“They were laughing at me”

We have reached the time of school year Little Man has kind of reached maximum capacity and goes a little off the rails. He’s had a rough week. He’s had nightmares, trouble sleeping, and just less ability to use his tools.

His SAI emailed me yesterday. Something happened in science class. He had an outburst, and then didn’t want to go to class yesterday. I asked him about it….First, he said he didn’t really want to talk about it, but then I reminded him I couldn’t help him, Mrs. E couldn’t help him, if he couldn’t tell me what happened.  It seems he’d asked a kid to leave him alone – I don’t know his tone nor his exact words, but he asked, and the kid didn’t comply. In Little Man’s words, he started to “freak out” and then the kids started laughing at him, which only made the problem worse.

I hate this for him. Teenagers can be cruel. But also, as I explained to him, some people just don’t know how to respond to expressions of emotion, and so they laugh. I’m not mad at those kids….not really. They’re just being normal teens. But my heart hurts for my boy. He’s still working on so many things. And no matter what his chronological age, his emotional and social age is so far behind, and it’s patently obvious.

I’m not asking the teachers nor his SAI to micro-manage every minute to make sure he never has to face this situation. I need him to learn the tools to respond better. Does that make sense? Although I don’t blame him either. It’s a much bigger, much longer learning curve for him. Does it break my heart he’s hurting? Oh my gosh, YES. I’d change all of this in  a heartbeat to protect him from hurt.

He’s cognizant of the fact he’s somewhat different. He’s aware of his deficits. We constantly remind him his advantages and amazing he is.

I don’t know where I’m going with this. I’ve been sitting here, tears rolling down my face as I try to write this. I guess there are just days I really hate his life is harder. There are days I want to curse down autism. There are days I want to put on my Super Mom cape and protect him from everything and everyone. Days like this make me more afraid what he will face in the big world of high school, where his differences may be even more evident, more apparent, and make him more of a target. I guess what I’m saying is my autism momma heart is a little bruised today, and I’m praying for a better day for my Little Man.

Talking to other kids about being autistic

I’d have to say, the calls from school I enjoy the most this year are the ones I get from Little Man’s speech therapist. She has special insight into him, as her sister, about the same age as LM, is also high-functioning autistic. In other words, she gets it. She gets the wins, and she shares them.  I can hear the smile in her voice when she calls to tell me that, while he wasn’t doing art in art class, he was engaging with his classmates, advocating for himself, and bouncing back quickly from a small blip of a meltdown. Yes, she did call me on a Friday afternoon to share that exact thing. I adore this young woman. She has given me the ability to give myself permission to not stress about his academics this year, and focus on getting him settled at his new school with an entirely new team.  Wow, did that sentence make sense?  She’s taught me to focus on the wins, to try not to let the bad days get to me.

She called me again late last week. The autism/autistic discussion had come up in his class the other day.  He openly admitted to his entire class he is autistic (his good friends know, and a couple of girls he worked on a  project with earlier in the school year).  He just said, “I’m autistic, this is what it means, and this is what it’s like.” He shared his life, and the kids were receptive. That’s a brave, bold thing for any sixth grader to do….talk in a classroom full of peers about the ways he is different.

He’s owning it, being autistic. Yes, being the smart, manipulative kid he can be, he sometimes uses it as an excuse. If he scares you, he knows it, depends upon it to get his way. Although even that is a tool in his toolbox – a way of communicating something is going on that’s uncomfortable for him.  But he’s owning it – this part of who he is.  And I’m proud of him.

Yes, that’s what his speech teacher called to tell me.  It was a win, and she felt I deserved to know about  it. Have I mentioned I’m grateful for her?

All it took was sugar-coated strawberries

We went to an informational meeting for another middle school we’ve put Little Man in the lottery to attend next year. He went with us, somewhat willingly. This school requires incoming middle schoolers to go to the meeting with their parents. When we arrived, and we wouldn’t let him take his DS in with him, a tantrum ensued, right there in the middle of the parking lot. Lovely. We debated staying, started walking back to the car. But I pushed. If we left, we would be giving into his tantrum. And I know when he’s throwing a fit just to get his way, as opposed to losing it for any other reason. We stood in line to sign in and he was doing his best to push our buttons. Spouse was getting fed up. I was having none of it. We were staying, no matter how uncomfortable. We signed in and found a seat. Little Man proceeded to glare at us, spout angry words, and then the tears started. I almost understood at that point. There were a ton of people. It was crowded. It was getting loud. He didn’t have his headphones, nor any of his comfort items. He’s been doing so well without them. We fought through it. Spouse again suggested taking him out. I refused. That’s exactly what he wanted us to do.

