We have been so lucky thus far in Cordy’s education. When she was diagnosed with autism, we were lucky to have her placed with a special needs preschool teacher who completely understood Cordy, what she needed, and how to bring this child out of her own mind to be with the rest of us. I’d argue that she possibly knew what Cordy needed more than we did.
When it was time to move on, that teacher knew where to send her and called in favors to have Cordy placed at a school on the other side of town where she knew the special needs pre-K teacher there would be the right fit. That teacher also continued nurturing Cordy, and prepared her for the road ahead. She then went to the special needs teacher for the elementary age kids, who quickly realized Cordy’s potential and got her on track for mainstreaming.
Our daughter has been surrounded by school professionals who have clicked with her and recognized her talents, and we’ve continued to be lucky. Last year was her first year of being fully mainstreamed, and first grade was an absolute success for her. I’ve witnessed other parents online fretting and stressed over IEP meetings and school issues, but we generally had no issues and sailed through each IEP meeting, all of us in agreement on what was needed and how well she was progressing.
Second grade, however, seems to be the wrench thrown into the well-oiled machinery.
Cordy had her first ever PEAK experience last week. For a reminder, PEAK is the school’s bad behavior process. It stands for Positive Efforts for Adjustment and Knowledge. Getting sent to PEAK involves missing at least a recess for isolated behavior issues, where the child sits in the PEAK room with a teacher overseeing them, and has to fill out a form addressing what they did wrong and how they will correct it for next time.
Last week she grabbed a boy around the neck while they were playing zombies at recess. She was protecting the other kids from the zombie, and the playing got a little too rough. Fair enough, I thought, she needs to know there are limits and even though she completely freaked out about it, I considered it an OK consequence. I was more excited that she was actually playing with other kids, and not spending her recess wandering around by herself.
Then last week she had another incident. This time she was laying on the ground when it was time to line up at the end of recess. When the principal came over and told her to stand up, she stuck her tongue out at her and ended up in PEAK again for it. Cordy couldn’t really explain why she did it, other than saying she wasn’t herself at that moment and an alien must have taken control of her. I was upset, but considered it a fairly minor offense and wondered if she was just having a hard day and couldn’t express it.
This Tuesday came word of another incident. This time, while standing in line for the pencil sharpener, she poked the girl in front of her in the elbow with her pencil. Well, stabbed really, since it broke the skin. Her second grade teacher was standing right there and couldn’t say if it was an accident or not. Cordy didn’t really know how it happened, either – she admitted she wished the other kids would hurry up so she could sharpen her pencil, but also said she didn’t mean to hurt the other girl. Cordy received PEAK again, only this time she lost her long recess.
I don’t believe she was trying to hurt the other girl. From what I can tell, she was next in line behind this girl, was very focused on sharpening her pencil and possibly distracted by other noise in the class, and then decided it was her turn to sharpen her pencil, missing that there was still an arm belonging to another person in her way. Not seeing the other people around her is very believable to me. Yes, she was careless and deserved a consequence for hurting someone else, but I genuinely don’t believe there was malicious intent in what she did.
That afternoon when I picked the kids up from school, Cordy’s special needs teacher talked with me about the incident and we discussed what could possibly be causing all of these problems to happen all at once. Cordy has never been in trouble at school before now. Her special needs teacher said that she thought Cordy wasn’t getting along well with her second grade teacher and the class style.
(This is going to get long, so can we all agree that special needs teacher will now be SNT moving forward, and second grade teacher will be referred to as T2 to save me some typing?)
Cordy doesn’t like that T2 has a loud voice and says that voice scares her sometimes when she thinks that T2 is yelling. SNT also says that class of kids is more rowdy and loud than the average class. I suggested that maybe we should have Cordy speak with the guidance counselor about ways to help her deal with her anxiety.
As we were leaving Tuesday, we saw T2 further down the hall getting ready to leave. I’m sure T2 saw us as well, but quickly turned and went out the door. “Mommy, can I go say goodbye to T2 and give her a hug?” Cordy asked. I agreed and she ran ahead of me and out the door.
This is my own opinion of what happened, but I’d swear T2 walked faster when she heard Cordy calling out to her. But Cordy did catch up and give her a hug. I was getting closer up the sidewalk, but T2 gently disengaged from Cordy, said something about needing to get home to her own kid, and walked off before I got there. Wouldn’t you want to say something to a parent of a child who is struggling in your class?
When I picked the kids up from school yesterday, SNT asked me to come inside the building. Oh, no. She told me Cordy had PEAK again. This time she called T2 a witch. I don’t want to make excuses for my child, but in this case I think T2 misunderstood. Cordy told me she thought T2 laughed like a witch she heard on TV. In our house, witches are totally cool – especially near Halloween – so I don’t think she was trying to be insulting. I can admit she may not have said it in a way that made that clear, though.
