Pain and confusion for kids with behavior problems

Mel Blair, special ed director at Thorp and Easton school districts

Updated on 4/18/19.

Children described their pain and confusion at the punitive methods used by teachers, caregivers and law enforcement to control their behavioral challenges in the documentary “The Kids We Lose.

About 80 people attended the 90-minute screening at Morgan Middle School on Saturday, followed by a discussion session led by Mel Blair, special education director at Thorp and Easton school districts.

“The goal of the film is to heighten awareness and evoke positive change. We can achieve change if we apply the right interventions early and avoid punitive interventions,” Blair said.

The documentary followed several families of children with social, emotional and behavioral issues, who react to frustrating situations with aggressive, out-of-control behavior. Paddling, restraining and secluding, and arresting the children had negative impacts lasting well into adulthood, the documentary showed.

“We’re embedded in a culture that has roots in corporal punishment which translates to the schools,” said a registered nurse during the discussion period after the film. “Over the past 50 years, health care has improved, [resulting in] earlier diagnosis, but training hasn’t caught up.”

Blair said that sometimes the highest-need students are in classrooms of the newest teachers. She said better teacher training is needed, starting with instructors at preschool and Kindergarten levels.

“We also need more support for teachers, not just training,” said another audience member. “It starts with the principal and the special ed director.”

Blair said that Washington state is more progressive in treating children with mental health and behavioral issues, and the rest of the nation is slowly catching up. “The U.S. is getting to the point where we are approaching education differently. There’s never one answer. Teacher training and universities need to take another look at their programs.”

Blair said the issues with these children begin at birth, but often aren’t diagnosed until much later. “About 15% of these kids need more help, but 3-5% will come in with severe behaviors.”

If treated early and well, the children can go on to lead successful lives, the documentary showed.

School personnel from Easton, Thorp, Kittitas, Ellensburg, Selah, Wahluke, Yakima and Northeast WA ESD-Spokane attended the screening and received clock hours. In addition, two daycare providers attended and received STARS credit.

There are 651 special education students in Kittitas County school districts, who have disorders ranging from autism to emotional behavior disability to developmental delays, according to Kasey Knutson, spokesperson for Kittitas County Public Health. Several have multiple disabilities.

The Kids We Lose” was produced by Lone Wolf Media and funded by Lives in the Balance, a nonprofit organization founded by child psychologist Dr. Ross Green.

Saturday’s screening was sponsored by Kittitas County Public Health and Kittitas Valley League of Women Voters.

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