I was asked into the Principal’s Office yesterday, and it’s amazing how that still makes me feel in my 40s.
I think many special needs parents go through this experience more often than they’d like, and I wonder how often it’s a power play. I’m beginning to think yesterday’s meeting was exactly that.
If you have followed the blog, you know that The Boy goes to a school across the district, although we live much closer now, because we worked hard to get him placed in a pilot program for those with HFA (high-functioning autism). We were told that the program would likely not only continue at the middle school, but would then be expanded into the high school and elementary schools. Except that it not only wasn’t expanded, it was discontinued this year. Not only did they yank the program and it’s supports, they yanked the autism teacher out of the school, reduced the teaching assistants in the school, and left the kids hanging. Oh and any kids who attended the middle school were now re-assigned to their home high school, putting last year’s 8th graders into a brand new-to-them high school where they know virtually no one. Nice, huh?
And the principal and the vice principal at the middle school retired, too.
Lots of change for The Boy, yet he’s handled it remarkably well.
We’ve had to deal with increased anxiety a bit this year, as will happen with teens on the spectrum from what I hear. He has always hated friends being absent, and had to also deal with one of his close friend-who-is-a-girl moving away with no notice.
This past Friday was a doozy of a day. They had scheduled an assembly, another one of his friends-who-is-a-girl was absent, and he had a big performance with the band that evening at the high school football game – very excited, but very overwhelmed. It was not a good day, and the lead up to the performance was very, very difficult. I have never seen The Boy so paralyzed by anxiety, and it was heartbreaking.
Yesterday, I had to go in early to make a slight adjustment to the IEP regarding length of time, which really only required a signature, but according to the school required an IEP meeting with three teachers and myself, and ridiculous amounts of paper. I took The Boy in to school. As students started to arrive, he noticed that his friend-who-is-a-girl wasn’t there again, and began to perseverate, become agitated, and look like he was going to bolt.
So when I left his TA to handle it, I went to the office to handle some other paperwork and was promptly summoned into the principal’s office to discuss any “insights” I had into The Boy’s behavior as of late.
I was told he had had four “bad days” this year, which she interpreted as an escalation, and she was wondering what strategies I could offer, as she had limited staff, and basically implied that she couldn’t afford to have her only TA walking the halls the whole day with my child, as happened on Friday. And the TA was just about the only person who could “get through to him”.
Come to find out, she was counting the morning’s troubles as a bad day (not in my book, as he was already in science class by the time I had walked into her office), and another of the “four days” involved her TA being late to her bus route at the end of the day, because The Boy insisted on giving one of his friends-who-is-a-girl a high five before he got on the bus. Problematic to be sure, but again, not a “bad day” in my book.
That left us with Friday. “And Thursday was a bad day, too,” she said. “I hadn’t heard anything about Thursday,” I replied. “Well, it wasn’t as bad as Friday, but it wasn’t a good day.”
As happens so often, I could only formulate what I should have said after the fact. I explained his increased anxiety as of late, and offered that a lack of communication about these incidents and disruptions to his day (like Friday’s assembly) were obstacles to The Boy’s success. I explained that the anxiety was new to us at home, as well, and that I didn’t have any magic answers. And that was about it.
I should have said that her lack of TAs was not my problem. She needs to take that up with her central office. I should have said that four bad days since August meant that The Boy was doing pretty well considering all the change the district had foisted upon him. I should have said that if his current TA is the only one who can get trough to him, then she needed to come up with a plan to address that, as it is her school, her educational facility, and her staff. I should have said that it was the district’s policy to employ TAs as bus drivers that was the problem on the one day, not anything that had to do with me. I should have said that kids with autism will have bad days, and that if she or his teachers couldn’t handle that, then they need more training. I should have said that she needed to be approaching the district autism specialist for strategies, rather than the parent who is not at school on a daily basis.
Needless to say, the meeting left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I’m thinking of writing a follow up email with my list of things I should have said. I’m not sure if it’s worth my time, as it seems she is ignorant of what her role is, and of what appropriate expectations of an 8th grader on the spectrum are.
I am beginning to become resigned to the fact that dealing with the school will be a continuous struggle for the next five years, and that gives me even more impetus to find meaningful opportunities for The Boy outside of the school day, and possibly start our own business to afford him a pleasant working experience. I’m just sorry to see the rampant ignorance that still exists, even within the walls of one of the best schools in the district, and even at the highest level. What more do we have to do??
I can relate to this as someone who has been an autistic 8th grader. My school (at that time) suddenly got a new resource program and I noticed an increase in stress. The change came on suddenly with no easing into it; I resented the teachers for the longest time. They used a “tough love” approach; one of the students dropped out because of the new resource program. Being the melancholic-choleric I am, I wondered why the upheaval had to happen and why it had to happen so suddenly. I became afraid to ask for help again. It took me a year to adjust.