However, Cordy later told me that she was never told why she was sent to PEAK, nor did T2 say anything to her when she called her a witch. No form was filled out like previous times so that we could have a report of what happened, and no one talked to Cordy about what she did wrong or how she should behave in the future. Her teacher just dropped her off in the PEAK classroom on the way out to recess with no explanation. She sat out her recess confused as to what she had done.
My frustration level boiled over at that point, and I started crying in front of the SNT. The ugly cry. I turned away to make sure my two daughters who were playing on the other side of the room didn’t see, but I could no longer hold back the emotion of the last week. For the first time in a long, long time, I am scared for my daughter.
I’m starting to worry this is affecting Cordy’s self-esteem. She likes to please, is very hard on herself when she makes mistakes and may be internalizing that she’s a bad kid. She’s required to sign her PEAK forms, and on the second one she wrote “worst child” under her name. On a class worksheet, she wrote “I am horid.” (misspelled, but points for creative word choice) at the bottom.
But after talking with SNT yesterday, I think I’m starting to see the issue. SNT describes the class as loud and T2 has a loud voice and sometimes yells over the kids talking. Cordy also has her desk right next to the door, the coat rack and the pencil sharpener: a recipe for sensory disaster. She’s assaulted all day with noise from kids talking, a loud teacher who makes her anxious, and lots of background noise from the hallway, the pencil sharpener and the coat rack. It’s no wonder she’s having trouble keeping it all together. Hell, I’d have trouble dealing with all of that, too.
Cordy is also extremely bored in class, meaning the background sensory input is even more distracting to her because her mind isn’t focused on learning. She needs more challenging instruction and a more peaceful learning experience. A smart kid who is stuck in a boring situation most of the day is being set up for trouble. (Again, shades of my own childhood.)
And while I’m sure T2 is a great teacher and I would never judge her total abilities on her interactions with one child, I think she’s a bad match for Cordy. My gut feeling is that she doesn’t make an effort to accommodate Cordy’s needs, and at this point has written her off. Sent to PEAK for calling her a witch without even asking what she meant or trying to tell Cordy why some might think that’s not a nice thing to call someone? That isn’t helping the child at all.
Also, despite all of these things happening in the last week, there’s been no effort made from T2 to reach out to Aaron and I about it. We’re left learning about it through the SNT, who isn’t present in the room when it happens and is then stuck in the middle. Send a note home, give us a call, send an email…something to let us know you’re concerned about our daughter and want our input on how to make it a better experience.
Add in the devastating news that Cordy’s SNT, who has been a strong advocate for her for over two years now and the one person in the school she feels the safest with, has just been given a promotion and will be leaving the school at the end of this month, and I’m now in full on panic mode over what will happen to our sensitive older child. Who will be there to help her through this, and will the next person understand her as well?
I’ve cried for two days now at the fear that this entire year may be a complete loss for Cordy, even more worried that this could change how she views school permanently and affect her entire future. There’s no explanation for this behavior other than something is happening in the classroom. Her diet is the same, her home life hasn’t changed, and the only change we’ve witnessed at home is more anxiety that seems to be related to school.
But we are lucky again, at least for the moment. Her SNT is still with us through the end of the month, and we’re getting her IEP meeting in place immediately. I’m also asking for Cordy to be transferred to the other second grade teacher’s classroom and the SNT thinks this could be a good idea. She sees him only for reading and science at the moment, but Cordy tells me he has a “quiet, steady voice” and she thinks he teaches more “interesting” things. She would then have him as her primary teacher and only see T2 for limited subjects. (They team-teach.)
When I first asked Cordy what she thought about moving to his class, she gave her standard answer of not wanting anything to change. Even if she’s in a situation she doesn’t like, any change is viewed as worse than the status quo. (So common with autism.) But this morning, she came downstairs and immediately announced that she would be OK with changing classes and that she thinks she would have a better experience in his class. We were stunned that she would be so open to such a big change that quickly.
I’m still not sure what the final resolution of this will be, but I have a new-found admiration for those parents who have to navigate these murky waters on a more regular basis. It’s time for me to read up more on the IEP process and start writing out detailed lists of what Cordy needs in case they no longer continue to match what others think she needs. It’s been so easy until now, and I have a feeling it’ll continue to get harder as she gets older. I’ve failed at keeping myself prepared on how to handle these things, and plan to remedy that so we can be strong advocates for our daughter’s education.
But right now? I’m scared out of my mind.