Friday, October 10, 2008

Dear Noah......you are suspended from school.......

This is a long emotional story.....so I am going to try hard to be brief and to the point.

I got a phone call yesterday afternoon about you Noah. The principal said you had been having a very rough day.....and I knew before you left that morning you probably should have stayed home as you had a rough morning even here at home. BUT you seemed to get a much better attitude before you left for school so I let you go.

Well.....at RECESS time again....which is an obvious time of the day that sends you into sensory overload...you had a few problems. It all started out with you playing some game with a few boys...and when the required number of FOUR kids grew to SIX kids someone said to you "hey you....get out of here!" When I asked you what you did or how it made you feel you said it made you feel a little sad...so you headed for the swings which is the one thing you can always count on to calm you...keep your grounded....soothe you.

I cannot remember the number of times I have told the staff you NEED swing time during school hours....and how it has been used for you in the past as part of your therapy within the public school setting as well as out. Same for having things at your hands to grab if you need to squeeze or pull while sitting at your desk. Only recently have they started to provide those items (NOT the swing time)......and they only provide those items when the teachers or aide thinks you need them.....not allowing you to grab those items at will. MANY times you do not remember to verbally tell the aide or teacher you need your squeeze stuff.

Anyway...back to the playground. When you got to the swings..another boy was on one and the others were taken. He asked you to hold his swing so he could go tell the teacher something. You held the swing but then got ON the swing as I am sure you did not understand that he intended to come back. I found out later the boy was going to the teacher to tell her YOU were BOTHERING HIM. No one seems to be able to specify HOW you were bothering him or what you were doing. I think you were just standing there waiting to get on the swings and he did not like that. You will not walk away from the swings easily if you think there is a chance you will get on one.

SO you were on the swing and here came the teacher and boy. The teacher did not really offer any explanation up front....(first mistake).....instead LOUDLY (second mistake) telling you to GET OFF THE SWING NOAH! Eventually as you refused to get off the swing...she tried to tell you WHY...that the other boy had come over to tell on YOU to her that you were bothering him....and that it was still HIS turn to swing....blah blah blah....you got off the swing...never saying a word.......very upset (you still forget to use your words to TELL anyone what is on your mind). You apparently hit the boy in the chest......and picked up a wood chip and tried to cut him with it.....jabbing it at him on his arm or something. You flung the swing out really hard. The teacher thanked you for getting off the swing and then was going to escort you to the principle's office. You began flailing your arms around.....as you still resort sometimes to behaviors instead of words when you are upset. In the process of having a meltdown you hit the boy 2 more times and your arms hit the teacher knocking all her papers and stuff out of her hands. (NO one seems clear as to whether you HIT her on purpose or if she just got caught up in your flailing arms). BUT we all know hitting is not acceptable behavior and especially not a teacher.
Punishment for hitting a teacher is automatic 5-day suspension. However the principle did not want to give you 5 days but instead only 1 day. I don't know why. After tossing back and forth emails and since she did not have SUSPENSION paperwork ready for me when I came to pick you up....she has now changed it to "administrative leave" where you will be excused for the day and allowed to make up any missed work.

Here is what she said she heard happened:

Here are the events as I know and understand them from Noah, the other child, and the teacher. Noah did indicate to me that he did the "actions" listed below.

Noah took another child's swing and acted as if he was going to cut the child with a large wood chip. Noah was asked to stop swinging and he refused. The teacher asked again and he stopped. At that point, the teacher explained to Noah that the child had left the swing to get the teacher because Noah was bothering him. Noah was told the swing would need to be given back to the other child so what had happened could be discussed. Noah begain to flail and shout that he did not want to give the swing back. This is when the teacher was struck and papers were knocked from her hands. He also hit the other child twice again. (The other child did have marks on his body from Noah's contact). The other child was asked to step back and Noah was asked to please get out of the swing. He did get out of the swing but pulled the swing back and threw it towards the teacher with force. He was told "thank you for getting out of the swing." The teacher accompanied him without incident to my office.

While Noah was sitting in my office, (the teacher returned to teach class) I had to step out to ask for the classroom paraprofessional to accompany us and process through the situation. When I stepped out of the office, Noah locked me out. My keys, wallet, and phone were on my desk. I asked him to let me back in and he did not. I had to get a key from elsewhere to get back in to speak with him.


