I haven't heard a peep from the teachers since the fall conference where we were told (again) that he was having a tough time at Kindergarten recess. You know, the one with 50+ running and screaming all over the place. It seems he gets a little over excited. (really?) and can't keep him hands to himself.
But I hadn't heard anything so I sent this e-mail to prompt an update.
"Hi there,Could I just get a brief update on how Shea is doing out at recess? Is he still hitting and terrorizing the others kids when he is getting over excited?Or have things mellowed some?Please let me know so we can help reinforce the appropriate play behavior when we talk about it at home.Thanks so much!"
Sent mid-day, I had not gotten a reply by the time I picked him up at school for OT. "Hi mom!" he says and promptly bursts into tears. This never happens. This is not at all normal. I try to get him to tell me what is up. All he can really spit out is that his pal keeps on calling him "Dude" which has been their game for about 2 years now.
I asked him if he had fun at recess and he told me he had to sit out. Uh oh...
I get this e-mail from Kindergarten teacher with an add on from the aide the next day in response:
"Thanks for your email. As I am not at recess with Shea, I forwarded your email to J ...the following is her reply. Hope this information helps...thanks for continued support at home." "Shea is still requiring frequent prompts about not grabbing other students. This applies to both recess and line behavior. Shea seems to have relatively lengthy stretches of time (4-7 days) where his behavior on the playground is mostly age appropriate punctuated by several days of difficult behavior. He requires frequent time outs on those days. I have been asking students to use deliberate "stop (fill in the blank with the unwanted behavior)" when Shea is getting too grabby. Shea then is prompted to apologize. He is compliant. In comparison to the beginning of the year, Shea is on a positive behavioral track but, again, still needs frequent reminders about keeping his hands and body to himself, both in line and at recess. We continue to work on this behavior."
"Thanks, you guys.I am not sure how or if we can do this but I think it would be helpful for us to know when his tough time is occurring so that he will loose privileges at home if it continues.Would it be possible to just get a quick e-mail when he is getting in trouble so that we can talk about it at home with him sooner rather than later? Obviously he is not telling us about any of this.Sorry to add more work but I think that would help because we do not know when it is happening, he is thinking he can get away with it. Let me know if that is possible.Also, yesterday when I picked him up for OT, he burst into tears. Which is so rare that it has NEVER happened before. I couldn't really get a straight answer but something about X calling him "Dude" which has been their running joke for 2 years and hardly an insult or teasing. Still not sure what happened. I asked him if he had a good recess and he said that he sat out.I was always pretty nervous of that recess time, knowing it was going to be a bit too much for him. If it really isn't working out and significant progress isn't being made, I guess I would rather try something else for the 2nd half of the year.Thanks for all you do."
Then I got a better e-mail from his IEP case manager:
"So, a new plan is for me to email you every couple days/week to let you know "how it's going" on the playground.Just a reminder that this "grabby" behavior is never considered to be malicious.He really gets so excited! He is able to tell J what he "did" every single time. Reinforcing the preventative strategies have helped.As agreed, if we are able to catch him as he is winding up...Jennifer intervenes and practices the steps towards "reorganizing".He and I practice facial cues." Show me a happy face." "This is a grumpy face. If your friend shows you this, do you think he likes what you are doing?"He has made significant improvement as compared to this time last year, and even as compared to the beginning of the school year. He leaves the playground appropriately when recess is over and listens to redirection and complies with time out requests. As you suggested, the toys in his pockets help him reorganize when he does have to sit for a few minutes. There are usually one or two little Kindergarten buddies needing to sit and reorganize at recess for a few minutes.The frequency of these instances for him as Jennifer are sporadic, cyclical and decreasing in intensity.Shannon reports incidences during preschool recess as much more rare.I was absent yesterday, but X, Shea and I can try to figure out what is going on with the "dude" game."
Now, that sounds better. And, in which I respond:
"Thank you so much, K!I am glad that you guys have a strategy and he seems to be responding and improving.I am also relieved to know that he isn't necessarily the only kid who has to sit out sometimes. Whew...But please let me know if you feel home reinforcement would benefit. A little talk about not getting to play his DS because he was naughty is incredibly powerful with him. So, feel free to use that stick or cue me!Thanks again for all your quick responses.All in all, I think it is going really well. I just feel sort of out of the loop."
Sometimes its hard to push for the information you want and it can be intimidating at times. But just keep at it. Know your rights. Know your kid's rights. Be an advocate.
