Posted by: Kaiaroon | December 9, 2009

Don’t Mess with Mama Bear

ARGGGG. ARGGG. That’s really all I have to say. Ms. AP called. “Let’s look forward, not back.” REALLY? After five known injuries?

This went out to the AP, and I copied my advocate, members of the school board, and the local media….

Dear Ms. AP,

Thank you for your phone call today.

As we discussed, my son Movie Boy, a child with autism, has been injured at school on at least FIVE occasions in the last year and a half.

The last two incidents were in the last 10 days – both in the cafeteria environment – where he was punched in the stomach last Monday (11/30/09) and sustained a blow to the head yesterday (12/7/09). After last week’s incident you told me you would take special precautions to make sure he was safe in the cafeteria. Clearly those precautions were ineffective.

This is a shameful pattern, and needs to be remedied. My child is an honor roll student with good attendance and positive behavior marks in all of his classes. He is interested in learning and is diligent in his work. He should feel safe in your school, but does not. I have expressed my concerns over and over again that due to his disability, he is the target of bullying. His concerns, and mine, are legitimate but are continually dismissed.

All the adults in his school environment are accountable for his safety. I am growing weary of hearing “that is above my pay grade” or “we only have the staff the school district gives us” or “boys will be boys” and other rhetoric. Someone needs to take ownership of student safety.

Today, I asked you how many children and adults were in the cafeteria. You told me there are 400 students and only 3 adults. I asked you if this met lawful ratios, and your answer was “this is standard”. Your answer was evasive and unclear.

FIVE INJURIES, and my son is not  even half way through middle school. How do you intend to break this pattern??

You suggested we look forward and move on from here. That is not good enough. We need to assess why this child (or any child) has endured a pattern of abuse in your school. I will not look past what has happened to him thus far, and demand that you do not either.

Again, I ask that you please let me know your plan to keep my child safe in your school.

Kat

Posted by: Kaiaroon | December 9, 2009

Reviewing the Video

I took Movie Boy to school today. And popped in to the office. Ms. Ap was unavailable. The Principal was unavailable. His guidance counselor was unavailable.

“Can someone make themselves available to me for FIVE MINUTES to discuss my son’s safety?”

No.

A random guidance counselor, unrelated to Movie Boy’s program, talked to me. She called the cafeteria security person, Mrs. G, who told me they were in the process of “reviewing the security tapes”, but in the meantime to protect Movie Boy today, she would have him sit at the “detention table”.

WHAT? Where is a wall? I need to knock my head against it.

I left messages for everyone. I went to the office. I called several members of the administration. No one was available. I called a lawyer and set up a consultant for next week.

I sent this e-mail….

Dear Ms. AP,

I spoke with Movie Boy last evening. He said that he was in the cafeteria eating his lunch, when he was hit on his head from behind. He turned to see what happened, and saw that the student who had hit him was smirking about it. When Movie Boy sought out a teacher (he says he raised his hand) the student then suddenly changed from smiling to back-pedaling, trying to say that it was an accident. Movie Boy did not feel that it was an accident, he said this student “hates” him and the blow to his head was very hard.

Movie Boy talked to a nearby adult, as he was instructed to do. This adult did not handle the incident per policy, but instead told the boys to shake hands. He did not take Movie Boy to the clinic, despite having suffered a blow to the head.

Movie Boy then also informed his case manager about what had happened. The case manager took Movie Boy to the nurse.

I was called at approximately 2:30 to let me know that Movie Boy was in the nurse’s office after sustaining a blow to the head. My husband picked up Movie Boy around 3 p.m. and took him to the pediatrician. At that time he still had a headache, which he had well into the evening. Movie Boy is extremely upset about this incident, which is on the heels of another assault he sustained while in the cafeteria just last week.

As you are well aware, last Monday he was punched in the stomach while waiting in the lunch line.  Yesterday, he was hit from behind while eating.  In both cases, he was not immediately taken to the nurse for assessment.  As you also know, he also sustained at least three injuries during 6th grade (last year) that required medical attention.

He also tells me that the girl who punched him in the stomach last week has been in class everyday – leading me to believe that she did not receive any significant consequences for her actions. She has not been deterred – just yesterday in science she took Movie Boy’ colored pencils and would not give them back when he asked.

I am convinced that this most recent incident is not an “accident”. However, if it is an accident, then consideration must be given to the layout of the cafeteria – if children must pass so close to each other that head injuries occur, then the layout if not conducive to safety.

