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?
Dear Miss Othmar,
You are about to become the third most important person in my son’s life.
You will spend more waking hours with him for the next nine months than his dad or I.
Your encouragement, understanding, creativity and enthusiasm for learning will impact my son’s life forever.
My son is intelligent, wise beyond his years, interested in learning about almost everything and unbelievably creative. One-on-one conversations with him will leave you amazed at the depth of his thoughts.
If you connect with him, if you play to his strengths, if you feed his love of science, math and reading, you will find he’s your most dedicated student. He will be your most loyal supporter. Your truest pupil.
His ADHD, high-functioning Autism (what used to be called Asperger’s) and traumatic background sometimes interfere with his ability to show others who he really is.
He hears every little tick, hum and buzz in the building as though it’s right behind his ear. The fly most kids easily ignore will capture his attention like a tractor beam.
Transitions may leave him confused. Keeping himself organized is an almost insurmountable task. Writing assignments in a planner takes him much longer than other kids, thanks to his sensory and motor difficulties.
Attempts to connect with his peers sometimes leave him reeling.
He craves—but doesn’t always understand the best way to procure—acceptance. He thinks making kids laugh is the same as being liked, which means he may act out to get a giggle.
Perceived unfairness blows his mind; he has difficulty ratcheting his emotions back if he finds himself or others being treated in a way that “does not compute.”
In an environment where he feels secure, encouraged and safe, many of these quirks minimize naturally.
Here are some suggestions for a smooth ride this year:
Be firm, fair and calm.
If he freaks out, give him a minute to calm down in a quiet space. Ask him how the situation could have been different—and what he can do in the future to avoid the situation.
Give him advance notice for transitions. “Five minutes until we leave for lunch. Have you finished your paper? What do you need to do next to get ready?“
Find creative ways to get him involved. Ask him to master a concept so he can help teach someone else.
Notice his interactions with others. Feel free to “interfere,” to take him aside and make recommendations for relating.
When his attention wanes, stand by his desk, tap his page, put a hand on his shoulder…small connections to bring him back to earth.
Encourage him to take notes and write down his assignments, but please text me a picture of the assignment board.
Be firm, fair and calm. (This is really the most important.)
I am so thankful for your dedication to a wonderful education experience for all the kids in your class. I fully understand that you don’t have extra time to dedicate to “special” behavioral needs.
One last however:
With this kid, an ounce of prevention truly is worth a pound of cure. If you can find a few extra minutes to pour in at the outset, the rest of your year—and his—will benefit. If you make a connection with him, he’ll be motivated to make you proud.
Thank you again, in advance, for everything.
Every once in a while, we get a win. Today, I feel sort of like the kid in the picture. The one in the green shirt.
I’m not bragging, but so much of the time I write about the hard stuff, and today I’d like you to join me in a little happy dance.
Fourth grade has not been easy. Both kids have had frustrations (math for her, staying focused while testing for him). And of course, those frustrations have spilled over to home.
You JUST DID the SAME kind of problem. It’s the SAME process with different numbers. Simply DO what you JUST DID.
You knew all the answers last night. ALL. OF. THEM. How could you tank this test?
We worked this year. Double duty math practice. Extra spelling drills. Re-taking tests at home if grades sank below C-level. (Sorry, nerd joke.) And no, not for credit, just for training.
Their teachers have been phenomenal. The school is incredible. Anytime I ask for extra support, more worksheets, conferences…pretty much whatever we need, they provide. I’m so glad we have one more year with this super team.
And today, all the extra work, the collaboration—and yes, the tears—paid off. In spades.
Hubby and I sat in the crowded auditorium as children dressed in red, white or blue filed in behind jubilant teachers. When the principal began announcing names of children with elevated scores on year-end tests,
he called her name.
Hubby and I couldn’t hold back our whoops. And then,
he called his name.
Both of our kids stood, proud, in line with other children who’d scored well.
She received an award for reading. He received awards for reading and math.
Five years ago, he was 5 and didn’t know the alphabet. Five years ago, she was 7 and couldn’t read three-letter words.
We have come so far, the four of us.
I ask the usual question as the kids clamber into my truck.*
*Yes, I drive a truck. It’s big and black and bad@$$ and NO I’m not a redneck. I just like my truck. And also Hubby thinks it’s hot. So there’s that.
How was your day?
All the parenting books encourage me to “ask open-ended questions!” in order to elicit enthusiastic and long-winded answers from my children. Obliging my curiosity, they answer with enthusiasm and long-windedness:
“Come on guys,” I wheedle, “I know something happened today.” Then it hits me. Ahhh.
“Did your teacher have to speak to you about behavior?”
“It’s all Ellie’s fault,” he explodes. “Stupid Ellie made me have silent lunch!”
