This has been the year from heck, educationally speaking.
Thank God for our Assistant Principal. Not only is he adopted himself, he also has an incredible ability to empathize with trauma kids and understand kids with special needs.
If only the IEP team members were all so gifted.
Several times this year, I requested meetings to discuss our boy’s classroom behavior (which is unconventional but explainable when one takes the time to see through his eyes). His Autism Spectrum Disorder has begun to shine through with amazing beauty—or a vengeance, depending upon your perspective.
I requested a one-to-one behavioral aide, which he’s had in the past but never with this particular school. The aide gave him an extra layer of self-control by monitoring the situation for triggers, then reminding him to focus.
We’re lining up for lunch. Other children will be close to you and may touch you. This is okay. You’re perfectly safe.
Sitting quietly during testing is important. You’ll need to focus. No chirping, squeaking or other noises. I’ll give you a check mark for every minute you are silent.
This didn’t always work and we went through several aides before finding the right fit, but by the end of first grade we were able to phase out the aide. In fifth, he regressed. We weren’t at physical-aggression-because-I’m-angry level anymore, but his self-management went out the window by the end of September.
There is much to be said for personality match when pairing a teacher with a special needs child. We had stellar matches for him in third and fourth grade; I credit his teachers for the incredible leaps he made both in social and educational arenas.
The fifth grade teacher is a GREAT teacher. Neurotypical kids probably adore her.
But she’s not a personality match for my son, and he’s not a match for her. No one is at fault; it’s just the way things are.
Part of the struggle, I believe, is a simple lack of exposure. Maybe she’s never had a Spectrum kid in her classroom.
Thanks to trial and error, the fourth grade teacher found that putting him in a desk by himself—in the corner with fewest articles on the walls—helped him focus. He began participating more fully in spite of the separation she perceived as potentially problematic.
I suggested (and the school psychologist agreed) that the fifth grade teacher should do the same. Until then, she’d kept her classroom desks in groups of four or five. One of the daily points of contention happened when another child touched his things (inevitable at close range, because his desk tended to overflow). The teacher disagreed with the tactic but said she would comply with the group consensus.
Arriving in the classroom to drop off supplies about a week later, I found that she had placed his desk alone, as asked, but IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM, allowing for three-hundred-sixty degrees of incoming stimulation. Anyone with experience would never consider the middle of the room a viable spot for a kid with ASD.
Our boy is focused on the end result. Consequential forethought is rare; he almost never thinks about how his choices may affect others.
For instance: a friend told him that when he stamps his foot, his shoes light up. He neglected to provide a demonstration. Our guy thought about those lights all day. His impulse control held fast until about thirty minutes prior to pickup. He couldn’t take it anymore. The light-up-shoes called his name.
He ran up and stamped the kid’s foot.
The teacher wrote me a note, stating he had “viciously kicked” another child. Write-up, suspension.
He came home with a packet of papers to complete. He sat in a chair all day and worked (and got almost everything correct).
For this kid, suspension = joy.
He can learn and do his work with no distractions.
About two weeks later, our girl was home sick. Boy wanted to stay home as well. No fever, so off he went.
I sent a note to the teacher and left a message for the assistant principal, letting them know he may be out of sorts or pretend to be ill because he really wanted to be at home.
Thirty minutes into the school day, he pulled a chair out from under another child. He truly didn’t think about whether the child would be hurt (thankfully not); he just figured that if stamping a kid’s foot sent him home, this should also do the trick.
After a phone conference with the Assistant Principal, we agreed on after-school suspension for several days, to prevent a rash of must-find-a-way-to-get-suspended behaviors.
Again, I called a meeting, explaining (for the millionth-ish time) my request for a one-to-one behavioral aide. An aide could help him process the situation. Could see—as I often must—the potential issues and prevent a problem.
For instance, the behavioral aide would have noted he left his desk and immediately required him to sit back down. He would have never made it halfway across the room in the first place, much less had the opportunity to pull out the kid’s chair.
The aide could walk him to-and-from class, preventing the spark of hallway chaos from lighting his trigger fuse. Might recognize hyper-stimulation and ameliorate his angst before it ballooned into behaviors.
