Biting My Tongue

My fingers are itching. Itching to write a response to an email. I’m refraining. It’s a Herculean task, but I’m managing.

After two days of just trying to keep my kid in the school building due to his raging anxieties about the absences of his teachers and friends, I get an email from the-special-ed-teacher-who-has-no-clue. “Up until today, he has consistently missed class since spring break due to stress,” she writes. She says she and the aide have been “unsuccessful in getting him to complete anything in class.” She ends with, “Please continue to encourage him to come to class and just do his best. I keep reassuring him he will not fail class as long as he is showing up and doing his best.”

Have you seen the funny videos where husbands and wives text each other, but you get to see the various things they’d like to text before they are deleted and something more appropriate gets sent?

Yeah.

“Damn skippy he’s not going to fail…”

“Do you even know what fight-or-flight is?…”

“That’s right – YOU’VE been unsuccessful…”

“HE HATES SCHOOL BECAUSE OF YOU…”

“Do you even have a working definition of autism in your tiny little brain?…”

Nope. Nope. Nope. Can’t send any of that.

That’s why my fingers are itching. She’s gonna be my kid’s teacher for another 3 years and 22 days.

Not gonna reply.

Heaven help me.

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When in Doubt

The Boy is now a full-fledged teenager of fifteen years old. As such, he has begun to take extraordinarily long showers, as I’ve heard teenage boys are wont to do. Because The Man pays both the electric and water bills, however, this budding habit has caused a bit of a household rift every other day or so.

“When’s he getting out?”

“I can’t see through the door.”

“He’s been in there too long.”

“What would you like me to do about it?”

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera… *sigh*

Last night I fell back on one of my key rules of parenting: When in doubt, try bribery.

I got The Boy to agree to a 9:00pm shower time. Just as he was about to go in the bathroom, I said, “Hey, if you can hop out by 9:15, you can get a cookie.”

“Ok!”

I gave him one heads up that he had about a minute, and magically the shower turned off a few moments later. It took him another eight minutes to physically remove himself from the bathroom, but once he did, he went to the fridge, got himself a cookie and smiled like the happy camper he was.

I raised my eyebrows at The Man and smiled, too.

That’s why it’s still one of my key rules of parenting. ūüėČ

Power, Peers, and a Sad Evening: Part II

I met with the high school principal, The Boy’s special education teacher, and the band director last Friday. It was their last day before break, and it was apparent the principal wanted to clear her plate before she left for two weeks. She explained that they take any hint of bullying very seriously, and she wanted to speak with me right away without delaying the conversation two weeks. Potato, pot-ah-toh.

Let me preface this by saying it was not an adversarial conversation. The principal and I did most of the talking, and we understood each other to a great extent. But, she lost me when she could see both sides of the issue. I bit my tongue, let her finish her thought, and promptly explained that I used to be a band director for a living and that behavior was never, ever acceptable. You don’t touch other people’s instruments. She didn’t disagree.

She felt it wasn’t malicious, and therefore it wasn’t bullying but an extremely poor choice. The¬†kids involved felt The Boy was playing wrong notes, and that they needed to apparently stop him from doing so. She said she questioned them on that when she spoke to them, asking who had given them the authority to do that. They couldn’t answer. They were very remorseful, she said.

We talked more about whether or not The Boy is included in the band class, and in the school as a whole. She said she thought I saw different things at home than they did in school. “He has a group of people that he hugs and gives high fives to every day,” she said. “I know, but he doesn’t know the name of the kid he sits next to every day in band,” I said. They¬†went back and forth between trying to assure me that no one has negative feelings toward him, and highlighting how he keeps to himself and insists during sectionals that he knows the material. She admitted that one of the students she spoke with about the incident “guessed” that The Boy was autistic because as he explained it, “I don’t know anything about autism, so that must be what he has.”

Ugh.

They continued to prove my point while it continued to go over their heads. She insisted that they would have done the same to any other students who might have been playing wrong notes, and I knew that was preventative defense against further action from me. Because that is a load of horseshit, if you’ll excuse my language. They know my son doesn’t have the verbal agility to defend himself or get the attention of the teacher, or even explain what happened after the fact. I only found out because a friend’s kid watched it go down.¬†They took advantage of him precisely because of his autism. If this wasn’t bullying, it was a shocking display of the bias that exists in the school culture that¬†students with disabilities are “less than,” and that excluding others from participating will get you a stern talking to from the principal and that’s it, because you¬†didn’t mean any harm, and are “good kids.”

