Thursday, January 5, 2012

Eating Yellow

The mother and son entered the classroom. A large easel greeted them with the words "Welcome to 4th Grade" written in a colorful, flowing script.  Three children milled about, exploring their new classroom, while their parents stood to the side, catching up after a long summer break.

The boy turned to his mother and said, "You can go stand with the other parents. I can do this by myself." He nodded toward the front of the room, where the teacher was talking to a little girl with
 a blue ribbon in her hair.

The mother hesitated. She looked at the other parents, then at the teacher, calculating the distance between the two.  The boy looked at her and mouthed the word "Go". 

Instead of joining the other parents, the mother picked up a math book on the table next to her.  "I think I'll just stay here and look through this book", she said.  The boy shook his head.

He walked to the front of the room and stood behind the girl with the blue ribbon, waiting his turn to speak with the teacher.  He knew what he had to say.  He knew what he had to do.  He had practiced this many times at home.

When it was his turn, the boy extended his hand to the teacher and introduced himself.  The teacher shook his hand and warmly welcomed him. She glanced at a note on her desk and said, "So I hear you like to travel.  Where do you like to go?"

The boy told her of his journeys to Amsterdam and his love of Dutch pastries. He spread him arms wide to show the size of the sting rays he snorkeled with off the coast of Grand Cayman Island.  He talked about the severe sunburn he had on St. John and laughed when he told her his father referred to the SPF 100 as 'invisibility cream'.

The teacher laughed along with the boy.  "Did you go on any vacations over the summer?" she asked.

The boy shook his head.  "We went on a few local trips, but we didn't travel internationally. We're hoping to do so over Thanksgiving break."  He turned and looked at the classroom door, as more parents entered the room with their children.

Turning back to the teacher, the boy said, "I sometimes prefer to stay at home over vacation time, as it gives me a chance to do a lot of research. I'm in the process of constructing some new mods for a MMORPG and it takes a lot of time to research the proper applications, code it accurately, and perform any necessary bug fixes."

The teacher glanced at the door, as a large group of parents and students entered the classroom at once.  She told the boy she was excited to have him in her class this year and looked forward to learning more about his travels and his games.  She encouraged the boy to find his desk and told him to stop by the different work stations set up around the room.

As the boy turned toward the groups of childrens' desks, his mother suddenly jumped up. She saw the items on the desk and knew what would happen.  She frantically scanned the names on the desks, but the boy found his desk first.

He screamed "YELLOW!" and in one quick swoop, he recklessly lunged on top of his desk.  Books and papers flew across the room.  As the mother weaved her way through the stunned parents and children, the boy righted himself and ripped open the package on his desk.  The mother approached just as the boy took a large bite of the yellow crayon.

The room was completely silent as the mother took the boy's hand and escorted him to the trash can.  "Spit", she said.

The boy protested, "But I like eating yellow!"

"Spit", the mom repeated.

The boy dutifully spit the crayon into trash can. And then he spit again.  And then again, while making a wretching noise.  He lifted his shirt, exposing his bare stomach, and wiped his mouth with it.  Then he wiped his tongue with the shirt. And again. And again.

"Calm", the mother said.

"Calm", the boy repeated.

"Control", the mother said.

"More people are coming in! More people are coming in!", the boy said, as his arms began to flap.

"Control", the mother said.

The boy slowly turned and scanned the room. He pointed to a carpeted reading area in the corner of the room.  The mother nodded and followed the boy.

_______________

The mother and son approached the first workstation.  The boy began to pull out a small chair for himself, but then stepped back and turned to his mother, "Have a seat mom," he said as he gestured toward the chair.

The workstation consisted of a small table with 6 chairs.  A large piece of posterboard covered the table surface.  The center of the paper said "4th Grade Learning Superstars".  A bin of colorful markers sat off to one side, along with instructions for the parent and the student.

"Hmmmm....", said the mother, "My assignment is to write down my favorite subject when I was in 4th grade."

"My guess would be that LUNCH was your favorite subject", the boy said with a smile.

The mother laughed.

Another mother approached with a girl who wore a name tag that said "Abagail".

"Hi Abagail, it's nice to meet you", the boy said, "Would you like to join us?"  The boy quickly got up from his seat and pulled a chair out for Abagial, as he had done for his mother.

