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.
I just read a post by a mom who hopes to stop using an IEP for her special needs son.
Read her article (here) and then add your thoughts below.
Here’s my response:
I see your point, but I think I’d have to side with your hubby IF your boy is like ours (and the description is all too familiar). Here’s my reasoning: I’m not looking for legal protection against bad behavior; you’re absolutely right about consequences. Kids need to experience cause and effect.
However, the IEP forces people around him to consider his differences and be more understanding. I’ll give you an example.
At a theme park, I waited in line with everyone else to get my food. A young man (late teens) walked up, pushed past me, grabbed the food he wanted and pushed me out of his way again on his way back. He didn’t apologize; instead, he called happily to his mother, “I got the last one before anyone could take it!”
His mother, looking mortified and frazzled, told him to apologize. When he just stood there staring at the plate, she said, “I’m really sorry. He doesn’t realize.”
Having personal experience with Autism, I was fairly certain of the situation. Without that experience, I would have seen an incredibly rude young man whose mother obviously did not rear him with manners.
BUT his mother’s reaction confirmed what I suspected. Instead of being annoyed, I felt very happy for her that she could bring her son to a place like amusement park. So many kids on the Spectrum would be too overwhelmed to function in the chaos.
Of course, an IEP won’t help in public, but it will release some of the pressure in other settings. Asking people to treat a kid with differences as Neurotypical is unfair to all parties. He needs at least one safe place where people will attempt to understand.
My boy has made great strides but any teacher who expects a model student will be disappointed.
Unmet expectations = frustration.
The IEP allows reasonable expectations.
I don’t excuse inappropriate behavior and our school staff members know that. But there’s a difference in motive to be considered: a belligerent kid snapping pencils in half vs. the overwhelmed kid trying to deal with too much sensory input. Both look the same on the outside.
An IEP gives the teacher extra insight regarding whether this kid who refuses to stop snapping pencils should be sent to the principal or given a few minutes in a quiet corner away from chaos.
So anyway…that’s my two cents.
What do YOU think?
Continued from Adoption = Progress, Part 2
I sit, chin in hands, listening to the district psychologist.
I glance around the table at the principal, school social worker, special education teacher, classroom teacher, guidance counselor and head of the special education eligibility team. All of these individuals have gathered for a meeting, which takes place every three years, to determine whether my children qualify to have an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP.
Both have made tremendous progress, especially in the last year. Upon arrival, the 5 year old did not know his alphabet and the 7 year old could not read three-letter words. Now 9 and 11, our girl reads at grade level and our little guy is reading a level above his current grade. Their test scores have moved from bottom-of-the-ocean to above C-level (see what I did there?) and behavior is age-appropriate at school.
Our current school has been instrumental in their success; I’m not downplaying the role Hubby and I have had (because we’ve poured ourselves into what we call “extra-school”…homeschooling after school, through summer and holiday breaks). However, without the support from the school, we would never have come this far.
We were at another, less motivated school for the first two years, so I can vouch for this truth. In addition to teachers who truly care and have been willing to try every strategy we brainstorm, the school principal is adopted and he used this to connect with our son.
During our first year at the school, he and I…chatted…quite a bit. In his office. With the boy.
Rather than suspend our child for behaviors which probably deserved it, he came up with more creative consequences and spent hours (and I do mean hours) talking with our son, helping him see cause and effect. Our son began to understand how behaviors have consequences and make other people feel a certain way.
And he reminded me that this child was so terrified of what would happen to him at the hands of other children that he’d rather push them all away and make them fear him.
These memories flit through my mind as I listen to each person around the table discuss my children. The principal grins at me. He knows.
Our girl’s teacher raves about her behavior and focus. Our boy’s teacher is excited by his progress and while noting that he sometimes blurts his thoughts, the “bad words” we’re discussing are “stupid” and “dumb,” nothing worse. He’s also willing to be redirected.
I know that as the work becomes more difficult and they find frustration, it’s likely they will fall into some old habits, but for the moment I am thrilled beyond words.
Every year has brought improvement. Each year has ups and downs, but the mountains and deep valleys have morphed into rolling terrain. Rivers of tears have gone underground, reappearing only as the occasional stream.
The team finds my children still eligible for accommodations through the IEP process, which is truly a relief. I believe that by the end of the year they may not need some of these benefits; our son transitioned last year from a small group class and integrated without trouble into the mainstream classroom.
If we are able to continue this rate of progress, I can only imagine where they’ll be next year.
For now, though, I know that they are not quite ready for the expectations of a “typical” class load. Realistic understanding is key; they are still handicapped by the trauma and neglect of their past (which included no pre-school, no learning).
The kids know that if they have a good week at school, I’ll spend lunch with them on Friday. Our son likes to be sure. This past Thursday, he asked if I’d be there. I assured him I would. He then turned to Hubby.
“Daddy, are you coming to lunch because I had a good week?” Upon learning that Daddy had to work, he looked over at me and said, “Well…at least SOMEbody loves me!” Then, laughing, he ran over and hugged my husband. “Don’t worry, Daddy. I’m just kiddin’…I know you love me. I love you!”
This from the kid we could hardly touch for the first six months.
I bring my focus back to the table, smile and thank everyone. Most of them have no idea of the gift they’ve given my children, but a few know. Later, I stand outside in the blinding sunlight, watching clouds scoot across the infinite blue. I almost feel I can see straight through the atmosphere.
Smiling, I stare toward what I’m determined to see: our bright future.
Writing 101 Day 13 assignment: tell a story through a series of vignettes (short, episodic scenes or anecdotes) that together read as variations on the same theme.
Photo: Casey Alexander