Sky went back to school this week, so we've been talking and thinking about ways to improve upon last semester. Here's what he took to school with him on the first day back from break:
(Yes, I know the snacks aren't organic, but do you know how hard it is to find casein-free, gluten-free, organic snacks in the rural Midwest?).
Click here to see some of what Sky took with him on the first day last fall.
And, here is an excerpt from a series of e-mails I sent to his teacher in preparation for the start of the second semester. I wonder if those of you out there with ASD kids have to explain things like this throughout the school year, too? I feel like I am telling them the same story over and over and over again. I can't decide if I am being an overbearing jerk or persistently helpful, but I want to do whatever I can to make sure Sky feels like he is being heard. And the good thing about his school is that the teachers are willing to implement various interventions as long as I keep educating them about what works.
Dear Mrs. N,
Before the break, I noticed that many of the incidents recorded on his daily behavior log had to do with blurting, speaking inappropriately or out of turn, and crashing into others. These are certainly behaviors we want to help him better control, but they are also the very things his PDD-NOS makes difficult for him. It makes sense to have him to write his name in the book to remind him about/alert him to the inappropriate behaviors, but taking away his recess time is counterproductive for several reasons.*
First, like many other ASD kids, Sky doesn't respond well to negative reinforcement in the form of punishment. It merely stresses him out without actually changing the undesirable behavior (and sometimes even worsens the behavior due to his frustration and anxiety), particularly in cases where the behavior is related to his issues like blurting, crashing, and poor use of pragmatic language. Second, punishments that make him stick out from his peers can serve to further alienate him from them because he feels even more different than usual. Finally, having Sky miss recess deprives him of much needed stress/energy release as well as important opportunities to continue to work on his social skills. If he must miss recess, is it possible to give him something constructive to do such as reading or maybe even practicing social stories that would help him better manage his behavior in class?
Sky is motivated by positive reinforcement. So, perhaps you could come up with a system in which he gets one point on days when he only gets his name in the book once and two points when he doesn't have to write it at all. Then after he accumulates a certain number of points, maybe he could be rewarded with computer lab time or something else that he enjoys. Something like this which focuses on rewarding the acquisition of desired behavior instead of punishing failures he can't always control should be more effective and is also more in line with current thinking regarding autism education.
Blah, blah, blah. I'm beginning to feel like a broken record, but fortunately, Sky's teachers always seem willing to talk with me and work with me to help Sky regroup and carry on. And, lately, I have been thinking that maybe things with school aren't so bad. I mean, in many ways, Sky's an imperfect egg, so he will always struggle a bit. But much of what he is doing is going quite well. He participates in extracurricular activities with his peers. He does fine academically and seems to have supportive friends at school. And, his teachers seem patient and willing to work with him despite the time and energy he can require of them.
I constantly wonder whether we should keep him in his private school, where classes are small, the teachers are accessible and helpful, and he knows and is familiar with all of the kids in his grade. Or, whether we should move him to public school, which would save us money and give him access to free special education support. He gets some where he is now, but not much. The problem, though, is that there is no guarantee things would be much better in public school. Because he does well academically, I don't know that he would fit the profile of kids who could access more services than he already gets in his current setting. I have a feeling I would have to fight long and hard to get him any support at all, and even then it would probably wind up being more time for tests, placing his desk at the front of the room, and allowing him to bring fidget toys to class (all of which he already gets at his current school). Plus, the public school classes are larger, and he would be exposed to more kids about whom I know nothing. When you have a kid who learns to interact solely by modeling his peers, this is big. It's vital for me to know who his peers are and to have some say over the type of influences he encounters. A private, religious school enables me to do that.
Home schooling is not an option for us, but if you have any suggestions regarding the public versus private question, I am all ears! Please help me figure this out, so I don't have to worry about it so much!
* At Sky's school, kids who have to write their "names in the book" more than once per day lose part or all of their recess. This is something I have to "negotiate" with teachers every year.