Wednesday, September 19, 2012

School is "Normal"

Our family's life is NOT "normal".  It's eccentric.  It's planned.  It's busy.  And it's all about "routine".

On August 27, our new routine began.  School started.  And "school" now means something different than it has for the last 2.5 years.  It means going down the street to our neighborhood school.  It means that all 3 siblings are in the same building.  It means that we are just like everyone else.

But are we?

In the 3.5 weeks of school, Big Brother has been caught lying and punished appropriately (which is still ongoing).  Ballerina left the sheltered world of special education and is expected to comply in a classroom with 16 other students while Music Man is next door to her in the special education classroom with a slide and a swing clearly visible in the room, something that she doesn't get.  Music Man has those comforts available to him, but he has a teacher literally in his face from the beginning of the day until the end until he shows himself capable of independent work.

All three of my children are being more challenged in school then they have ever been.

For Big Brother, the challenges are more academic.  He's very bright and has very high expectations of himself.  But he does have his academic shortcomings which are truly coming to light as they are being addressed.  I think he's finding this very frustrating because he doesn't like it when something just doesn't come naturally to him.  But as he learns these new materials, his confidence will blossom.

Music Man has also seen less of a change.  He is used to being in a classroom setting.  He's used to learning much during circle time and transitioning to a group table to do assignments, as that's what he's been doing since he turned 3.  And from what I can see, he is handling the transition to the new school year the best of my 3 kids.

Ballerina has the hardest change of all.  She started kindergarten -- a huge milestone for all kids.  And she left the protection of special education (even though she still has the support of an IEP) and she now has to meet the expectations of her teacher.  And her teacher will not back down (for which we are VERY grateful).  But she has had a great deal of difficulty adjusting to her new school.  She is regularly placed in Time Out (currently averaging 2-3 times per day).  She wants to do things her way and she really doesn't understand why she can't do things the way she wants.

Today though, was her best day.  She only had one problem.  She didn't want to come in from recess and she, once again, found herself in Time Out when she arrived back in the classroom.  But, unlike most days, when the Time Out was over, she did what was asked of her and really didn't require any additional disciplining the rest of the day.

We will be evaluating Ballerina's transition in a review meeting next month.  At that time, hopefully she will have finally found her comfort zone and will be more compliant with her teacher allowing her to be more comfortable with her peers.  I'm really not pushing her academically right now......she is ahead of many of her peers in reading and the math will come quickly once she understands what her teacher is asking of her.  Right now, her behavior is my biggest concern.

So, about 1 month into the school year I can say that things are going about as well as planned.  Dad seems to feel that things are going better than expected, but I'm not sure I agree.  In some respects, he's right.  But I wish we were further along than we are.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Honesty and Integrity

Today's post has nothing to do with Autism or the twins.

Today's post is about Big Brother.

Today's post is about trust.

You see, yesterday I learned something about my first born child.  I learned that he has been lying to me.  I learned that he's been lying to me for quite some time.  He wasn't telling big lies.  It was a little lie.  Over and over again.  And now that I know, Dad and I quickly needed to decide what should be done about it.

As is often the case, I learned of these lies by accident.  I had asked someone a question, and the response that came back to me told me more than I was already aware of.  This person thought I was asking them about something that had just happened, when in fact, I was just thanking them for telling me something else a few days before.

At our elementary school, they have a system for everyone's accountability of their behavior.  Everyone starts the day on "Green" and for transgressions their color changes.  There is Yellow, Blue and Red.  Yellow is simply a warning, blue is more severe, and Red, well, you don't want to go there.  The rules are clearly defined out at start of the year and expectations grow as the year progresses.  Each student receives awards over time for good behavior that are not available to students who behave poorly.

I have, from kindergarten, asked Big Brother to tell me where he was on this color scale at the end of the day.  There were a couple of days in kindergarten where he had to change his color, usually only one step for very mild transgressions.  These were usually met with a requirement of him fully explaining (separately) to myself and to Dad about what he did and why he had to make the change to his color for the day.  Depending on what had happened, sometimes there was a more severe punishment, but this seemed to be sufficient for his actions.  He was punished at school by having to stand in front of the class and make the color change.  He always seemed to find this humiliating and served as it's own form of punishment, just as it is designed to do.

