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At this point in the oldest son's kindergarten life, he had the parent volunteer coming into the class two days a week. Her daughter was no longer terrified of my son, and often found him amusing instead, although he hadn't changed too much; her perception, due in large part to her mother-in-the-classroom, had. He had his father chasing small children around the school yard before class (an activity in which my son could easily join), and a teacher's aide who asked him what happened whenever his name was put forth as a miscreant.

He was still fairly heavily disliked by the more socially hierarchical girls, but could live with that, although he never particularly enjoyed it. They were the wasps at the picnic.

In fact, he was always able to acknowledge and live with this. One of the things I've noticed with ASD children is that they often feel they have no control at all in a social environments; they accept what they see as fact. It is generally immutable in their eyes. So if girl A doesn't like my son, that's as much a fact as girl A having blond hair or blue eyes. Or two hands. It's why I think telling them "if you stop doing this, children will like you more" or "children will hate you if…" is not a useful way to engage them. They can't see the clear connection we're trying to make; it would make as much sense to say "if you speak quietly, girl A will have black hair instead of blond hair".

The good news is that ASD children are not in a stage of permanently arrested development, and they will eventually understand this to one degree or another. But not at age four or five.

My son still hated to go to school, but he did stop clinging desperately to the school doors and screaming his lungs out.

There were a number of incidents with the boy who was determined not to be The Victim, one of which my husband didn't mention to me for months because he thought I would totally flip a gasket (I would have. No question. The small boy tried to push my son off the height of the kindergarten structure and I don't care if the child was four years old or not. Well, no, that's not true; I did care--but I wouldn't have at the time).

The parent volunteer kept an eye on my son, and she was also pretty familiar with the little blond boy. I saw him once tell her to f*ck off (literally); she told him never to say that again, and he smirked and said "or what?". No, really. He smirked; I think he thought she was about to get him sent to the office. What she said was, "or I will phone your mother." That shut him down instantly.

I didn't realize why until he annoyed his mother one day at school; she lifted him off the ground by the arm and dragged him out of the school, whacking his backside as she did. So. Whatever the principal, who was careful and reasonable, would do to him? He just wasn't afraid or concerned. He was, however, afraid of his mother's reaction. Does this mean the school could do nothing? No. It doesn't. I'll return to this boy again later.

At the end of junior kindergarten in our school, the children are offered the choice between remaining in the English stream, or joining the French immersion stream.

Asperger children are often precociously verbal, and my son was in that range.

So my husband and I discussed this with my son, and he thought he would like to go into the French stream. We then filled out the paperwork and sent it into the office.

The teacher, at pick-up, asked if my husband and I would come into the school to speak with her--and with the principal, Jane Fletcher, about our application for the French stream.

This is the first time I remember meeting Jane Fletcher. She looked like a working teacher, rather than a suit, and I want to say she was tall, because to me, she was. I don't actually know if that's true though; she felt tall, to me. She was completely up front, and the teacher allowed her to do the brunt of the talking.

She had called us in to ask us not to send our son into the French stream. To, in her words, beg us not to do it. She would, of course, have to accept him if we chose to go ahead with the application--but she felt that, given his early difficulties, this would be disastrous for him. I did point out that he had high linguistic capabilities, and that he could read, and she pointed out that he had very immature social skills (a kind way of saying almost none) and that the extra level of abstraction--a teacher who would only speak French--would hinder him.

It was an important turning point, and I said "but he wants to go into the French stream."

She left the decision to us, because she had to leave it to us. But…the teacher had been helpful, and in truth, he still found school difficult. They had meetings about him with an in-school group of teachers and the area district psychologist--which they eventually started to invite us to attend, although we didn't attend the earliest sessions (neither did my son).

So we elected to trust her and her opinion, which was very hard at the time. Looking back on it now, I can't even remember why.

