The school responded to my email quickly and we had a meeting on Wednesday morning before school. I think it went pretty well. The district autism support specialist was there and I liked what she had to say.

The principal wanted to clarify whether the locking out incident happened during the drill or not. Since there are lots of adults walking around checking to make sure things go well during the drill, I agreed that it probably happened at a different time and Zoo Keeper just put the two big events together in his mind because they both happened that day. Then the OT and teacher tried to take us off on a tangent about which doors are locked and other technical stuff, but the principal nipped that in the bud by saying that this wasn’t about proving if these individual things happened to Zoo Keeper or even whether they were intentional, but about how Zoo Keeper perceives them and our goal is to help him to feel safe and cared about at school. I knew she had asked about the timing of the door locking because that would be a whole other problem for her if it did happen during the drill, but I was still relieved when she voiced that we were focusing on helping Zoo Keeper rather than individual incidents.

Chalkboard style progress bar that says HOPE LOADING.

Chalkboard style progress bar that says HOPE LOADING.

They agreed right away to do a functional behavior analysis (FBA)  and a behavioral intervention plan (BIP).  The FBA is where someone observes the kid, taking data on said kid’s behavior and the things that happen before (antecedent) and after (consequence), and then looks for patterns. The BIP is the plan they make based on that data from the FBA to change the behavior. These are usually used when there’s a behavior problem, but here it will be to figure out what things are causing Zoo Keeper so much stress and anger and anxiety, so we can figure out what to do about them to help.

We asked for the FBA and BIP to be done by an expert not employed by the district. The principal wouldn’t commit to that because someone at higher level has to approve it. That person couldn’t make the meeting because it was such short notice, but the principal let us know she had sent the request later that day. The autism specialist seemed to think it wouldn’t be a problem.

Next we agreed that the autism specialist will meet with Zoo Keeper’s OT and psychotherapist to get ideas on strategies that work with Zoo Keeper, in terms of self-soothing and emotional regulation, so they can be consistent with them at school. We requested that at the last meeting, but the special education teacher pushed it off as the para educator’s responsibility and never did anything about it.

I sent an email to introduce the therapists to the autism support specialist (and the principal because she wanted to know how to help Zoo Keeper, too, which makes me happy). I heard back that the specialist had already contacted the therapists. There is going to be a conference call next week with the psychotherapist. I’m not sure yet if the OT will be on that call as well or if the specialist will travel to the OT’s office to discuss Zoo Keeper because OT is much more hands on.

We discussed some of the things Zoo Keeper has told us about how he feels. Like he does not want to change classrooms, he just wants the school to be better. And he feels like none of the staff at the school care about him. Everyone at the meeting agreed to check in with him and say hi to him in the halls and stuff to let him know they care.

Zoo Keeper told Sparky recently that his teacher from second grade, Ms. J, is his favorite teacher. The school librarian retired last year and Ms. J took over as librarian. The principal arranged for him to hang out in the library for 10 minutes or so right before school starts and he’s very excited about that.

Toward the end of the meeting, the advocate passed around notes from the previous meeting with questions on how the action items are going. Some of the questions had been answered that day, but a few had not. Most of those left unanswered are for the special education teacher. Questions like: Has he been added to the third grade social skills group yet? Have you tried the video-modeling program you suggested might help? When will he have the assistive technology assessment?

Unsurprisingly, I’ve heard nothing about these issues yet. I will draft an email to night to ask the questions specifically to her with everyone else copied. First I have to email the advocate to make sure she actually did hand out the notes. ‘Cause I’ll be pretty embarrassed if I ask and no one knows what I’m talking about.

Woman standing, facing a beach, with a checkered umbrella unfolded over her shoulder and her hand out to the side checking for rain.

Woman standing, facing a beach, with a checkered umbrella unfolded over her shoulder and her hand out to the side checking for rain.

The principal told us that she checked in with Zoo Keeper Wednesday after the meeting and specifically told him she cares about him. He had his first morning with Ms. J on Friday and that seemed to go well. On Friday afternoon, though, he was angry with the school again. This time because the kids are not allowed to have toy weapons, specifically paper ninja stars, at school. Unfortunately for him, I am completely on board with this rule. Sparky and I tried, unsuccessfully to explain the reason for the rule to Zoo Keeper, but he wasn’t buying it. We asked what he would do with them and this is what followed:

ZK: I just want to have them.

M&S: So you’ll just walk around and look at them?

ZK: Yeah. And practice throwing them and stuff.

M&S: What will you throw them at?

ZK: Nothing. Walls and stuff.

M&S: People?

ZK: No. I would never throw them at people.

M&S: We get that, but what about other kids. What if {current bully} had some ninja stars? What do you think he would do with them? Do you think he would throw them at people?

ZK: Okay, but why can’t we even hold our fingers like a gun?

M&S: How would you feel if someone pointed a pretend gun at you? Would that hurt your feelings? What if it was {current bully} pretending to fire his finger gun at you?

ZK: Okay, okay. Fair point. Can we stop talking about this now?

So, Zoo Keeper remains angry as ever with the school. I think he’s earned that and then some. It will take the school a while to implement all the measures we discussed and it will take even longer for Zoo Keeper to process his anger and trust the school to do the right thing. Much, much longer.

I, on the other hand, am now cautiously optimistic.