I stopped in this morning to discuss this with you, but you were not available. I left my phone number but have not heard from you yet today regarding this incident or how my son will be kept safe at school. I also inquired about speaking to the Principal, Movie Boy’s guidance counselor, the Assistant Superintendent for Middle Schools, and the Assistant Superintendent for Equity Affairs– no one has returned my call.

Again, I request that you please contact me immediately to discuss how you will insure that  my son is safe in your school building.

Thank you,

Kat

As soon as I hit send, Assistant Superintendent called me. He said that the school was “still reviewing tapes”. Still? He was not aware that they were reviewing tapes this morning. All day? Really?

He said that he thought it was really “odd” that a kid would just hit Movie Boy without any provocation. He also thought it was really odd that my son, even though autistic, would not seek out the help of an adult or care at the clinic.

I called the school to try to talk to Ms. AP. Was told she is out of the building at an all day meeting with the Principal. But… the Superintendent said they were “reviewing tapes”.

Wall? Come here. Need to knock my head some more.

Posted by: Kaiaroon | December 8, 2009

Again. Really.

Another call today. Movie Boy was eating lunch when a boy (who has expressed dislike for him in the past) walked behind him and whacked the back of his head. I got a call from the school nurse telling me about it. They were quick to point out that Movie Boy “did the right thing” by telling an adult. Unfortunately, the adult was a substitute who did not react to the assault. So, Movie Boy sought out the help of his case manager, Mr. F., who then brought him to the nurse. We have him at the pediatrician now, just to be sure.

But why does this happen at all?? WHAT THE HELL??

I wrote this to the AP….

Dear Ms. AP,

I was contacted today by the school nurse. I spoke with her and Mr. F. They informed me that my son, Movie Boy, was hit in the back of the head by another student while he ate his lunch in the cafeteria today.

As you are well aware, this is the second injury he has sustained in this environment in the course of only one week. Last Monday, he was punched in the stomach while waiting in the lunch line.  Today, he is hit from behind while eating.

As you also know, he also sustained at least three injuries during 6th grade (last year) that required medical attention.

Please contact me immediately to discuss how you will insure that  my son is safe in your school building.

Thank you,

Kat

Posted by: Kaiaroon | December 2, 2009

Bully Repellent

We had a great first quarter. Movie Boy made honor roll! Three A’s, and three B’s. He also got a perfect score on his first quarter city-wide math exam. I credit a lot of this success to the fact that we removed him from PE. Without worrying about that environment, he can relax and concentrate on his studies. In the meantime, we keep him physically active and in positive social situations by involving him in football and swim team.

But, yesterday, at 3:30, I got a call from the Assistant Principal. She told me that he had been involved in an incident in the cafeteria, where he “discharged” his inhaler at two girls. I asked what prompted it — she did not know. She said an investigation would be conducted. I told her that Movie Boy does not initiate conflict. There is more to the story than just he did this in a vacuum. She didn’t know. She didn’t know much. She told me she was going to have Movie Boy write a statement, to which I replied “No, you won’t. He is not to write or sign anything without me present.” She said she would send the form home.

I called his case manager. By now, it was around 4 p.m. He was not aware of the situation. Really? I mean, this is his CASE MANAGER. The case manager’s explanation? “The APs are my bosses, I don’t tell them what to do. If they don’t want to include me in the loop, then they don’t.

Nice.

I talked to Movie Boy. And then the pieces started falling together. I sent this note to his AP in lieu of filling out the form she sent home:

Dear Ms. AP,

This is in response to the request for an Incident Report. I am submitting this e-mail in lieu of the form, as a parent’s statement. I have instructed Movie Boy is not to sign any paperwork.

I spoke with Movie Boy this evening. Movie Boy explained that he was in line in the cafeteria, behind a girl named A—- and her friend (he does not know the friend’s name). He says A—- turned and noticed that he was behind her, and threw up her hands and yelled very loudly, “Oh come on!!”, meaning that she was irritated that Movie Boy was in line next to her. She made it clear to him that she did not like him being behind her.

Movie Boy has endured bullying from A—- in the past. He responded by saying, “We are only going to be in line together for a few minutes, Can you just put up with that?” After that, Movie Boy says he is not clear about what she said, because her voice got screechy and mean. At that point, she pushed him in the stomach. The two girls were laughing at him. Movie Boy did not leave the line, because he was afraid to lose his place in line. He got his food and went to his seat, away from her, and with his friends. The girls went to their seats.