The children began to chat and work together.  Their assignment was to use the colored markers and write what they would like to learn in 4th grade.  After each child had a turn, the posterboard collage would be displayed on the classroom wall.

Abagail decided she would like to learn about science, however, she wanted to write each of the letters in the word 'SCIENCE' in a different marker color.  The boy held the bin of markers in his lap.  As Abagail called out each color, the boy retrieved a marker and gently handed it to her.  Abagail carefully drew each letter in the word science, adding an impressive shadow effect to the right of each letter.  She finished by dotting the letter I with a heart.

"It's your turn", Abagail said to the boy, "What do you want to learn about?"

The boy looked up at the ceiling.  He looked at his desk.  He looked at the doorway.  He covered his ears with his hands.  He looked at the ceiling again.

"Science", the boy said.

Abagail laughed gently.  "You can't pick science. I used that.  You have to pick something different!"

The boy pressed his hands against his ears, his face turning red.  He looked at his mother.

"Would you like some choices?" the mother asked.

"Buzzing", the boy said.

"Buzzing?" Abagail laughed, "You can't learn about buzzing".

"Buzzing", the boy said louder.  "Buzzing!  Buzzing!", even louder.  He looked at the ceiling - at the lights.

As the mother stood to rescue her son, Abagail said "Tell me what you want to learn and I'll write it for you."  She reached for a marker in the bin on the boy's lap, just as the boy erupted.

The boy lept out of the chair, markers flying into the air. He threw the empty bin at the chalkboard and ran toward the front of the room.  He tripped and bounced off the backs of parents and students sitting in the chairs, like a chaotic pinball bouncing to and fro.  After navigating through the bumpers, he fell in a heap on the ground.  Within seconds he was up again, lunging toward the light switch on the wall. "NO LIGHTS!", he screamed.  He flipped the switch and the room went dark.

_______________

"Do you know that the platypus is the only mammal that lays eggs instead of giving birth to live babies?"

The boy was at the first workstation again.  He had decided what he wanted to learn in 4th grade.  He sat with two other boys, Kyle and Logan.

"The platypus is a very bizarre creature. It's also one of very few venomous mammals."

Kyle looked at Logan and laughed. He turned to the boy and said, "Why do you talk so loud?"

The boy said, "When I'm wearing my headphones, I can't tell how loud I'm talking...the venom is only present in males. It's in their back foot and it can be quite harmful to humans."

"Yeah, but why do you wear the headphones?" Kyle asked.

The boy responded, "Does anyone know what the plural of platypus is? Is it platypus? Plata-pie? Plata-pussy?"

Kyle elbowed Logan and they both laughed hysterically. "Plata-pussy!  What a dork!", Kyle said.

The mother stepped closer to the table and looked directly at the boys. Their faces turned red as they looked down at the table. She took a deep breath and said, "As 4th graders, I trust that you will make sure your conversations are appropriate and that you will show respect for ALL of the students in the classroom."

Kyle and Logan were silent.

The boy picked up a green marker.  He held it between his thumb and his ring finger.  In shaky letters, about 5 inches tall, he wrote PLATYPUS on the posterboard.

"I want to learn about platypus", the boy said proudly.  His mother smiled back. She didn't mention his backwards letters.
_______________

The teacher thanked the parents and students for attending Open Door Day.  She told them she was very excited about the first day of school and reminded the students to get a good night's sleep so they would be wide awake in the morning.

The boy and his mother approached the doorway at the same time as Abagail and her mother.  The boy smiled.  "Goodbye Abagail, I'll see you tomorrow!"

Abagail's face paled. She took a step backwards and reached for her mother's hand.  She mumbled a faint "goodbye" while looking at the ground.

As the mother and son descended the school stairs, the mother asked, "What do you think of 4th grade?"

The boy shrugged.  "It seems ok," he said, "at least I made some new friends."
_______________

The story above is based on an actual experience I had with my son, Jagger (THE FLYING MONKEY).  I have played this scene over and over again in my mind since it occurred in late August 2011.  Writing it out, here on my blog, was actually quite theraputic for me for two reasons:

1) I always question whether I could have done something better in these types of situations.  There is a very fine line between hovering over my child and giving him the independence he asks for.  As a mother, it is my duty to protect my child, most often from himself, but also from the cruelty of others.  It is also my duty to ensure that he does not (unintentionally) physically harm others.  Since this experience, I have spent more time observing his triggers and learning when to step in.  But still, it is always difficult.

