Tag Archives: mainstreaming

Homework, Demons, and Metaphorical Mountain Climbing

16 Apr

We all want our kids to do well.  Sometimes, I know Alex is working his butt off but people who are not me, who do not live with him, who have not struggled to achieve almost every childhood milestone with him, cheering him on, cannot see the effort.

I think this probably happens to most parents at some point in their child’s education, but I have a hunch that those of us with kids who aren’t just “wash and wear” (wash and wear kids are born, hit their milestones, and for the most part only visit a regular pediatrician) have this feeling more frequently.

I sometimes feel this need, this drive, to correct the tiny things, the little oopses, so my kid can shine and people will stop seeing only the little tiny bits that need extra care and all sorts of implements and technical terms and see him as the whole, amazing person he truly is.

Which is, well, what we all want.  It’s just that Johnny (generic Johnny, not a real kid) never got the raised eyebrow from the pediatrician or the talk in the hallway from the preschool teacher (and the business card with the number of Easter Seals on it)… But Alex did. So for me, at least, that makes every victory that much sweeter and as his Mama it makes me fiercely defend what he can do.  And he works hard. Really hard. Other kids in his class have playdates and sports and even siblings. We don’t have time for that. We have Asperger’s (his and mine) and a whole buffet of physical disabilities (mine) that make this “acceptable”(for a typically developing child) amount of homework one of the only activities our family has time for.

I realize that my child may look lazy or confrontational at times or like he just isn’t listening. But he isn’t those things and he is listening.  When his teacher said “Alex, you only do your homework when you feel like it” she devastated him.   Alex doesn’t “feel” like doing 4 hours of homework every night.  Alex doesn’t feel like missing out on all physical activity and fun because he struggles to understand and at the end of a 6.5 hour school day, the last thing he is ready to do is put his nose in the books and pencil to paper.  He needs time and space to decompress. Any kid would.

I give him two rules for his day as he stands by the elevator in the morning, “Have a great day” and “Do your best”.  I am at the point where wishing him a great day seems too loaded, because then he feels like he broke a major rule if he doesn’t have a great day and that’s the worst thing for him because  Alex doesn’t break rules. He can’t. He’s not wired that way.

So we are waiting for our meeting with the teacher.  I don’t think that she really understands our kid. We gave them piles of information (and well crafted summaries, so as not to overwhelm). I feel like they were ignored and here we are.

I feel like we can’t ask for anything because it’s a private school. I feel like we can’t push it because we can’t put him in our local public school. And I’m too sick to home school him and 18 months of zero income and sky high COBRA health insurance and being sick is expensive. These things have left us so deep in the hole that the future is forever changed and we are indeed so very stuck.

Alex broke down yesterday and told me that he hates school.  He said that everyone makes fun of him all day long.

I broke down too. Because that’s my kid. And there is no way in hell (or Florida) that I will let him experience what I experienced at his age and most of my life with my peers and with some adults.  I don’t have to worry about him not being accepted by his parents, because he is mine and no matter the challenge, he will have me by his side, ready to tackle it.  But schoolwork is making up 100% of his days since they bumped him into the first grade.  And if he hates school, that sadness, that feeling of rejection, is riding on his shoulders.  The kid is brilliant, I can’t have his self esteem or his desire to learn squashed this way.

So we are waiting for the meeting.

And I’m compiling bits of evidence to share with the teacher and the administrator that show how Alex’s mind works and that he isn’t being a defiant little brat, but that this is his neurology. This is his wiring.  It is amazing and it makes him who he is and he is a spectacular human being with an incredible mind and a spirit that needs to be supported and encouraged and not squashed like some unsavory kitchen pest.

So here’s the evidence from today.  Here are Alex’s spelling words:

He has a bunch of activities for homework, every week, that involve the spelling words.  The activities are actually pretty cool, as the kids learn spelling, grammar, etc…  But with the amount of homework, Jeff has found that the best way to tackle these things are to get Alex to first transcribe the words onto lined paper and then go through word by word cracking out the activities for each word, assembly line style (or “Robot Style” as Alex and Jeff prefer to call it as it is much cooler sounding).  So I had Alex transcribe his week 3 words 3x today.

