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Ian’s Time in the Limelight & Special Education

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My behavior turned radically that second year. I’m not entirely sure why, but I do have a few guesses. 

First of all, my next-door neighbor, Evan, who was in the grade beneath me, was now on the bus. He was a follower, especially when it came to me. He would say or do just about anything I asked him to do. When we were younger and visited my house, my brother and I would bounce basketballs on his head over and over, and he would just laugh. 

Even when it came to another neighbor, Misty, I was outrageously cruel. Misty was overweight, overly talkative, and a bit of a gossip. Perhaps she was displacing her low self-esteem from her obesity with trash talk, or maybe she took after her mother, Rucia, who was just as overweight and even more of a gossip. One day, I found myself in possession of animal horns. I took them to the bus stop where Evan was already standing. Then, I got down on all fours, put the horns on my head, and started mooing: “Moo!!!” I bellowed out to Misty, who was just laughing nervously and probably out of embarrassment. 

I kept at it until bus 17 pulled up, and we got inside. Later that evening, her mother rang the doorbell at my house. When my parents opened it, her mother explained what I had done and demanded I apologize to Misty. Although I did, damage is never repaired and people take some things truly to heart. I firmly believe Misty never forgave me for mooing in her face; in fact, this was confirmed in high school when she stated such to a mutual friend.

As a second-year student, I knew the layout and wasn’t nervous anymore. That first-year skittishness was over. I knew what Middle School was all about now. I was also more observant when it came to other students. I was less self-involved, not worrying about my every step anymore, and I watched other students more and listened closely to their hijinks. This served both to amuse me, passing the time, and as a teaching point. I would soon come to mirror their behavior on the bus and in school.

Sadly, my first victims were in special education. The first student I targeted was Chris. Although he was in mainstream classes, something was going on with him. As I got my first wind of his emotional issues in class, I couldn’t figure out why he had a special teacher or aide helping him. At first, I was a bit jealous. I wanted the extra help, I thought. Why does he get extra help? I said to myself. 

Then I quickly learned that Chris was prone to emotional outbursts, even when participating in class. Sometimes he became so heated, he would get unstable and volatile. For your average student, including myself, this was disturbing to watch. Sometimes, he would get so angry the aide would walk him out of the classroom, to which he would return after calming down.

I learned about Chris’s behavior more closely when I workedwith him on an in-class project. I remember having difficulty conversing with him. He always seemed angry just below the surface and, after the thin veneer of cooperation and conversation wore off, he would explode. I don’t remember all of my early interactions with Chris, but I do remember getting quite irritated. So much so that I wanted to lash out at him.  I suspect that is exactly how the trouble started between us.

When I wasn’t making prank phone calls with Brian at lunch, I was provoking Chris. I would tease him, call him names, say all sorts of anger-making taunts until he exploded and began chasing after me in the hallways. It wasn’t that I went after him because he was weak; I went after him because I didn’t like him. His weakness and emotional issues did not help, but they weren’t the reason I targeted him. In the end, though, it was the emotional issues that were the prime target of my taunting and of his demise.

I called him every name in the book. Over time, I knew exactly what to say to get him truly angry. And when he chased me into every corridor surrounding the lunchroom, the aides would punish Chris and not me. This was because up until this point, I was always well behaved. It was also because Chris was known throughout the school to have emotional problems. So the aides, upon first glance, saw Chris as the problem kid. This only served to get Chris angrier and angrier. By the time the year was over, and Chris reached his emotional volatility peak, he was sent to an out-of-district school placement, never to return to Wales again. 


My next target was Ian. As the year evolved, I grew more headstrong. Every day, I became more calculating and easily incited. I noticed myself pitting students against each other. First, I did this casually, under the radar. Then, overtly, and very much in the face of those that I didn’t like or I felt had crossed me in some way.

One day, with Margie not on bus duty, I tore into Ian. “Hey! Ian, what’s up, fatty!,” I blurted out. “What?,” he said, looking at me ifirst n shock but then in a sad way, as if he knew inside it was always going to come to this. “I said, what’s up, fattass? Did you hear me, Ian?,” I wouldn’t stop. This continued for the bus ride all the way to Wales Middle School. A good forty-five minutes of insults and rhetorical questions, followed by more cheap and base insults. 

When we got to school and everyone stood up to disembark, Ian and I both stood up quickly. He was a few seats back from me. So when it was time to get off the bus, I did just that, sneaking into the school before he could put his hands on me.

At first, he didn’t say anything to the school. Not one complaint against me. And, the next time Margie was out, I tore him again. Finally, he became so angry that he started to retaliate verbally. That was when the temporary bus monitor wrote him up. After he was called into the office, he opened up about my tortuous ways on the bus.

But I disputed each of his remarks. Relying mostly on my good record, I argued that he was making this all up and was just an unhappy student who wanted to make trouble for good students like myself. Margie backed me up because her image of me was untarnished. Remember, I did all my attacking when she was out, and the plan worked without a hitch for some time.

In fact, I used my knowledge about emotional volatility from Chris. And, soon, I began poking fun at Ian’s weight in the lunchroom. “BURRR!,” making loud animal-like noises and gently insinuating he was a big stupid animal. Eventually, Ian began following me and chasing after me. Of course, he couldn’t keep up. I ran circles around him physically and now, intellectually, using base animal noises and pointing my finger toward his defenseless and pathetic-looking nature. With each insult, I felt more powerful and more able to get away with this sort of behavior for the long haul.

About the Author

J. Peters

Max Guttman '08, MSW '12, is the owner of Recovery Now, a private mental health practice. Through his work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, therapist and disability rights advocate, Max fights for those without a voice in various New York City care systems. He received a 2020 Bearcats of the Last Decade 10 Under 10 award from the Binghamton University Alumni Association.

Guttman treats clients with anxiety and depression, but specializes in issues related to psychosis or schizoaffective spectrum disorders. He frequently writes on his lived experiences with schizophrenia.

"I knew my illness was so complex that I’d need a professional understanding of its treatment to gain any real momentum in recovery," Guttman says. "After undergraduate school and the onset of my illness, I evaluated different graduate programs that could serve as a career and mechanism to guide and direct my self-care. After experiencing the helping hand of my social worker and therapist right after my 'break,' I chose social work education because of its robust skill set and foundation of knowledge I needed to heal and help others."

"In a world of increasing tragedy, we should help people learn from our lived experiences. My experience brings humility, authenticity and candidness to my practice. People genuinely appreciate candidness when it comes to their health and recovery. Humility provides space for mistakes and appraisal of progress. I thank my lived experience for contributing to a more egalitarian therapeutic experience for my clients."

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