We’ve said it before, our guy seems to learn in leaps. It’s never a steady upward curve for him. He plateaus and then without any seeming rhyme or reason to it, he jumps up to the next level. Each time this happens, he falls back in other areas. Perhaps foolishly, each time it happens, we allow ourselves to be hit hard by the regression.
We are in one of those times. Our home environment is suffering. Our pre-teen son is increasingly armed with new vocabulary and new attitude, fueled by a new edginess in what he is watching on YouTube. Social pressures at school are causing him great distress. He is getting less physical activity now that he is at a new school. His walks to and from school and his after school activities have been replaced with time spent in a taxi. He is out of the house and ‘on’ from 8:00 am until 4:00 pm. It’s a long day for anyone, and especially for him.
When I snuck away to write this blog, I was feeling down. I was thinking of the rough morning we just had (diverted eventually by a walk along a river). I was still smarting from the rough night we had last night (diverted only by nearly two hours in a pool) and the string of other rough nights and rough mornings we have had lately. I was thinking of the harsh words between my husband and I, and the dismayed look on our elder son’s face as the tensions mounted. Again. The way the dog sometimes gets wide-eyed. The mess of the house. Work stresses. The fact that this morning we rushed out of the house after a meltdown, in survival mode, and I haven’t had a shower. Again. How even the bacon sandwich I allowed myself as a ‘treat’ from a café while we were wandering was disappointing and flat tasting. Yes, when I started writing I wasn’t in a great mood.
Then I remembered that a school report arrived yesterday. I stepped away from the computer to have a read. Page by page, my mood lightened. I was stunned at my own inability to understand what I know. Yes! It hit me. Our son may be regressing at home, but at school he is progressing in leaps and bounds. These things are never unrelated. Once again, I am amazed at the difference it is making now that he is in a specialist setting.
Last year at the end of the year we wrote about how we were so crushed by our son’s report card, we never let him see it. In contrast, this time I called him onto the bed where I was writing. I told him I had his school report and wanted to show him. He groaned and visibly moved away from me, alarmed and ready to bolt. I put my hand on his back and said, “No, wait – it’s excellent. Listen.” He looked up into my eyes, searching. And we skimmed his in-depth report together. He became more and more interactive, more excited. After one especially positive comment, he whispered with utmost pride, “Maybe I should get a new toy!” (Proving that at least in some cases he can link some cause and some effect and also showing perhaps not flatteringly that as parents we have not been above pure bribery in the past.)
In a school that understands not all kids’ brains are wired the same, here’s what these new teachers wrote:
- “He’s an eager and enthusiastic pupil”
- “He has great ideas”
- “He is not at all afraid of thinking outside of the box”
- “His work benefits from his imagination”
- “He makes his presence felt with his enthusiasm”
- “He is keen to achieve good results”
- “He is gaining greater confidence”
- “He is a talented musician”
- “He has an ability to create exciting and engaging musical performances”
- “Very able”
- “His attitude toward learning has been excellent”
- “His confidence has improved”
- “He has managed to express his colourful personality”
- “I am delighted to have a pupil of such creativity and imagination at the school”
Let’s get this straight. This is the same child who last year was chided in his report for “disruptive behaviour,” for being “silly” and “distracting.” The discouraged boy who was told he “needed to understand” his behaviour was “inappropriate.” Who was marked down because he couldn’t pay attention for “more than five minutes.” The kid who we couldn’t get out the door to school because he was under so much pressure we thought we had broken his spirit–this was happening as recently as five months ago. He’s the same kid.
I was especially struck by the comment on his current report from a science teacher. Last year, his science teacher commented on his final report that he repeatedly cried throughout the year when given instructions. Her reports were never positive, she saw only a problem student. Cue to this year, and here we are: “He has worked hard in science lessons. He generally grasps new concepts quite quickly and enjoys the opportunities to work practically. He observes scientific experiences carefully…He follows instructions well and can work in a careful, systematic manner.”
THIS IS THE SAME CHILD.
I want to rattle some teachers. I know, I know all about the pressures you are under. But shame on you if you have a child in your class that has a disability and you refuse to learn about how to help that child, you turn away offers from parents who seek to help you understand, who offer to work in partnership with you to help you reach that student. We hear about it all the time. Those few of you who refuse to grow professionally are suffocating the spirit of our kids who need you most. (There were many heroes in his mainstream education, but there were also a few who were truly deplorable.)
He was so proud, so very proud of this new report. He put his head on my shoulder, squeezed hard, while remembering to ask if it was my sore arm. (These moments of blatant awareness of others are still few and far enough between that they jump out at me. I was touched that in this moment of triumph he was also then able to think about me. I am sure there is a link).
We also talked about some of the comments that show his FASD is still affecting his ability to access education fully. He is starting to know these are areas where he always will have difficulty due to his FASD, areas where he will need to put strategies in place. When he read the bit about how he “can easily become distracted and lose focus,” he said, “that happens sometimes, doesn’t it?” We acknowledged but brushed over the comments that “he has yet to grasp cause and effect” and “he must ensure he always listens carefully to an instruction so he knows what is expected of him.” We will continue to work with him to understand his FASD and also with his school to ensure they understand these challenges are not due to willful disobedience, but because he will always, for life, need instructions broken down – preferably shown in a visual format, maybe even rehearsed. Whereas previously these sorts of comments dominated his reports, this time, these comments were decidedly in the minority.
The most touching moment was when he asked me to explain this comment, the one that made my mood brighten most: “He needs to believe in himself because he already has gained the respect of many of his peers.” We went over that together, slowly. As its meaning sunk in, he glowed and I basked in this new space. He’s made great leaps forward.
It doesn’t mean what’s happening at home is not real, not concerning, not demanding attention and strategies. (Of course, when things are flying and getting broken we must hear what those behaviours are saying and make necessary changes.) A positive report doesn’t make his social challenges any less difficult (he told me heartbreakingly the other day he will “never be happy again” because he is “bullied every day, every year”). But seeing this report does help me believe that those educators around him can help him get past that hurdle too. He may be having trouble with one or two kids, but he also is “earning the respect of many.” Can you imagine how wonderful that is for a kid who has been shoved aside, jollied or sidelined by too many of his peers throughout too much of his education up to this point? Yes. We are on a whole new level. Somehow, I have been letting down my guard and letting negative thoughts in. I have been forgetting that with great progress comes some setbacks in other areas.
Remembering that makes it all a bit easier.
At least, it should.
P.S. – To top off the transformation of my mood, I just read this most fantastic piece by Dr. Nathan Ory, “What It’s Like to Live With Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.” I hope everyone will take a chance to read and absorb his insights. Share it with the schools. He sums up in one paragraph why I think our guy is doing so well in his new setting (and it’s a timely and important reminder to us at home to keep smiling even through the hard times):
Children growing up with these types of differences in their thinking and learning processes often become very emotionally fragile. They don’t “get” why people are distressed with them. They experience that others are distressed with them and often mirror or reflect back the very emotion that is being shown towards them. For these children, it is very important to really like them when you are speaking to them. They work more off the emotions of those around them than the words and actions of those who are guiding them. Being emotionally angry towards them always further escalates their behavior….These are not bad kids. Often they are working heroically to overcome their learning disabilities and to participate in the world wherever they are able.