When you have a child who has a handful of labels, as I do, with each label I think, There! That’s the ticket. Now he’ll get the help in school that he needs so school won’t be such a nightmare for him. With the first label of Sensory Processing Disorder, I was able to get Little Man a 504 Plan that garnered him a few accommodations at school. He is allowed to sit on an exercise ball instead of a chair. He may use a fidget (a small toy to play with, such as a Koosh ball) to help him be able to concentrate. And he is supposed to go to recess with the rest of the class (withholding recess as a punishment is not allowed). Did all this turn his nightmarish experience into an enjoyable one. Hell no. But being able to sit on the ball did help a little bit.
Last May, he received more labels of ADHD, learning disabled (dyslexia), and anxiety. When the report came out, and the official, formal label of ADHD was attached to Little Man, it hit me in the solar plexus; not because I didn’t see that he has attention issues, but because of what people think of when they hear the label. They think of a kid who is all over the classroom, who can’t sit in a chair for more than a minute, and who has absolutely no impulse control whatsoever. And, of course, the first thing out of the mouth of the neuropsychologist who evaluated him was, that medication is the only thing that will correct the synaptic defects in his brain (or something to that effect). Well guess what, chicky, meds didn’t help this kid one bit. All they did was ramp up his anxiety so much that he wanted to kill himself. Guess meds aren’t for everyone.
At the same time, his academic performance finally fell far enough below expected performance based on his tested IQ, so an IEP (individualized education program) was put in place. The goal of this plan is to give him extra help so his grades will go up. So far, with the IEP in place this entire school year, his grades have not gone up one bit. Epic fail on that one. And he still hates school.
So, what’s this new puzzle piece, you ask? Just getting to that. Here it is. Last week I asked a favor of one of the school’s physical therapists. This gal has known Little Man, so when I asked if she could teach him to tie his shoes, she obliged. Little Man went from his day of school to a classroom across the hall, for weekly Homework Club. Half way through Homework Club, I grabbed him to work outside with this PT.
When I got him out there, the first thing I noticed was resistance and fear. He gritted his teeth and said he was embarrassed. I thought he was embarrassed because his teacher’s two daughters were playing on the playground nearby. Upon hindsight, I think he was embarrassed to be learning to tie his shoes at 10 years old. I also learned, later on, that his anxiety about the class field trip was at a high because the teacher threatened the class with their losing the field trip if they wouldn’t quiet down. (Maintaining quiet and order in the classroom has been a struggle for this brand new teacher).
After dispatching the teacher’s daughters to the far side of the playground, the PT worked with Little Man, showing him a specific technique for making an overhand knot. He watched her and tried it himself. His fingers didn’t do what hers did. The unruly laces didn’t knot like they were supposed to. He tried again. Too fast. His fingers still weren’t cooperating. His frustration was mounting like steam in a boiler with too much heat. The PT saw the pressure cooking. She kept working with him, not giving up on him, and not letting him give up.
As Little Man struggled mightily, he began to shut down. At that point, the PT covertly asked me to leave. I got the message and walked away, removing the safety net. I am the safe place where Little Man can shut down or lose it. When I’m not there, he fights just that much harder to keep it together.
Finally! He made 5 correct overhand knots. That was the end of the session. Little Man was beyond done. His volcano was cooked. As we all walked off the playground, to our respective cars, the PT started asking me questions about Little Man, including whether he was on the autism spectrum. On the spectrum? I answered honestly, I don’t know. After more chatting, she suggested having him observed in the classroom to see how he’s doing. Frankly, I wish someone had done that two years ago. Yes! Absolutely! He needs more help!
It hit like a ton of bricks: my special, funny, train-man, creative, builder, empathetic, cute boy might be on the autism spectrum. My head swirled. What does that mean? Do we get him evaluated for yet another label? How and who does this? Will it give him more accommodations in school? Will he have a chance of school not being a nightmare for him, one day? Would he be better served by a different school in our district? Is he really on the spectrum? Could he be on the spectrum?
I called the one person I know who has a son on the spectrum. We talked about our boys’ similarities and differences. As much as they do have some differences, the similarities are several. I asked her if she thinks my son could be on the spectrum. Could be.
Is it important to find out? That’s the next step in the process. I am hoping that Little Man will be observed by a teacher from our district who works with kids who have a lot of challenges. She’ll know what to look for. And she might just think that Little Man would be better served at her school: a school that has a lot of children receiving special ed services, and has a lot to offer to them. My question to this teacher will be: will adding another label to my son garner him more or different services than he is already entitled to? Would he be better served at her school? We’ll see in time. Still discovering more pieces of the puzzle that is my Little Man.