Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Recommendations, Questionnaires, and Other Forms of Sublime Torture

My friend T came to visit this afternoon while I was on a prep. T is on in-school suspension right now for a push-and-shove-fest right before the break. It seems that T and S, who is usually T's buddy, had a bit of an altercation over a basketball and T shoved the first shove. I was surprised at first when I heard that T had been in a "fight," though what actually happened seems predictable and mundane enough--not "okay," but not shocking.

So T came to visit with a questionnaire he needed filled out for a high school. T has ADHD, which I've mentioned before, and the form had to do with side effects from his medication. When I got to one part of the form, I paused, because how am I supposed to know if the kid hears voices?

"Are you sure I'M supposed to fill this out?" I asked T.

"I guess," he said.

I looked at the form again. It asked for teacher's name, class, grade level, all that stuff, so I assumed that he was right.

"Okay," I said, figuring I had no choice but to interview him. "Do you ever bite your nails or scratch yourself or anything?"

We both looked at his ragged cuticles.

I'll put that as a "sometimes," I thought.

Moving on, I asked, "Do you ever see things that aren't there?"

"Sometimes," he said. "Like if I watch a scary movie, sometimes I, like, see the killer or whatever when I go to bed."

"So you have nightmares?"

"No. Like, I'm awake and my eyes are open. And I see them."

Another "sometimes."

"Do you ever hear voices?"

"Oh yeah. All the time. It freaks me out. Like, I hear this voice yelling at me. It kind of sounds like my dad, but it's not. It's definitely a guy, though."

Oh crap. "Sometimes."

"Any other comments or insights you would like to share," the questionnaire ended.

I wrote, "T's side effects and/or symptoms do not substantially interfere with his academic performance or behavior." Because it was true. His suspension notwithstanding, T is a nice kid and a good student. I don't excuse the push-and-shove, only recognize that it's something that many kids do and that it doesn't necessarily make a kid evil or even poorly-behaved. Usually he is respectful and decent. And that's not saying he shouldn't be punished--the suspension is warranted, sure--only saying that it doesn't change my opinion of the kid's fundamental character.

"That all?" I asked.

"Well," he said, "I need that other recommendation. That my mom sent in before the break."

"You know, T," I said, "I did that recommendation. Right before the break. And I can't give it to you anymore because when it asked me if you had been suspended, I wrote 'No.' And that's not right anymore."

"I know," he said, looking down.

"I was really disappointed about that," I said.

"Yeah," he mumbled, still looking down.

"So I need another copy of the form, from your mom," I said, after a long pause in which I wasn't even sure what the right thing was to do, "so I can change that."

"Okay," he said, cautiously.

I don't know what to write. I don't know how to say, "Yes, T has been suspended, but it was NO BIG DEAL." I don't know what kind of message it sends to do a recommendation for a kid who has been recently suspended. But I have slightly less than 24 hours to figure it out.

Advice eagerly accepted.