Saturday, May 11, 2013

Wabbit Season, Duck Season, IEP Season

Safety Guy filming Burnside Bridge at Antietam in April.

Safety Guy's IEP meeting is this Monday morning.  I'm not sure how this is going to go, given SG's difficulties over the past four months.  Since Christmas his behavior has been very erratic at school, very volatile, and he's begun acting out at the bullies using their own bullying tactics, as well as yelling at his teachers when they try to redirect him or mediate with his peers.  He often says that the teachers don't do anything to help him, in spite of the fact that I know they really do.  He just wants swift, public justice (obviously in his favor), and if he can't see the consequences for the other students, he thinks they just get away with their behavior toward him, and will do it again.  (And they usually DO do it again, after whatever consequence they earn.)  Then he acts out, using the same rude language, offensive words and trash talk, sometimes even toward his teachers.  This gives his teachers no choice but to give HIM consequences, which he earns through his choices, but he doesn't necessarily understand why HE gets punished when someone else (may have) provoked him and (he thinks) deserves to be equally punished, if not more.

I am NOT HAPPY with these developments at all.  This is an ugly cycle we somehow need to stop, NOW.

I get that he's frustrated with being picked on.  I understand that he has low threshold for annoyance when it comes to auditory stimulation.  I know that he overreacts to certain things.  Heaven knows that I understand that no teacher can have eyes in the back of their head, x-ray vision and bionic hearing to catch every little interaction between all of their students every minute of the day.  I understand the limitations of staffing and budgets, and balancing the needs of individual students against the needs of their entire classrooms.  I really do understand.

None of that means a rat's patootie to me at the moment.  I'm sick and tired of Safety Guy being bullied.  The bullying hasn't stopped, it's just become more covert.  He's angry and frustrated, sad and upset, anxious and stressed, and he's acting out because of it.  Can I blame him?  No.  But we still have to deliver appropriate consequences for his choices even when he's acting out of frustration, or from over-stimulation related to his Aspergers.  The key word is "appropriate."

There's the crux of the problem:  How much of his recent behavior is related to his Aspergers?  How much is typical junior high boy stuff?  How much is related to the bullying?  How can we tell?  What can we do?  And how can we break this negative cycle?

I've had some very good conversations with his teachers, psychologist, counselor, and both the principal and vice principal - all professionals that I highly respect and have enjoyed working with.  We've tried a number of different approaches to helping Safety Guy, and for dealing with the bullies.  We've had some success (peer mediation with one peer has been showing some good results) and some failure (the bullying continues covertly, often behavioral or bullying problems carry over from less structured classes to more structured classes [backlash], and SG sometimes provokes to get back at the bullies or just lashes out verbally in frustration).  We're all frustrated up to the eyeballs with this situation.

Going into high school next year (aiyiyi, I can't believe he'll be in 9th grade), I'm very afraid this cycle will continue.  I'm afraid that he'll continue to be bullied, continue to be grouped with the same students, and continue this downward spiral of acting out on his frustration.  The options for separating him from some of the bullies are very limited, because of budget and staffing issues.  Basically, staff has been cut back over the past handful of years so much that there not enough special ed resource teachers to divide up the students who need their help into two or more groups per grade.  The same students with similar needs go in lockstep through most of their classes, together more often than not for junior high and all four years of high school.

This is a recipe for disaster for SG.

I've raised the idea of having a personal aide for SG, to assist him with navigating transitions between classes (where some of the bullying takes place), and to be a second set of eyes in the classroom.  I'm ambivalent about the idea, truthfully - Safety Guy doesn't need an aide for daily living skills, navigating the halls, or even doing his own school work.  The aide would essentially be a bodyguard, to run interference between him and the bullies, someone who would recognize when he's overstimulated or ready to blow his stack and encourage him to leave the room appropriately before he loses his cool, without chewing anyone out verbally.

But why should our son need a "bodyguard"?  Why can't the school find another way to deal with this issue? Why should I have to rub their noses in the fact that they have cut the budget so far that they cannot divide up students between two groups per grade to get the best mix of personalities and abilities?  Why should our son be essentially punished because the school doesn't have the space or staff it needs to do their best by him, or any other students with special needs?

This shouldn't be happening.  And I have nothing against the individual teachers and administrators that I know, who have done such excellent work with SG over the past three years.  They're also trapped by the system to some extent, especially the teachers.  I know they would like to have the flexibility to move students around and arrange academic/behavioral groupings to get the best results for all of their students.  I can't believe how hard this year has been for SG's main resource teacher, with a number of strong-willed, needy, and/or difficult kids in her class (and I include SG in that grouping).  She's a saint.  I'd have pulled my hair out months ago.

This ought to be an interesting meeting Monday.  I'm not looking forward to it, but I also am in a weird sort of way.  We need to air all of this out.  We need this "all hands on deck" meeting, with Safety Guy present.  It's his transitional meeting to high school, and we've already met with his guidance counselor to formulate a four-year plan for him, which will include vocational training of some sort through BOCES, and a NY Regents Diploma.  Somehow we've got to get from here to there without Safety Guy becoming more anxious, more depressed, or acting out to the point that he takes a swing at someone who has been picking on him.  And I'm very afraid that that's what will happen if we don't discuss all of our options - even a "bodyguard."


  1. Laurel,
    Do you know if the sort of bullying SG has experienced "typically" gets better as kids get older? I know that my youngest daughter experienced a pretty severe (but different) sort of bullying in middles school that has been a non-issue in high school? In other words, do kids "outgrow" this sort of bullying?
    I'm praying -- and hoping -- for you and for SG that high school will be a breath of fresh air from the difficult year you've all experienced.

    1. A lot of what's going on is the typical "fat," "gay," "retard" stuff - hurtful trash talk. The other part of what's going on is kids doing things to deliberately annoy him (like tapping fingers on their desk, which he can hear as loud as a hammer). I know he sometimes initiates negative interactions - he tries to be the classroom police, and gets annoyed when his peers won't listen. I can't tell you how many times we've tried to convince him that they don't HAVE to listen to him. Just because he's RIGHT doesn't mean he has the authority to make them comply. And sometimes he's instigating stuff to get back at others because they've bullied him in the past. Sometimes he's just had a bad day and blows up at a harmless comment not directed at him. I wish it were cut and dried, but it's like trying to untangle a ball of yarn made up of 6 or seven strands to find anything out. Aspergers? Bratty 8th grader? Typical boy trash talk? Social misunderstanding? Bullying back? Bad day? Coming down sick/recovering from being sick? Sheesh. Nothing is ever easy.