Supposedly while in the principal's office she had to step out to get the paraprofessional to come to the office so you could all sit down and work through what just happened together. She told me that YOU locked her out of her office and her keys and phone and wallet were on her desk and you would not let her in. I am not sure why she mentioned her personal items on her desk other than she felt maybe you would be bothering them or steal something? I did not like the implication. You were sitting there you said waiting for her to return. You said she slammed the door shut. You sat still waiting on her to return. She says she came back and was locked out and when she asked you to let her in you refused...and she had to go get other keys to let herself into the room. I have to honestly wonder (since you don't lie to me or anyone else I know of) if the door is one that is always locked and once shut it is automatically locked behind you and she screwed up by forgetting to put her keys, phone and wallet into her pockets? I don't know why anyone would have their items like that including their WALLET out on their desk and not in their pocket or purse or locked up somewhere?

SO anyway...she worked through the entire episode with you...explaining about the hurt feelings and how you created an UNsafe environment for the other kids and yourself and the teachers by your behavior, etc.

When she called me she went on and on about how she had been telling you that YOU would NOT be invited to school on Friday...that you were NOT WELCOME there. AND then she went on and on about how disappointed she was with you and how I should do nothing all day Friday here at home but constantly reinforce what she said.....how YOU ARE NOT INVITED or welcome at the school. I emailed her later stating I was shocked that she, holding the dual role of both the school psychologist and principal would encourage the same behavior most schools now do not condone and in fact....encourage other kids to tell on another when one is making another child feel like an outcast. Not acceptable. NOT welcome.

You already feel like an outcast enough and I refuse to make you feel even more like an outcast or not acceptable because of behavior you do not even totally understand let alone are able to control. You are learning. I never see that as a disappointment....but I also do not wish for you to learn at anyone else's expense.

SO major changes are going to have to happen here. I have a lot to think about. I am going to have to meet with the staff soon if I can get it arranged with them to see where they stand and what ALL our options are. This particular principal has mentioned to me over and over again...how she does not think it in your best interest if I would homeschool you again. I guess she forgets you are where you are today because I did homeschool you for a few years...because of these same issues within a public school before. So while she will support any decisions I make...she always throws in her opinion as to what she feels is in your best interest. However, she also said they cannot allow you to remain in school if you hit teachers or kids.

SO her opinion then of what is in your best interest would no longer even be relevant.

A few emails were sent back and forth.

ONE of my many is this one:

I asked Noah what he thought we could all do to avoid having episodes like today (hitting a peer or teacher) from happening again......and he said what we all are probably thinking......stay inside at recess....doing homework or reading. Now that would be fine....but we also have to remember Noah has been required to SIT all morning along with the rest of the kids.....and his "sensory" issues have not really been met. He is already going into recess time overloaded.....containing all that inside his body. Release is inevitable.....and Noah naturally seeks out the behavior that calms him and soothes him.

Being in an INCLUSIVE classroom does not always allow him the freedom to do repetitive sounds or motions he does here at home for example when working with me.......which keeps him on task and sane. Being in an inclusive classroom so far has also not allowed him the means to go take a SWING break if needed......time to just go MOVE his body to get it all out of his system. Noah can do well and "fit in" most of the time....but he has definite moments where he NEEDS to move his body....in ways that satisfy his sensory issues.

When Noah first started preschool he could not sit at all for anything. At home and at school to get him to stay on task we would have him work with a visual timer and after his timed work was complete (starting out at 1 minute at a time of sitting)...he got to do something PHYSICAL/sensory.....to RELEASE that energy that was built up inside of him from having to sit with all his senses contained for a period of time. This was very difficult and was very slow to progress.

Many times in kindergarten they tried to punish Noah by removing his recess and it backfired. WHY? Because he had no way to physically release that energy that had built inside of him all day. And that was only for a half day!

We have to understand that Noah does not just have autism....he also carries the diagnosis of SENSORY INTEGRATION DISORDER as well as GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER....on TOP of the AUTISM and his speech/language delay.

This means Noah has true physiological NEEDS where he cannot control his body's natural instinctive response to outside stimulus. He has to learn this. This is very time consuming. When he is "overloaded" and required to "sit/contained" for a period of time.....all that energy builds inside of him seeking release. With Noah over the years his release has always been PUSHING....hitting.....especially before he became verbal. However even though Noah is now verbal....he seems to lose the ability to vocalize his needs or concerns or frustrations to someone WHEN something is happening. Right at that moment his body instinctively reacts.....and before he can stop it he has lashed out. Yes most times he will know he did something wrong after the fact. During the time he is oblivious. He also does not truly understand WHY hitting is WRONG. I tried to go over it with him tonight again and again.....he seemed totally lost and confused when I asked him WHY he should NOT hit. WHY was it wrong?

