“He Needs to Learn the Boundaries”

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is traditionally a half day. If you’ve had a school-aged child in the past fifteen years, you also know that many, many families forgo these wasted school days to add an extra day of vacation. What happens to our family is panic.

When other children miss school, The Boy can become inconsolable. And so it came to pass last Wednesday. He paced furiously, escaping the school at one point, sweeping things from surfaces in the office to the floor, “bumping” a counselor who he felt was in the way. He was allowed to call me, but my voice was not enough this time. He said he needed me to come pick him up. I told him it was a short day and to try to stick it out.

A wary-sounding counselor got back on the phone. I told her I had asked him to try to stick it out, and told her she could call me back if she needed to. Not ten minutes had gone by when she called and told me that there were “parents in the office who needed to get some things done” so I would need to come pick him up.

Wha…?

Ok. So I go to pick him up, and the principal asks me to “come on back” to her office. I was fairly unwilling. I do not need to be summoned into your office as if I’m some misbehaving child. I told her I didn’t have a lot of time, and followed her in. She said The Boy was upset because one of his friends was absent, and that he had even given his TA the finger. I almost laughed. I wanted to say, “So he’s communicating his anger in a pretty normal way? Awesome!” but I refrained. I just stopped talking, waiting for The Boy to be located and/or corralled back to the office. No one seemed to know what was really going on.

The Boy came back into the office, with his TA, and the principal immediately began speaking to him in that tone, telling him they would be discussing his behavior on Monday, and that he needed to apologize to his TA right now for giving her the finger. As is his wont, he immediately tried to tell me that he had “done something” to The Man this morning and needed to apologize for that, too. This was untrue, but this is what he does. When he perceives he is in trouble, he adds on imaginary infractions. I ensured he gave the TA a proper apology (or as close as we could get mid-meltdown), and then he announced he was going to stick it out for the rest of the day. Off they went.

The counselor and the principal informed me that we needed to meet regarding his behavior. (No, I’m thinking, we need to meet regarding your behavior.) I said we needed to be clear that this was autism, and this was going to happen from time to time. “He needs to learn the boundaries, here, that he can’t just leave the school!” the counselor said. I replied that The Boy is your best rule follower, but when one is in a meltdown, logic goes out the window. He is fully aware of the boundaries, but this would happen again. I said we need to be clear that this is not bad behavior. The principal assured me that she did. I said we needed to be clear that The Boy has a right to a public education. The principal assured me that they knew he did. I said we need the autism specialist at the meeting we were to have, and referred to her by first name. The principal had no idea who I was talking about, until I prompted her. She said she could make sure she was there. She said they need to tweak their strategies, as The Boy is getting older. I said ok, but this would happen again.

I was pretty riled. Their attitude, the tone they took with The Boy, the astonishment that he had “bumped” the counselor (yes, this happens all the time in special ed classrooms – is he the only child they have in the school with autism??)…

Strategies do need to be put in place because absolutely nothing has been done since the last time I was summoned to the principal’s office (do you think maybe a behavioral analysis might be a good idea??). After three years here, I am actually still shocked at the lack of autism awareness among the educators. I guess I need to pull out my lesson plans for Autism 101. “Class? Let’s begin. Rule number one: Behavior is Communication…”

Update: We had our meeting, and luckily the autism specialist was right on target (I basically ignored the principal and counselor, who weren’t contributing much anyway). We drafted a “crisis” plan, as well as a social story, and will meet again to formalize the plan and add it to the IEP. Unfortunately for the them, between absences surrounding the Thanksgiving weekend, and some suspicious activity at a couple of county schools (which turned out to be military personnel conducting a survey) and everyone keeping their kid home today, thinking this was somehow connected to the terror in San Bernadino yesterday… I’m anticipating the second morning phone call this week…

The Boy’s having a rough go right now, and I just hope they can pull this together.

