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Preparations are a must for any parent with a special needs child when participating in a school field trip. But even more so when a field trip is overnight.

But in schools unfortunately there are many special needs children who fall in what they call “the gray area” and have never been diagnosed. And worse they have no support.

On a class school trip one of the children who the school district—the principal—the teachers know has a severe challenge and the staff stresses “just no social skills with no diagnosis.” Instead of addressing this issue to obtain the right help for this child, its been ignored, by the parents, teachers, principal and school district.

But what happens on an overnight school field trip out-of-town supervised by volunteer parents, and only one school administrator/teacher. And only the teacher is aware of this child’s difficulties. How many potential problems do think are going to present themselves? What the supervising parents don’t know is this child may have triggers and anyone or a particular situation may inadvertently push one of these buttons.

The children bunk in dorms together with the girls in one building, the boys in another. Parents divide up and supervise in each building. This child is known in the small community he lives and because no one has ever diagnosed or pointed out a problem, the child’s behavior, triggers, lack of coordination, balance, social oddities are ignored, or just put off too, “that’s just the way he is”. And the parents of this child appear to have no idea there’s a problem. This child walks oddly, long uncombed hair, clothes never fit, lack of hygiene, avoids eye contact, and can’t stand to be touched. Uses shoulders—body to move away from others. Always hides and sneaks off into woods away from other children. The other children always irritate him. He is; however, brilliant academically and excels in certain areas.

What happens on this trip escalates and in hindsight any qualified consultant—therapist would have seen the potential problem at day one. The kids in school have seen this over and over and they just avoid the child. Parents aren’t in school and don’t see this child’s behavior, triggers, and how the school personnel are or aren’t dealing with it. But the school personnel everyday see the behavior—the triggers—the social oddities—the physical impairment.

Now after everyone arrives and the belongings unloaded, the children, parents, teacher gather for the facilities orientation. This child ignores instructions from the instructor at the center to where they’re staying for two days. This child continues to talk becoming disruptive and gloms onto one particular child. This other child has become a safety net for this child, apparently has for months at school. Because this child accepts all children for who they are. But a supervising parent has to step in and separate these children because this undiagnosed child keeps talking and won’t listen to the centers counselor and the safety instructions, disturbing everyone. Even after repeated requests, “stop talking, and listen.” The parent doesn’t know what problem they’re stepping into with this undiagnosed child. As the day progresses this child doesn’t follow directions, or does one moment the next does exactly what they’re instructed not to do. It’s as if they remember in one moment—have no idea there was a discussion the next. Or they say they know but can’t apply it. If you pay attention you begin to notice how the other children in class do not want to socialize with this child. Their body language when they are around this child shows their discomfort. This child picks up on their discomfort and continually is caught trying to drag off the one child/friend who accepts them for who they are, alone into the woods after being told for safety they have to stay with the group. And unfortunately, one parent is having to continue to step in and address the issue with this child over and over. The teacher on the field trip knows this child and refers to his struggles as “social skills deficit” and yet she still has done nothing to address the issue or alert the parents to what’s yet to come.

So after a day of outdoor activities this child becomes increasingly anxious. The dinner hour arrives and the kids all line up to enter the cafeteria where many others who are also visiting this center also snag a spot in line to get dinner.

Because the dinner hour is only served during a certain time frame the cafeteria is crowded. Tables are shared and empty spots are snatched up. This child sits with his friend two extra chairs remain at the table and are snatched up by one of the parents and another student. What happens next may not surprise anyone if you were paying attention to the signs. This child has now pulled up his hood over his head and says, “I’m going to sit somewhere else,” but the cafeteria is packed full with no empty seats and the parent says, “sit down there is no where else to sit, eat your dinner.” This child doesn’t he starts crying face turns pink, snatches utensils as if to throw something. The parent sees the meltdown in progress and goes directly to the teacher who is socializing with other parents in a nice private corner, alerts the teacher, and asks them to deal with the situation. The teacher approaches the child who is now holding their tray of food by the stairs rocking back and forth, with her hand extended out in front of her, body and head tilted back as if dealing with a wild animal. She tries to reason with this child and you can see how nervous she is and unable to break through, because this child has already tilted over the edge, weaving back and forth, head darting one way then the other before yanking his hood up higher to completely cover head, then sits on the stairs facing the wall with tray on lap giving the teacher his back. Crowds of other people are having to go around this child as he’s blocking the stairs. This teacher backs away and goes to get one of the male parents to deal with the child. This parent takes one look at the child, tries to talk to him then puts up both hands with a finality and steps back, the parents face resembles irritation with the teacher and you clearly hear this parent say to the teacher over and over “no” then the parent goes back to the table he’s at with other children.

The child at this time tosses his full plate of dinner into one of three gray dish pans outside the kitchen for the dirty dishes and leaves the cafeteria. Going outside where all the children have been warned not to do so alone because of the rural area they are in. But this teacher/principal watches, allows and she walks away. And where is this child now? Outside alone.

When the parents who know this child and the teacher are asked what’s wrong with this child, what’s the diagnosis and what triggers/behaviors does this child have, the response was shockingly, “I don’t know.”

As a school official, as a parent how comfortable are you with how some school districts ignore children in desperate need of help? Inclusion is a must, but it is imperative that all volunteer parents on a school outing are aware and provided necessary information to deal with a special needs child, whether diagnosed or undiagnosed. And of course, this should have come from the parents. Triggers, behaviors must be shared not kept secret. But looking back you can now see the other children’s wariness with this child. As apparently they’ve seen it, many times in school.

How would you respond if you were a supervising parent in a similar situation?