The IEP team, in spite of my pleas, turned down my request because
he’s not failing.
In fact, he’s doing quite well.
He’s “unable to focus,” he “refuses to participate” and “doesn’t follow along with the class,” yet his grades are above average.
And because we must keep him in the “least restrictive environment” for his needs, this precludes the need for a behavioral aide.
When they announced the reason, I stared in shock.
You’re telling me that he constantly distracts the class, he’s not able to focus or self-manage, he doesn’t know the material, he can’t get along with others and he’s a problem that must be solved, but you won’t allow me to procure a one-to-one aide because his grades are too good.
Yes, that’s exactly what they were saying.
I Give Up.
Not on my kid, and not on his education.
And I’m sure as heck not telling him this:
I give up stressing about his classroom behavior.
Sometimes, the only thing left to do is give it up.
you have to let go of what’s in your hands before you can pick up anything else.
And because sometimes,
moving on to the next thing is more important.
Several times in the last few months, our boy has mentioned that he seems different from other kids his age. He feels they think in a different way than he does.
He isn’t wrong, since he’s on the Autism spectrum. If the DSM-V hadn’t changed everything (okay, not everything), he would be diagnosed as having Asperger’s. In fact, his earliest diagnosis listed him as an Aspie.
We have never told him, concerned that it might make him feel different, or that he might use it as an excuse. “Well, I just act that way because I have Autism.”
However, since he already feels “different,” we’ve been thinking that maybe we should tell him.
A couple weeks ago, the kids and I were watching Girl Meets World, a spinoff/sequel to my childhood favorite, Boy Meets World. In this particular episode, one of the characters had testing because the adults in his life suspected he might be on the spectrum. He was agitated and concerned over the idea that he might be Autistic. I didn’t really like the way they portrayed that part because the tone made a diagnosis sound a little scary. Test results showed the young man does not have Asperger’s and he seemed relieved. However, one of his close friends was disappointed because she is an Aspie and was hoping his diagnosis would make her feel less different. The show ended as the kids assured the girl that they all love her just the way she is.
Overall, the episode does a pretty good job of showing kids how to be inclusive. The portrayal of nervous tension about the testing, both for the parents and for the child, seems fairly accurate.
I wouldn’t really know, because we didn’t tell our boy we were getting him tested (yearly psychs are run of the mill here, so he didn’t even notice) and I was ECSTATIC to receive the diagnosis.
Still, I felt they could have done a better job of portraying the diagnosis as something less scary—or even cool, because truly, Spectrum Kids are gifted.
As the show closed, our boy stared me square in the eye and asked,
What do I have?
Not quite ready to have the conversation, I hedged. “What do you think you have?”
He thought for a minute, then said, “I think I have the illness of aaaaaaaaaaaa(thought he was going to say it)aaaaawesome!”
If you haven’t read Grit by Angela Duckworth, be forewarned and encouraged: the book is long AND it is worth your time. The information is enthralling. Listening to the audio (read by the author) is even more fascinating.
One of my colleagues suggested I read it after I related the latest escapades in our quest to find the best care for our children’s special needs. Grit, according to Angela, is “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”
When it comes to our adopted kiddos, any social worker, community service board member, child services team contributor, school administrator, teacher or member of the mental health community with whom I’ve interacted would agree that I tend toward dogged advocacy. Our first social worker told Hubby I’m “hypervigilant” (hence the blog name).
Their well-being is my Quest, if you will.
Our kids had such a traumatic start; Hubby and I are determined—as much as is within our power—to make the rest of their growing-up years decidedly un-traumatic. I have to tell you: spending almost every moment of my wake time (and sometimes my dreams as well) finding ways to sow seeds of future success is exhausting.
At my friend’s recommendation, I read Grit thinking it might give me some encouragement.
Perhaps some validation.
Maybe even a little focus.
What I didn’t expect: Angela talks about ways to develop Grit in our children.
Her explanation of Grit indicators enthralled me. Among other things, a huge predictor of future success is a child’s commitment to a challenging activity for a certain amount of time.
At the high school level, two years of involvement in the same activity (whether sport, club or organization) is a solid predictor of future success.
