Invariably there comes a time when you must hear ALL about what your kid has done wrong at school, which I liken to the “airing of the grievances” at Festivus in “Seinfeld.” This can go several ways … the teacher can tell of events that happened, the teacher can tell of how she or he handled it and your child’s response, or the teacher can tell of how WRONGED he or she was by your child.
Early on, we had IEPs that heavily involved the latter, which I can now look back on as comical but at the time were tear-inducing. Once, a teacher evacuated the classroom because Jewel was “out of control” in telling her she wouldn’t do something (no punches or chairs thrown, just emotionally out of control). Yes, absolutely Jewel was in the wrong, she should not talk to anyone like that, she was not behaving in an acceptable manner. I get it, trust me, I get it, because welcome to my world, she ain’t just saving it for you at school. However, I don’t take my dog and myself and go in the backyard.
And what have you taught her peers, with whom she is already behind the eight-ball socially? Have you made her feel safe? (How safe is it to leave an out-of-control kid in a classroom?) Have you made her feel accepted? (The thought of all those kiddos being paraded by mine to “get away” from her still strongly hurts my heart) Have you made her feel competent? (Well, there is no way she “learned” anything beyond that you can’t control her.)
Which brings me to this scene in “Animal House”:
I tell teachers and other educators that the issue here is not whether Jewel broke a few rules. Sometimes I even add in the “she did” and a wink. So stipulated … what is important is what led to this? What preceded her outburst?
Was she not able to process all the directions in time, step by step, and was now frustrated? Was that humming noise from the boy two rows over making her think she had a bee in her brain? Was the lemon smell of her Smencil reminding her of the bathroom cleaner at the OC Fair, and not in a good way? During times of transition (from listening to a teacher to starting a writing assignment, for instance), neurotypical kids can tune out distractions and go through multistep directions instinctively. For those on the spectrum, this can be panic-inducing. And so they may act out.
The focus shouldn’t be on the acting out, it should be on the acting in. Jewel will learn how to process better by practice and concentration, but I let educators know they can help by checking in with her, slowing it down if need be, enlisting peers, and in rare cases modifying work. If she is escalated, place demands on hold (“Don’t poke the bear!”). And, please, don’t turn it into a power struggle. It’s tough, but you have to put ego aside for the sake of teaching Jewel how to be accepting and considerate.
I know as a gen-ed teacher you may think you “didn’t sign up for this.” But the law is clear … all students with a disability are entitled to a “free and appropriate education in the least-restrictive environment” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). As Jewel’s parent and advocate, I will work with you any way I can, because it’s the end game that I have my eye on: Jewel succeeding in and at life.