Our son was very disappointed. Very. But the next year, he returned to the English stream, and during that year we discovered that the girls who made his life difficult by their constant put-downs and "don't like you at all" comments had all been transferred into the French stream. All but one. (There were two alpha ringleaders and a bunch of beta friends; one of the beta friends was left; the two alpha girls went on to cause a lot of stress in French).

And this seemed like reason enough and blessing enough to have kept him out.

His kindergarten year was with the same teacher, in the same classroom, and he met one boy--an incoming four year old--who adored him, and who he adored, so he suddenly had a friend at school. It made sense that he would like the four year old, because my son was very young for his age, and both my husband I breathed a sigh of relief. The four year old was loud, very physical, and also allowed to use computers at home, and they were both loud, sunny children who liked to run around a lot. So, for the first time in school, there was a friend.

Even the teacher felt that at the end of kindergarten, he wasn't too far out of the range of developmental behaviour she expected.

The important thing to remember about kindergarten is: it's all about the socialization and the small routines. They have play time, nap time, story-telling time, snack time, run outside until exhausted time. There's structure to an extent, but it's not the same environment as grade one will be; it's in-between pre-school and grade school.

One of the hallmarks of ASD, however, is the very very slow way in which ASD children process change.

And yes, grade one was a very big change. First: he was no longer in a first floor classroom (which is where all of the kindergartens generally are); he had been placed in a classroom on the third floor, which necessitated the use of the stairs. The stairs were enormously, enormously noisy and my son was somewhat sensitive to noise--he would not enter the school at all until the entire stairwell was empty, which made him late. Second, his teacher was new to the school; he knew nothing about her at all, and we had no chance to introduce them or in any way make clear who she was. Third, it was a full day of school. And fourth, he claimed that he didn't know any of the children in his class.

The latter was only subjectively true; several of the children in his grade one class had been in his kindergarten class. But in the particular way of my son, the quiet children with whom he never interacted didn't actually make any impression on him one way or the other; I think, in retrospect, what he meant was: My friend is not in my class.

I went in to meet the new teacher on the first day, to try to give her a bit of a heads up. She was polite, friendly, and entirely professional, and it became clear to me that she had no intention of listening to a word I said about him until she'd had a chance to see him in action for herself. This seemed both stressful and fair to me, because children do behave differently--often radically differently--at school than they do at home, and a teacher's relationship with a student will therefore be formed in an entirely different way. It's not that she said this--she was, and is almost always, extremely politic--but that was what I took away from the discussion.

I then went to talk to Jane Fletcher in her office, and I outlined all the reasons I was concerned about my son in this environment. She stopped me short and said the teacher in question was absolutely the right teacher for my son in her opinion, and that there would be few finer. The teacher had spent all of her teaching career to this point (and she was my age at the time, but boy did she look younger) teaching in special ed classrooms, and she had wanted to try teaching a regular class; the principal was overjoyed to have been able to hire her.

I was still worried about my son and all of the strangeness.

My son was not perhaps very happy or settled in his grade one class, and two weeks after the start of school, the teacher asked if we could set up an appointment to discuss him. My husband went in with me, and we sat down in her empty classroom while my mother watched my children--because at that time, I also had a second child (he was born near the end of kindergarten).

What I intended to do was to ask for a compromise. Let my son come only in the mornings until December, and have him attend the full day after the Christmas break. It would at least give him the familiarity of the earlier schedule while allowing him to get used to all the differences in the classroom. Mornings were when the children did the "hard" things: Math, Reading, Science. Afternoons are when they did the "fun" things: Arts and crafts. Games.

One of the things about the ASD spectrum is that ASD children frequently have very poor motor control. At six years of age, my son could not walk heel-to-toe. He was not terribly good with scissors, and he found choice paralyzing. So the hard activities--for my son--were all in the afternoon.