Chess club, lacrosse, football, student government, school newspaper: as long as the activity creates growth and challenges the child to learn more, improve or think more creatively, it counts. (One year of involvement predicted nothing, by the way. That second year matters.)
To grow Grit in their children (and themselves), Angela, her husband and her children all “Do Hard Things.” (As a nerd partial to ancient myth, I prefer the term”Grit Quest.” My paraphrase of quest: an adventurous search or pursuit to secure or achieve something. GQ for short. Gives more of a sense of the “bulldog determination to scale the highest limit of this mountain” ideology our family tends to embrace.)
1. Everyone does SOMEthing that requires practice (pursuit) to improve. Each family member must embrace a GQ.
“Everyone” includes parents—how can we expect the kids to do something difficult while we potato on the couch?
If you’ve followed this blog for long, you know that Hubby and I do fun things like teaching ourselves how to knock out and rebuild walls, replace the bathroom ceiling and restore cars. The kids’ counselor actually told us we needed to take time to relax, to show the kids that adulting isn’t all work. #1 will be no trouble.
2. Everyone chooses his or her own GQ. No one wants to work hard because someone else is making them.
We have a child who would prefer to do nothing at all, so #2 will be more difficult.. If we don’t choose something for her, she will sit in her room and converse with herself. We’ve come to a compromise: there will be a GQ and it will involve music; the kids can choose from the instruments we already have on hand (piano and guitar). They’ve each asked for music lessons (unwitting of the work required), so this technically follows Angela’s guideline.
Other GQ considerations are transportation and impact on family time. For instance, we’ve ruled out football (American) for now because practices every night and games on weekends would effectively preclude any other activities…for anyone, player or not. We’re open to any sports which enable the kids to play together without taking over the family schedule.
3. No quitting. At least, not on a difficult day nor due to bad attitude. Predetermine a timeline or stopping point.
Once they’ve fulfilled the terms of the agreement (e.g., eight weeks,”when you reach x level” or a sport season) they can pick a new instrument or try something else.
Angela Duckworth says, “if I’ve paid the tuition for your set of piano lessons, you’re going to take all those lessons and you are, as you promised your teacher, going to practice for those lessons.”
Sounds great, but #3 is a bit more tricky for us, as we’re still working on motivation.
For over a year, the kids took Karate (THEIR CHOICE). We told them they could quit once they received a green belt. Most of the class attained the first belt within the first three months. Over a year later, our little darlings finally managed to pass the first belt assessment. They simply refused to practice.
No consequences mattered. Rewards, consequences, the teacher calling them out in front of the entire class…nothing mattered to them.
This lack of response to negative consequence or positive reward has been an ongoing burr under my saddle. It’s a “normal” response from trauma kids.
I literally had to stand there and watch them, directing every move. Right, it’s only fifteen minutes a day…but when it took an hour to complete thirty minutes of homework and we had Scouts (one for each) twice a week and counseling twice a week and…and…and…it just became too much.
What I learned from that experience? Pick a shorter term goal. The idea of allowing them to quit when they hit green was this: by the time they got to green, they’d be so good, they wouldn’t want to quit. Both of them have athletic physiques and our boy has flexibility any ballerina would kill for. We knew if they found success, they’d want to continue.
Problem is, they fought so hard to be complacent, they missed out. Toward the end, they both started realizing goals in karate. Unfortunately, it was too late, because they were both approved for in-home counseling (7-10 hours per week). With school, there’s currently no time for karate.
But hey, once the summer starts, we will have all kinds of time to practice an instrument. (Yep, I plan to practice as well.)
In the meantime, I’m going to go listen to Grit one more time. There was a section about the Seattle Seahawks I didn’t fully catch the first time around, and I want to listen again.
If you take time to read it (or already have), weigh in below.
What do you think? Do you have grit? How do you know?
I have been PRAYING for time to write during the last few weeks. We’ve got a lot going on.
