Author Archives: Heather

Over-Disciplining Children With Disabilities Or of Color?

classroomIf you’ve spent any time lately in a public school classroom, you know that teaching can be a stressful job!  Depending on where you live, it is very likely that the classroom sizes are large and the teachers have little support.  They are doing the best job they can!  Having said that, it is important to keep in mind that, even though the job is tough, we educators are in the business of serving children.  Yes, it’s a tough business!  Yes, we may have a wide range of students to serve!  Yes, we may not get the supports we need and deserve, financially or professionally!  But it should never be the students who suffer!

That is why it continues to sadden me that the statistics still point to an unfortunate fact…students of color and students with disabilities continue to be disciplined at a higher proportion than white students and students without disabilities.  What does this mean?  It means that a student of color or a student with a disability is more likely to be verbally scolded, barred from recess, removed from the classroom, suspended, or even expelled than a white student or a student without a disability for the SAME infraction.  Yes, you read that right.  And that is wrong!

The Atlantic ran a very compelling article in July, 2015 highlighting a report by UCLA’s Civil Right’s Project released earlier this year.  Additionally, the White House spotlighted discipline this past July in a gathering of educators, policy makers, and nonprofit leaders discussing how exclusionary discipline increases the risk of a student falling into the “school to prison pipeline“.

Why are more than 3 million children suspended nationwide annually, despite scant scientific evidence that removing children from the classroom improves behavior or learning?

In response to this continued disparity, education reformers are promoting new disciplinary methods.  Positive Behavior Intervention Supports, or PBIS focuses on giving students support by teaching kids appropriate behaviors, the consequences for inappropriate behaviors, and acknowledging when students are following the rules.  PBIS is one of the most studied and validated new discipline models being utilized.  It focuses on what kids are doing right rather than what they are doing wrong.

The Obama administration released a School Discipline Guidance Package last January that  will assist states, districts and schools in developing practices and strategies to enhance school climate, and ensure those policies and practices comply with federal law.

Skeptics argue that implementing PBIS is too expensive or that schools would be putting safety at risk by removing punitive measures.  There is growing evidence; however, that schools who implement PBIS with fidelity have a drastic decrease in unsafe behavior.  And PBIS is not a program that you “buy”, it’s about changing the culture of a system.  It’s about changing the way we think about kids who misbehave in the first place.  And that is free!

It’s about changing the culture of a system!

Our kids deserve the very best education in a safe environment, every single one of them.  It’s up to us educators to provide that.  We can create a learning environment that is rich in content with high expectations for all students.  We can create a learning environment in which all kids succeed and we meet them where they are!  It’s not impossible.  It may be hard at times, but if you are in education than you already know it’s the hard that makes it great!


When My Child’s Behavior Changed Suddenly…A Radio Interview With Fearless Parent

neuropsych-photoI am so honored to have had the opportunity to share my experience with PANS, a little known autoimmune disorder affecting children, on Fearless Parent Radio.  My son was diagnosed with Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome in June, 2014.  This horrific illness changed our lives in ways we never imagined.  As we have battled to get our son back, we have learned much about health and behavior.  I share with Carla Atherton our experience so that others can get the help they need as soon as possible.  Please listen here and learn about this illness that the National Institute of Health projects affects as many as 1 in 200 children, but goes misdiagnosed or undiagnosed.  If you miss the live airing on Wednesday, November 11, 2015, you can catch it in the archives of Fearless Parent Radio.  Thank you for helping to raise awareness!

Could Depression Be Caused By An Infection? And What Else?

My 10 year old son was a typically developing child – outgoing, academically sound, athletic, and engaged in life until everything changed and he was suddenly showing very challenging behaviors.  An illness in December that we thought might be the flu was accompanied by a very high fever with hallucinations.  What we didn’t know is that my son’s immune response to this illness was going very wrong and sending antibodies after the wrong proteins, the proteins in his brain.  These antibodies crossed the blood barrier to the brain, attacking the basal ganglia, and wrecking havoc in his mind.  At first he appeared depressed, then he began to have outbursts to common and simple requests like, “please sit up at the table,” or “use your fork,” or “what would you like for breakfast?”  Within a few months he was raging in response to being set off and having severe panic attacks.  Sometimes the rages would last an hour or more and I would have to physically restrain him to keep myself and my family safe as he would kick, hit, bite, and spit as though he were fighting for his life or I wold hold his door shut while he punched holes in the wall and tore his bed apart.  The panic attacks could last 5 minutes to 3 hours as his heart raced, his eyes dilated, and he banged his head against the wall or wedged himself between his bed and the wall begging me to make it stop, telling me that it was too much, that he couldn’t do this anymore, and to please kill him.

PANS or Pediatric Acute Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome is no joke.  It is not for the light-hearted.  It is not for the coward.  As the parent, you feel like you are fighting your child while you are fighting your fears and then you have to fight the system to get the right diagnosis and the right treatment…and then the insurance companies.  This has been our reality for the past year and a half and I have immersed myself in the research and am awestruck at what we are learning.  I am also heart broken at the number of lives condemned to mental illness because we didn’t know.

So I share this article, and I will continue to share more as I come across them.  NPR’s writer Bret Stetka, does a nice job of sharing new research with implications that depression may be a response to infection in some people.  This doesn’t surprise me as we know so many other symptoms can present as a response to infection.  Take a moment to read this article, become informed, and help those who are suffering get the proper diagnosis and the proper treatment.  Be compassionate, be understanding, be an advocate!

Could Depression Be Caused By An Infection?

If my family had stopped searching when we were told that there was no help for our son and that we needed to hospitalize him, I am sure that he would be institutionalized today.  Instead he is home with him family, continuing to heal slowly, surrounded by those who love him and support him through the worst nightmare of his life.

You are the Difference in a Child’s Life!



Thank you for taking this step in improving the life of a child!  Whether you are seeking support as a parent, an educator, or a community member working with children, you’ve come to the right place.

Here, you will find ideas, resources, trainings, and my personal thoughts about supporting kids who can be challenging.  If you don’t find what you are looking for, drop me a line and I will connect with you personally.  Together we can make a difference!