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.
High stress situations trigger our little guy’s PTSD.
In the beginning, high stress was pretty much anything other than staying home with Mama. I spent hours at the elementary school, trying to convince the administration not to cut his day in half. Many days, I sat directly behind him in class, ready for intervention, until social services finally gave approval for a behavioral aide. In a constant state of alert, I watched for any possible cause for concern at home, at school, at church and in public.
Three and a half years later, he is a fully functional member of third grade. Last semester, the Special Education (SPED) staff felt he might be ready for full classroom inclusion. *Side note: the SPED staff have been an incredible addition to the team of people working to support his success. We are so thankful for them.* They allowed him to choose whether he’d rather head to the small group room for part of the school day or remain in the mainstream class the entire time. He decided he was ready for full-time inclusion. Putting it in his hands was the most empowering thing they could have done–and it worked wonders.
He’s asking and answering questions, interacting with others and starting to care what others think.
Of course, now “peer pressure” conversations have come into play, which I didn’t expect. He’s done his own thing, off by himself, for so long—the necessity of this talk didn’t immediately strike me. A few weeks ago, I realized my mistake.
Climbing into the truck, he announced, “Mama, I ate a worm today. J dared me to do it, so I had to. But don’t worry. I made sure it was alive, so it’s okay.”
Right. Because it was alive.
After questioning, I found out he was under the impression that bacteria only lives in dead things, so it’s okay to eat live critters. We nixed that idea super quick. One of my favorite childhood books was How to Eat Fried Worms. Never thought I’d be living it.
End-of-year testing began a couple weeks ago, and I noticed he’s been a little…off…for the last week. We also spent almost 10 hours playing hard at a friend’s house this weekend, so I thought he was just over-tired. Tonight, as I leaned in to pull covers around him and get my goodnight kiss, he squirmed away. I had a momentary flashback to the days when we couldn’t touch him, when he refused to look us in the eye. “You okay?” I tugged on the blanket, now pulled over his head.
From the depths of his fluffy cave, he said, “Come back after you tuck Sis into bed. Please.” When he requests space, he’s usually about to drop some kind of emotional bomb. Prodding him doesn’t help. A few minutes later, we both sat on his bed. He leaned back and put his head on my knee, a good sign. If he’s really upset, he doesn’t want to be touched.
I tried to be nonchalant. “So, what’s going on? Want to tell me?”
“I want to go hoooooooooome!” he sobbed against me. I was stunned. He hasn’t mentioned his biological family in months. Discussing them is always a difficult conversation. On one hand, although they were pretty horrible, we don’t want to demonize the bio family to the children. On the other, we can’t create a fantasy that everything is hunky-dory and they will have a beautiful reunion when he turns 18.
I mean, it could happen. People change. I’m not incredibly optimistic, though.
We talked through what going back to “that place” would mean. Leaving me, leaving Daddy. Leaving the dogs, the cats. Leaving the cool bedroom, the backyard playground and the trails through the woods. And unless the bios had a recent meeting with Jesus, it might mean getting locked in a room all over again.
He admitted to feeling sad and mad and wishing he could see his birth family. “It’s why I don’t smile, not even for pictures.” This is the hardest part of adoption for me. Family is always family, especially for an older adopted child. Seeing them deal with the conflicting emotions of love and hate, as well as the loss, is so difficult. In our case, safety comes first and there’s absolutely no possibility of contact.
Hubby walked in and our guy scooted over to make room on the bed. We sat, the three of us, all tangled. My legs draped over Hubby’s, our guy snuggled between us. We talked about going through hard times, and how God sometimes takes us through difficulty so we can be strong or help someone else in a similar situation.
Finally, the conversation drifted to helicopters, a signal that he felt better and was done talking about deep, dark feelings.
Before we tucked him into bed for the night, we took turns praying; Hubby and I included his birth family in our prayers. To my surprise, our guy did not. However, he prayed for all the children who do not have clean water, and the ones who do not get to go to school because they have to work, and the ones who live in war zones. For all the children who—in his view—got an even worse deal than he did.
He’s going to be okay.
PTSD is awful; I would not wish it on my worst enemy (well…maybe my worst…). However, I’m so thankful for the opportunity to see healing take place. If you’re dealing with PTSD, please know you’re not alone. If you’d like some information about coping, start here.
Have experience with PTSD (yourself or someone you know)? Share here. You never know who you might help.