Friday, August 8, 2014

To My Son's First Teacher......you set the tone for his school experience!

Photo courtesy of Kevin Pack
Nugget will be entering 4th grade this year at a new school. We were forced to change his placement when, in April of this year, he had over 800 aggressive behaviors while at school, according to the school's own data. Nugget has not shown any forms of physical aggression at home in the last 2 years. When Nugget was 3, he was receiving intense ABA therapy at home. He raced through the goals and finished the program in just 2 years. His behaviors were quickly reduced at home when my husband and I both starting applying these techniques as well, and still do. His behaviors at school continued, as school staff were not applying consistent positive behavior supports. They said they were, of course, but we believed Nugget's behaviors in this environment proved otherwise. We knew our son. Just because he has autism, does not mean he can't talk. He had no reason to lie about being "squeezed" at school by school staff, including the Principal. We filed for due process after Nugget came home with matching bruises on both of his arms. No one could explain to us how they happened. We did not approve of him being restrained, yet it was occurring. The school settled. Unfortunately, the ignorance of school staff continued to the point of Nugget coming home in April saying he would rather die. Needless to say, we did not send him back. The challenges Nugget faced started already in Kindergarten, 4 years ago. Below is an email I sent to his teacher at the end of the school year. This teacher has yet to apologize, or even acknowledge us, or this email. Kindergarten, I believe, was an extremely important year as it would set the tone for Nugget's perception of school. Unfortunately, it was not good and as many of you know, you cannot get those years back. To other parents, I say go with your gut feeling when your child is telling, or trying to tell you something. If he/she is not verbal, their own behavior can speak volumes. I have changed his name in the below email.




 Hi XXXXX,

Unfortunately, we could not find you today when we had to leave. We came back to the classroom, but nobody was there so I had "Nugget" check his schedule and get his award. I saw XXX(Nugget's para) on the way out and let him know that I had Nugget.

I did want to share a couple of things with you that I hope you will take with you from this school year. It has been an extremely challenging year from the beginning for both Nugget and his family. Since my personal feelings have no place at a conference or IEP meeting, I am taking the liberty to express them now.

As parents of two special needs children, we face many challenges in our lives. We do not ever have what would be classified a "normal" day. Our lives are full of routines, schedules, rules, appointments, and mostly trying to be as prepared as possible. When our children go to school, we expect a teacher to be as prepared to receive these children as well as their challenges, to embrace them and build on their strength's, to realize that their faults and behaviors are a reflection of the environment they are in, and probably most of all remember that although we may not always understand why they react a certain way, that it is not the child's fault.

Upon entering the school year in September, we started noticing that you may not have understood Nugget and how his disability affects him in a school environment. You let him go unassisted into a bathroom without any thought to how he could have gotten injured. Your main concern seemed to be about the way he was acting around other kids, climbing on the stall walls, and how you had to climb under the door to get him. Just the week prior to this we had been discussing his using the bathroom in the classroom during his IEP meeting. We got special soap for him to use, etc. Nobody mentioned to me that there would be use of the hallway bathroom, especially where Nugget would be unassisted. Yet, according to you, he was the one who "lost his bathroom privileges in the hallway". Again, this was not his fault, but treated like it was. About a week later, we received a phone call that he had thrown a chair at one of the para's when a time-out was attempted. This was also discussed during the same IEP meeting that Nugget did not understand the concept of a "time-out". Again, this was not his fault, but treated like it was. As his behaviors escalated in the school environment, I had to sit and listen to the negativity and lack of understanding of my child’s challenges that you seemed to have while you sat and counted his behaviors on your fingers to the IEP team, lacking positive things to say about him. This hurt. Not because you were saying these things, but because I knew that you did not understand who my child was, because if you did, you would have understood why he may have been acting this way. I had to sit during conference and listen to you tell me that "The school shouldn't have to worry about a lawsuit from other parents", "other parents are complaining", etc. This was both hurtful and unnecessary since we were and are not able to do anything about this. Again, this was not his fault, but treated like it was. I had to constantly hear how you thought there should be more consequences for Nugget, yet nothing about how replacement behaviors were going to be taught. We had to see Nugget come home with scratches on his neck. When this was questioned as to what happened, you did not know since you were not there, but "heard about his behaviors towards another student while you were gone". Ironically, Nugget was in this same child's class in preschool for two years with no issues or behaviors towards this child, yet it was believed that Nugget "singled-out" this child for no apparent reason. Every behavior has a reason.

Academically, Nugget was already ahead prior to entering Kindergarten. He needed to learn social skills. Unfortunately, these opportunities were also taken away from him as he was constantly isolated or removed from your classroom. We only hope that he will be given a chance next year to learn these skills. We had to watch our son go from excited about school and friends to being too scared to go to school, saying that he was being "squeezed" and coming home with matching bruises on his arms due to being restrained, crying, screaming, and yelling that he doesn't want to go to school. You cannot possibly know how heart-breaking this was. No parent should ever have to feel afraid of sending their child to school. We were.

Nugget had made such significant gains thanks to BDI, Inc. with ABA, yet was making such regression in your classroom. We saw his progression being "stomped" on. Come January of this year, we saw Nugget regressing, behaviors increasing due to being restrained and inconsistent methods being used between home and school. We were extremely relieved to discuss with the team that BDI could come into the school to help him back on track, and as predicted they were able to get him back on track. Over the past two months, Nugget has gone from 3-15 behaviors in school a day, prior to BDI entering the school, to most days being 0 behaviors and earning perfect day awards. While Nugget still has a long road ahead of him, this should show how just because a method of teaching doesn't work, doesn't mean the child is not capable or teachable. It is us who have to understand how the child learns. It is our responsibility, not the child's. There should always be expectations, but a child cannot be tested until he has been given a chance to learn.

Since you did not get to know Nugget, let me tell you about who he is. Nugget is an extremely intelligent, independent individual. Everything from reading to learning phonics, the alphabet, etc. he taught himself. He prefers to do things for himself. He loves to make food, get himself dressed, help with household chores, and brush his own teeth. He has tons of compassion and loves to show it. He tells his family that he loves them on a daily basis. He has an imagination that won't quit. He is full of jokes and laughter. At home, it is unusual for him to not appear happy. He will gladly entertain himself, yet loves to ask other family members to play games or read a book. In the community, Nugget will usually not let a person walk by without greeting them or making them laugh by doing something silly. He is a well-rounded boy with tons of interests and potential.

With the diagnosis of autism on the increase, we are sure you will encounter other children with autism. We are hoping that you will show tactfulness, compassion, and understanding for both the child and his/her parents. As parents, we are already aware of our child's challenges - we face them daily. We also face a stigma around this diagnosis still to this day. Many believe people with autism are not capable. To the contrary, these people are quite capable and have a lot to offer, but only to individuals who are able to see their strengths and build on those, not just their weaknesses. We are hoping in the future that you will receive the support and training needed to educate these children - they are our future too.
  
Sincerely,
Kim G.