Sunday, January 25, 2015

School Bullying Continues Unabated

The media splash stories about school bullies who create terror in the hearts of their victims and untold anguish in the minds of their parents. It is the bullying student from hell who has sprung up to make their child's school experiences day after day of untold pain, humiliation and fear. School becomes the one place the child fears most and they will do almost anything to get out of this school-related hell--even suicide becomes appealing. Check out the cyberbullying laws.

The number of young kids who kill themselves as the result of unrelenting bullying and poor or no action by schools has become almost like the Vietnam war; we see so much of it that the impact begins to wane. This should never be the case and everyone involved needs to be held accountable because one life destroyed is one life too many. No one has the right to turn their heads and ignore this and no child should be left to feel that they are unprotected at school or anywhere else. If we love our children, we need to do more and we do love our children. Speaking up shouldn't be the exception, it should be the rule because the more we speak up, the better the situation for our kids will become.

The bullying can center around anything from a child's small or large size ("you're fat," or "you little runt, are you gay?"), their ethnicity, their inability to keep up with their school work or their attendance in counseling sessions. The bully will latch on to anything there is in order to further their mission of merciless prodding and pain. Even adults, disguising themselves online as classmates, may engage in this egregious act. Here the offense is even worse because we expect adults to act as adults and not all of them do.

Bullying doesn't affect just the target child because this ugliness has a ripple effect into the family and the community. It spreads like a killer virus and the less that is done to combat it, the more virulent it becomes. School systems and administrators who don't want to make waves earn for themselves nothing but onus for their ineffectiveness or callous behavior. Budgets are often seen, when it is investigated thoroughly, to be deeply involved. Of course, there's always professional job considerations, too.

How do budgets enter into the bullying equation? Primarily, this is in the realm of students with special needs but any student who develops a severe anxiety disorder from school bullying should, to my mind, be eligible for this protection. Schools, by law, must either provide services or pay the expenses of sending the student to another school where the student's needs can be met.

It is up to a family's attorney to make a case for a referral to another school, if the school drags its feet in this referral process. Unfortunately, this can be the case as teachers and administrators attempt to, in their own way, bully the parents into submission and to release them from their legal duties. I'm not against teachers and school administrators. I believe they have the most wonderful job opportunities in the career spectrum. But I am against deadbeat teachers and administrators because they help to destroy youngsters instead of building good school experiences for them.

Children who have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder may benefit from home schooling, from the perspective of one mother who has been there. Read her discussion of what it entails and then carefully think about your options. You may or may not agree with her or you may find there are other opportunities which need to be explored. No one person is the expert here.

The parent struggling with their child with this disorder has to become their own expert because, just as it is in much of the medical field, there is only one standard of care that is the right one and it's different for each person. Even blood pressure readings shouldn't be seen as a "gold standard" because everyone has a unique pressure all their own which may be different from that standard and can be entirely healthy. But who's going to accept that? We live in a world that wants things to be black and white and when they're not, therein lies the problem.

Many organizations may offer assistance with treatment or home schooling, but the bottom line remains who funds them and what their true mission is. This is where parents may find themselves in a dilemma similar to Scylla and Charybdis of Greek legends. The path may not always be clear but the questions must always be present: Exactly what will be done, what research supports it, who will be responsible for payment and what are the expected results? Never cease to question because, if you don't question, you will never get the answers you need.

I often receive requests to put specific links onto my website. The person sending the request usually outlines a particularly horrific case and presents themself as a concerned parent or citizen. When I explore the link, it usually leads to something other than a harmless information link and offers a variety of services. In other words, it's a ruse to get poor, stupid me to allow them to get free advertising via my website. I don't accept any of them. We do all of our link seeking in-house, so PR people be aware of this.

Verbal assurances of anything are almost as good as hearing nothing. Unless it's in writing, especially where reimbursement is concerned, the conversation is nothing but used air. Too often there are statements to the effect that insurance or Medicare or Medicaid will cover it and, once the services are provided and billed, it's a totally different story.

One patient, who had a specific medical illness for which she required ongoing medical evaluation, was asked to sign on to a research project for which there would be, literally, thousands of dollars of testing. And it was "free." Free? Sure, the researcher said, she wouldn't have to pay because they'd bill the insurance company. What if the insurance company refused payment? "Don't worry," he said, "we'll give you a diagnosis that will insure payment." I believe that's insurance fraud.

Don't get caught in this bind. Smooth talking will be used to either get you to feel that you are guilty of not trusting or that you're a bad parent or you're unnecessarily suspicious--anything to get you to agree. It's similar to agreeing to a gym membership and then finding out you're in an iron-clad contract and can't get out without paying fully. But here the bill will be in the thousands of dollars. Always seek advice from someone knowledgeable before signing these contracts. Nothing has to be signed immediately if it's a bona fide therapy service.

I am reminded of another case I once heard of where a patient, who had been in an auto accident, agreed to therapy services. Before the therapy (for the PTSD from the auto accident) was provided, the patient had to sign a letter of protection. Essentially, this meant that all fees were to be paid first out of the insurance settlement because insurance companies usually don't pay for medical expenses in such cases. The bill ran up to around $15,000 before the therapy was concluded. I often wonder if the therapy had truly run its course or something had reached its limit of reimbursement or conscience.

As always, caveat emptor, let the buyer beware. An informed consumer of anything is a protected consumer.