Slowly Noah became better at sitting for longer periods of time but he still required numerous breaks to do physical things (exercises.....different maneuvers to provide that sensory input and release his body needed). This allowed him and still does allow him to COPE and HANDLE events in the rest of the day.......especially events that come up that do not go the way he thinks they should go. Like today.

His OT therapist as I mentioned before had told me on the phone maybe the school could make sure Noah gets SWING TIME every day.....time just by himself with no outside stimuli......to swing and release his body's tenseness.

Recess has never worked well for Noah and it seems to be a huge problem for him this year. Personally I don't want him to go out at recess with the other kids anymore.....but I do want him to still get some time to PHYSICALLY MOVE his body or push or pull something.....spin.....swing.....something to satisfy his needs so he can tolerate hiccups in his daily routine while at school and in the school day as well as stressors that would set him off into some sort of rage or fit.

I don't have all the answers and I am not sure what the school can provide or is capable of providing. But I do know this is a true need of Noah's....has always been a need and will likely always be a need. As he gets older he has done and will continue to hopefully do better with learning more inconspicuous ways he can handle his sensory overload. Right now this reminds him of Kindergarten when he was in a regular classroom there too......and it just all became too much. ACADEMICALLY he is ahead.....that is not the issue I am talking about. Socially and emotionally he has a ways to go...he CAN learn...but I am not sure the school will be able to provide what he needs so he can cope during the regular school day. When I ask Noah why he does what he does he does not know. When I ask him how his body felt right before he hit anyone today he said "it feels like it wants to PUSH." This has been the same answer Noah has given since he was very young. Before he became verbal it was obvious that was the reaction his body had as that was the reaction he had.

Many autistic children do seemingly "mean" or "wrong" things and people think they are just being bratty and just ticked off because they are not getting their way. While we all know and understand as adults that the world doesn't always work OUR way....autistics ...even adults.....have a very difficult time understanding let alone accepting this. Noah used to go up and PUSH kids and BODY SLAM them because it felt good to HIM and he liked that....so he figured anyone else would as well. He had no understanding of that being wrong. Same for other autistic children I have seen when they go up and smile while pushing another child down. They know it is wrong but cannot stop smiling......almost laughing about it. It has everything to do with what is going on within their bodies and what sensory issues need to be released. It is not something they can instinctively control like we can. They have to learn how to control it....it never comes naturally to them.

Tomorrow I will also NOT repeatedly tell Noah he is NOT INVITED to school per your suggestions. I was quite surprised when you as the school psychologist as well as principal would encourage the same methods most schools tell students to REPORT on another student when one is making another feel as an outcast. This incites bad feelings, anger...this is what later builds in a child and they go into a school and blow other kids heads off.

Noah feels like an outcast to begin with many times in his regular day. He is aware now that he is different in many ways. I am thankful he still thinks that is a good thing and not a bad thing. I am not going to make him be filled with resentment or anger over being made to feel inadequate again for behaviors of his that he truly has a physiological hard time restraining let alone understanding.

You are free to your opinions on this and if you want to think he is just "acting out" because of any number of reasons.....I can more than easily provide you with medical documentation from many sources to show you it is in fact quite the opposite.

I have to say I am not very comfortable with Noah returning to school. I feel we have set him up for failure as we have yet to come to a solution which will PREVENT these episodes from occurring in the future....which will mean if it happens again he would likely get expelled.

I am sorry Mrs. _______ you also are so "disappointed." Having a child such as Noah I can honestly say I have never felt "disappointed" in him. ... he is a joy and offers so much to me and those around him. I understand he is different and has specific issues and needs....but I do not waste time being disappointed when he cannot do something the exact same way everyone else can or is expected of him. I know he will get it eventually or come up with a better way. I am very proud of him for all the progress he has made over the years and each time he fails only means he is learning and that is a good thing....nothing to be disappointed about. I however do not wish to put anyone else at risk for the sake of Noah learning something.

I feel bad for Mrs. ______ the classroom aide. She truly does seem to understand Noah and almost cried when she brought him out for me to pick him up. She is afraid I think he will not be returning to school. I imagine you are too. She said it best when hugging him before he left she said to Noah " Do you understand that I am not disappointed in you?.....that I am not happy with what you did but I still care about you?" And she told him she would miss him a lot and hugged him and Noah almost cried then too.

