India Patrick: One of Many

February 13, 2023

Since the day my son Charles came into this world, I’ve advocated for him to receive all the resources he deserves to live a great life. My advocacy only strengthened when psychiatrists diagnosed Charles at two years old with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), a behavioral disability that causes him to act out and defy authoritative figures, especially in school. 

Don’t get it twisted – my son is extremely intelligent. He loves to read, write, and build. However, sometimes the classroom is not stimulating enough for him. So, he acts out, manipulating his teachers and classmates to participate in unrelated activities, or focus on him. It’s difficult navigating my son’s ODD, especially as a single parent. I often feel like I’m playing chess with a mastermind – he knows his next three moves before I’ve even taken my first. Fortunately, I’ve grown more skilled at the game to support Charles, his teachers, and his schools. However, not everyone listens. 

I’ve spent countless hours trying to collaborate with school leaders, teachers, tutors, and mentors to strategically create plans to support my son while he’s in school. I explain that Charles thrives in interactive, hands-on project-based learning programs and appreciates subjects that bridge class skills with life and career paths. 

However, my voice was (and still is) often unheard or disregarded. Teachers told me that my son was a “crisis” in class. But they were wrong – my child was not the crisis, he was in crisis. 

When Charles turned six, I first took matters into my own hands; I enrolled in a master’s program focusing on Early Childhood Special Education. My goal was to better support my son and students like him. Though my studies provided me with a better understanding of ODD, I still felt like I was putting together a 1000-piece puzzle in the dark, finding missing or broken pieces after each discovery or fact about the disorder.

Almost two years ago, I attended my first PAVE meeting at Anacostia Library to participate in a parent discussion about what mattered most in education to families. I had Charles attend the meeting with me so he could witness first-hand how serious parents were about voicing their concerns and recommendations for improving their children’s education. 

Fast forward to today – I serve my community, and my son, as a Ward 8 PAVE PLE Board member. I join 32% of empowered PLE Board members whose children also receive special education services. Nevertheless, 100% of us are ready to advocate for a strong School-Based Mental Health (SBMH) program to support the needs of our DC families and kids. 

I join my PAVE family in fighting for our vision for an SBMH program that puts our students’ mental health and wellness first, by providing readily accessible, high-quality school-based mental health services, supports, and education that is responsive to student needs.

Too many kids in DC are silently suffering from mental health issues. And while ODD causes Charles’ actions to speak louder than his words, this only proves the need for more mental health supports. 

A strong SBMH program includes holding District and school leaders accountable to provide all our students and families the support they deserve! A strong SBMH system includes providing students with wrap-around services without a delay! A strong SBMH system includes collaboration between in-school and out-of-school services so that families can find and obtain affordable supports throughout the community!

We know what’s possible when supports ARE available. It’s up to us to continue the fight so that ALL kids have what they need – not just some in select parts of the city. My son is one of many children in need. Now is the time to get to work and ensure no one else suffers.