Well, in first grade, he never had to change his color.  He went through the whole year on Green.  He never reported any transgressions and he was rewarded for such good behavior at the end of the year with a Wii game -- Lego Harry Potter.  At least that's what we told him.  Truthfully, we were planning on giving it to him at the end of the school year anyway, but he earned this because he had spent the whole year on Green.

Since starting second grade, we were noticing him telling us he was changing his color quite frequently.  In the first 10 days of school, we were told of him changing his color 3 times.  So, we offered him an incentive......if he were to maintain a Green card for the week, he would get an extra 15 minutes of Dad reading Harry Potter to him before bed.  We all agreed and thought it would be a good idea.

On Wednesday, I asked Big Brother if he had stayed on Green for the day, and he told me he had.  I gave him a high-5 and we headed to the car and I didn't think twice about it.  I just left it alone.  Yesterday, I heard from someone who was telling me about how he had changed his color for the previous 2 days (Wednesday and Thursday) and why it had happened on both occasions.  This message also told me about several occasions of him changing his color in first grade that he neglected to tell me about.  Big Brother wasn't home, and I was grateful.  I was grateful because I wanted to STRANGLE him!  I notified Dad (who was at soccer practice with Big Brother) and on the way home, Dad pointed out to Big Brother that both Dad and I now KNEW he had been lying to us for quite some time.

Big Brother was mortified.  He has been very upset since this happened and has wanted to know how we found out (which we aren't planning on telling him).  He was so upset last night that he didn't want to come and talk to me to say goodnight, afraid of what I would say or do to him.  We have made it very clear that he is still loved.  We have also made it very clear that we do not tolerate lying.  We have pointed out that, if he had told us what had happened rather than lying about it, chances are he wouldn't have even been punished, or if he was, it wouldn't be anything severe.  But now he is being punished.  He's being punished for having to change the color of his card so frequently AND for telling us lies.

Here is what Dad and I have decided to do....

(1)  No Wii / Playstation / Computer for 8 days (next weekend).
(2)  We have been giving him Friday off for good behavior from his reading.  Not any more.
(3)  We are taking away Wii Lego Harry Potter for a month.  He was told he received it for his good behavior last year.  Since he wasn't so well-behaved, he shouldn't have it at all.

That is his tangible punishment.  However, there is the intangible side of it all.  He now needs to re-earn our trust.  It is my philosophy that we should trust our children, even knowing the possibility that they may not be always telling us the full truth.  Until they break that trust, we as parents should give them the benefit of the doubt.  Once that trust is broken, it is up to each family to decide what it takes and how long it will take for that trust to be re-earned.  It must take longer than the more tangible punishments.  But you have to allow your son and/or daughter to re-earn your trust.  And that's what Big Brother is about to do.  He is going to have to work VERY hard to make sure that he remembers what happens to people who don't tell the truth.

He's a good kid, and I truly believe he's sorry.  Now we need to be sure that this never happens again.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tough Mommy Moment

I know it's been a while since I posted here.....we had several computer issues that made it VERY difficult to write a post here (or anywhere).  But the computer's fixed and I have 15 minutes to sit down, so I want to pass along a story....

School has been in session for about 12 days so far.  We have been seeing ups and downs for all 3 kids.  But today I want to tell you about something that's been going on with Ballerina......

When kindergarteners (through second grade) at our school walk into school in the morning, they congregate in the "All Purpose Room".  They line up with their classes, socialize a bit and wait to be escorted to class. The kindergarteners started joining the first and second graders on the 2nd day of school.  On that day, Ballerina was escorted to the end of the line.  This way, she was able to hold the hand of a teacher to ensure there would be no elopement (we haven't had an issue with this for quite a while, but with a new school and new situations, you can never tell).  She was successfully escorted to class and a new routine was established.

When I say a new routine, I mean a new ROUTINE.  For Ballerina, we have a saying in our house...."Once makes a pattern".  Every detail of that procedure was cemented in her mind.  Ever since, she's been walking into the All-Purpose Room and walking to the back of the line, leaving plenty of space for her classmates to come in before her.  And, as more students arrive, she's been sliding back, making sure she's the last one on line.  I've been walking in with her and encouraging her to move forward and simply get in line when she arrives with her classmates arriving later to file in behind her.  But she really wanted to stay at the end of the line.  Since she wasn't causing trouble with this, everyone allowed her to get away with this.

