Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Apparently, There's a Part 3 (and Maybe Even a Part 4)

Remember back a few weeks ago when I wrote a letter to the manager of the gym where Sky and Pink do gymnastics/trampoline? Even though I thought the solutions we'd come to were imperfect, I was encouraged by my discussion with the gym managers and the coach's introduction of a visual schedule for class.

And, for a couple of weeks, things went well, but then Ren had another spine surgery and chaos found its way back into our lives. With the chaos came behavior regression, which impacted Sky across the board. He got into more trouble at school and spent quite a bit of time in his room chilling out with a book in his swing. Not surprisingly, the chaos impacted Sky in trampoline class, too.

The thing is, if it was possible for me to have a conversation with Sky's teacher John, I'm sure we could have worked through these bumps. Unfortunately, open communication is not really John's style. John's style is my way or the highway, even in his interaction with parents. I was a competitive athlete, so I get it, I really do. And, in an ideal world where my kid isn't on the autism spectrum and doesn't have to work his tail off just to appear "normal," I would want a hard-nosed coach like John pushing him to achieve his goals as an athlete.

But, that's not where we are right now. Right now our goals are much more mundane. We're working on helping Sky figure out how to wait his turn and how to keep from having verbal outbursts even with the sensory assault that comes with a gym full of kids doing a hundred different things.

Pairing sensory overload with Sky's unquenchable desire to jump can sometimes be a recipe for disaster. On good days, Sky can keep it together and do exactly what he's supposed to do when he's supposed to do it. Sure his social skills are a bit rough around the edges, and he can perseverate just a tad too much on Star Wars, but he actually does quite well. On other days, when all our ducks are not in a row for any of a myriad of reasons, trampoline is HARD. I suppose, on those days, I could just keep Sky home. Goodness knows I'd love to shelter him from all those things that are so much harder for him than for his peers. But, he won't learn anything from that, and he sure as heck won't figure out how to adjust and fit in.

I knew that trampoline class would be challenging the week after Ren's surgery, so we did what we could to prepare. We talked about Sky's nervous energy and brainstormed ways to manage it in the gym setting. We read through the list of rules John had given him. We discussed John's expectations, and gave Sky time to make sure he was ready.

Unfortunately, as soon as his feet hit the tumble floor, Sky became a ball of poorly-managed nervous energy; his voice volume was too high and his ability to hear, process, and properly carry out various trampoline-related tasks, too low. As much as I tried to will Sky into settling down and making the best choices, I couldn't help him get a handle on his increasingly out-of-control physical self. (When Sky is really out-of-sync, his body doesn't quite do what he wants it to do, and he looks a lot like a boy who's being disrespectful or goofy.) I saw all of this coming (indeed, I could have predicted it), but it was impossible to talk to John, much less strategize with him about how to head it off.

About 20 minutes into the 45 minute session, John sat Sky out for what looked like silly behavior on the trampoline. I actually think that having Sky sit out for a few minutes is appropriate and can serve to remind him to keep control of all of the conflicting impulses he experiences. But, John didn't just sit him out for a couple of turns. He had Sky sit through three full rotations of his classmates, about 15 minutes in all. At the start of the fourth rotation, when John still refused to hear Sky or to take a minute to talk to him about what had happened, Sky started to freak out. Sitting in the bleachers what felt like light years away from Sky, I knew what he was thinking--he needed John to know he didn't do the wrong thing on purpose.** But, John didn't care why Sky didn't do what he was told; he only cared that he seemed to be defying his authority.

When it became clear that there was no end to Sky's timeoutin sight, and when it also became clear that Sky was about to lose it FOR REAL, I relented and waved him off the gym floor. I probably shouldn't have, but I didn't see what another power struggle with John was going to achieve. This was one of the (many, many, many, many) moments in our lives with autism when there really was no good choice.

Once he had permission to leave the floor, Sky ran to me with tears in his eyes, and said what he'd been wanting to say to John, "I know he thinks I did the exact opposite of what he told me, but I really was trying. I wish he'd believe in me."

To be continued....

** If I had a dollar for all the hours of my life I've spent explaining to Sky the difference between intention and resultant action, I could take a first-class trip around the world. Twice.

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