Before the meeting ended, as it was clear the principal was ready to get to her vacation, I requested they investigate peer to peer programs and seriously consider implementing something so that a “poor choice”¬†like this wouldn’t even enter their minds in the future. I got some vague promises to look into it, and the meeting was over.

But it’s not over.

I’ve already drafted a follow up email to be sent with my further reflections on the incident and how it was handled. And I will also be following up with the various and sundry promises made. I can be a magnificent thorn when I want to be.

I’ll keep you posted.

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.

Facing Reality

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The Boy is 14, and will be 15 in two months. Old enough to take driver’s training. I don’t think there’s much out there that he would like to learn more than how to drive for real. He “practices” in the passenger seat often, rides the riding lawnmower without assistance, has driven go karts, and in general very much looks forward to the day when he can drive his own car. But will he?

I’ve talked briefly to him a few times about how his high school track will work out, how he will get some work skills, and concentrate on learning how to become an employee. But he still wants to be a band director. I think he still wants to go to college. And I know that in the strictest sense, he will not go to college as he envisions it.

He has dreamed about getting a blue Chevy Sonic to drive when he gets his license, but I had to break it to him the other day that it wasn’t going to happen, and that he needed to start saving if he wanted a car at all. A new car of his choice is just not in the cards.

When your kiddos are little, this all seems so far away, and the last thing you want to do is limit their dreams. But when it comes time to face reality, then what?

These are the things that keep me up at night as a mom to a teenage boy on the spectrum. It may not be all that different from being a mom to a neurotypical teenager, except that reality sometimes doesn’t make sense to a logical, autistic mind.

An Unexpected Hiccup

Friday night was supposed to be The Boy’s first performance with the marching band. It didn’t happen, or rather, it happened without him. One of his friends-who-are-girls had some sort of allergic reaction and couldn’t perform, so he quickly decided his eyes had puffed up, as well, and he needed to go home to rest.

Last year, when he was to perform with the high school band as part of the 8th grade class, he had the worst anxiety attack I had ever seen. This year, he has attended band camp and a few rehearsals, and seemed excited, but this unexpected hiccup sent him off the rails. And no one was attending to him. They were barely paying attention as he paced and perseverated, become more aggravated with each step, his voice getting louder and louder.

I’m not very impressed with the resistance we’ve met upon joining¬†the group. No kids go out of their way to help The Boy participate, and the assistant director who is The Boy’s¬†former middle school director seems somewhat hostile at times, most likely because he had advocated against The Boy being in the high school band.

Before the meltdown, this same¬†former teacher of The Boy’s¬†approached me when I was dropping The Boy off that night, and began to tell me what he needed to show me, and what The Boy needed to do. Um, no. I am the parent, and I am dropping off my kid. Do you ask other parents to assist their children in finding their instruments and getting fitted for a uniform? No you don’t. I am not your aide or your paraprofessional. Get a staff member to assist,or get a drum major or responsible senior to assist. It’s almost as if he was saying, “Well, you wanted him here…”

And yet, The Boy still wants to participate, still wants to belong. He doesn’t see or feel the resistance. The Man was upset the whole weekend because no one there was “looking out for The Boy”. At what point do we consider pulling the plug? At what point, do we ask ourselves if he should even be here if he’s seen as an aggravation rather than a member? I just don’t know.

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He’s Excited. I’m Scared.

We got The Boy’s schedule finally, and it was slightly different than expected, with no core class second semester and a passel of scary-sounding electives like “Principles of Business & Finance.” I emailed his new teacher with my concerns, and she said those are the career and technical education courses they take as part of the Occupational Course of Study, and that the special ed teachers work closely with those teachers to make sure everything is modified. Seniors get first pick, so there’s not much left for freshman when they schedule them.

Ok. But if you have a 9th grader who still can’t multiply and divide independently?

And the lack of core classes was due to the only male PE class being offered at the same time during second semester, and he can just take Biology when it’s offered again, either sophomore or junior year.

I look at this schedule with these long-titled classes that last an hour and a half, and I know there will be no parapro, and I start to get a little queasy with all the what-ifs racing through my brain.IMG_5643

My constant refrain seems to be “How does this work?” And I have to let go. I have to trust that it will be fine. I have to give this new set of teachers a chance to prove they know what they are doing and that they are professionals.

And while I do that, I am preparing my own “curriculum” of supplementary stuff to help him find some meaning in his day, just in case “Sports & Entertainment Marketing” isn’t quite up his alley. Like maybe a coding workshop, and some time spent feeding some animals at the wildlife shelter.