By 2:30 of every day, he would be so completely over-stimulated, he would melt down. This didn't involve tantrums; it involved a total withdrawal into an isolated activity. Had this been something quiet, like, say, reading a book, this would have been fine. It wasn't, sadly. It was usually running around the classroom shooting invisible storm troopers. Loudly. For an hour. On very rare occasions, he would pause and curl up in fetal position on the floor. During which he didn't respond to voice or words at all. He was still doing this in May of the grade one year, but I'm getting too far ahead of myself.

It was, once again, very hard; it seemed to us that all of the gains he'd made in the two years of kindergarten had gone completely out the window, so it was both expected and still stressful.

But the first thing the teacher said to us before I could propose this was, in many ways, game-changing.

"Your son's behaviour is consistent with developmental issues, not behavioural ones. I've seen similar behaviour before, and I highly recommend that you have him developmentally assessed."

Until this point in his life, we had just assumed that his quirks were personality, and we figured out how to work around them so that we were all relatively happy.



ETA: has and had are not the same word. One day I will post something after multiple proof passes that still doesn't require correction.

Comments

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
mtlawson
Oct. 18th, 2010 04:08 am (UTC)
ETA: has and had are not the same word. One day I will post something after multiple proof passes that still doesn't require correction.

When you do, I'll buy you a beer. I don't think I've posted one without an edit in months.
(Deleted comment)
teenagewitch
Oct. 18th, 2010 05:02 am (UTC)
I think that its a good thing that you didn't do language immersion. We considered it when we evaluated schools around us but our doctor said that it would cause undo stress given how much changes everyday. We agreed and he did decent in kindergarten. We are in first grade now and we have conference next week so that should prove interesting.
la_marquise_de_
Oct. 18th, 2010 09:38 am (UTC)
This is a wonderful series of posts: thank you.
green_knight
Oct. 18th, 2010 11:13 am (UTC)
I just want to add my voice to thank you for these posts; I find them fascinating because they provide, in many ways, blueprints for good parenting, and we see far too little of that. Not good parenting per se, but people who can articulate what they've done right so that others can learn from it. (Even if those others might only be characters in a novel, for me.)
estara
Oct. 18th, 2010 11:38 am (UTC)
Thanks for continuing this.
msagara
Oct. 18th, 2010 09:27 pm (UTC)
Thanks for continuing this.

I fully intend to talk about the classroom and the teacher, because what she did in that class with the son I have described set the tone for his entire school life, and she explained many things to me about larger social interactions that I'd never considered before.

But I came to realize that without the principal at the helm, the teachers are actually limited; they can control their own class, but they can't control anything that happens outside of it without the external support.
estara
Oct. 19th, 2010 11:39 am (UTC)
But I came to realize that without the principal at the helm, the teachers are actually limited; they can control their own class, but they can't control anything that happens outside of it without the external support.

Oh so very true. Still, I can get impressions and maybe find a way to engage other teachers or even convince the principal. So I look forward to any of your recollections about this, they seem quite insightful and adaptable for classrooms with children that have no special needs or a much milder form of special needs.
mtlawson
Oct. 18th, 2010 12:00 pm (UTC)
There were a number of incidents with the boy who was determined not to be The Victim, one of which my husband didn't mention to me for months because he thought I would totally flip a gasket

My wife would have gone bananas too. It must be something with the IT background that causes your husband and I to do the exact same thing.

msagara
Oct. 18th, 2010 09:20 pm (UTC)
My wife would have gone bananas too. It must be something with the IT background that causes your husband and I to do the exact same thing.

I'm not sure; my husband wasn't at all pleased -- but I think he has some of the "he's just a child" and some of "kids do grow up" or even "kids will be kids" as a balance for his reaction; I have a if you had succeeded my son would have been badly injured and you must die visceral, grizzly bear MOM reaction. I can, of course, control this, but I would have been enraged, and it would have caused enormous stress and paranoia about my son's physical safety, which I don't think my husband thought would be helpful.

