Monday, November 12, 2012

Thankful for Things that Work

At MMO, we talk about giving thanks every November. Sometimes it's just teaching the words thank you, sometimes it's about taking note and recognizing what you have. The trick is that this isn't just a unit that gets taught for three weeks and then goes away. It's something that we try to thread into our classrooms through good modeling. The children learn by watching us mind our manners and recognize what is good in our lives.

Life's been kind of messy lately, but I've been finding that people are happy to help when you ask for it. Sometimes they just show up and help when you don't expect it. It's been nice. I've spent more time with my mother and father than I have in 20 years. I was able to count on people I met through the library, through Rotary and in our neighborhood to help with X-man or with driving. It's meant a lot to me, and I don't know if I could say thank you enough for their support when I needed them.

But the things I'm most thankful for are the positive interactions I have with people about my son. I get that a lot of kids don't understand my child. They think he's weird. He has trouble reading social cues. He goes back and forth between being very extroverted and excitable to introverted and nervous. It's one or the other. And I understand that his social issues are the reasons why a children don't really like to play with him. How do you play with someone who freaks out and cries a lot over what seems to be -- nothing but a transition or a change in plans? It also doesn't help when he's sad and people are casting disapproving looks in the hallway. Yeah, I see them. So does my kid. Please keep your "What's wrong with your kid, now?" attitude to yourself.

The other day we were playing at the playground after school and X-man was trying to figure out how to play with a bigger boy. The kid clearly didn't want X-man around, and he understood that. So, he asked point blank, "What can I do so you'll want to play with me?" The older boy looked at him like he was diseased. Then he walked away without answering. I saw X-man furrow his brow in a panic. Then he sucked his panic back down and did what every adult had ever told him to do -- rather than tattle, he tried to take care of it on his own. And so he ignored the social cue the boy was giving by walking away and followed him trying to reason with him. "Why are you walking away? Why don't you talk to me so we can figure out how to play together?" He followed that kid for around 40 seconds before the kid ran away to get away from him. And X-man thought he was initiating a game of tag. Sigh.

Ignoring those social cues and not being able to see others' points of view is part of X-man's anxiety issues. He gets that he's missing something. That he's different. He'd rather play by himself or with one other child than negotiate small group interaction, and I'm not the only one who has noticed. It's what he works on with his behavioral therapist, April Keaton.  But social skill ability takes a lot of time and practice to sink in.

The difference between this year and last year is that this year, instead of falling apart when he's ostracized, he's self-banishing himself to the security of individual play. Playing by himself is easier. Apparently, it happens at recess from time to time. He avoids small group interaction like the plague because he doesn't know how to navigate it. He requests one-on-one play dates. His assistant principal thinks he's so exhausted by the end of the day just trying to negotiate himself in a classroom with 24 other kids and that's why from time to time on the walk home, he just has to sit -- and stare or cry.

So, we've been working with this issue for a year. Then we added X-man's challenges with writing and handwriting and some sensory issues (hooray for seamless socks!), so MacTroll and I scheduled a meeting with the administrators at his school last week. We met with them and talked about what we'd been working on, what they'd seen in school, what the teachers told us and the administration, and we all agreed to start X-man on a 504 plan. Next Tuesday, we'll all be sitting down together to make sure he gets services at school as well as out of school. A 504 plan also means that we can take it with us when we move, and his new school in California will honor it while they perform their own evaluation to see if anything needs to be updated or changed when he's there. In other words, he won't just start from scratch. Everyone seems to be in agreement that they think he just needs some intervention and some accommodation and instruction. And I trust his teachers and his principals, a lot.

This weekend, we read the book "The Art of Ms. Chew" by Patricia Polacco from the library. It's about a girl who has trouble reading, but is wonderful at art. Between her school teacher and her art teacher they figure out that when she sees letters, she focuses on the negative space around the letter before she sees the letter and can figure out the sound. It takes her longer to write and read and think about language. Together, they make the accommodation for her to have more time on tests and assignments and her grades start to respond. But then her teacher has to go away for few weeks, and a substitute comes in who will not accommodate her special needs. She even threatens to have her art classes taken away so she can focus more on her reading issues. She meets with a reading specialist, her principal and her parents, and the sub and the art teacher get in an argument. It's at this point that X-man starts to tear up. "They need to fire that sub!" When the teacher returns from his trip, everything is put back together for the child. But it was a good way to introduce what his parents would be working on with his teachers and administrators and that extra help is a normal thing and that he has teachers that are AMAZING.

He gets that he's different. And as a parent, I understand that if your child says he or she doesn't want to play with a child, you're not about to make him or her do something he or she doesn't want to. But it also makes me sad, and a bit angry, to be honest, that more parents aren't willingly to talk about how sometimes differences aren't just a matter of opinion or bad parenting. That if you look carefully, everyone is a little weird and everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and if you want others to accept yours, than you need to work on accepting theirs. There are other options besides avoidance. There's empathy and compassion and being truthful. In early education, children are much more forgiving than in elementary school. I wish that that would continue to big kid grades.

I have a friend who has a son with Aspergers. She told me the goal in regards to social integration success in elementary school is to somehow move from "weird" to "quirky." "Quirky is kind of cool."

So that's what we're working on. "Quirky."

But I do have to say that it melted my heart the other day when I offered to do something small for Mr. Scott and as he's about to walk away he turns and says to me, "You guys can't move. We'll miss you."

And he said it in that soft toned, sad kind of way, like he didn't want to think about it too hard. Because you know how I wrote earlier in the post that the best kind of help is the kind from people who love your kid? It's also nice when it's directed at your family. In a million years, I didn't expect him to ever say that to me, and I guess I needed to hear that someone will miss us. I didn't think I did. But I do. Recognition that we were here for 10 years, and that we did some kind things that people appreciated, and that we shared part of our lives with people and helped improve the community.

Mr. Scott understands my kid, and he knows X-man's got an ambitious educational future ahead of him and wants to help him succeed.

And for all of this, I have been very grateful lately. I just wanted to share.

1 comment:

Debra Crabtree said...

That is awesome! It is one thing I miss about the midwest... that feeling that people care and want to help. I am so glad X-man has good teachers that want to help him succeed. He is extremely bright and I know he is going to rock this school thing. Quirky is definitely cool in our house. :)