2) Writing this account in the 3rd person helped me view it as an observer.  In situations like this, things seem to occur at lightening-fast speed. When Jagger and I met Abagail on the way out the door, I didn't originally understand her reaction.  After Jagger's outburst, I was busy helping him collect himself.  We took a time-out in the school occupational therapy room.  It wasn't until I wrote this that I realized Abagail was experiencing FEAR. She met a sweet, polite little boy.  And when she reached for a marker, he exploded in a fit of anger.  Of course the poor girl was frightened.  When reading this, that might be obvious.  But living it is a different story.

I appreciate that you took the time to read this.  I hope it was as helpful to you in some way.  

I welcome your comments, criticism, feedback, suggestions, and ideas.

11 comments:

  1. He's so articulate. How has his school year been?

    Did you ever read "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time"?

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  2. I read this as a parent - a parent of a kid who has some social issues, as a result of his medical condition (that you are aware of) - but also as a parent who often forgets - one who sees kids act out in this manner and is often annoyed and I forget. I forget that it's not that the kid has a bad parent or is just a brat or mainlined msg for breakfast. So, thank you for reminding me that the boy in the waiting room who is insisting on sitting in the green chair is doing so because he needs to. :-) You rock, woman.

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  3. This made me cry. I think because I can relate to it so much! The immaturity of eating crayons yet the intelligence of an encyclopedia...I can relate.
    I got one for you, my 17 year old (aspie) was cutting his nails yesterday and had difficulty with cutting the ones on his left foot. After a bit of conversation, I realized he was switching hands! He did his left foot with his left hand. I explained that he can reach over with his right hand and then he pulled it off just fine. It didn't occur to him to use a bilateral movement.
    Twenty minutes earlier he was explaining to me how ancient Egyptian cement is stronger than the cement these days and all the scientific components as to why with the same type of articulation as a textbook.
    And the public reactions...always exemplary in nature.
    Why is it my son knew how to make bread by memory at 3 yrs old but couldn't tie his shoes until he was 12? lol
    Sigh. Yup. I can relate.
    You do Rock!

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  4. I am curious if you have a sense for your son's self-awareness level, meaning, do you think he perceives a situation like what happened on this day the same way you or I would? Do you think he can sense how others react to him, such as how strange it might seem to others that a sound from a light would affect him so strongly when they don't or barely hear it?

    I ask only because frankly if he can sense all that I honestly can't imagine what life is like for a little boy in school who faces multiple stressful situations every day due to various Asperger's or sensory issues. My heart hurt to read this and I wanted to rescue him from the class to start providing a more gentle experience such as with homeschooling maybe, even if was just to be able to learn in a room without buzzing lights. However kids do need to cope with the world so I don't mean totally shelter him from the world until age 18 but just have something less challenging on a daily basis.

    I homeschool my kids. I don't have kids on the spectrum but have a nephew with severe autism (12) who is nonverbal. I have a sensitivity about kids on the spectrum. One of my son's had some sensory issues. I get the gist of all this stuff but won't pretend to know what it is like to actually mother someone on the spectrum.

    Mother to mother, kudos to you. I would think it would be really trying and stressful. For me it would be hard to know when to step in, when to let things just happen, wen to prevent a stressful thing from happening and when to let it happen then learn from it. I don't know how I'd handle it except maybe situation to situation and day to day?

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  5. I'm back. LOL

    I was thinking about this most of the afternoon. I shared the post with Hubby too as we can relate so much!

    I just wanted to say a couple of things:

    1) I love how you had the sense to use a keyword, "calm" and "control". I do that with my guys all the time and it really does help. I met to write that earlier as an encouraging note but I guess through my tears, I totally missed it!

    2) (and this is for Christine-way to go Christine! :D too because she mentions homeschooling and for you, since I know what you've done in the past :)
    I know you've homeschooled your boys. I know you know I still homeschool mine. I know how much Jagger has grown over this last year. I know how much you struggled with putting him in school (as well as your other boys). I know that on the day of the yellow crayon, you wanted to yank him home right then and there. I know you didn't have a choice.

    I also know that he's doing much better now. That by the luck of the draw, you got him a school that actually works with you (that doesn't exist where I am...lol). I know that you have worked hard to establish a good foundation with the teachers and workers and I know you've advocated a good fight when needed.