When the program started, almost fifteen minutes late, I started to lose hope.  We would all be together in the multi-purpose room for general information, then the students would head off in groups with a teacher and some current students for a breakout session. My immediate thought was we were going to be out of there at that point. There was no way Little Man was going to go off, with people he doesn’t know, without us. He sat there, hoodie zipped all the way, covering his face, curling into a ball in his chair. I sighed inwardly (probably outwardly too as the lady next to me gave me a look). But then they started explaining the curriculum, and Little Man’s head perked up. They had caught his attention. It’s all project based learning, collaborative work (yes, that part worries me somewhat, but we’ll give it a fair chance).  He was earnestly listening, engaged, smiling. When it was time for the breakout session, he happily stood up and walked away with his group when called. I. Was. Stunned. And oh yeah, I was anxious. I had no idea what would happen for him in that classroom, surrounded by kids he doesn’t know, in an unfamiliar place. I had images of a full meltdown, us getting called out of the meeting to come get him.  I barely heard most of the questions during the Q&A.

When it was over, I rushed to find him.  I panicked when I didn’t see him, and walked back out of the building. Spouse had him, and he was smiling. “Mom! Guess what? The teacher told me I can bring sugar-coated strawberries to eat for lunch if I want!” That’s all it took. He’s hooked. This is where he wants to go to school. It might have a little to do with the use of technology, the curriculum choices, the smaller classes, the lack of traditional PE class, and getting to learn through working on projects, but mostly it’s about the sugar-coated strawberries. Awesome.

We find out in April if he got in.

IEP, Psych, and social worker….Oh my!

When E was diagnosed on the spectrum last year, I submitted  a request to school for an IEP evaluation.  We were starting on medication and private therapy, but I knew we needed to get accommodations in place, as well as put in writing  the accommodations he was already getting in the classroom.  The meeting was a disaster. I walked out nearly in tears, frustrated and angry.  We did have some “wins” in that he would get a social skills group, and we were supposed to be referred to the 504 group for follow-up.  I realize we were not prepared then. We were still adjusting to our new world. Acceptance of his diagnosis would take time.

E has made so much progress in a year with the private therapy, and lots of work on his and our parts.  He has started off the school year with a bang.  He does have the same teacher as last year (love this woman to pieces), in the same classroom, with nine of the same classmates.  He knows his teacher well, knows her expectations, knows her routine, is familiar and comfortable in this classroom.  Those are the things that help keep E in a good, calm place.  This won’t happen again, and he is already showing some anxiety about which teacher he will have next year. With all these things in mind, knowing he still needs help, knowing we still need to get his current accommodations in writing, and knowing the chasm between him and his peers emotionally and socially is only going to grow and become more apparent, I resubmitted a request for IEP evaluation. And then I felt like I was going to throw up.

I feel a battle ahead. Maybe it won’t come to that, but I just feel it in my bones.  We have always had amazing teachers and they always put their students’ best interests first.  That’s not the fight.  I know his teacher has gone above and beyond to help Ethan be successful. He needs more. I know that. He has needs we haven’t even identified yet.  I will not let the “team” change my mind this time.  I am so nervous. And I’m terrified I’m going to break down in this meeting.

The school psych called last week – two days after I turned in the request – to let me know she had received it and when we could likely expect the initial meeting.  The social worker intern called today to get some background. He met with E today to start assessing his social skills and emotional management needs. I feel like things are moving much more quickly than last year.  We didn’t get any phone calls last year. We just received the notification of the meeting last year and then had the meeting.  I’m praying this is a good sign.  I’m praying the new principal has brought a new perspective to this whole process.  (good grief – this is coming out as scattered as I feel)

My emotions have been all over the place.  My brain is spinning.  I have all these things I want to say to the team about Ethan. I’m preparing arguments, making notes.  I will go in prepared. I will be ready to do battle if it comes to that.  I owe that much to E. He deserves all the help we can get him.  He deserves the chance to be successful, academically AND socially and emotionally.

Speaking of success….the issue brought up last year is that he is academically successful. Why yes, he is. He’s incredibly smart.  That is completely in line  with his diagnosis. I’m thrilled he’s smart, but I hate the words “academically successful”  when thinking about IEP’s.  There is more to a child than the  grades he receives.  He’s not really a disruption in the classroom, but that’s not all there is to whether a student needs help either. Sigh……see, preparing mental arguments.

I know this process is going to be long.  I know I’m going to be emotional.  I know it has the potential to be very draining.  I wish with all my heart we didn’t even have to think about this.  How I wish there were no diagnosis for him….that we weren’t in the world of autism spectrum disorders.  But here we are. I am so thankful for the support system we have. I am so thankful for friends who have helped so much and provided resources, friends who are always there to listen and offer a shoulder. We’ll get there, whatever it takes. We have to.