Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tips for Teachers, Principals and School Support Staff from Students with Mental Health and Behavioral Disabilities

Youth with mental health and behavioral disabilities
are often sensitive about their disabilities
and may be uncomfortable talking directly
to school professionals about the challenges
they face. The following ideas are to share with school staff.

Please treat me with respect:

• I learn more by what you do than what
you say. Please model the attitude and
behavior you would like me to imitate.
When I hear positive things about myself
and feel respected, I treat others the same
way. I learn from positive examples of
how to be patient and resolve conflicts.

• Your encouragement builds me up.
Unwarranted criticism and harsh words
can hurt and affect me. When I lack selfesteem,
it is easy for me to believe others’
negative remarks about me—even if they
are untrue.

• Privacy is important to me. I
feel embarrassed if someone points
out my disability and need for special
accommodations or medication in front
of my peers, and I worry that an adult
will ask, “Did you take your medication
today?” when I’m with other students.

• If I receive special education services,
it is because qualified professionals,
through evaluation, have determined
that I am eligible for them. Please
consider data and documentation, rather
than personal opinion, as we develop my
Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Please take to time to know me:

• Please keep an open mind, as we be
come acquainted. Sometimes statements
in records or others’ opinions are based
on the past, and they may not accurately
portray who I am now. Everyone needs
a second chance; help me to develop a
positive image.

• Please tell me what you like about me
and what you see me doing correctly. I am
already very aware of my faults and
of what I do wrong.

• If there is an incident in school, please
listen to me. Let me tell my story before
making a judgment.

• Try to understand my mental health
disabilities. Learning about my disability
through training or other resources will
equip you to assist me with empathy if I
encounter challenges.

• The medications I take may cause side
effects like dizziness, sleepiness,
or needing to use the bathroom more
frequently. I appreciate your
understanding as I deal with the issues.

• Sometimes my disability makes me
feel like I am out of control. I probably
need structure, but please allow me
some choices or participation in making

• Usually I am not trying to misbehave.
Sometimes I have simply not learned
the right way to handle things. My mental
health disorder can have an impact
on how my brain works, and I may
have difficulty controlling my thoughts,
emotions or actions. I need to learn
behavioral skills, much as I learn math.
With your help, I want to improve things!

Please help me feel safe:

• Advocate for me at school. I really need
an adult at school who will support me
and look out for my best interests.

• If I come to you and say that I am being
teased, bullied, or harassed, please help

• You have the influence to provide
a positive school environment
among students and school staff.
Two suggestions: Discourage gossip
about individual students and respect
their confidential information.

Please help me learn:

• Remember that I DO want to learn, feel successful, and
be liked by others. Sometimes my disability and resulting
lack of skills interfere.

• The accommodations on my IEP or Section 504 plan
affect us both. Together with my positive behavior
intervention plan (if I have one), they are designed to
help us succeed together.

• I usually learn more through positive instruction than
through punishment. I know there are consequences for
my actions, but please teach me how to replace unaccept
able behavior with what is appropriate.

• Work with me to create learning or coping strategies.
Include me in developing interventions.

Please know that I appreciate your efforts:

One teacher’s positive impact can help move my life in the right

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