    I just wanted to pop back and say, well, I'm still really happy we homeschool (LOL) and that I know you're doing above and beyond in a day, what most parents do in an entire lifetime with those boys!

    I also, still enjoy the Jaggerisms so much! lol
    XO
    (Ok, off to write my own stuff. lol Considering I have fevers right now, this ought to be interesting. lol)

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  6. @Jim, yes, he is incredibly articulate. It's wonderful. But it's also a challenge because people expect his social skills and behavior to be on the same level as his intelligence. That's not the case at all.

    School has its ups and downs. It seems like there is no middle ground. However, I am incredibly happy to report that this year has been easier than last - at least so far.

    Yes, I actually purchased The Curious Incident...but unfortunately it's in my big stack of books that I still need to read. (And that's a really stupid thing to say because I've switched over to almost all electronic books, so it's hardly a stack! :) I should move that one to the top of the queue.

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  7. @Crystal - thanks! You rock too!

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  8. @Jen - I knew you would understand! Very interesting story about the toenails. I wouldn't have thought of that but it makes sense.

    Yes, one of the things we have learned is that when the child is having a meltdown due to sensory issues, the last thing they need to hear is "Ok now, you need to take some time and calm down and breathe and...." Too many words just make everything worse. Instead, I make direct eye contact with him and say "Calm" or "Control" and he repeats it back to me. I also sometimes use the word "Focus".

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  9. @Christine - thanks so much for visiting and for your feedback!

    Good question - no, he doesn't see these situations they way you or I would. He's a very trusting child and he doesn't understand social relationships. He thinks everyone is his friend - even those children who have said cruel things to him. He doesn't read people's emotions and he takes everything literally. He does notice that people are staring at him after an incident like this one, but he doesn't understand why. It is heartbreaking to see a child being rude to him and later hear him say he can't wait to play with that "friend" :(

    I also should have given more information to explain that he does receive special services at school and the story above is not what he experiences on a daily basis - just as he is adjusting. Changes are very difficult for him and this was the first introduction to a new classroom, new teachers, and new classmates. He is now "settled in".

    The teacher has done an excellent job of explaining Jagger's sensory issues to the students and we're now at the point where the students are quite compassionate. They help him in many circumstances.

    I've also worked with the teacher, school psychologist, and occupational therapist to set up his own private "office" in the classroom. It's a corner of the room that has a small desk and cubicle panels. This is a place he can go to take a break or do some independent work. We've decorated it with some calming images and included stress balls and other items that soothe him. He also has noise-cancelling headphones that he wears in the cafeteria and gym and in noisy situations. He's also allowed to leave the classroom and go the occupational therapy room as needed. He calms down significantly after sitting in the bean bag chair with a weighted blanket on top of him.

    I should also say that situations like this are rare at home, where he is in a comfortable environment. The problems are more significant when he is somewhere else. Interestingly, we do travel often and he has very few sensory issues in places I would expect them (crowded airports, on the airplane, etc). In those situations, we have to deal more with him wandering off and being too friendly with strangers.

    As for homeschooling, I did homeschool my children for many years and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would do it again in a heartbeat if I could (although I'd be sending my 16 year old somewhere for his honors Calculus class - I just don't do math :) Unfortunately it's just not possible for us right now. Kudos to you for doing so - it is such a great thing!

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  10. Thank you for sharing. I cry as I type this, because I have a 5 year old with sensory processing disorder, who is also gifted and in 2nd grade. He tells me, regularly, "Mom, they liked me at first. Then, I don't know...they just don't anymore." The same thing happens. Either he's having a good sensory day when they meet, then something triggers him, or they can look past the acting out...until someone gets hurt. It's always hard to remain calm in these situations, because I feel protective of my son, sorry for the ones he's scaring/hurting, sensitive to the disapproving stares of the parents of the other children and angry at myself for not being able to stop all of this all at the same time. It is always inspiring to me to be able to read about parents who are able to remain calm in these situations. It gives me hope for myself. Right now, I'm just faking it. Thank you!

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  11. I'm glad that he's in a school where the faculty works with him and you. When things are explained to kids, they are so much more accepting than adults about our differences. Sending him to school will benefit him with more social situations, and the skills to cope with them. But getting to know him will benefit his classmates as well: expanding horizons for all!

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