If you inquire with tact, kindness and genuine appreciation, they will (usually) respond accordingly.
Also, it is not a bad idea to do the Special Ed correspondence in e-mail. Not only for the reason that you can quickly make it into a blog post but you have documentation and you can sound a little less emotional. The worst encounters I have ever had was when I was talking directly on the phone with the teacher. Some things I never would have written slipped out, never to be retrieved again. And, in a system that documents everything in the IEP form, having it all out in writing with a date on it, is mighty good.
But keep your cool folks. Let's remember MOST of the people who work with kids with special needs are wonderful, caring people who are doing this job for the best of reasons. Be extremely taciturn about escalating because these folks have your kid under their thumb on a daily basis. If you feel that you might have too much of an edge to your correspondence - STOP - pull back. Either send it to a calm friend to proof read and/or sleep on it. Sometimes after I have slept on it and re-read it, I can barely believe it was me that wrote it!
I was interviewing this very nice guy today. The Director of The Father's Network, a support network developed at the University of Washington 30 years ago, now the national model for bringing dads of kids with special needs together and making some very profound, positive benefits for their families.
If you haven't checked them out, you should, and can right here.
He was so awesome and knowledgeable and had been part of the development of the program from the beginning. He has his PhD in Special Education then moved to administration and was a principal for years. I mean the guy was just a treasure trove of experience and sane thoughts. And, yes, he is also a father of a son with disabilities.
Anyway, after all of my somewhat pedantic questions which he very graciously answered, he asked me a little about myself.
So, I launch into my short version. My son Shea, severe speech delay, Apraxia, blah, blah. I told him about the early intervention and the developmental preschool and that he really is doing great but it is and will continue to be a long road and it is sometimes really hard.
He said, "You know, there are many studies that show that parents of high functioning or border lines kids with special needs have an even higher stress level than parents of kids with severe needs because their needs are not as obvious, there seems to be less understanding from peers and the parents are constantly teetering on the differences between their child and typically developing peers."
Wow. I was sort of stunned. But, then a huge wave of validation washed over me and I have been thinking about what he said ever since.
On this journey of reaching out to other parents of kids with special needs, I have felt almost shy and awkward talking about my son's needs. Sort of like, "What am I complaining about? There are so many other kids who have much more dire needs." I felt I was sniveling, that Shea was not "special enough" and I should just feel glad and thankful that he is as high functioning as he is.
I felt guilt, in fact, that this pain and worry I have that just won't go away was somewhat unseemly because there are so many others who must be hurting more.
And, yes, there are many, many others who are having a harder time than Shea. My heart bleeds for them. And, for those parents.
But, my boy has a tough time talking. He may not look "special" but as soon as he opens his mouth everybody knows he is. And, even as we work hard toward acceptance, I guess it will always hurt.
I talk to my GGFs wondering aloud if Shea is a "lifer". Will he be with us forever? Will he be able to move out, go to college, have a lover, find and keep a job? No one knows and certainly no one will speculate.
So, that is the limbo we live under and probably will for some time. That is the added stress that wonderful Mr. Father's Network spoke of and validated for me today.
And, to think all this time, I thought I was just being a selfish shit.
Well, as many of you probably predicted, my middle schooler came home from school on Monday with the exact opposite of mood then when she left. She dragged herself out and bounced her way in.
Meaning: she was no longer bleak and wimpy.
What happened to change the dynamic so drastically?
She talked with her teacher. Eureka!
You know, it really is amazing what happens when you open your mouth and communicate. People listen, begin to understand and changes can take place.
We are all about communication in this house, as freely and as unencumbered as possible. Within reason, of course!
She went to her band teacher, first thing, and asked if she could play the song for the quiz in private. I wish I was a fly on the wall to see how she looked: down cast, uncharacteristically glum, scared poop-less probably.
He said, (insert suspenseful music here - Dun-Dun-Dun!) "Of course, come in tomorrow morning before home room."
Wow! After all that! How anticlimactic! But, extremely illustrative to how we all build up so much manufactured anxiety when it really is no big deal. You know, like a mountain out of a mole hill?
I suppose these sorts of encounters need to happen because I am sure I would get the requisite eye ball roll if I regaled her about that mountain or that mole hill myself.
Some things you just have to go through.
I asked her how everyone else did on the quiz. I have to document this here because she only admits I was right fairly infrequently.
