As I said in my last post, I wrote a letter to Zookeeper’s pediatrician to explain the difficulty of third grade. One of the things I wrote was:
We ran into his teacher from the previous year at one point and she commented that she hadn’t seen him smile at all this year, which is out of character for him.
I didn’t realize it until she pointed it out, but she was right. Our happy, smiley, silly boy had turned sulky, scowling, and snappish. And angry. His anger was always just below the surface, ready to pounce. His OTs, psychologist, and I all talked to him about figuring out what his body feels like while he’s getting angry so he can learn to do some self soothing before he starts screaming. Or growling. He maintains that it happens too fast to do anything about it, which I think means it’s still too close to the surface all the time.
My mom and stepfather visited at the end of the school year for my middle niece’s graduation. They got to see Zookeeper just before school ended and after. My mother was struck by the magnitude of change they noticed once he was free. He started laughing again. He was crawling out of the hole third grade had put him in.
While his mood had improved immensely, the anger was still there and would raise its head at seemingly random times, surprising all of us, including Zookeeper. One day, Sparky and I were trying to talk to the kids about something, I don’t remember what. Zookeeper was so nasty in his tone and demeanor that I took away his outside privileges for the rest of the day, which only escalated the situation. Honestly, I know better than to pull a punishment out of thin air like that, but sometimes I get so fed up and angry that I spit the vitriol right back at him.
Once we had let BamBam go, Sparky began to talk Zookeeper down. After a while, I joined the conversation as well. Turns out he was upset about going back to school (in two months, as it was the last week of June). He said he didn’t want to set foot in that place again. I told him he’d have to do fourth grade somewhere. That’s the law. He conceded that he would go back to his school, but he was terrified that nothing would change.
That’s when I realized I hadn’t talked to him about the plan moving forward. You know, the once we spent four months creating.
So I told him that his principal, teachers, therapists, and I had come up with a plan to make sure it is different for him next year. I told him that he would have a teacher that ran a more structured and respectful classroom or I would sit on top of the principal’s desk until she moved him to a class like that. But that I was sure I wouldn’t need to do that because his principal has been really involved and she is also determined to make it a better year.
He’s had several similar incidents since, though they’ve diminished in both intensity and frequency.
A few weeks later, Sparky asked me what the plan was.
That’s when I realized I had told Zookeeper that we had a plan, but not given him – or Sparky – any details on what we would do. The lack of passing on information is a recurring theme for me. *sigh*
So, I wrote up a document telling him the six parts of the plan. It was four pages long. A few weeks later, I realized that was way too much information for him and cut it down to one page:
- IEP Accommodations
- Ready to learn checklist
- Graphic organizers
- Neo or scribe
- Small group or individual plus extra time for testing
- Scheduled desk clean-up time with checklist and visual model
- Sensory items –
- Wiggle seat
- Weighted lap blanket
- Rocks (this is Mom’s addition)
- Timers to structure check-ins
- Home/school communication system
- Break big tasks down into manageable chunks
- Advance notice for changes in routine
- Regulated breaks/physical movement
- Allow verbal responses
- Extra processing time for complex/difficult tasks
- Change legal name to [nickname]
- Meet teacher and special education teacher before school starts
- Mom talk to class about autism
- Mom/Dad check in with Zookeeper every day/week and make changes as needed
The initial version I gave him had a lot of information on the recommendations from the FBA (functional behavior analysis)/BIP (positive behavioral intervention plan). That was a really important part of the plan because it’s the autism specialist observing and talking to everyone involved and then figuring out what the child needs to create an appropriate learning environment.
We changed his name a couple of weeks ago. I’ll talk about my meeting with the teacher and special education teacher in the next post. I’m already starting to chicken out of my plan to talk to his class about autism (I’ll do it, I just don’t want to).
We’ve talked to him a lot about the need for him to talk to us about what goes on in school; that the plan will fall apart without his input. Here’s hoping he takes that to heart.
So, Zookeeper spent the summer climbing out of the hole of stress and anger and despair he had sunk into. We tried various things to help him. The talks, the plan, giving him space, not discussing his regression. And we sent him to a fantastic summer day camp for kids with autism, ADHD, and/or learning disabilities with similar traits. So. Very. Expensive. But totally worth every penny. They had many activities there, including rock climbing.
He’s come a long way, but it’s going to time. Time and results.
Omg go you on fighting so damn hard for a concrete plan to make sure Zookeeper never has another year like the hell he faced in third grade. You are wonder woman. Because without Mama advocating, NONE of this would have been put into place to support Zookeeper. Love and hugs and more love (and a plague on that stinker who bullied him last year)