Monday, September 12, 2011

When the "Big Bad World" Attacks

I need to vent. I need to get this story out. I need to document a description of a phone call I had earlier today, so when all the dust settles, I can be reminded where it all started. So, if you aren't in the mood for reading a venting post, I understand. Hopefully the next one won't be like that.

This afternoon, I received a phone call from The Academy of Fine Arts. This is the school that Simon takes his music lessons. We started going there in November, 2010 and he has really been VERY successful in their programs. Well, this past Saturday was the start of the new term, and we arrived Saturday afternoon for his Harmony Road 1 class. This is the first in this series and he is now actually learning to play piano. He's learning to read music. He's really on the road to becoming a musician that we as his family know is where he wants to be. We hadn't been at the school since June.

We walk into the classroom. The pianos are different (the silver ones he used all last year [even when he was in this room are no longer there]). There is a different teacher. It's a packed class. There's a different teacher. None of the kids we were with last year are present. There's a new teacher. And the pianos in the back (where we typically sit so if a meltdown occurs, we are slightly more isolated) were taken. And, did I mention it's a different teacher?

The class starts well enough -- he's not behaving perfectly, but nothing out of the ordinary. Then he body drops when the other kids are dancing. I try to pull him up, but accidentally scrape his hand (scratch it hard enough that it's actually bleeding a bit -- he must have caught my ring). That's where it started. He begins to scream. I keep him there for a little while, recognize we have a problem and we go to the bathroom to wash his hands. When we come back, he's still upset and crying emphatically (but no longer really screaming), and we leave the classroom for a few minutes and go for a walk. We walk around the lobby for a few minutes. We walk in the halls for a few minutes. Then we go back into the classroom and Simon does what I feel is fine for the rest of the class. He's doing what's asked of him. He's participating. He does his part at the whiteboard (all right -- he needed a bit of hand-over-hand to draw the circle, but that's not unexpected). When the class was over, I spoke with the teacher and explained that I truly believed that the problems we saw were due to the first class and that this class really is the right one for Simon. And I described his musicality by demonstrating his behavior towards the end of the class showing the power of his ear and being able to mimic the songs that he was hearing on the piano, naming the notes (mi re do on notes other than E, D, C which is how these kids think of these named notes per the earlier classes [note, despite having played piano for YEARS, I have NEVER taught him more than the classes]).

Overall, I didn't think it went pretty bad. In fact, when I came home, I told Kevin (believing this sincerely) that, for a first class, it went quite well!

Well, apparently, I was alone. The office called me today telling me that they received complaints from the other parents. "They couldn't hear the teacher". "A child who can't behave in a classroom shouldn't be in this type of class". Even the teacher had said that she found it difficult to teach with him behaving in this way. The administrator commented that she knows that ALL children have meltdowns from time to time but because of his autism we need to consider pulling him out of this class and going in a different direction. The administrator talked to his teacher from last year (prior to calling me) and the teacher commented that once he had a chance to acclimate last year, he was a wonderful and talented student. This teacher and I discussed his placement for this year as the semester was ending last year and we both agreed that this was the better class for him. And seeing him pick up on everything they were doing, despite his meltdown (which had a distinct cause) tells me that we had made the right decision. The administrator has agreed to give it more time and see if he does better once he "has some time to acclimate to this class".

My instinct -- stand in front of this class on Saturday, tell these parents what they can do with themselves, and walk out, taking my business and money with me. But that won't accomplish ANYTHING. We looked long and hard for a music program for Simon and we found one here. I hate to pull him out just as he's reaching a point where he can make such measurable progress because of the ignorance and impatience of others. So, it's time for me to put on my "Parent Advocate" hat. It's time for me to educate these parents. Before class on Saturday, I plan on explaining to the class that my son is autistic. I plan to remind them that autism is NOT contagious and affects 1 in 70 boys in the United States alone. Simon is more severely affected than many others in many respects, but he is ahead in many other ways. Last week, a specific moment set him off and I will work harder to minimize that happening again. I will seat us in the back of the classroom so that he can be less disruptive and more isolated when and if a meltdown occurs. But he does have meltdowns. He does react to things that go differently than how he is prepared for them to go. And as he understands what is expected, he complies. I plan to mention how he THRIVED in the music classes last year after a week or two and was never the reason that another student or parent couldn't hear the teacher. He always waited his turn (unlike some of his NT classmates) and tried everything that was asked of him. And he made "friends". On Saturday, he walked into a full classroom with no familiar faces other than mine, including the teacher. Over the next couple of weeks, that will change. He loves coming here and this is the class where he belongs.

And I'll keep the comment of "And if you don't like it, you can just )$(@$% it!" to myself.


  1. you go mama!!! OMG I am crying for your child. Why can't people just accept differences. The middle school bus has no idea that we got the most senior and best (love her) driver on our route because of my kid. She accepts him for who he is and never asks any more.

  2. I love that you're going to stand up and say something and educate the parents on what is really going on. I wish everyday for more awareness to be put out there! You go mama!!! :)

  3. I'm glad you are going to get up and say something at the next class. Educating them on Autism, on how your child may react differently to certain things (like the new people, new teacher, new pianos, etc) might go a really long way.
    I can see this from the other parent's point of view, too, though. If I had paid for a class for my child, and my child was unable to hear the teacher or get anything out of the class, because another child was having a meltdown, then I can understand them being upset. I know your child has every right to be there, but their child also has the right to be able to hear and learn in that classroom. I think it goes to the "Your rights end where mine begin" type of thing.
    I think that talking to them and letting them know a little bit about Autism and your child, will open their eyes and their hearts a little more to accept him. Perhaps you can suggest they leave one of the back pianos open for you, as well, so that you can exit quietly/quickly if he has a meltdown that might disturb the whole class.
    Good luck! I really hope it works out for you!