Carol M. Santa, Ph.D
Poor school performance characterizes many students entering therapeutic boarding schools. They have shut down and are functioning far below their intellectual potential. By high school, they appear anxious, withdrawn, inattentive, disruptive, distractible, or at times sullen, angry and oppositional. Such students are generally disengaged and bored in school.
They enter our schools with a myriad of diagnoses such as Asperger’s, bipolar disorders, and depression. Many are classified as dyslexic, as learning disabled, or diagnosed with attention deficit disorders. They have received a plethora of diverse treatments. They have been subject to stimulants, anti-depressants, mood stabilizers, school IEP’s, special education classes, tutors, and therapy. Despite these interventions, these students continue not to perform in school.
While these disorders are at times real and some even biologically based, classifying students by psychological or educational labels is not particularly useful for understanding the underlying reasons for the child’s difficulties and for developing a treatment plan. Solutions to a child’s problems are not best thought of as primarily an educational or psychological issue. Both are completely intertwined and should be considered as dimensions of the same problem. Rather than focusing on specific symptoms, it makes sense to view them as symptom clusters stemming from a more global developmental failure, a general immaturity that extends along multiple dimensions – emotional/social, cognitive/academic and even moral.
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