Then he was approached by Miss G, who asked to talk to him. She took his inhaler. He returned to his lunch.

There have been a series of problems with A—-. Last year, in 6th grade, A—- smacked Movie Boy in the face. Another time, in PE, she jumped on him and scratched him when he picked up her ping pong ball. I communicated my concerns about repeated bullying last year. Movie Boy also communicated his concerns about A—- to his teachers this year – he asked his 7th grade subject teachers not to seat him near A—-, because he knows she will bully him. He finds her behavior to be aggressive and unpredictable. He says she bullies him, and then runs to the teacher and tries to get him in trouble.

Movie Boy also explained to me that he is not at all sure how to handle female bullies. He did not realize until we spoke this evening that girls can also be bullies. He does not know what to do when a girl is this mean to him. He is worried that because he is bigger and a boy, people won’t believe him. He says A—- has made it clear to him that she hates him, through her continued actions and words.

In addition to Movie Boy enduring continued bullying from this student, I am also concerned that he was without his inhaler for several hours. He is in the aftermath of a bout of bronchitis, he is under doctor’s orders to use his inhaler throughout the day whenever he coughs. He is coughing a lot, so needs the inhaler on a continual basis. As you know from his IEP, he is not proficient at asking for help or requesting visits to the nurse. In fact, we documented last year that he was resistant to visiting the clinic as he found it to be an intimidating environment. In light of this, and because he suffered a blow to his stomach, I find it concerning that he was never referred to the clinic for treatment, and that I was not contacted for several hours after the incident. Regardless of what else happened, I should have been notified immediately if he is injured or if he is separated from his inhaler.

As you know, Movie Boy has autism. Many children, including Movie Boy, have difficulty in loud and busy environments such as school cafeterias, and also with negative peer interactions. Both of these deficit areas are addressed in his IEP. In this particular situation, Movie Boy did not have access to his case manager, and his case manager was not informed of this situation.

Please contact me as soon as possible to discuss your strategy for protecting my child from continued aggression from this bully, proper management of his asthma care plan, and strategies to help him work on the relevant goals and objectives in his IEP to be successful in the cafeteria environment.

Thank you,

Kat

Posted by: Kaiaroon | September 23, 2009

Movie Boy Makes a Mod

Movie Boy and I had our first IEP meeting of the year. Movie Boy attended because he had actually been the one who intitated the modification. He asked if it would be okay if he didn’t have to sit at the very front of the bus. I asked his Case Manager Dude and he said we would have to convene an IEP meeting. So, because he initiated this request, I wanted him to see what we do with a request such as this. We convened a format meeting, we teleconferenced his father in, we started our tape recorders, we talked, we decided to remove the restriction, and then we wrapped everything up with me taking the papers home to read through and sign later. I never sign at the table. Never. And then I explained to Movie Boy is might take a week or so for this modification take effect, because paperword has to be routed here and there and everywhere.

But I think it was probably empowering for him to see that he could be part of his own program.

Posted by: Kaiaroon | September 20, 2009

Snow

We ran into a good friend this morning at Mass. Her face was red from crying. She explained that her father-in-law had died. I told her how sorry I was, and asked how her 12-year-old son was handling losing his grandfather. She said, “his faith is so much stronger than ours, and so he is handling it well. He knows his grandfather is in a better place.” I knew just what she means.

I lost my own father in 1995, and then my mother in 2002. Movie Boy never knew his grandfather (he was born two years after he died) but he had a remarkably strong relationship with my mother, his Grandma. Which was quite a tribute to her, as we lived 6000 miles away from her and most of their relationship was built on phone conversations. Which is quite a feat when you are dealing with any 5-year-old child, but an autistic, mostly non-verbal child? Remarkable. My mother would quite literally carry entire conversations as Movie Boy just listened on his end of the phone. No one else did this for him. They preferred the give and take of a usual phone conversation, they needed the feedback to feel like they were getting something out of the conversation. And, admittedly, it was hard to tell what he was getting out of the conversation because he did not provide any significant feedback. And so the few phone conversations he had with peopl would be short. But my mother had the patience of a saint with her only grandchild and forged a relationship with him on that phone line. She knew it was communication even though only one of them was talking.

About the time he turned 5, I approached our then-Parish Priest about Movie Boy’s sacraments. We are Catholic and most Catholic children start a two-year cycle of catechism in the first grade that culminates in receiving the Sacraments of Reconcilation and First Communion at the end of second grade. I wanted this for Movie Boy. The Parish Priest told me it would probably not be possible for Movie Boy to receive his sacraments, because as a child with autism he was “probably not capable of the intuitive thinkng required for understanding faith.”

