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Abused Girl Gets A Chance At A New Life

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A Little Girl gets a Chance at a New Life

In Torey Hayden's book, One Child, I met a child named Sheila. Sheila was a sad, abused, emotionally disturbed, and broken little girl. Six year old Sheila was headed for an empty life with a future in a state mental institution when she landed, by chance, in Torey Hayden's special education class. Sheila was headed for the mental institution as a last resort. She had been in and out of placement in schools, and had made no improvement.

The breaking point for little Sheila's future happened when Sheila kidnapped a toddler in her neighborhood, and tied the little boy to a tree. Mercilessly, Sheila set fire to the child and watched him burn until someone came to his rescue. The little boy survived, but just barely. He was very badly burned, and his family demanded retaliation. The court had sentenced Sheila to residency in the state mental institution. Torey Hayden's class was meant to be a temporary placeholder for Sheila until a spot in the local mental hospital opened up. Little did anyone know hat one year under the wing of this special teacher would change Sheila's life forever.

When Sheila arrived in Torey's class, she displayed almost no characteristics of a normal emotionally healthy child. She hated everyone. Sheila did not speak at all, she did not respond, except for in wild fits of animalistic rage. Although, as young as she was, Sheila was not born bad. Children are not innately bad, but are like a blank tablet, and learn from their experiences in life. This is the Tablet Rasa View believed by 17th century philosopher, John Locke. This view applies to Sheila very accurately. Sheila had nearly no care in her home. She lived in a tenement with her alcoholic father. Her mother had abandoned her on the side of the highway, and left her alone to die. Sheila came to school everyday in dirty, stinking clothes that were the wrong size for her. She looked as if she hadn't bathed in months. Her hair was matted. She smelled horribly. She was severely malnourished. At 6 years old, Sheila was the size of an average 3 year old. The average 6 year old girl should be about 45 inches tall, and weigh about 45 pounds. According to averages for 3 year old girls, Sheila was around 37 inches tall and weighed around 32 pounds at age 6. The major cause of this was probably her malnutrition. Malnutrition in such a severe case as Sheila's often also causes mild to severe mental retardation. To much surprise, Sheila was definitely not mentally retarded at all. Sheila was brilliant and much more academically advanced than the average child of her age.

Sheila had a lot of issues dealing with attachment. During early childhood, children learn trust versus mistrust. Sheila had an extremely traumatic life full of disappointment and neglect that taught her not to trust, but to fear. Sheila was completely apprehensive with other people. She did not speak. She hated physical contact, and acted out with maniacal violence when urged too strongly. Perhaps one of the strangest behaviors that Torey Hayden found in Sheila was her tendency never to cry. Even on one occasion when Sheila was caught being disobedient and was taken to the principal, who showed no foregiveness. Even against Torey's tears and begging for Sheila's case, he tried to humiliate Sheila and paddled her. Sheila did not shed a tear. She didn't even utter a noise.

Sheila was an insecure disorganized child, although, she fought within herself to conceal any outlet of confusion or fear. Over time and with much hard work, Torey Hayden was able to create a bond with Sheila and earned her trust. Sheila began to open up to Torey more and more as their relationship grew. Sheila stayed with Torey after school everyday until the High School bus that took her back to her tenement home came to take her back. During the time that she spent after school, Torey gave her one on one attention, as much as her fragile mental state would allow. Gradually, Sheila could stand more attention and stimulation. Before long, they had sprouted a slowly growing friendship. Torey brought clothes and toiletries to school. Before school began, Torey would change Sheila into clean clothes, brush and style her hair, and have her brush her teeth. This new image gave Sheila a brand-new confidence in herself. She became more outgoing in class. After school, Torey would bathe Sheila in the sink and make sure she brushed her teeth again, before changing her back into her filthy clothes, and taking the barrettes out of her hair. Sheila was terrified that if she took these items home, her father would punish her for stealing. By the time the school year was coming to an end, Torey and Sheila had such a strong bond that Sheila wished that Torey could be her mother, and that her whole life would've been different.

At age 6, when

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