I try to catch his eye in the mirror. No dice. “So…how did Ellie make you have silent lunch?”
“I knocked a magnet off the desk,” he says, “and I tried to catch it before it hit the ground and my hand whacked it instead of catching it and it flew across the room and then Ellie said I threw it but I DIDN’T throw it and it was an accident, just an accident. And then I got silent lunch BECAUSE OF ELLIE. IT WAS HER FAULT!”
I wait for him to breathe. “Your teacher seems very fair. I don’t think she’d give you silent lunch just because Ellie said you threw a magnet.”
He wails in rising crescendo as tears fill his eyes.
“If Ellie would stay out of my business
I wouldn’t have had silent lunch.
IT’S ALL HER FAULT because she gets IN MY BUSINESS ALL THE TIME!”
I try to hide my smile. Good thing I’m driving.
“So,” I say, “your teacher told you, ‘I’m giving you silent lunch because Ellie got in your business,’ is that right?”
By this time, we’ve parked at the house. I turn around. “Look at me.” He does, defiant. “I think you’re not telling me the whole story. Tell me from the beginning.”
He sighs. “I knocked the magnet off and it went across the room. Ellie said I threw it. I said I didn’t. I called the teacher over, like you said to do when I have trouble.”
I nod. “And what did the teacher say?”
“She said it wasn’t a big deal and not to worry about it.” He leans back, arms folded. “But it WAS a big deal because Ellie keeps getting in my business!”
“And did you tell the teacher Ellie was ‘getting in your business’ after she said it was fine?”
“Yes,” he growls, “and then she gave me silent lunch. See? It’s Ellie’s fault!”
“You told her about Ellie just once?” I ask.
“Well…no. I wanted her to do something about Ellie and how she gets in my business so I kept telling her about it.”
I see he’s beginning to comprehend the problem. “How many times do you think you told her about Ellie?”
“A bunch of times.”
“And what did she say?”
“That I should forget about it and get back to work. But Ellie ALWAYS does it. And then I get in trouble,” he grumbles.
“So, let me make sure I understand. You hit the magnet accidentally. Ellie said you threw it. The teacher said not to worry about it. And then you kept complaining about Ellie to the teacher and wouldn’t stop when she told you to let it go. Does that sound about right?” I scoot around further in my seat so I can see his eyes.
“So,” I said, “look at me. Tell me—and be honest—whose fault was your silent lunch?”
He glares. “Hers,” he begins, then falters. “Mine. My fault.”
“Because I wouldn’t stop talking when the teacher said to stop.”
“Exactly.” I sigh. “Why do you care so much about what people say about you, anyway?”
“Because they’re in my bus—” he begins.
“Stop.” I say. He looks up. “The last five or six times you’ve been in trouble, it’s because you’re pitching a fit over someone ‘in your business,’ but if you’d just let it go, you probably wouldn’t be in trouble, right?”
“Do you actually get in trouble when kids tell the teacher you’ve done something?”
He shakes his head. “Nah.”
“Right. Because you guys are in the FOURTH GRADE. Everyone knows that fourth graders are some of the biggest tattle-tales ever. The teacher isn’t going to give you a consequence unless she—or another adult—sees you. Right?”
Eyes wide, he says, “All fourth graders are tattle-tales?”
I nod, solemn. “It’s true. Everybody knows it. So why do you care what they say? You know, you should care about the people who can affect your life. Do you know who those people are?”
He shakes his head.
“Your teachers. Of course, you should be nice to the kids in your class, but when it comes to what they think of you…the teacher is where you should focus. No matter what grade you’re in, don’t worry about what other kids say. They’re just kids. And a bunch of them will end up in jail, anyway, so who cares what they think.”
Eyes wide, he peers around my seat. “In jail?”
I grin. “Well, that’s what happened to some of the kids I knew. On the other hand, some of them ended up in government. Almost as bad. But don’t go to school telling your friends they’re going to jail. I don’t need a call from the principal.”
Laughing, he says, “So. I should just worry about what the adults think of me.”
“More or less,” I agree. “Be kind to all your classmates, and if they accuse you of something, just ignore it. Make your teacher happy. You’ll get into less trouble. And seriously, a teacher might even give you a job reference someday.”
He hops down and opens the driver door, squinting up at me. “No kidding?”
“No kidding,” I say, as he climbs up next to me. “In fact, I saw my tenth grade Biology teacher just last month. She told me she remembered a science fiction story I wrote. That was over twenty years ago. You never knew what someone might remember; make sure it’s good.”
He hugs me. “I’m glad we talked about it. Can I put my fingers in my ears and say, ‘I can’t heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeear youuuuuuuu’ when they bother me?”
I grimace. “No, please don’t.”
“I’ll try to do more ignoring. But I’m not very good at it.” He shrugs.