We decided to buy out the rest of the siblings and move to Dad’s place. This means
- We need to downsize, as the house is smaller (although we plan to add on)
- We must quickly finish all home improvement projects
- We have to have our current house market-ready ASAP before the Spring House Rush begins
Our Boy had the flu for four days. The expelling-a-demonic-force-from-your-gut version. This means
- He called me to his room every fifteen minutes to ask if he were dying
- He called me to his room every thirty minutes to confirm his time of death
- I got nothing done for a week (spent Friday recovering from no sleep)
Hubby and I spent an entire day rolling around in the crawl space under the house (looking like Mars explorers in Tyvek suits and respirators) to replace the insulation and vapor barrier. This means
- We did not walk upright for almost 8 hours
- I spent three days walking around like an old lady
- I finally realized I am no longer seventeen
Hubby got laid off after almost 20 year with the same firm. This means
- We have to figure out insurance
- We found out his insane work ethic and sense of humor have won him a ton of friends and supporters; he received literally hundreds of supportive texts, email messages and phone calls
- He suddenly has time to work on the house
I was sick three days ago, then had a fever relapse today. This means
- Hubby has been Mr. Mom (and he’s done a fabulous job)
- The kids have had to take more responsibility (and have done a fabulous job)
- I completely lost my voice and spent the entire day in a chair writing and looking at the river at my aunt’s house (voice loss: not so fabulous; river: fabulous)
So, here’s the good news: my prayer was answered and I had time to write today, because with a fever and the inability to talk, I can’t do much else. (Post scheduled for tomorrow.)
This is what you call “Forced Write-irement.”
More good news: Our Boy is fully recovered and is up to most of his old shenanigans, but he also got it in his head that the flu might have been punishment for his behavior the last few months, so he’s been watching himself.
This may be my fault. Every time he asked if he might be dying, he also asked, “WHHHHHHHHHYYYYYYYYY is this happening? What have I EVER DONE to DESERVE this????” At some point, running on three hours’ sleep, I maaaaaay have responded, “Well, think through the last eight weeks. How much of that was spent on good behavior?” He didn’t ask me about it again…
Even more good news: if all goes as planned, Hubby already has another job lined up, and they’re willing to wait a couple weeks on the start date, so he’ll have time to work on the house.
It’s been busy and I’m exhausted…but God is good.
ALL the time.
Oh, and did I mention I’m thinking about writing a non-fiction bit about working with trauma kids? In case I get bored.
When your mom borned you, she took one look and threw you in the trash.
The classmate who delivered this charming nugget to my son probably had no idea how close he was to the truth. No concept of how deep his words would wound.
Afterward, we had a long talk about how it’s okay to want to punch someone but it’s not okay to actually put hands on someone. I am proud that even in the face of such soul-searing spite, our boy did not retaliate.
I suggested that he find a constructive way to deal with the painful feelings. Punch a pillow. Draw a picture. Write your feelings.
Tonight, I take my own advice.
Our son’s teacher vacillates between understanding and intolerant.
She is personally offended by his need to draw while she talks and doesn’t understand his Aspie idiosyncrasies.
But after Dad died, she gave our boy a lot of grace as he worked through the grief in the way all the articles predicted: a nosedive in school behavior and performance.
My emotions conflict often when dealing with her.
Today, I received a text.
I saw your son violently kick a student from another class. Please encourage him to behave appropriately in school.
The text bothered me.
If he “violently” kicked another child, I should have been picking him up from the principal’s office, not finding out after the fact.
This was followed by,
He didn’t eat his lunch today.
During the test today, he took a red pen and drew on his arms.
This last one, I’d already noticed, a fabulous red dragon tattoo. Although I’ve asked him not to draw on himself, I’m not that concerned about impermanent ink decorations. If he sneaks off to get a real tattoo, well, that’s a problem. No tattoos until you’re 25, when your brain has matured fully. That’s the rule.
I responded, “Yes, I saw. Did he do anything right?”
She didn’t answer.
I added, “He mentioned that his friend showed him new shoes that change color and invited him to hit them with his foot. Was this the kicking incident?”
No response, then,
He asked permission to bring a cannonball and a bullet to school. He said you will help him bring the cannonball to school. Cannonballs and bullets are not allowed in school. Please discourage him from bringing these items to school.
Good grief. A family friend gave our little history buff several artifacts collected over the years. Our guy’s first response:
“We’re learning about this in history! I bet my teacher would love to see these!”