Do you notice anything?  I was going to correct him at first…

See how “photographs” (his handwriting has come so far in the past few months!) is above the dotted line on the paper?

I said to him “Hey Alex, why isn’t photographs on the bottom line?”

And he said, because that is how it is written on the list of spelling words from the teacher and he told me that he has to write it the same way or she’ll be annoyed that he didn’t follow how it was written on the paper.

So I looked.

Here it is again:

To fit the word “photographs” in the list they had to shrink the font.  So the bottom tail of the “p” isn’t touching the line at the bottom of the box it is printed in, the way the rest of the p’s on the list do.

So he wrote it above the bottom line on his paper, so it would be precise enough for him to avoid reprimand.

I had him leave it alone rather than explaining it and rewriting it. Don’t worry, I’m not throwing him under a future bus, I will explain it to him but just not until I get to talk to the teacher or we are eyeball deep in next week’s words because otherwise he will flip his lid until he can correct it.  I told him that it was indeed written that way and that I would talk to his teacher about it.

I want to scream “SEE! SEE!” and jump up and down in the schoolhouse.  I want them to see that this isn’t attitude or defiance or stubbornness or just some weird but average kid who demands things his way.  This is MY kid. My wonderful amazing kid who has Asperger’s Syndrome and he doesn’t ever  break the rules.  Breaking rules is actually painful to him.  Writing the word “photographs” on the regular line would have been breaking a rule to him.  And all he wants his teachers and the other kids to see is that he is a good boy and that rules are important and that he always follows them and they can rely on him to remind them of the rules or even teach them new rules, rules that aren’t strange and bossy rules, they are rules that if everyone followed them our world would be a much calmer and happier place.

He occasionally makes up rules.  Like the list of rules he made for Jeff and me when we were upset about something.   He wrote his observation, “They weren’t happy” and his new rule “Be happy” in the little notebook that I used to help him draw paw prints in (I would leave post-its with paw prints around the house for him… it was our own little game of Blue’s Clues).

But other than that he just really wants people to:

Not run in the classroom

Be nice

Use indoor voices when indoors

Help each other

Not tap pencils when other people are trying to concentrate

Not talk when the teacher has said “No Talking” (and he always gets in trouble for talking during this time because he is trying to tell the kids who were talking initially that there is “no talking”)

Know what a good friend he is (he reminds me of this all the time.. I know what a great friend he is, but he wants a chance for the other kids to find out)

Respect electricity.

Are those rules really that far out and unreasonable?

I don’t think so.

And I’m not coddling my kid.

I just need people who have contact with him on a daily basis and are supposed to be fostering a love of learning to know that he is indeed organically different from the other kids in the class.  I need people who have contact with him occasionally (very occasionally) who have not given me the benefit of the doubt to give him the benefit of the doubt, and if they truly love him, to give him that benefit of the doubt while not taking advantage of our overly kind nature and our desire to fit in.

Every kid is different.

My kid is different from all of those kids.

We just need people to respect the differences and not make assumptions about our kid, about us.

I have lived my whole life with people judging me and not giving me the benefit of the doubt, my brain is full of facts to defend every action I have ever taken.  But that stops now.  I am who I am. Alex is who he is.  I’m sick and tired of dealing with other people’s laziness and closed mindedness and I am just not going to tolerate it anymore.  I’m so full of this frustration and anger lately and digging up old bones more than usual because I need to figure out where I screwed up – not in what could I have done differently to not provoke the wrath of various people- but rather what did I do to make them think they could treat me the way that they did.   And there isn’t an easy answer.  This isn’t about self-help books or talk shows. It’s about people treating each other in a mindful way and not always taking the easy and selfish route. And it will be a cold day in hell (Florida?) before I let Alex become a doormat for other people’s demons and desires.  And the best way I can do that is to stand up for myself and be the best damn role-model I can be. After all, I’m his Mama and his best friend, and together we can scale or topple anything that gets in our way.

Chances are though, we will still politely ask it to step aside first.

Then we’ll topple the daylights out it.

*cue soundtrack to Legend of Billie Jean…Glad I hid my haircutting scissors and Jeff’s clippers before I decided to blog this evening*

xo
Bek
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Screw survival of the fittest.

