Power, Peers, and a Sad Evening

The Boy’s first concert of the “sit-down” band season was last night. We bought a tux, and traveled two hours last weekend to get a tux shirt, cummerbund, and bow tie combo. We were looking forward to this.

After the first song, The Boy pushed his chair back, put his tuba on the floor, and exited the stage. I sat in the audience with my family, my heart pounding, just knowing a meltdown would ensue any moment. But it didn’t.

The band director seemed to check on him between songs, but The Boy didn’t return to the stage. After the concert was over, I asked The Boy what happened, and he said, “They didn’t like my playing.” He was sad, not angry. I was confused.

Back in the band room, while waiting for The Boy to say goodbye to all of his little friends-who-are-girls, my friend and her sons who are both in the band were there, and I spoke to her. One of her sons spoke up and told me that the other kids in The Boy’s section had taken his mouthpiece away so he couldn’t play.

I’m sure I turned about six shades of purple.

I let the timer run down for how long The Boy could find friends, and then I told him we needed to find the band director. When I found him, he was standing right next to that skunk of a middle school band director. I explained what had happened, and he seemed mildly surprised and said he would “talk to the kids” about it. I reminded him that it could have ended very differently, with a screaming-and-throwing-things meltdown in the middle of his concert. He repeated that he would talk to them.

The Boy and I went to the convenience store to get him his promised ice cream, and we talked. I told him how very proud I was of how he handled the situation, and that those kids had no right to do that to him. I let him know that I was angry, and he expressed disappointment that he only got to play one song. I told him he had every right to feel that way, and that what they did to him was very wrong.

On the way home, I decided to go up the ladder without waiting for a response from the band director. Based on his less than promising response, and suddenly remembering the two week time period where The Boy had no concert music because his section leader had failed to give it to him. Repeated targeted negative behavior directed at one student is the definition of bullying, and that’s what we have here, folks.

I knew going in that the culture of this student group wasn’t all that inclusive. But for those students to take away my son’t ability to participate as if it were their choice to do so is pretty telling that there is something deeply wrong here. I’ve written an email addressed to the band director, the special ed teacher, and the principal highlighting my concerns, and requesting a meeting. Whatever this is ends now, and they have got to start teaching neurotypical peers how to deal with autistic kids in their midst. They are targets that are just to easy, and it’s time the adults in the building did something proactive to protect them.

Presumption of Competence

Hands down, the biggest lesson I have learned since moving my son to another school, another school district, another state has been that one should never presume competence with anyone who deals with your child.

 Unfortunately, classroom teachers know very little about IEPs and special education law.  It just isn’t required of them in teacher prep programming, and if it is, there’s very little of substance that is taught. Many times, when a teacher is in your child’s IEP meeting, they are following the lead of the special education teacher and the administrators. If they do any modifying of assignments, or make any accommodations for your child, it’s usually under the direction of a special education teacher (and many don’t do it at all, and leave this entirely to the special education teachers and even the TAs). This is not the case with all general education classroom teachers by any means, but if you presume competence about special education matters, you will most likely be unhappily surprised.

The same can be said of administrators. Those that know about special education law are in a shocking minority. I worked for and received a degree in school administration, and only a portion of our one law class covered special education law. Administrators rely heavily on their special education teachers to know the law, as well.

Why is this important? When you head into that IEP room, you are relying on the expertise of one person, your child’s special education teacher, to ensure that what is happening that day is legal, and that you’re child’s rights are being met. And if that person isn’t quite up to snuff? Then what?

It is imperative that you learn about what should be happening in that IEP meeting, in your child’s classrooms, in that whole district. Get your hands on anything from Wrightslaw and read it until you know it. Otherwise, your IEP meeting could be “run” by and administrator who wants to reduce your child’s social skills time, and have the TA take him out into the school to practice unlearned skills because that’s what she thinks should happen. (true story…)

With the proper knowledge behind you, you can respond, “But that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.”