“Thinking will not overcome fear but action will.” ~ W. Clement Stone

It’s Going OK, I Think

The Boy went to band camp for three hours on Monday evening, and it went ok, I think. I never know for sure, because he isn’t quite verbal. But a friend’s son said he did “pretty good,” for which I thanked him – I’d have no idea without that concise report.

He was excited to go – gave me no problems leaving summer day camp, and was patient when the plan changed slightly (the band was not in the cafeteria when he arrived, as expected). We waited for them to finish rehearsal on the practice field, and then located his friend. I told him to hang out with him, he would show The Boy where to go and what to do, and then I left.

It was a weird feeling. We’re not used to this organized activity thing.

I went back to pick him up a few hours later, and was glad to see I wasn’t the only parent unsure of the protocol. Do we stand by our cars and wait? Do we approach the field as they are finishing up? Do we halfheartedly check Facebook in our cars while watching for our children out of the corner of our eyes?

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While I didn’t want to embarrass him, I ended up waiting until they were released and waiting by the edge of the field to make sure he remembered to grab all of his things.

And it worked out ok. He was happy, grabbed all of his stuff, and when he came home, practiced his tuba for a bit more, no doubt scripting the band director cues and admonitions (because incorrect articulations are an obsession, right now).

I hope this continues. I hope he can get the feeling of belonging that comes with being in a group like this. I hope we’ve worked out a decent compromise. I think it’s going to be ok.

 

Band Plan

I met last week with the high school band director who had attempted to tell me that he didn’t think marching band was a good idea for The Boy, based on the experiences of a boy on the spectrum that had been in it last year. By the way, that boy is a friend of ours and busted his behind for that group, and found it very difficult to make friends in this marching band, but I digress… The high school special education teacher was there too, and I’m so glad she facilitated. She looks like she will be a rockstar for The Boy, and unfortunately, he needs a¬†strong¬†advocate in his own school system.

Shockingly, the band director had changed his tune a bit, although he did point out that the middle school band director also thought marching band would not be a good idea for The Boy, either. “But I’m not closing the door…” he said. Kinda hard when my foot is wedged in it, huh?

IMG_5331I had come prepared with a list of applicable laws, just in case, and a list of modifications and alternatives. Turns out, I didn’t need the laws (since he wasn’t “closing the door”), and when I suggested the first alternative, they both seemed receptive. After hashing out¬†some details, we devised a plan: The Boy will play at Friday night football games only, and will play his sousaphone in the “pit” section, which is where the semi-stationary percussion instruments like xylophones and timpani are. This will allow him to participate without having to learn the “drill” (complicated moves), and without having to rehearse after school every day. He will be in the marching band class, but if they are not rehearsing music, the band director may send The Boy to English with the special education teacher, where he can work on any homework he may have, or get a second “dose” of a subject in which he has deficits.

And he will be in concert band in the spring, regardless of whether or not there is a second, “lower” band.

So, we have successfully shoved that damned door wide open, and created a place for my kid in their program. See how much can be accomplished with open minds at the table?

Battle over Band

In a week, I’ll meet with the high school band director and the high school special education teacher, and hopefully walk away with a plan for The Boy to be able to continue participating in band.

If you recall, after missing a meeting with me, the band director told me at orientation that he didn’t think The Boy should be in marching band, but there was a possibility that concert band in the spring could work out for him.

When I mentioned this to the Director of Special Ed for the district, a phone call was made to the high school principal to discuss it, apparently. Why? Because it is against the law to deny a special education student access to curricular, extra-curricular or co-curricular programs.  Which law? IDEA is pretty explicit, and in fact, if The Boy wanted to, he should be afforded all supports for the extra- and/or co-curricular programs that he is afforded in his regular classes (i.e. if he has an aide in class, then he should have an aide on the field in marching band, helping him learn his drill).

In fact, marching bands across the country have embraced their roll as an opportunity for students with disabilities. Kids with autism, kids with CP, kids in wheelchairs, and there is even an entire drum corps made up of kids with special needs.

Yet, this guy thinks he can tell my kid no. Or rather, he thought he could until I squeaked.

Now, will The Boy be up for all of the summer, evening, and weekend rehearsals that often entail¬†grueling hours in the sun? Probably not. Will he be able to learn an entire drill and carry a sousaphone that whole time? Probably not. But there has to be a place for kids like mine, and if there isn’t one, we’ll create it.

You can’t just say no, sorryboutchya. And why would you?

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