One is faced with such dilemma when working with a child with some sort of disability. At some point, the line is blurred between attitude and disability. Is what the child doing, an action of someone without the capacity to manage himself, or a choice to deviate from what’s expected?
One of my students came late to class today. Dragging himself to school, he said that he felt dizzy on the MTR and in his state of dizziness, he somehow managed to work his way to school. His helper sent him off at the MTR near his home because she didn’t have enough change of cash to go in and out of the station with him. This 11 year old child, diagnosed with ADHD and dizzy from his medication, traveled alone on the MTR (with one change of station) for more than 30 minutes on his own. I don’t want to imagine what would happen if something would have happened to him on the ride to school.
Slightly worried, I sent an email to the mother. I wanted to understand the context of his condition and the medication that he is taking. His medication seems to be making him more tired than he usually is and he probably spends more time fighting off his dizziness than focusing in class. So it’s not really helping when it comes to increasing his attention span.
The mother replied saying that she would be glad to meet with me. She also said that she is tired from the child’s behaviour to lose things all the time (hence she wanted him to take the prescribed medication).
If I didn’t know any better, I might have been appalled by her reply. The idea of medicating a child for a condition which in my opinion, can be worked around (not worked away) with good strategies and gentle discipline, once sounded like an excuse. An easy way out to a complicated situation of a child.
Instead, I found myself empathising with her situation. It is not easy for me to work with him in class, with the different strategies that I am trying. What more a mother, who sees him in all of his good and bad days. What sounded like a ‘condition’ to me, is probably a ‘bad behaviour’ to her, because she has seen his better days when he has made good choices for himself.
I am not sure what I would have done in her situation. What else could I have done? Was it the child’s choice to be careless and lose his belongings ever so often, even after countless strategies and days of practising the same skill of keeping one’s belonging? Or perhaps he simply couldn’t do the very simple task of making sure his wallet is in his bag, so that his Octopus card is safe and he can go home on the MTR every day?
I honestly don’t know.