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'Nursery School Dropouts' Get Help

'Nursery School Dropouts' Get Help image
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Robert is a sober-faced fouryear-old who won't eat anything except hamburgers. He's afraid of being poisoned. Brian, six, seldom talks to anyone because he can't seem to distinguish between other people and himself. He mixes up his pronouns and seldom uses the word "me." They are part of a small group of emotionally disturbed children that Catholic Social Services calis its "nursery school drop-outs." Many of them, in fact, are. As one child i himself put it candidly, "we're here because we don't know how to get along with other people. We don't know how to share." Mrs. David McKinney began !the therapy group of approximately six three-to-six-yearolds in Feburary, 1969. It meets for 60 minutes twice a week in ,a tiny playroom in the agency's i headquarters, 117 N. División. Five feet of shelves are stacked with a stuffed snake. building blocks, a dolí castle and heaps of small toys. Three ( other walls display drawings and paper crafts and life-sized portraits the children made by 1 tracing each other's outlines on wrapping paper, cutting them out, and coloring in the features. It's a room no child can withdraw in. Most of the children are too I young, or too troubled, to talk about what's bothering them. So they play out their anxieties I with toys. Mrs. McKinney and her trained assistants observe carefully the child who's afraid to play with paint or modeling clay for fear of messing their clothes - an indication of toostringent home regulations. They watch whether the doll I house father comes home and I cheerfully kisses his wife and I children, or whether he yells at I them and beats them. "A chüd who can act thingj. jut with human puppets is gen-, jrally healthier than one whoj, jrefers animal puppets. "Theyij ïave a very low concept of i , ;hemselves, and can only iden-1 tify with the bizarre, like prelistoric animáis or spacemen." What brings on this emotional disturbance at so young an age? "The birth of a new[ sibling, starting school, a family illness, divorce or death - many abrupt changes in the child's world can trigger this," Mrs. Margaret Ohlgren, case consultant said. "The parents are usually very shook up themselves,"] Mrs. McKinney added. "It'si hard for many of them to admití something is wrong, snd they feel guilty. We hold individual counseling sessions with the parents and with most of the children in addition to the group sessions." Only two of the original six referrals are still in the class. About 14 have been "graduated" after reaching the point there they could handle a mal school situation. M r s . McKinney still sees all of them at lengthening intervals. "We have a waiting list, but we don't always add children according to who's next in line," Mrs. McKinney explained. "For example, if we had nthing but hyperactive children in the room at once, we'd spend the entire session trying to control them. Ií there were c only quiet, withdrawn children, 2 no one would do anything. The n two extremes set one another off. It's important to keep a balance." "Sometimes if a child improves, we keep him on as a model," she added. "Some feel very threatened if one leaves the group. The group gives them a sense of security." It also gives them a sense of 1 freedom- a time to blow off I steam without fear of 1 ment. Toys are a means of I releasing other fears, the social I worker said. A child who is I afraid of his aggressive feelings can play with the rubber knife j and guns and sets of soldiers or ' cowboys and Indians, créate a situation of conflict and masten it. Through these he gains con-l trol of his aggressive feelings. "A favorite toy of all of the children," Mrs. McKinney said, "is the baby bottle filled with water. Of ten the children are atl first are quite embarrassedl about it, but they get a lot of I gratification from it. "Sometimts they have to go back to the stage where their needs weren't met and go through it again." Food is also an important part of the pre-schoolers' therapy program. Snack break is usually a hefty spread of potato chips, candy, juice, cookies and . lollypops. Eating is "a correc; t i v e emotional experience i instead of a tense ordeal of 'don't use your fingers' and I 'don't spill your milk.' Many children," Mrs. McKinney said. I equate food with love. Rare is th parent who willfulII ly causes or depends an emotional disturbance in his child. I In Ann Arbor, many parents I are both in school, pursuing! I gradúate degrees and allocatling more time to study than to I their youngsters. Frequently, ■ the children come from low-inIcome families in which botb ■ parents are working eight to 12 Ihours a day, with little time nor lenergy left for their children. There atúfele who don't know I what ïlfl b to sil on Uu'ir I father offother's lap andl have a story read to them. 'i Like most United Fund agen- cies, Catholic Social Services! charges the families they help iccording to ability to pay.B rhose who can afford it payH up to $40 per week for the ther-l apy group. No one is turnedH away for lack of ability to pay.H Most of the children in theB present group either pay a lowB fee or none at all. In its offices at WhitmoreB Lake, Ypsilanti, Manchester, ■ Chelsea and Saline as well as I Ann Arbor, CSS has a broadB program which includes foster care, adoption, tutoring, andB many kinds of service oppor-B tunities for volunteers. But its ■ individual and group counseling ■ programs are probably, inl terms of population, the most I far reaching. The agency is presently I ducting 28 counseling and I apy groups, in all age I ries. Ninety per cent are I dren. "It's just that children are most likely to be referred, Iby schools or pediatricians; I adults are less apt to apply for help," CSS Director Marguerite M. Parrish says. It's vital to treat an emotional illness in its earliest stages, I the earlier the better. Miss Parrish would like to organize a second pre-schoolers' therapy group to replace one that had I to be discontinued eárlier this I year due to lack of funds. Here are two reasons: 1 ert, the f o u r - y e a r - o 1 d I hamburger - eater mentioned I earlier, has gotten over his fear 1 of being poisoned, and hasj peacefully adjusted to a nor-l mal school situation. And Brian 1 no longer has trouble comlmunicating with people. He knows who he is now. If they can be helped, so can] others.


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