We often feel both happy and sad when we look at photos of Gabe; happy to see him in a frozen moment of joy, but sad because such moments are often fleeting and mixed. There’s something there, in those pictures, a glint of shadow, just something that says, “Though I’m happy in this moment, this other thing is still here too, clawing at my soul, waiting to pull me away.” At three years old, he said, “I have so much mad in me.” At five he reflected, “I don’t know why I have so much nervous and anger in me, when I’m not even mad or scared about anything.”
He snuggles on the sofa with our one-year-old chocolate lab; pulls him even closer to his face and whispers, “I just love you so much Oscar, I don’t even know what to do.” But, sadly, these sweet moments share the stage with many hours of enraged, hysterical, and aggressive behavior. Gabriel has anxiety, impulse, obsessive thinking, and anger issues. And, because of these issues, once he becomes upset, he is unable to stop or control his reaction and goes all the way to boiling, flailing and attacking whoever or whatever is nearest. It’s like a monster issues from his depths and overtakes him. These fits, which generally range from one to five a day, include high-pitched screaming, hysterical crying, hitting, running in circles, repeated phrases/themes, throwing things, biting, kicking, etc. Now that he’s six, his hitting can cause bruises and cuts.
We’ve learned from our own experience, as well as doctors and therapists, that time-outs, cajoling, stricter punishments, and rational discussion cannot quell or defuse these episodes: they are not typical “toddler” meltdowns. He cannot just “snap” out of it. During these episodes, he is completely unable to manage his emotional, verbal, and physical reactions. Needless to say, these occurrences take quite a toll on his older brother Nathaniel, Mom, Dad, and even Oscar. And, after such experiences, Gabriel is left shaken and filled with shame, which exacerbates the heartbreak of the entire situation.
We have a long list of the various homeopathic and traditional routes we’ve pursued in search of help and answers; we’ve tried various behavioral modifications, medicine, and supplements. Some years have been better than others—for instance one entire year, when he was three, he generally only slept from 12:30 – 3:30 a.m. and 4:30 – 6:00 a.m. Some nights he spun in circles yelling and crying “I don’t want it to be bedtime” (or “middle of night” or “morning time” depending) for hours per night. Others he tried to go to sleep, lying quiet until he would cry and make reflections, such as “My brain won’t let me sleep; it keeps my legs and arms moving”; “My body won’t let me relax and my thoughts are too busy.”
To greatly condense, when he was four, he showed some progress and preschool went fairly well, but everything unraveled during kindergarten (this past year, year Aug 2013 - June 2014). Kindergarten knocked us back to square one. The hysterical episodes returned with a vengeance, in frequency, duration, and intensity. Gabe was also unable to adhere to the rules and stay engaged the whole day; without recess until 2:00, he had no outlet and was often “disruptive.” He was constantly agitated, nervous, and bored, and used all of his energy to try to get through the day being “good.” He continually worried about getting in trouble and about needing to go to the bathroom, which became a big issue. The punitive and public “color” ranking system caused him constant worry and embarrassment. Even though he learned a lot and demonstrated above average academic skill, he was miserable. He cried and begged every morning not to go to school. There is no way, in good conscience, we can send our little boy back into a situation that proves demeaning and soul-sucking for him. It is clear that a thirty-child classroom with a traditional worksheet curriculum and shaming system of punishment does not meet his needs. He needs a more creative, integrated, dynamic, and individualistic approach.
Both for kindergarten and first grade we submitted applications to the available magnet schools in Durham—ones more geared to Gabe’s needs—however, his name was never “drawn” (blind, inundated lottery system). We were colossally disappointed. At this point we have no public school alternatives left. We have been working with specialists at the Lucy Daniels Center for the last six months. His doctors and counselors concur that it would be to his detriment to return to a traditional and crowded school for first grade. He needs a therapeutic, academically advanced, and creative school setting to help him feel supported as he learns to deal with his severe anxiety and impulse issues. Making this investment over the next few years will teach him how to manage and reduce his issues and hopefully spare him many years of more intense anxiety, depression, and acting out.
However, such a school is no small investment; in fact, the tuition is way over what we can afford. Even after cutting back, the tuition is beyond our budget. We are both teachers in the North Carolina system which is currently in crisis. Our salaries have been furloughed; Tricia had to take a $5,000 pay cut since she works on a non-tenure line basis; and we have only received one 1% raise since we’ve been here (2008). We both pick up additional courses and teach in the summer; additionally, John works at Barnes and Noble through the holidays so we can afford Christmas (we both carry graduate school student loans). Our highest and most immediate desire is to give Gabriel the tools he needs to thrive and become a healthy, happy, well-adjusted boy and adult. We know that The Lucy Daniels School is the option that can do this for him.
Your donation would be used for this worthy purpose.
Thank you for your help!
Tricia Leaf-Prince and John Prince
- Lolethia Underdue
- Andy Binford
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