Noah is a boy with many confusing behaviors even I or himself do not always totally understand. But at 9-1/2 years and counting I can now officially apparently be classified as an "expert" in autism if I pressed it. I can see what he needs....I have outlined most of it here or have mentioned it before.

I am open to suggestions.

and I sent this (part of another email to the principal...yeah I am wordy)

AND regarding your opinion on homeschooling....I understand you do not feel it in Noah's "best interest" to be homeschooled and yet he would not even be where he is today and as strong academically if he had not been homeschooled so it was and is not and would not ever be a BAD thing for Noah or not in his best interest. To have a one-on-one teacher? Come on....it is ideal for ANYONE. SO I assume you are referring to the so-called "social" aspects of it all.....and to be honest......Noah gets PLENTY of other social situations in his lifetime outside of school......where he can learn in a more "controlled" fashion with direct immediate input....what is right and wrong and what to do or not to do. FOR EVERYONE's safety this is ideal and needed and probably the only way he can handle social settings still. I know everyone waits for the day when he can be turned loose to just KNOW what to do like all the other kids......but we have to also realize that could be a long way down the road.....or Noah may always need someone to remind him of these simple things over and over.....that may be a possibility.

As far as the social situations he is being exposed to within the school I have to be honest and say I am not sure they are all that helpful as of yet for Noah. He has learned a lot of bad words in the school he never heard around me or my family .....he has seen other behavior that is wrong. He does not always understand those things but can be good at repeating those things which of course then causes him to get into trouble. He is also approaching the age where other kids KNOW he has issues and KNOW he can easily be talked into doing things inappropriate as he will not verbally tell on them and he can get into trouble. For example there has been another student who in the past tried to get Noah to PEE in the sink or trashcan in the bathroom rather than the toilet or urinal. Now if Noah had done so.....he obviously would have been tattled on and gotten into trouble. Do you see my point? I am thankful in most situations Noah continues to do or try to do what I have taught him and that is to just avoid being around those kids altogether...do not listen to them......etc.

So yes I am aware of your strong feelings against homeschooling but I will always be a strong supporter of it for anyone including Noah. He did not get where he is today by accident. He did not reenter the public classroom setting deficient academically in any way. He did not get to where he could handle what he can today on his own in social situations or sitting in a classroom....etc. Homeschooling served him well and if that is what he needs again for awhile than I don't care how anyone else might feel about it......including myself.......I would have to do what is needed or best for Noah for that period of time. I am not sure how anyone could equate that to not in a child's best interest.....providing for them what is best for their specific needs. Homeschooling allows much more freedom to do much more for Noah than a public classroom ever could or seems to be willing to do. He would not suffer or not learn how to EXIST and handle our world if he was homeschooled which I think is your fear. Just the short time he was homeschooled helped prepare him very well to handle all that goes on in his environment so much better than he was ever able to before.

BUT I am not saying I will yank him and homeschool him. I want to find out what all the options are for Noah and if the school can somehow change this entire recess issue to help prevent situations from coming up in the future like they did yesterday. Again I feel we need to meet to discuss all the options before I can make an informed decision.

I want Noah to succeed. I want him to avoid beginning to dread school......walking on eggshells the entire time at school. It is possible in our world today to reduce or eliminate stressors so one can better cope and handle their immediate world. Right now I think that is a need of Noah's. I think over time with more and more exposure he may be able to slowly become more and more tolerant of outside stimuli within a classroom setting.....etc. BUT we may have to be realistic and also realize he may not handle those situations well. That does not mean he will not be successful as an adult....or in the world. We have many successful human beings in the world today who are not all that social or avoid super social and stressful situations. They are probably smarter than we give them credit for as they learned a long time ago they needed to avoid that to survive and be as stress-free as possible. This allows them to easily cope and thrive.

Being in a public classroom is not the only route to success. I want Noah to continue to embrace his differences ...not resent or hate them one day. I want him to always feel it is more than okay to be a square peg that won't fit into a round hole. As long as he can do what he needs to what difference does it make? When we shove a child like Noah within a regular classroom with everyone else however.....too often everyone is too busy trying to chip away the square edges of the peg to make it more round like everyone else.....and the spirit of the child is destroyed in the process. Special accommodations are overlooked or ignored altogether the closer they think the square peg is to becoming ROUND like everyone else.


and thus another chapter ends as one begins in our lives.....

12 comments:

Old Lady Lincoln said...