“Yeah,” I say. “Sometimes I have a hard time ignoring people, too. You know, when they found out we were adopting, some people told us not to do it. What do you think we did?”
“You ignored them,” he crows. “Good thing, too. Huh, mama?”
Yep. Good thing.
So. How was your day?
No adoptive parent plans to send a child back into the system.
No one argues that keeping foster or adopted children in one stable environment is best.
the rate of disruption is up to
ONE in FOUR,
especially for older children.
Here are some ways we—as parents, social workers and advocates—can change the odds.
Get help/support in school. Involve the educators.
A good school system can make all the difference for a child on the edge.
When children do well in school, disruption in foster family placement is less likely. Conversely, studies show that behavioral challenges leading to frequent school suspensions and expulsion cause greater lengths of stay in foster care and disruptions in placements. That, in turn, leads to more school changes and more involvement with the judicial system.
When children experience greater school stability and success, foster parents feel supported and better equipped to help the child in their home, not only with school related activities, but with other issues. This increases the likelihood of permanent, stable placements.
Education can be a critical component to improving outcomes for youth served in the foster care system as you heard from the studies I cited, and it is critical to, at a minimum, share data between systems to track outcomes. Education, the courts and child welfare agencies can and must work together to achieve improved outcomes.
– David Sanders, Casey Family Services, delivering plenary address at the Third National Judicial Leadership Summit in Austin, Texas. (Emphasis mine.)
Alternate options may be necessary. Not all children of trauma can survive in mainstream school environments. On the other hand, some children must acquire socialization in order to survive.
We considered homeschooling in the beginning, but our entire support team (in-home and in-office counselors, psychiatrist, psychologist, occupational and speech therapists) recommended we keep the kids in a traditional school setting.
Within a few weeks of enrolling the kids in their first school with us, the administration was ready to cut our boy’s Kindergarten day in half. “He’s just not ready for this.”
We fought to keep him in school; obtained a one-to-one behavioral aide, applied for (and received) mentoring and in-home counseling services. I volunteered at the school for hours every week to be on hand if he had issues. His Kindergarten teacher and the Assistant Principal joined “our side” but everyone else…not so much. Those two years were grueling.
Then, we requested approval to move schools. The new principal denied my request to volunteer and wouldn’t allow an aide in her domain. I was shocked (and terrified) but she assured me, “we’ve got this.”
And they did.
Principals, teachers, guidance staff and paraprofessionals met with us. They asked questions. I brought handouts outlining RAD, PTSD and how to deal with children coming from trauma. They listened. Teachers and staff dispensed necessary consequences with grace and care.
The children learned boundaries. They began to recognize school as a safe place.
Hubby and I are thrilled with the level of support and understanding. The kids are thriving. I can’t imagine where we’d be without such amazing people behind us.
Seek out specialized education that fits the child such as alternative schools, home schooling or a school that excels in understanding and serving the educational needs of children who have special needs.
Extended Visitation with New Family
Extended visitation: meeting with the new family for dinner, spending a few hours with the new family in a neutral setting, touring the new home and neighborhood, spending a night, then two.
This kind of gradual introduction to the new family is not always possible.
Several of our friends adopted from other countries. They were able to send scrapbooks of pictures and descriptions to their new child, but communication was difficult. In-country visits were required prior to adoption, but this did nothing to acclimate the child to new surroundings.
In our case, the agency lost our background checks (requiring re-printing). In the meantime, the kids needed a month of respite housing.
Because we knew the family providing interim care, we saw the children several times and they even visited our house—albeit with no idea we were possible new parents.
If not for that mistake (or God’s providence), our kids would have been dropped off with us: outright strangers in new, unfamiliar surroundings. As it was, they were terrified. I can’t imagine how they’d have felt if they’d never visited our house or met us.
Sure, giving the children time to get used to new surroundings and mentally prepare themselves for a move takes more time and money at the outset than plopping the kids into their new lives. However, disruption requires even more resources. Encourage your agency to consider extended visits prior to moving the kids, if possible.
Extended visitation is even more important for older children. No (sane) adult moves into someone else’s house during a first date, but this immediate commitment to live with strangers is required of many foster kids.
Visitation gives the child a chance to get familiar with his or her new neighborhood, see his or her new school, and perhaps make friends with some of the neighborhood children. It allows for a gradual “getting used to” all the new people and places that will be a part of the child’s life in the adoptive family.
Making a lifetime commitment like adoption should not happen quickly or under pressure. In many ways, adopting the older child or a child who has special needs is more like entering into a marriage than becoming a parent. Especially with older children, adoption brings together individuals with unique experiences, ideas, habits, and values, and asks them to suddenly live together in a family unit.
-Adoption.com, Thoughtful Visitation Practices Prevent Disruption
Click here for Part 2 (and to learn two of the most important ways to prevent disruption).
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