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6 Basics I Sometimes Forget from Autism 101

One of the hardest parts of being an autism parent, especially in the beginning is deciphering your kid and his behavior.  Why in the world is he doing that?  What is he so angry about?  Is this a tantrum or a meltdown? Why can’t I get him to (insert any activity here)?

As you grow as a unit, you begin to understand more about how your kid works. You get better at predicting behaviors, and identifying triggers (more on that in another post this week). Your skills and knowledge increase exponentially.

Autism101And yet, as I’ve written before, you will always have your moments of complete and utter dumbfoundedness (is that a word? If it wasn’t, it is now), and better yet, you forget sometimes about stuff I like to call “Autism 101”.

So what are the “Autism 101” basics I forget from time to time?

  1. One of the biggest culprits for negative behaviors is a virus.  I will get phone calls or emails from the school, out of the blue about work refusal from The Boy, or escaping from class, or any number of negative behaviors.  My first instinct is still defensive, i.e. “What did you (the teacher or aide) do to trigger his behavior?”.  And that is simply because he is a good kid, and doesn’t act out.  He hates displeasing me or The Man or his grandparents, and when this behavior happens, there’s a reason.  What I often forget is that a common reason has nothing to do with action and reaction, and everything to do with cold and flu.  Viruses do a number on his system, and much like a computer, he starts acting very strangely indeed.
  2. Another big culprit for negative behavior is (forgive me) an upcoming bowl movement.  You see, The Boy had surgery as an infant, in which they removed part of his intestine, and moved some things around in there.  As a result, well… let’s just say that if there was a super-duty (heh, heh… I said “doody”) wide-throated toilet, we’d have it.  And much like the wonder of childbirth, I really don’t understand the physics of how something so big can come out of something so small.  As a result, poops are not regular, nor are they fun.  And I have found that sometimes they are preceded by some really wonky behavior.
  3. He may say he’s not hungry, but give The Boy a snack because hungry turns into negative behavior. This is one instance where trying to respect your child’s independence, and listen to their voice and burgeoning self-advocacy does not work.  If you don’t give him anything, he will become even more absorbed in what he is doing until his body forces him to react to the hunger, and it’s rarely in a good way.
  4. The Boy is verbal, but still lacks language.  The Boy loves words, finds words funny and punny, and is able to express and receive language.  He is in a high-functioning autism pilot program, even though he would not have been classified as having Asperger’s Syndrome.  He had language delays as a toddler – I had to teach him language with flashcards, and he went to speech therapy twice a week for a long time.  He does really well now, but he still lacks language to express himself appropriately sometimes.  There are situations where he cannot find words to say what he wants to say, so he leads me to the right guess.  But sometimes I can’t guess, and I have to remember that even though he has high functioning language skills, they were hard-earned, and this is not natural for him.
  5. Pictures, pictures, pictures, pictures, pictures. Sometimes I will ask myself, “Why is he not understanding this?” and I have a “Doh!” moment and think, “Maybe because you just told him about it, and didn’t use any pictures, dummy!” There’s a reason well-respected autism professionals talk about picture schedules until they are blue in the face – it’s because they work.  Our kiddos are generally very visual learners, and if something just isn’t sinking in, a video or picture will usually do the trick.
  6. Intrinsic Motivation just isn’t it.  Rewards and motivators are king.  And I’ll be honest – I don’t forget this one (as sometimes The Boy’s teachers at school seem to), but I do forget to have a ready supply of rewards and motivators in my bag of tricks.  When I don’t have something at the ready, I sometimes resort to taking away privileges, which doesn’t work nearly as well. More on this in the upcoming behaviors and triggers post…

How is it possible to forget this basic stuff that one should know after 13 years of experience? Because there are peaks and valleys to child development, and even bigger peaks and valleys in the development of a young person on the spectrum (in my personal experience).  There’s a lot of backtracking, having to recoup skills that were considered mastered, and as they grow more independent, you forget they are still kids, still learning.

There is no mastering of parenting, I’m convinced. It’s Murphy’s Law – once you think you know everything, you will be quickly shown that you do not.