I told him that he couldn’t take them to school but that possibly I could get special permission to bring them in so the kids could see the display. Evidently he was too excited and brought it up to her.
This is the kid who smoked me in the “Jeopardy” category World Wars and corrected his teacher (accurately) when she taught about Pearl Harbor.
He’s really thrilled about history. Instead of encouraging that passion, she’s just annoyed.
My true difficulty with the situation is this:
I get it.
I understand fully that he requires ten times more direction than any other kid in class. He needs someone to help him see the connection between his actions and consequences (good or bad). He is frequently distracted by a buzzing light, a whispered word, a tapping foot or a bug doodling around the room. He doesn’t think through actions or words before he does or speaks.
I want to be on her side. I want to be a team.
Maybe the last two years (with fabulous teachers who recognized the diamond shine under the inches of behavioral coal dust) have spoiled me. We worked together to find solutions and they’ve offered advice for his current teacher. Those two years weren’t perfect and there’s no way to dream they were, no matter how flexible your imagination. But we worked together and tried each others’ ideas.
She discards ideas faster than I can suggest them.
Seriously, I just want us to work together to point this kid to success; the success I KNOW he can have. In a recent IEP meeting, his caseworker shook her head and said, “even with all his focusing struggles, he’s still keeping his grades up. I can’t believe it.”
I CAN believe it.
He’s brilliant. When he barely studies, he still passes (sometimes with 100s). With the right guidance and focus, he’ll be unstoppable.
Right now, though, she’s just telling him (and me) what he’s doing wrong. And that really gets me steamed. I have NO problem with consequences and the Assistant Principal can vouch that I lend full support to every intervention.
He responds to consistent recognition of what he’s doing right. If he knows he’ll be consistently rewarded for doing the right thing, he generally does the right thing. I say generally, because he’s far from perfect (aren’t we all) and it doesn’t always work, but 8 out of 10 times, it does.
She says, “it’s too hard” to catch him doing well. She thinks it’s ridiculous to give him a “good” point for eating lunch (which the psychologist suggested as at least one guaranteed good point for the day). She argued against most of the interventions that everyone else (school counselor, head psychologist, principal, case worker, mother) agreed upon. She has 20+ other kids and doesn’t have time to devote to my kid. Just “thank God” when he’s quiet and ignore him.
I get it.
But this constant “tattling” (because that’s what the texts above felt like) is just wearing me out. Tomorrow I’m taking the conversation to show the principal, then asking what can be done.
The last time I asked, every other class was maxed out and there’s no possibility of moving him to another class.
Maybe there’s no solution other than,
“Hang in there.”
We’re in school for about four and a half more months. Almost an eternity, yet I know the time will dissipate like clouds puffing past a skydiver.
Fifth grade is not the end of the world. No one wants to know, “How were your marks in elementary school?” No one asks, “Were you ever sent to the principal’s office before middle school?” Maybe we just need to make it through.
In the meantime, though, Hubby takes me for walks and I write.
Tonight, as we trudged down the moon-drenched driveway, I said,
“I want to punch her in the face.”
This is not entirely accurate; I don’t actually want to punch her because then I’d have to deal with legal action (this is the forethought I hope to instill in our boy). However, I want to write about it, and thereby feel better. And so, with a tip of my hat to the best rhymer ever, I write.
I must not punch her in the face
Though maybe just a spray of mace
Just a smidge, only a sample
No, I must be an example
Must not, must not kick her knee
Shall not, will not put a bee
In her coffee piping hot
Flick her? No.—NO! I cannot.
When I am so mad…I’ll write!
Get some extra sleep tonight.
Go for long walks down the drive.
In her car hide a beehive.
Oh, wait, that last one is wrong;
Instead I’ll sing out a song
Whisper a soft little prayer
That she will lose all her hair.
Oh, no, there I go again.
Paying vengeance is a sin
I must let it go, be done
Show forgiveness for my son
That boy’s always watching me
And I so want him to see:
Great achievement’s possible
Mercy is unstoppable
Even on the hardest day
Grace and faith will make a way.
There. I feel better.
And bonus, I’m not going to jail for punching a teacher. So, there’s that.
When life just isn’t fair, how do you deal with it?