I was incensed. I immediately switched parishes, where we found a much more welcoming community and inclusion.  We attended this parish while Movie Boy was in kindergarten, and then we moved to Virginia where he started catechism in first grade with his peers. I didn’t want my son in an environment that didn’t fully accept him, and we have been careful to choose where we worship.

But I worried. I worry about a lot of things with Movie Boy, and that priest’s words rang in my ears for months.

In the meantime, Ben Ten was born, and he was baptized at our new and welcoming parish, and my mother came to the ceremony. I have wonderful pictures of her with her two grandsons outside of that lovely church.

A month after she returned home, I received word that my mother was in the ICU. We flew home to be with her. After three long weeks in the ICU, my mother passed away. Movie Boy was in kindergarten. He spent these weeks knowing his grandmother was sick, stuck in the waiting room of the ICU with his 2-month-old brother and stepfather while I sat vigil with my mother. It was a sad time for everyone. I wasn’t sure if any child could understand the seriousness of what was going on. Movie Boy didn’t say much, but he really never did say much about any those days.

The night my mother passed away, after we all hugged and cried and discussed what-comes-next, my husband and my sons and I all got in the car for a long drive in the cold New Jersey night back to my mother’s home. We were all in stunned silence, even Ben Ten as a baby seemed to understand the weight of the moment and was quiet.

Light snow flurries began to land on the windshield. For a moment, I considered pointing them out to my Hawaii-born Movie Boy. But I just did not have the strength at that moment to break the silence. So I watched quietly as the flurries covered the windshield and then were wiped away.

And then Movie Boy spoke up.

“Grandma is in Heaven. She sent the snow to let us know.”

In that moment I knew that priest was so wrong. I also knew that my mother was in a better place. Movie Boy’s faith was so strong, he knew better than all of us what was going on, with or without the words to tell us.

Posted by: Kaiaroon | September 17, 2009

7th Grade IEP Meeting, Take 1

I called it. We need to convene an IEP meeting to change accommodations for the bus. Case Manager Dude called me yesterday to set up the time. We talked about it and agreed that we would remove the verbiage from the IEP that restricts him to the front of the bus. We also talked about changing another accommodation. Because of all the trouble he had in transitioning from one class to the other last year (and by trouble I mean other kids bothering — which either meant they were mean or he was misinterpreting) — we added an “escort” to his transitions. Case Manager Dude would like to change the term “escort” to “shadow”, because they both imply different proximities. An escort needs to be at Movie Boy’s elbow, a shadow can tag along behind at a distance of about 20 feet. We want the latter, but have the former written into the IEP.

I am in agreement with both these changes, so hopefully the meeting will go quickly. I let Case Manager Dude know that while I agree with both changes, my standard operating procedure at all IEP meetings is:

1) Always tape record the meeting.

2) Never sign anything at the table.

I am glad we are meeting on such a mundane issue for this first meeting. I will get to feel out the other side of the table and see how they are and what their approach is.

I am also including Movie Boy in this meeting. He initiated the requests for these modifications by asking me to change them. That sort of communication is huge and I want to reinforce that, by showing him that in response to his request we (parents, teacher) are convening a meeting and making it happen. We might not always act positively on his requests, but at least we will take the time to sit and discuss the possibility. It is important for him to see that.

Also, I find that when Movie Boy is in the room with us, everyone minds their manners a little better. The stakes are higher, it would seem, if you lose your cool in front of a student.

Posted by: Kaiaroon | September 16, 2009

OBE

The problem with IEPs can be that because they are paperwork in a big bureaucracy, they tend to move slowly into place. Several times over the years, Movie Boy’s accommodations have kicked in after he actually needed, and even when they were now inappropriate.

This week’s example is the bus accommodations. Movie Boy had a rough time on the bus last year. A bunch of mouthy 8th graders made his experience grueling. We had problems. When he offloaded, he was in a sea of 1200 kids funneling into the doors. So, we added accommodations so that he would be able to disembark earlier than the other kids (the band kids also get off early, since they are carrying bulky instrument cases that need to be dropped in the band room before homeroom.) We also asked that he have the front seat saved for him, so he could be close to the bus driver so she could keep an extra eye on him.

