Friday, August 15, 2014

Dear Gym Manager, Part Deux

Several days after I sent my message (read part 1 here), I got a reply. It came a few hours before Sky's scheduled class with John. Before I got this e-mail, I was still undecided about what to do. The gym manager's response didn't make the decision any easier.

Dear Moe,

I have spoken to my co-manager regarding your son.  She has spoken to John about the situation that occurred during class.  My co-manager does believe that John is still the best teacher for your son even though he has a tougher approach to situations.  She also believes after speaking with John that he would never "punish" your son if it was an issue related to his Autism but would hold Sky accountable for his actions if he was testing authority.  John also wanted you to know that he did not kick Sky out of class, Sky choose to leave when John asked him to sit down and wait while he gave the rest of the class the next instruction.  In John's view of that situation Sky did not want to wait for John to provide instructions to the rest of the class  If that situation happens again John believes he cannot act any differently than he did since Sky was unwilling to wait for John so he is unsure of what he can change in the future. He will take each situation as it comes and decide the best way to handle it at that time but if Sky is not cooperating and it is not due to his Autism John will have him sit out hoping he will learn to wait for further instructions before leaving class or that non compliance has a consequence of sitting out. If you feel you are unable to work with John and his methods we can start looking into other instructors.  Let me know if you are going to give this another try and see how it goes or if you would like me to look for another class.  Whatever you decide I would like you to be satisfied and happy with Sky's class. 

Gym Manager

Besides the punctuation and grammar issues, what bugged me about this is that I didn't seem to be getting through to them. Autism (with its mysteriously capitalized A) doesn't always look like you expect, and "bad" behavior can mean a lot of different things. Believe me when I tell you guys that THIS is the biggest hurdle when you have a kid like Sky. People always think he's doing something to be a jerk. Occasionally he is, but most of the time he's not. My points about the need to develop a means of communication and about the importance of teacher training didn't get far either. 

I started to consider the possibility that this would be one of those times when advocacy failed, but instead of throwing my hands up in the air and pulling Sky out of the class,** I decided to write back.

Thank you for following up on this.

As I have said, I never thought John kicked Sky out of class. Sky left because he wanted help communicating. That was not a great choice on his part, but the only one he felt he had. I am happy to keep Sky working with John, but I do think it's very important to understand some behaviors that kids with autism demonstrate don't look like what most people think autism looks like. We are in agreement in that I want Sky to learn appropriate behavior and what he needs to do to comply, but it's pretty important to understand how autism affects Sky in order to know why he behaves in certain ways and how to best work on those behaviors. I understand there are limits to what can be done in class, but I hope his instructors understand that autism impacts kids in much more complicated ways than they may realize. Sky is brilliant and a good kid, but he is also not coming from the same stratosphere as a lot of his peers. 

I am not advocating for John to be less strict or to hold Sky less accountable, what I am advocating for is that people who work with kids today understand that autism doesn't look like what you might expect it to and that failure to communicate does not equal non compliance. Sometimes it equals panic. I hope in the future John will give clear cause and effect statements (i.e. "if you don't do this warm up, I know your body is not ready to be on the trampoline, so you won't be able to be on the trampoline") and instructions. I hope it will work out for Sky with John because he does love the class.

I'll be honest, I thought this was a pointless gesture (though one I felt compelled to make).** As I finished up at work and prepared to head out to meet Big Sissy and the kids at the gym, I had already resigned myself to the class going poorly. These folks didn't seem to be getting it AT ALL.

Then, just before I shut down my computer, I got this:

Thank you for your cause and effect example I find that to be very helpful. I will relay this to John in hopes of finding a better way to communicate with Sky.

Hmph. Well, that's something. And, something is better than nothing. I wasn't ready to feel a glimmer of hope, but my sense of doom lessened a bit as I drove to the gym. When I got there, John was going over this with Sky:

It's certainly not perfect--it looks like the malformed beginnings of a really heavy-handed social story (with a seriously underdeveloped narrative voice). Still, if the thought counts, we were definitely getting somewhere. These rules were laminated ahead of time, and John explained them to Sky before class. Then he let Sky ASK QUESTIONS!! That alone convinced me that all hope wasn't lost after all. Upon reading these, Sky asked, "Is it okay to yell if I break my arm or leg?" (A perfectly logical question based on his experience and rule #2 on the list--If you're wondering, in this case John finds it is perfectly acceptable to yell).

In the end, the lesson went well. Sky worked to remember the rules and John willingly overlooked his slip ups. Most importantly, they seemed happy together and Sky got to get back on the trampolines.

In the end, here's what I learned: sometimes advocacy doesn't work like you want. Sometimes the messages get lost or misinterpreted. That's okay. Keep trying because even when folks don't seem to get it, they can still do okay by your kid. And, in the end, that's what's most important, anyway.

**I never sent my letter to the swim instructor and just pulled Sky from the class, instead. I still kind of regret it. Silence helps no one really.

1 comment:

paddy said...

As they say - To shake hands, both parties have to stick out their hands. Good job!!