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He Just Needs a Little Discipline

Matt was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder at the age of eight. All of his 8th grade teachers were concerned about his frequent outbursts in class and tried numerous types of interventions. Ritalin was prescribed in the past and it helped, but Matt’s father believes that his son should learn to cope without medication. Matt recently confided in Jill Gray, one of his teachers, that he thought he could focus better if he could go back on the Ritalin. The situation intensifies as his teachers wonder what to do.


Matt Snyder jumped into the middle of the puddle; not caring that his pants and shoes would be soaked for the remainder of the long trek to his father’s coffee shop. He dreaded this long walk every afternoon after school and wondered why his father insisted that it was good for him. Things had been different when his mom was alive. She would never have expected Matt to walk miles in the rain.

Matt had just finished hanging up his raincoat and putting his book bag behind the counter when his dad emerged from the kitchen. "Good grief, Matt, can’t I ever count on you for anything?" his father demanded with a disgusted look on his face. "Didn’t I tell you this morning to get here pronto because we needed to clean out the cooler? And look at your shoes and pants: they are all wet! I bet you were playing around again, weren’t you?"

"I did hurry, Dad, but it’s a long way and it’s been raining," Matt stammered as he reached for the broom.

"Oh, come on, you should have been here fifteen minutes ago," came the reply. "Now, get started! We have a lot of work to do." Mr. Snyder grabbed Matt by the arm and pointed him toward the back of the shop. He did not understand why his son was so immature and irresponsible and his frustration with Matt was obvious to everyone. "Sooner or later Matt will have to grow up and learn to act like the rest of us!" he was often heard to say.

Matt was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and a learning disability at the age of eight. When the family doctor suggested putting Matt on Ritalin to help him organize himself and stay focused, his mom and dad reluctantly agreed. After Mrs. Snyder’s death, Mr. Snyder decided to stop giving Matt the medicine, believing that with a little discipline his son could learn to cope without it. "I do not want my son being dependent on a drug to behave and learn in school," he explained to the teachers when they asked why Matt was no longer taking the Ritalin.

George Snyder and his second wife, Gina, recently opened a coffee shop on the corner of Cowling and 57th. Before the shop opened, they both worked nonstop, sometimes not getting home until well past midnight. During that time, Matt was responsible for himself and his little sister, Shelly, who was two years younger. He was glad when the shop finally opened because it relieved him of that responsibility, but now he was expected to join his dad at work every afternoon after school.

Matt seems to get along fine with his stepmother; however, his mother’s death from cancer two years ago has really affected his behavior in school. This school year, Jill Gray and his other teachers are very concerned about him. Matt’s outbursts in class have become more frequent and he is not responding to any type of intervention.

This is Jill’s first year teaching collaboratively on a multidisciplinary team. She had been a teacher for students with learning disabilities in a self-contained classroom for 13 years before volunteering for this new program. Jill is on a team with four general education teachers. Together, they are responsible for teaching social studies, science, English, and math to a group of 80 students. Ten of the students, including Matt, have learning disabilities, emotional handicaps, or both. Jill helps the team modify instruction for the students and also co-teaches one class with each of the teachers throughout the day. The team approach is working well for all of the students except Matt.

Matt has difficulty with writing assignments, processing auditory information, and focusing and maintaining his attention. Jill develops lecture outline notes for Matt to follow in each class and pairs him with a peer for assignments that require writing. He is also given additional time to complete his assignments. Even with these modifications, Matt becomes frustrated easily in class and often throws things on the floor, yells and curses at his peers, and pounds his fists on his desk. The team’s approach to dealing with disruptive students is to provide them a quiet area away from other students where they can complete their assignments. Each class has several study carrels in the back for students who prefer to work in seclusion or who are placed there as a consequence of disruptive behavior. Matt usually finds himself in one of those carrels almost every day during English.

Jill knows that Matt hates English, so she has started working with him individually for half of each class. She has also developed a contract with him to award extra computer and free time if he completes daily assignments without outbursts and disruptions. None of the interventions have been helping though, and Matt continues to be frustrated and disruptive. Jill can empathize with Matt because she has a son with ADHD and LD and understands the struggle.

Matt knows that he has a problem staying focused and believes that he could do better in school if he resumes taking the Ritalin. In a daily journal, he had written to Jill that he wished his dad would let him start taking his medicine again. "I didn’t used to get in trouble all the time at school before my dad stopped letting me take my medicine," Matt confided. Jill is frustrated because Mr. Snyder absolutely refuses to consider it. As far as he is concerned, it is an easy out for both Matt and his teachers.

The teachers however, are running out of patience and ideas for how to help Matt be successful. His low threshold for frustration and propensity for conflict continuously gets him into trouble. Additionally, his disruptive behavior is spreading to other students in the class. Matt is an attractive, athletic boy who is generally well liked by his peers. The girls pay a lot of attention to him and the other boys are beginning to imitate Matt in the hope that the girls will notice them as well. If the day begins with Matt pulling some of his antics, the other boys in the class soon follow suit.