It wouldn't have been helpful for my son.
mtlawson
Oct. 18th, 2010 10:27 pm (UTC)
I personally don't feel anything along the lines of "kids will be kids", but it was more of the "if she gets enraged and goes in with guns blazing things will get a lot worse".
artbeco
Oct. 18th, 2010 03:39 pm (UTC)
I would have flipped a gasket too.
We had an incident in preschool with Casey, where another boy shut his hand in a door as hard as he could, very much on purpose. Riley saw it and came to Casey's rescue and he shouted as loudly as he could in that boy's face and shut him in the bathroom in the dark (the hand incident was that same bathroom door). Traumatized the other boy for life, apparently, since we still have to see that other boy and he hasn't forgotten the incident by any means.

Needless to say we got called, we got a serious talking to about appropriate behavior and were threatened with having the boys kicked out of preschool; after that we had to go to weekly meetings to check in on whether our boys were behaving themselves. I don't actually know if the other boy's parents had any repercussions, but my guys were watched carefully after that for 'bullying behavior'. Which just goes to point out that not all behavior that gets considered bullying by adults is unprovoked; Riley got a lot of blame for traumatizing that other kid because he wasn't the one who directly got hurt in the first place. But man, I was so glad that he'd stood up for his brother; that other kid never tried to bully either of them again, and he's still a little jerkface.
msagara
Oct. 18th, 2010 09:25 pm (UTC)
We had an incident in preschool with Casey, where another boy shut his hand in a door as hard as he could, very much on purpose. Riley saw it and came to Casey's rescue and he shouted as loudly as he could in that boy's face and shut him in the bathroom in the dark (the hand incident was that same bathroom door). Traumatized the other boy for life, apparently, since we still have to see that other boy and he hasn't forgotten the incident by any means.

I would have been very, very proud of my son (Riley) for coming to the aid of his brother; I don't doubt, however, that he traumatized the other child. Context is tricky. I think all children have flashes of cruelty toward other children. All of them. I think that all children also feel they've been hurt by other children, no matter where they are on the social hierarchy ladder.

As I said in the previous post, Peter's hitting my son was an automatic reaction (which should be curbed); you see it in toddlers a lot. He was annoyed. (he hit my son). My son hit him (back). The only two things in that internal monologue are Peter's reactions, the bad things that happened to Peter.

We don't tend to retain the bad things we did to other kids at that age -- at all. So in my experience, children can all feel aggrieved and unhappy, when objectively only one or two are, imo, really on the outs socially.

And yet. I would have been proud of Riley, because to me it's very important that you stick up for your siblings when they need you.
artbeco
Oct. 19th, 2010 03:00 am (UTC)
You're so right about how each kid perceives the things happening to them; the other boy remembered being shut in the dark bathroom, not what precipitated it. I agree that all children have flashes of cruelty; if we're all honest, we all have. It's not pretty. Paul and I were on board with the weekly meetings about behavior because we wanted to be sure that things like Riley's actions didn't happen again, and we wanted to be kept in the loop. Riley has always been a kid who will stand up and say exactly what he thinks; he has strong opinions and is frequently convinced that he's right about a situation. But kids who stand up for themselves and their siblings and their friends sometimes get into altercations. Fortunately for us he's quite truthful and that's been very helpful in school situations for the teachers and the principal once they realize that.

It had some good offshoots; we learned how to work together with the teachers and that it can make such a huge difference if the teachers and directors know the parents and what's going on at home and everyone is on the same page. It helped us to watch for signs and gave us tools to deal with our boys and other kids as well. Though of course we're far from experts and lord knows we're not perfect.
quixoticfish
Oct. 18th, 2010 10:41 pm (UTC)
Thank you for posting this series. My first and (currently only) child is two years old and is currently going though preschool applications and campus visits. (Applying for preschool in Hawaii is not unlike applying for University.) You are bringing up a lot of good points about young children's behavior and social dymanics that I've never thought of before because my son isn't around other children much yet.
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