27 Jan

Alex came home today, his face streaked with dirt, even his eyelashes and eyelids had streaks of black dust from the rubber playground mulch.

The kids in his class, most of them younger than Alex, gathered around and told my husband what happened, when he came to pick kiddo up from school.

The teacher didn’t say anything, so my husband asked and was told by the teacher and the principal that the kids were playing rough today and incident reports were written up.

The little kids weren’t so gentle in their telling of the happenings on the tiny, fenced playground, today.

The group of kids that were playing rough apparently shouted “Pot!” at Alex. He often mishears things, so we don’t know if they were actually calling him “Pot!” but he is upset about it. So he yelled back “Meatball” which he thought was a terrible thing to call someone, and appropriate if someone called a person a pot.

“GET HIM!” one child shouted, and ran after Alex. They tackled him and pushed him to the ground and started kicking him. When he tried to get up they pushed him down again, and kicked him some more.

He came home and they told me this. Alex was very matter-of-fact but he was also quick to change the subject, which is what he does when he is in more of a typical, traditional, stereotypical state of his autism. When things are new or different or he is nervous he lectures, factual and emotionless. Our little professor. So he went right into his dissertation and I tried to ease him back into the more interactive kid we have started seeing more frequently at home, when it is just the three of us and everything is calm.

“He’s not ok”, I said to hubby.

I asked Alex if he would like to take a bath to get all of the dirt off as he is not a kid who handles dirt well and it’s only recently that we can get him to not compulsively wash his hands between strokes on the paper with fingerpaints.

He said yes, and I got a washcloth to try to get some of the black dirt off his face, and we talked.

I asked where they kicked him, when they kicked him when he was on the ground, and he pointed at his chest and turned around gesturing at his back. He said “my spine” and “my back hurts”

I helped him take off his school shirt and there were black dirt foot prints that had sifted through his shirt, stamped onto his skin. Between his shoulderblades, on his lower back, on his chest.

He’s in the tub now, having a bubblebath.

I’m shaking. My heart hurts.

Tomorrow we have an appointment with his headmistress, we made the appointment awhile ago, but now it is more urgent and important than ever.

Something has to change. This could happen anywhere, but we would have more options up north. Here we are all stuck, and we are all feeling a bit downtrodden and frustrated and overwhelmed.

One of the number one issues we have these days, is that Alex cannot reliably pass information to us, at least not in a timely fashion. A year from now, he will mention today. Ten years from now he will mention today, and the playground, as though it just happened. I am grateful that the other kids in his class look out for him, they know he’s different but they don’t see that as a bad thing most of the time. He always forgets to grab his lunchbag from his seat when we pick him up, so another kid will bring it to me (or hubby) as soon as one of them spots us at the door. Then all of them say “Alex, your mama is here” to him, gently coaxing him to look up and focus and see us and his face lights up.

I don’t know what happened on the playground today.

I know we will never know what happened on the playground today. I know that school won’t let us see the tape. I do know it was more than playing rough. Alex said the kids were bigger than he is. I have a feeling the set up for today’s incident was thoughtlessness and carelessness. It’s a small playground, the classrooms are mixed ages, but blending those mixed ages with the next age group up, on the playground, with non-too-diligent observation by staff, is not wise, even from a layperson’s perspective. I realize that Alex isn’t necessarily a complete innocent and I know we will be working intensively with him on this stuff throughout his life, but I also know that nothing should ever get this out of hand, in a 500 square foot playground, with supposed supervision. Kids fight, I know. But a bunch of kids chasing another child (who is 5 and small for his age and different from them…which may be why they were targeting him to begin with…) is unacceptable.

Screw survival of the fittest, this is my kid.

But I feel like this horrible thing reinforces the care and support he needs and that we need, and will hopefully open a discussion that will help all of the children in the school.

We were going into our meeting to see how all of us could work together for Alex’s benefit. Now I feel we have to fight for a basic need of all of the children, so they can learn in safety and in peace.

I need to calm myself, meditate, write down our game plan for talking to the principal tomorrow.

Perhaps we will have a more focused path after the discussion tomorrow.

I can hope though, that’s all I’ve got right now. Hope and Alex.

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