Well, now it's the 3rd week of school and jobs are being assigned to each student in the class.  This includes the job of the "caboose".  The "caboose" is simply the last person on line, and everyone takes a turn there.  And, I have learned that her need to be last in line is not only at this first transition of the day, but every time the class lines up to transition from one place to another.  Because of that, we need to put a stop to the behavior.

Yesterday morning, I decided to start trying to put an end to this.  I got on the line myself, sitting "criss cross applesauce" (which is very uncomfortable to this nearly 41-year-old overweight Mom) and encouraged her to sit in my lap (with the approval of the para who was patrolling in the room).  She did this, and I thought we had made some real progress.  About 2 minutes later, another classmate arrived and sat behind me.  Ballerina kicked and screamed (which I [stupidly] was unprepared for) and she got up again and moved to the back of the line.  So, since she had experienced the success, I had to stop for the moment.  I went over to her and told her that she can NOT always be the last person on line.....that the middle of the line is fun.  I pointed out some of her classmates that she either talks about at home or who I have come to know from other means and how they were sitting and talking nicely together.  "This is what big kindergarten boys and girls do!" I explained and asked her if she was a girl or a boy (a favorite game of hers).  And I told her that I would see her later and left.

When I picked her up from school yesterday, her teacher and I had a short conversation about putting an end to this pattern.  I suggested trying to get there early enough so that she would be first on line so she still wouldn't be sandwiched between other children (which may have been part of the problem as she really isn't capable of articulating that kind of situation to me).  But I can't get into the school until 8:30.  There is a day care center on school property and those children are already in the school by that time.  There are 2 students in her class that attend that center, and they are always first on line.  So, despite knowing this and trying it this morning, we were still going to be the 3rd student on line, at least.

So, I did what I could do as a parent that I can't have the teachers or the paras do.  I forced the issue.  I sat down and had Ballerina sit on my lap.  I was restraining her (but not doing anything to cause harm).  I asked the next student to please sit behind Ballerina and continue the line behind us.  But Ballerina was going to do what was expected of her.....she was going to take her place in the middle of the line.  I was hoping that, once she realized I meant business, that she would back down.  But she didn't.  I was able to stop her (I think and hope) from kicking the other students around us (at the expense of myself) and she screamed most of the 15 minutes until it was time for her to be escorted to class.  Her teacher came over and I apologized, but told her that once I started, I couldn't stop.  Fortunately, she agreed and made sure that Ballerina went all the way to class in the middle of the line (despite her desperate attempts to migrate to the back).

This process attracted MANY stares, by both the other students and the paras.  By the time the teachers arrived, things seemed to have settled down a bit.  I felt terribly guilty because, like I said, I was doing something that would be illegal for the school staff to do.  I briefly talked to one of the paras trying to explain the situation.  She told me not to worry.....she too has an Autistic child and seeing what I was going through brought back painful memories.  She knows that sometimes it's necessary to force a situation and that I wasn't doing anything that would hurt my child.  I was VERY grateful to hear that because I was worried that, before the end of the day, Child Protective Services would be sitting at my front door to take my children away.

Also, Music Man's teacher came over to me (as I was a burned out bundle of nerves after Ballerina had left the room) and told me that it was OK and that she was walking to class, not quietly, but not fighting either.  I have sent a note to Ballerina's teacher to find out how this affected her day and have not yet heard back.  Hopefully, I didn't set a terrible tone for the rest of the day.

Sometimes things are more difficult than they need to be.  I know what I did was right because if I didn't do it, the situation would never change.  And I know Ballerina.  I know that sometimes you really have to force a situation to happen.  But I hate it when it happens.  And I hate it even more when I have to do it in public.  And it's even worse when I have to do this in front of her peers who may remember watching this for years to come.

When I picked up Ballerina from school, Mrs. R. (her classroom teacher) came up to me to tell me something......after recess, the class lines up to come inside to return to class.  Ballerina, as expected, went immediately to the back of the line.  She saw Mrs. R. and took her place in the middle of the line!!!!  She still tried to migrate to the back as they were walking to class, but she was walking in the middle of the line without much verbal complaint.  I still plan to keep pushing this tomorrow and Friday, but the message may be sinking in faster than I had anticipated.