Well, this year things are different. His friends Matthew and Jamie Lee are now in 6th grade and ride the bus with him. The mouthy 8th graders, much to Karma’s delight, are now the young’uns on the high school bus. 

Overall, things have been good on the bus. He’s comfortable, he’s happy.

So, yesterday, out of the blue, one of the administrators from the front office met the bus and told the bus driver that Movie Boy MUST sit in the front seat. And MUST leave the bus early.

This, of course, was done in front of the other kids. Without much explanation. Leaving Movie Boy to feel like he was in trouble.

I wrote to his case manager and asked if we could ease up on these restrictions, as the accommodations are meant to be supportive of his success and not punative.

I spoke with the bus driver this morning, who is in agreement that things are good as they are and these accommodations at this time are not needed.

But, as you know, if the IEP says these are necessary then they will be implemented. I may actually have to have an IEP meeting to make this change.

Posted by: Kaiaroon | September 15, 2009

Zombies and Ex-Wives

Last night I attended a leader training session for scouting. There were three of us — the trainer, myself, and another new leader.

I was tired after a long day of work, and my stomach was bothering me, and I really just wanted to check this off my list of things to do and then go home.  But as always happens, at the end, the obligatory small talk ensued.

The other leader started talking about how she and her husband became the primary caretakers for his two children from his first marriage. And she mentioned that the son had sleep problems because his mother never kept the kid on a schedule. On principle, I cringe whenever the new wife puts down the old wife. Especially when the new wife has been doing the work for 6 months or so, and not the lifetime of the child.

I almost spoke up and said, “Hey, we use melatonin to help the kids sleep” but I was keeping quiet to wind the evening down. It was a good thing, since she then launched into a litany of all the things the mother had done wrong, including “doping” the son with ADHD medication and “those sleeping pills — Melatonin”!! They had to actually go through a “detox process” to get these medications of his system! He was a zombie when they got him!

I don’t know what ADHD medication the kid was on, but the kind Movie Boy takes (Vyvanse) is out of his system within 24 hours. It does not stay in his system, although I know there are some that do. ADHD medication helps many, many children and I’m really over the whole zombie hysteria.

As for Melatonin? This is a natural substance already found in your body. It is not a medication but a supplement. It does not require detoxification. For us, it was recommended by our Pediatrician and has had positive effects and no notable negative effects. For the record we get this highly controlled addictive substance at Trader Joe’s. In a chewable mint tablet. Very careful regulation on this concerning medication, don’t you think?

Now, she is entitled to her opinions, really. But I always wonder about people like this who will launch into their litanies when they are completely unaware of the people they are talking to. For instance, my kid is on ADHD medication and melatonin.

My neighbor has a similar tale. He “took custody” of his daughter after he found out that the ex-wife had gotten the daughter an IEP. He transferred her to our neighborhood high school where the first thing he proudly did was close out that IEP.

Seriously? In my experience, you don’t get an IEP just because you say “please”. You get one after a long and grueling assessment problem that not only identified an issue, but identifies it as being significant enough to meet the guidelines. It is not a gimme. To arbitrarily dismiss this just because you want you ex-wife to be “wrong” is just bad parenting.

Okay, and now I’m off my rant 😉

Posted by: Kaiaroon | September 15, 2009

Executive Functioning

The day-to-day logistics of Movie Boy’s day kick his ass.

So far this year (and it has only been a week) he has an A in two classes. Which is very hopeful. But he lost a check for $8 that was supposed to be turned into his Tech Ed teacher (later found after an e-mail from me to the case manager), and didn’t bring the payment in for school pictures (I had made an online payment and put the code in the appropriate place, but Movie Boy said, “But there was no money in the envelope so I didn’t turn it in.”)

This is after much coaching and post-its attached to everything in his binder. It is the beginning of the school year and transitions are hard for him, so I do expect that things will get a little better as he gets accustomed to his new environment. I hope.

The other issue is that there are no clocks in the 7th grade hallway. Or, rather, there are no working clocks. Due to some software malfunction, they are all off. And Movie Boy has no real inner clock. He marks his day by watching the clock. He has a lot of anxiety when he doesn’t know what time it is. Way too much gray area in not knowing where he is in his day.

All the A’s in the world will not help you if you can’t get through the mundane tasks of living. He asked me if I was mad at him about the pictures. Of course not, I told him. I didn’t tell him how much this worries me.

I have sent four short e-mails to his case manager this year so far. All related to this type of stuff. Asking him to support Movie Boy in being more successful in these tasks.

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