I Couldn’t Believe that I Pushed Him Away

It was something I told myself I’d never do. At least, I just knew I never give up after only two days. When I was a children’s pastor and I saw other churches do this, I was self-righteously angry at them. “They’re cowards,” I reasoned, “And they’re unloving.”

But then I did the same thing last fall. And for months — even now — I wonder if I did the right thing.

I told a mom that we (in our after school program) could not handle her special needs son.

Day 1 with Jerome

I had met Jerome (not his real name) and his mom a few weeks earlier, when she picked up a membership application. Even for a kindergartener, he seemed, ummm, “energetic” to say the least. And loud, especially when he protested against leaving the facility. Mom was very forthcoming in explaining that he had ADD. I explained that we had worked with children with ADD in the past in our church, and had several children in the after school program who were similarly diagnosed (see ADHD and Emotional Self-Control). I assured her that we would be happy to have him join us.

But I was completely caught off guard on his first day in our program. He wouldn’t take any kind of direction, even running away from leaders. He didn’t talk, only yelled. Fortunately we had an extra volunteer that day who lovingly spent time with him. But soon after she left, I had to call his mother to pick him up. (Our policy was that for any child who could not follow our expectations and rules, that they could not participate.) I spoke to Jerome’s mom about his behavior, and said we would try again tomorrow.

Day 2 with Jerome

As soon as Jerome arrived on his second day, I greeted him and sat down with him to have a conversation about what we expect. I was answered with more yelling of “No!” and even more running away. With limited number of adults and so many children, I knew that I couldn’t spend my time chasing him around the building all afternoon. I called his mom again to pick him up.

When she arrived, I explained that I wanted to help and I wanted him to be there, but I was at a loss of what to do. He would not (or could not) follow instructions, and I was concern for his safety and the safety of the other children. Mom completely understood.

I asked about his diagnosis again, and she reaffirmed that he had ADD. I told her that I was not an expert, but that from my experience I thought there was something else going on. I encouraged her to talk to Jerome’s doctor and the schools, to press the issue a little further.

Disappointingly, I told her that unless there were some behavior changes in her son, we would not be able to accommodate him in our program. I’m not sure who was more heart-broken — me or her.

Behind the Scenes

I didn’t want my involvement to end here. I had already given Mom some information about a group from Columbia that works with families who have kids with special needs. I contacted an acquaintance from that organization, asking what resources might be available to help this family.

A couple of weeks later, I was volunteering in Jerome’s school when I saw him. I pulled aside a school staff member and asked about him, sharing my involvement with him in our after school program. She explained that they were in the process of writing up an official evaluation. I felt better that progress was being made, for the sake of his needs being met.

And Now . . .

Jerome received a new diagnosis, which included ADD, but also added 1 or 2 other conditions. He has been moved to a situation in school where he has a shadow all day. I see him at least once a week; from my observations and from what his shadow says, Jerome is doing much better. The proper diagnosis has opened the door to more resources being available.

I see Jerome’s mom a few times a month. I encourage her and celebrate with her the progress that he is making. She agrees that her son is in a much better school situation, which also helps her with him at home.

Did I let her down by pushing away her son from the after school program? Did I miss an opportunity to minister to a family in need of support? Did I flat out lack the faith that God could work in this situation?

Maybe. But maybe I also helped give a wake-up call and a push to a family, who didn’t even know that something more was needed.

And I look forward to staying connected with Jerome and his mom, and watching his progress.

Related Links:

**image courtesy of arte_ram via sxh.hu

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