The unconditional love of a child is typically the strongest bond one can witness. From unconditional love sprouts persistence, fortitude and hope, among many other characteristics of parents. These feelings are innate instincts to create better lives for their offspring. But how natural are these emotions when your child was born into another family?

If Kathy* and Russ* are the guinea pigs for this hypothesis, the answer is very clear. Their son David*, who had been placed in five foster homes before joining his current family, began manifesting behavioral problems. Finding a solution to help David control his actions was paramount for this family.

Kathy and Russ would tell you that it was not an easy journey. It entailed collaboration from many talented professionals, and the process is not finished—it will be ongoing. But the results thus far have been encouraging for a family that, in the beginning, didn’t know where to turn for help.

It began at the age of two, when David was kicked out of a daycare for aggressive behavior. Kathy and Russ then enrolled David in a different daycare. Things went well until the following year when aggressive behaviors cropped up again. It was during that year that he pulled another child’s hair so hard that it left a bald spot on her scalp. Kathy and Russ were devastated to learn that their son could harm another child in this way. They were unsure of what to do.

The director of the daycare/preschool asked if they would be willing to work with Northwest Area Education Agency (AEA) staff, and Kathy remembers thinking, “Will they work with us?”

Kathy and Russ knew the sooner they addressed the situation; the better off David would be in handling social situations. An AEA and preschool team started assessing David’s classroom behavior, motor skills, hearing and speech. The director of the preschool, two classroom teachers, and AEA employees, Jerome Schaefer, Julie Tucker, Linda Cron, Margaret Holland and Teresa Walker, worked on supports to help David behave appropriately.

They began by breaking down David’s day into 15-minute time zones and rewarding him with a sticker for each segment he completed positively. In addition, Kathy and Russ walked with David every morning before school to get his energy out. They did a mini trampoline for timeouts.  They also enrolled him in swimming, basketball, baseball and soccer—as Kathy says, “Anything we could do to not put David on a drug, yet wear down some of his energy.”

His hearing and speech were assessed, too.

It was also during this time period that David was evaluated by a doctor. He was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). They also discovered that David’s blood pressure was high. David began taking medication for ADHD.

Even though many supports had been activated for David, at the age of five, he was still having issues at preschool; and the director had to notify Kathy and Russ that, if they couldn’t control David’s actions, for the safety of the other children, he would have to leave the preschool. 

The family returned to their family doctor, and she suggested that they start counseling right away and change David’s medication. They switched from a non-stimulant to a stimulant. David had a horrible reaction. He did not sleep for five days and was kicked out of preschool. Kathy had to take a leave of absence from her job to stay home with David until he started transitional kindergarten. After such a bad reaction to the medication, they decided that David should be seen by a psychologist to get the medications regulated properly.

A few months later when he entered transitional kindergarten, an AEA team of Tami Daane, speech-language pathologist, and Karlie Mobley, special education strategist, started assessing David’s classroom behavior, motor skills, hearing and speech. Kathy and Russ were hopeful that these supports and a new year at a new school would provide a clean slate and a new start.

Within the first month of transitional kindergarten, Kathy and Russ were disheartened to learn the behavior problems were continuing and meltdowns occurred on a daily basis. The behavior precipitated David being sent home early some days.

“Again, we found ourselves worrying what to do,” said Kathy. “Some AEA staff came and assessed David in his new setting and determined that we needed to find solutions that would help him succeed in the classroom.”

David was given an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and the AEA and school team determined a full assessment of David was appropriate. The AEA team arranged a visit to professionals at Boys’ Town in Omaha. David’s classroom teacher and the AEA team were included in the meeting since most of his problems occurred at school and not at home. This time, a behavior specialist, stemming back to all the moves in foster care, diagnosed David with Adjustment Disorder.

David was assigned a one-on-one aide in his classroom, and he also worked with Kathy Perret, an instructional coach from Northwest AEA. A teacher from the Sioux City Community School District’s alternative program developed a “Hawkeye Highway” that David could walk down in the classroom when he needed to calm down. These efforts were provided to give David a feeling of ownership in the classroom. This would make him feel like he belonged there and would want to be a part of what was taking place. This would then help him take ownership of his own actions.

Towards the end of the third quarter of his transitional kindergarten year, Kathy and Russ gave the school permission to videotape one of David’s meltdowns at school. 

“It was horrible to watch. I decided at that point to take [him] back to our doctor for a full medical assessment to make sure we were only dealing with behavior. They did blood work on David and found out his thyroid was not working,” said Kathy.

The team also decided to contact the behavior specialist again to see if he would come to the school and observe David in his own environment. David’s behavior specialist from Boys’ Town and his weekly counselor that he saw in Sioux City had reviewed the videotape. At the start of the fourth quarter of school, everyone working with David met at the school on his behalf—all his teachers, his behavior specialist, his counselor and the AEA team.

In May, before school was dismissed, the team recommended that David enroll in the Beyond the Bell summer program so that he could continue with a structured day until kindergarten began in the fall.

Kathy and Russ are extremely happy to report that David’s kindergarten year has started out much differently than the past few years, and he is doing much better. His outbursts are not as often, his speech is improving, he is making friends and he was even elected to the student council!

“We saw great potential in our son, and we are so grateful that others did, too,” said Kathy. “He was not just a number, he was a person who just needed some help to show others how great he is.”

Because of extremely dedicated and loving parents, excellent teachers, caring physicians, professional counselors and support from Northwest AEA, David has the ingredients to achieve further greatness.

* Names have been changed.