I'm so sorry all of this is happening. He was doing so well. I wonder what it takes for them to understand when he needs some time to unwind. I hope all of this gets worked out for his and your benefit. By that I mean what works the best for you two. Hang in there, it will get better. Love you both.

Melinda said...

well he is still doing well.....just does the wrong things from time to time.

motherofanothernoah said...

Hey,

I would homeschool him and get him social with kids some other way. The school seems to be losing him and not understanding him. Don't let anyone bully you into putting him into public school. Look into your heart and you will know the right answer, go with your gut feelings. Everything you wrote was dead on right....everything, and being around mean kids without proper guidance is not going to make him more social, and setting him up for failure isn't going to bring him success. He will learn better with one on one attention.....who wouldn't!!!!

Betsy said...

I feel for you! I'm very sorry this has happened. I can relate to so much of it with our Alex. He needs to swing! He can't verbalize anything and has trouble communicating and then when the anxiety boils over, he has a major meltdown. I know from experience how frustrating it can be to deal with these adults who have all the book knowledge and education of how to teach kids with special needs but they don't seem to be able to apply it in a flexible way and tailor it to each child and their needs. I'm sure you are emotionally exhausted. Noah is a great, wonderful child with so much potential! I'll be thinking about you as you work through this with the school. I hope they see your points and become more sensitive to handling these situations more appropriately!
Hugs! xxoo

Jack and Joann said...

I know this sounds simplistic but if there is an aide in the classroom, why can't that aide take Noah out for his very own alone recess break before the other students in the class have their break. It would also allow the aide time to observe/comment on Noah's academic work for that day.

Then while the other students head to recess Noah could either read in the classroom or school library something that he likes. A quiet time in the library might be just what he needs to maintain composure during the day.

Wondering about the principal though.....I think I would just up and ask her about the door slamming shut and locking?, the wallet, etc.

Something doen't look right here because she is backtracking on the consequences. Maybe to cover her own mistakes in this incident.

Jack and Joann said...

The above comment and this is just for you. No need to post either one.

Have a good weekend. Peace.

Melissa said...

I agree with Joann about the aide taking him out at recess at a different time. That makes a lot of sense. I would also see if the superintendent can get involved, someone above the principal level. She doesn't need to be giving her two cents when she doesn't even know Noah.

I love you both....

Melinda said...

Melissa:

well the superintendent is worse than the principal. I mean she is okay as a person but not even as friendly or lenient as the principal is. She does not know Noah at all.

The principal (since she is also the school psychologist) DOES know Noah a bit as she is the one who tested him before school last year...and is directly involved in all his IEP meetings and other meetings and such at school. She also apparently goes and observes him from time to time....but yes....her "knowing" of him would be limited.

If I wanted to yank him to homeschool him I know the principal would support that decision even though she may not agree with it. I don't know if the superintendent would cause me any fight or not....but it is my choice in the end and I am sure I could get medical support to back my decision up if needed.

This is the only school so far that has not given up on Noah right away. I do have to say that. They do continue to try to work with him over and over again.

Osh said...

Oh Melinda, I am in tears for so many reasons. This is just too familiar.

Who is in the IEP meetings besides you advocating for Noah? Who is in there to make sure that the sensory items and accommodations are available to Noah when he needs them and not when the teacher/aide thinks he needs them?

This sounds horrible, but Noah's principal better get her staff on board or you are going to have grounds for some legal action.

My heart hurts for you, because this is so hard. My heart hurts for Noah, because another child should not be having to go through this.

HUGS

Melinda said...

Osh

well it is always JUST me now in the IEP meetings as an advocate for Noah. In Colorado I also had a state behavioral therapist who came in to advocate for him. I am currently in the process of trying to find someone similar here in Ohio.....so hopefully I can get them involved.

I think part of the problem here too is the fact that Noah does so well in most cases (by observation from the staff and teachers) when he is in class....etc....I think sometimes they think he will "get over" his needs or that he does not really even have some of the needs he does. I have provided documentation to prove it all....but I honestly think they think he does not need some of the things anymore that I keep requesting he needs.

SO.....it is time to get others involved yes.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry. I read here often but rarely comment.
I am sighing right now.....it has to be so hard. Poor guy.

The bottom line is that he needs more support in social situations. They owe you-how many times has he wandered off on their watch? If something happened to him, they would have a major lawsuit on their hands. Time to start getting it to be the way YOU want it. Go all the way if you have to.

kristi said...

I am so sorry about this. It just breaks my heart. TC has an aide with him at all times. They need to do what is best for Noah.