of the Prozac box actually means (fully formed thoughts of self harm and suicide in waking moments).
I don’t have the coping skills to handle small personal things in the classroom like other children. Certain words and behaviors by others can trigger a learned fear response in me that other kids don’t have. I can be violent and did not learn social skills at home, My mother had no parenting skills and a drug habit. My over the top reactions to minor things do not come from the executive function of my brain. I can’t control myself, things just happen.
Please understand that foster children are not foster children because a parent tired of caring for them or someone hit a child once or twice. At least I’ve not seen that among the foster kids I know. I’ve come to know many foster children through the County system as I’ve moved from foster home to foster home. It is the “Imminent Harm Doctrine”, that let’s a judge remove a child from a birth home.
Literally, a child’s life must be in danger before the court will take a child away from birth parents. It can be as traumatic to be removed from the home as it is to stay and suffer the abuse. No matter how bad the abuse is, the fear of waking up in a strange place, with no one you have ever seen before is extremely frightening to a seven year old.
I became a state ward because my mother, who had been horribly abused as a child herself, had very violent boyfriends who thought sex with children was acceptable behavior. One of the boyfriends kicked me so hard I went into convulsions & needed an ambulance ride to the hospital (I was seven). The medical staff saw the awful bruises and placed me in child protection.
My vocabulary at seven was no more than ten words. For years I was considered below grade in school. I have always thought myself a freak and always felt out of place in school and among my peers and the foster family’s real children. All the adults in my life change every year. I don’t belong anywhere. I trust the wrong people and I hate authority. I have been punished beyond anything you can imagine and if you think making me stand in the hallway or screaming at me will make things better, you are wrong.
I will probably never trust you. But respect is a possibility. Building a mutual respect is more work for adults than they are generally willing to do.
Teachers are used to exercising their adult authority and punishment to get their way. I am used to bad behavior and punishment. We do what we know best.
Unless you understand that I think differently than other 4th graders and feel that I don’t belong with normal children, and that I believe all adults have their own agenda which doesn’t include me (no matter what they say) there is not much chance that we will be getting along or that I will graduate from high school (80% of children aging out of foster care lead dysfunctional lives).
It will take all of both our skills to build the mutual respect that it will take to get through this year successfully.
I really am sorry for being such a problem.