Michelle (msagara) wrote,

Grade One, continued

Let me take a minute to describe the composition of my son's class at the start of the grade one year: there were sixteen boys and seven girls. Most of the girls who had started school in my son's year had been sent into the French Immersion stream; most of the boys had not. So there was some imbalance. (My son's grade two teacher was horrified by this imbalance, but I'm getting ahead of myself).

My son hadn't really interacted with all of the kids in his kindergarten class, and the one boy he really liked was a year younger. So he was now in a classroom of, as far as he was concerned, strangers. The young blonde boy who was determined not to be The Victim was not in his class, which was good. The child did continue to cause problems for the children in the class he did end up in, which was bad. There was, however, one boy in my son's class who disliked my son, and who tended to be quite physical.

My son, as I've mentioned, was pretty good at running around and making noise. He was therefore attracted to children who would also run around and make noise; some of these children did not actually want anything to do with my son. One in particular was not, as they say in classrooms, inclined to 'use his words', and often used his little fists instead. But it was very hard for the teacher, because--as she told me when I discovered one incident--no matter how hard she tried to keep him away from the physically rougher kids, he gravitated towards them. Why? Because the noise, to him, was more interesting and more lively -- I think he associated it with having fun. Or play. He was also very physical, and had some difficulty separating good physical interaction from aggressive or mean interaction on their part.

So the boys to whom he naturally gravitated at the beginning of the year were also the boys most inclined to physical bullying.

There was one girl in his class who didn't mind my son. She was aggressive in her own way, but she was determined. For instance, if she walked up to my son and said hello, and he failed to hear her (which he did, because he failed to hear anyone saying hello), she would say it again, loudly; if he failed to hear that, she would snort in disgust and smack him on the shoulder or the back of the head and say, "I SAID HI." And he would turn, and say, "Oh, hi", looking slightly surprised to see her. He wasn't upset, on the other hand, and would often then talk with her. She decided she liked my son (not a crush) so she'd interact with him once she'd gotten his attention; she just didn't wait to get his attention.

That was, sadly, necessary, and I have to admit that I thought it was funny--mostly because it didn't upset him at all.

But for the most part, he felt quite isolated in the classroom for the first half of the year, and it was exhausting for him; I've mentioned that at 2:30 in the afternoon he would zone out and start to run around the class shooting invisible storm troopers. He did this pretty much every afternoon.

Now imagine that you are the teacher of this class of twenty-three, and you have one boy who you understand is going to do this because he's incapable of sitting still at that point. You still have to, oh, take the other twenty-two kids in hand, and they have to sit for that hour. It's understandably hard on the other fifteen boys, because this one child is allowed to run around and make noise, while they're expected to sit and do work.

As the Teacher, it is important to get across to those other twenty-two kids that my child is not the Teacher's Pet. He is not allowed this behaviour because of your insane favouritism. As the Teacher, you are also trying hard to integrate my son into your class in a way that doesn't imply he's inferior, stupid, or to be pitied.

How are you going to approach that?

I ask this question in this fashion because I want to convey the enormity of the task; it is not, and was not, simple. As the parent of an ASD child, I desperately wanted my son to feel at home in his classroom--but as a parent, period, I also understood the need for the other children to feel the same way. And I was well aware that some of my son's behaviours, preferences, and reactions could be very, very unsettling for those other children.

Especially the sitting in the lap or randomly touching. At six years old, on the other hand, it's not nearly as threatening as it might have been at twelve or thirteen, and by that time, he had internalized enough that random sensory touch input was no longer instinctively required. It was, however, the only certain way to get his attention at the end of the school day.

My son's grade one teacher started by trying to build some connection for my son between he and the classroom activities, if not the children themselves; she understood that she had to make the class a safe space for my son - while simultaneously making it a safe place for the other twenty-two children.

The first thing my son's grade one teacher asked us, during our first interview, was therefore what he liked to do at home. At this point he didn't interact at all with other children in class (except in a disruptive way), and he was clearly uncomfortable. We told her that he liked to play on the computer. The classroom was equipped with an imac (one of the very old ones, I think third generation). Children were given a block of time on the computer, and she suggested that she could double the time he was allowed to spend playing on it.

She asked a few other questions and listened to what we had to say; she accepted that my son had not yet developed a clear sense that what she knew and what he knew were distinctly separate entities. I explained the kindergarten situation, and she nodded. She didn't seem hugely surprised by this--but she seldom seemed surprised by much, and she started to work on routines and interactions with my son that would make the class seem more accessible.

There was one thing which she hadn't even considered.

She was, as I mentioned, used to teaching classes that contained between four and six students, all of whom had developmental difficulties of one type or another. She was accustomed to attempting to meet the needs of the students she taught. What she wasn't accustomed to, in a much larger class of developmentally normative children, was the parent response that would follow her attempts to reach out to my son.

Two days after this interview, the mother of one of the girls came storming into the classroom after school. Why? Because this mother had heard that another child had been given more computer time than her own daughter, and she demanded to know why.

Technically, I don't believe teachers are supposed to discuss the difficulties of one child with the parents of another. I'm not certain, though--I never asked. I only know that this happened because the teacher was so surprised by it that she mentioned it to me. She didn't, however, mention the name of the mother in question to me. Which was fine, because the mother in question cornered me the next day and told me in no uncertain terms what she'd done.

The mother in question is a woman I grew to like--but she paid careful attention to every single thing her daughter said had happened in class, and she was determined to make sure that her daughter was never, ever left out of anything educational (and also told us why: she had been so ill or absent with breast cancer that she felt her daughter's early needs had been very neglected while she was gone, and she wasn't going to neglect anything else Ever Again).

So my son's grade one teacher had to balance her attempts to meet his needs with the reaction meeting any of them was likely to get from other parents.

She didn't, however, rescind the computer time. Over the next few weeks, she found the volunteer that would hover over my son to coax him into doing work. I offered to be that volunteer, but she wanted someone who was tied to the school environment, and not the home environment; she felt this was really important.

My son's reading and math skills were good, and he did well in those--when he could be reminded to focus on the work at hand. The reminder, however, was increasingly necessary; if he didn't have someone sitting on him and drawing his attention to the work on his desk, he would zone out almost instantly.

My son, for some reason, hated library time (Wednesday afternoon). If he was going to have a serious meltdown, it would occur in the library. I offered to keep him at home on those days, but the teacher felt that it wasn't necessary, and I (barely) agreed. (My mother reminds me: He hated the library because they had rules about which books could be withdrawn from the library, and it was categorized by age group. But he was only interested in some of the higher level books (he could read very well at this point), and he found it frustrating, because the age limits made no sense to him. In the end, they removed this rule, and he was allowed to peruse and sign out the books that he was actually interested in if he could read them, which he could).

I know I sound strictly logical or rational when I'm writing about these things now--but I also know that I was a wreck. I wanted to trust these other adults with my son, but I hated the thought that he was so upset and I was completely unable to help him. I knew how to make his home a safe space--I knew he didn't feel that school was. But in part, this was because school was unfamiliar. If he could learn the routine, if we could explain the reasons for the routine logically and rationally, and if it remained consistent, some of that stress might lessen.

And I knew that the teacher wanted the same thing for my son: she wanted him to be comfortable in her classroom. None of our discussions ever involved academic work. I had no ambitions for his academic performance, because I knew he was bright; all I wanted was that he learn to be comfortable or happy within the school environment. Because I wasn't in that environment, and his teacher pretty much defined it, she was the better judge--but boy was it hard to make myself believe it.

My son, however, did seem to like her. In fact, all of the kids seemed to like her.

Tags: asperger child
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