While working as a classroom aide at a therapeutic day school, I was called to assist in a crisis incident involving 14-year-old Nicky, whom I knew well and who’d long ago been labeled with a dreaded diagnosis—oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). He’d just thrown a desk, stormed into the hall, and threatened to leave the building. I arrived to find him backed into a corner with his arms crossed and head down, snarling and swearing at the three male staff members standing near him.
“You don’t need to f-ing be here,” I remember him saying when he saw me.
“Hey! You don’t talk to Kate like that,” one of the staffers said sternly, clearly agitated with Nicky’s behavior toward me.
I put up my hand to my colleague and shook my head slightly as if to say, “Thank you, but don’t worry about it.” Then I motioned for the three staffers to back up a few feet, and crouched down to the floor between them and Nicky. With my gaze toward the floor, I remained quiet. Within a few minutes, Nicky slid his back down the wall and started to cry, a signal he was starting to recover. It wasn’t long before he allowed me to sit next to him, talk through what had happened, and get his day back on track.
At his previous school, Nicky had been one of “those” kids—you know, the ones whose faces are twisted into an ever-present…