She said, "Mom, you were right. A bunch of other kids forgot about the quiz until Sunday night and had to scramble like me. And, one kid," (complete with blushes because it is the boy she likes) completely forgot and didn't realize there was a quiz until he walked into the band room!"
So, she practiced the quiz song a good long while on Monday night and ended up getting 19 out of 20 the next morning.
Those of you who know me, know I am no perfectionist. Jake - undoubtedly but not me.
So when I see that tendency in my middle school child, WSRN (who shall remain nameless) I am at a loss.
Usually she just flits happily through life, not settling too heavily on any one thing. All things are pretty interesting and entertaining and she enjoys tons of activities and pursuits to fill her time.
Last night (Sunday night) she remembered she had a band quiz on Monday morning. She literally panicked. Whipping out her flute, she tried to bang out the tune, had trouble, more trouble, just couldn't get it. Tears, worry, bleak heavy sighs. She wanted to miss school today because of this.
I said, "It's just band! You have an A in the class. One bad quiz is not going to derail you. Do your best. If it is a hard song then others are going to have trouble too. You will not be the only one!" Insert all those practical, mom-ish type comments that come out of our mouths at time such as these.
With real tears welling in her huge brown eyes, she says "But we have to play it in front of everyone while they listen and people laugh and snicker if you make a mistake."
Ouch! Now, frankly I can relate to this anxiety! It sounds like a bad dream. I never liked being put on the spot like this but I guess this band instructor has a real "trial by fire" attitude and he wants the goods or else.
I ask, "Have you ever laughed when someone makes a mistake?" Internally cringing, knowing the answer.
"I try not to." she says sniffling pathetically.
OK. I am not trying to make light of this. In fact, I am sort of frightened that she is having such a strong reaction and beating herself up so expertly. My mind boggles at all the times in life stuff like this comes up. Miserable, uncomfortable moments when you feel like a complete jerk and/or loser. Unfortunately, you sort of have to go through a few of those before you realize, "Sheesh. I am never going to be that unprepared again!" And, really mean it.
Jake, perhaps because he recognizes this perfectionist trait, says "Just do your best, honey, and then we'll make sure this never happens again. I will help you. I promise." Good advise but, of course, it didn't make her feel any better.
This morning her mood was not much better. I guess it was particularly hard to see her like that because she is literally never like that! She is always boinging around and giggling, hassling the cat, yackity yacking, bouncing out the door. It is painful to see her drag herself around.
As she nibbled her toast, I said, "I can't let you blow this quiz off. I would be teaching you a bad lesson and it would be really irresponsible of me. No, you can't stay home from school."
"But, will you let me "accidentally" forget my flute today?" she interjects hopefully.
"No, baby, that's bad mommy stuff. No can do."
So, we did a little scheming and she decided she would ask the instructor if she could be quizzed on the song in private. Without the bevy of gigglers laughing at her. I took her to school, encouraged her to go straight to the band room to talk with the instructor and see what he says.
I can't imagine any middle school band instructor no being softened by my kid with her big eyes full of tears, totally stressed out about a stupid song. But, I haven't heard the outcome yet. Who know, maybe it is all about weeding them out the first year.
But, that brings me back to my fears for her and this blasted perfectionism. This is a kid where everything has been pretty easy so far. She really takes to things quickly and can pull good grades without a herculean effort. If something is hard she wants to quit and go back to something she is good at. Therefore not being prepared for a quiz can throw her into a spiral?
That just seems to not bode well. I am not going to make a big deal out of this, I say over and over to myself. I expect her to bounce through the door, her normal chirpy self. Maybe we were right. It won't be as bad as she thought. Let's hope.
Sometimes human ingenuity and creativity strikes me near speechless. This is one of those time.
What can we learn from the sheer coordination effort of a project like this? What can we learn about people all over the world singing the same song, in the same voice, in the same key? Beautifully, I might add.
Perhaps something so huge that is seems tiny, our shared humanity. Our commonality is so much greater than our differences.
I wish that our singing could be heard above the bombs and gun fire. And, for a few minutes it does.
Thanks, mom, for passing this along. She has an amazing knack for knowing what is blog worthy and worth passing on.
I am a 40 something mom who lives on a beautiful little island in the Pacific NW. It is a wonderful place to raise kids and we have two. This blog is dedicated to my son, Shea, who has a severe speech delay and extensive food allergies. And, to all the parents and people who work with children with special needs.