The basketball team is a prime example. Matt worked very hard to make the boys’ 8th grade squad - - something Mr. Snyder had celebrated proudly. Matt was happy to have finally gained his father’s approval, but his explosive temper and lack of control on the court became a real point of contention for his coach. Game after game, Matt was sidelined for his aggressive, on-court behavior. Finally, Coach Levy felt he had no choice but to remove Matt from the team.

Matt was devastated and for two weeks pretended to stay after school for practice in order to avoid confessing to his dad that he had been kicked off the team. Then one afternoon, unbeknownst to Matt, Mr. Snyder decided to come to school to watch him practice. Matt, of course, was not there and Coach Levy reluctantly informed Mr. Snyder that his son was no longer on the team. Mr. Snyder was furious and confronted Matt when he arrived home. Matt was grounded for a month but even worse, he knew he had let his dad down again. His self-esteem hit an all time low.

As Matt’s disruptive behavior at school continues, all of the teachers are becoming more frustrated and less tolerant. At one point, they decided to meet as a team with the principal, Mr. George, to discuss what action to take. Mr. George was very supportive of the teachers’ concerns and suggested sending Matt to the office if his disruptions persisted. This meant Matt would have to call home to notify his parents of his office referral and the consequences.

The first time this intervention was tried, Matt expressed his anxiety about calling his father. Mrs. Gray offered to make the call with him in hopes of buffering the situation at home.

"Hello, is this Mr. Snyder?" she inquired. "This is Mrs. Gray, one of Matt’s teachers."

"Yes, Mrs. Gray. What’s Matt done now?" he grumbled, anticipating the worst.

"Well, Mr. Snyder, I’m afraid Matt is in the principal’s office with a behavior referral. He continues to have problems controlling himself in the classroom and from now on when that happens, he will have to report to Mr. George. We feel you need to be informed of these actions when they occur," Jill explained.

"Is my son there with you?" responded Mr. Snyder in a controlled but angry voice. "Please put him on the phone."

Jill handed the phone to Matt. "Your father wants to talk to you, Matt. Are you okay?" Matt shook his head yes.

Matt didn’t say a word for several minutes as he held the phone to his ear. Jill could hear Mr. Snyder yelling over the phone. As perspiration began to appear on Matt’s face, Jill motioned him to hand the phone back to her. "Matt, I need to speak with your father in private. Please go to the lobby and wait for me there," she instructed.

Thinking that she could not, in good conscience, let Mr. Snyder talk to Matt that way, she tried to explain. "Our concern is that Matt’s behavior will eventually lead to suspension. Sometimes he doesn’t even realize when he is getting out of control. Your son really needs some help!"

"This is really a matter between me and my son, Mrs. Gray, and I assure you that he will control his behavior in the future."

"Mr. Snyder, I realize you want Matt to succeed on his own. May I share a story with you?" continued Jill.

"I’m listening," answered Mr. Snyder.

"Not too long ago, my son was exhibiting some of the same behaviors as Matt and I chose to ignore it, blaming myself for not being a good parent. My son found relief in the form of methadone and nearly died. He was later diagnosed as ADHD and LD, just like Matt and has since been on a low dose of Ritalin to help him get his life back under control. I’m only telling you this because I believe Matt is heading for the same fate if he doesn’t get help," Jill recounted, almost bringing herself to tears.

"Just who the hell do you think you are? How dare you compare Matt to your drug addict son?" Mr. Snyder yelled defensively. "He will not take medication just to make your job easier."

Mr. Snyder’s voice was so loud that she took the receiver away from her ear. Jill tried to explain that she wasn’t implying that Matt was a potential drug addict. She had only meant to share her experience with her son as an example of what could happen if he continued to deny Matt’s need for additional help. Unfortunately, Mr. Snyder missed the point. Jill finally apologized and hung up the phone. When she returned to the lobby, she found Matt slumped in a chair with an anxious look on his face. She regretted that her team had handled this situation as they had, and feared for Matt as she considered what would happen when he reached home that afternoon. As she left the office to return to class, she wondered what more she could do to help Matt.


Discussion/Study Questions

  1. List what you learned about each of the characters in the case.
  2. What do you think is motivating the thoughts/actions of each of the characters?
  3. What are the issues/problems in the case?

Additional Questions

  1. List some of the reasons why you think Matt is having such a difficult time at school?
  2. Can you think of some other methods or supports that might be helpful to Matt?
  3. Why do you think the teachers on the team are so frustrated with Matt’s behavior?
  4. What could Jill do to help the other teachers understand Matt’s situation?   How best could she accomplish this?
  5. Do you think that the team’s approach of sending Matt to the office when he became disruptive was effective?
  6. What recourse should Jill consider now?
  7. What is the best way to work with parents who deny the existence of a disability or who have had bad experiences with special education and schools?
  8. Should teachers ever reveal personal information to parents? If so, under what circumstances? When should personal information be kept from parents?
  9. Do you think that medications such as Ritalin are an effective solution for children with behavior problems?



CEC Competency/Knowledge Areas Addressed in the Case



Effects an exceptional condition may have on an individual’s life.

Educational implications of characteristics of various exceptionalities.

Typical concerns of parents of individuals with exceptional needs and appropriate strategies to help parents deal with these concerns.


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