Sunday, April 20, 2014

All the Joy, All the Sorrow (Part 3)

The next morning, I decided not to look at my e-mail. And, instead I waited until after taking a shower, making breakfasts, packing lunches, seeing kids off on the school bus, taking Stow to daycare, grading, prepping, and teaching to see if I had gotten a reply.

Did I mention I CC-ed everyone on Sky's IEP team, the school principal, AND the head of the special education co-op for the region? Generally, I'm not a CC-er--it's a tad too passive aggressive for me. But people needed to know that the after-school program being promoted by the school and held in the building after hours was discriminating against kids like Sky. Besides, the e-mail exchange I had with the program director was a pretty good example of the kinds of concerns I'm trying to bring into better focus for Sky's IEP team.

With all of the CCs, I expected radio silence.

Instead, I got this--it'd hit my inbox at 6 a.m:
"Thank you truly for your enlightening email.  You are correct, I have handled this poorly, and I apologize for not reaching out to you in a timely manner....I am hoping, if it's still possible, you would allow me to try and remedy the situation."
My first instinct was to ignore her, to let her sweat. But then I reminded myself that my goal is to teach Sky self-advocacy while also educating people about autism.  So, I agreed to talk with her.

When we talked, she admitted that she had not done nearly enough to work with me to help Sky succeed. She also admitted that it was clear to everyone that Sky's behavior was not malicious, just disruptive. She even admitted that the so-called "crying girl" she mentioned in her earlier message is "pretty sensitive" and "cries about everything."

As calmly and as clearly as possible, I helped her deconstruct her own message, so she could see just how much damage she could do by choosing to tell a story in a particular way. The more we talked, the clearer it became that, in fact, Sky had done nothing wrong. He was just difficult to have in class. Period.

When she asked me to give her a chance to remedy the situation by having Sky back in the class, I said, "Well, I have to be honest--I don't feel entirely convinced that you've created an environment that suits Sky. I need to hear the concrete ways in which you plan to do things differently."

Sky's visual cue card.
Then I paused. I wanted to make sure she really got what I said next.

"But, this decision is not up to you. Or, even me. You disempowered Sky when you told him he couldn't come anymore. He should be in control, here. I will let him decide."

That day, after school, I explained to Sky that I'd talked to the program director and that she wanted to apologize for how she'd treated him. Then I told him he could go again if he wanted to. He thought about it for a minute and said, "You know, I think I will."

"Good," I replied. "Then let's talk about what you need to succeed there."

Without missing a beat he answered, "Let's see...Well, I can use my picture card. That helps. And, if I'm allowed to chew gum, it will remind me not to talk when I get too excited. I also really wish I could have a blank piece of paper to draw on. I think I will bug people less if I have something to do with my hands while I wait. And, I really wish the teacher would let me get up and walk around from time to time. You, know, since I can't bounce my feet on my chair like I do in Mrs. A's class."

This, you guys. This is what it looks like when Sky advocates for himself. When Sky thinks people are judging him and failing to see him for who he is, he can't do this. But, when he starts to believe he is being heard and seen, he can blow your mind.


All the joy.

As improbable as it seems, sometimes all the joy comes from all the sorrow. That my sensitive, smart, and funny kid can take his heartbreak and so swiftly turn it into forgiveness and action blows my mind. But, it also reminds me not to look away when things get hard. Because if I do, I just might miss out on some of that joy.

Part 1
Part 2

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