Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Letter

Here's the letter I sent to Safety Guy's teachers and counselors at school yesterday.  I omitted a paragraph of personal information, and changed the names - otherwise, the letter is as I sent it.


To the staff at C---------CSD who will be working with my son, 

I can hardly believe SG is going to be a freshman this year. I wish he were more excited about the transition to high school, and it's true he is a little bit excited. But he's also very anxious and even fearful about returning to the classroom next week. I wish this weren't the case, but it's true.

Eighth grade was very difficult for SG, especially during the spring semester. He experienced a lot of verbal bullying last year from a handful of his classmates (resource and regular, 7th and 8th graders), which increased in intensity as the school year went on. A couple weeks before school ended he was assaulted in the hallway by another student (XX) who punched SG in the head. SG suffered a mild concussion. My husband and I reported the assault to the police, and XX has avoided SG since then, except for flipping him off once or twice when he's seen him at the pool over the summer. SG is justifiably uncomfortable to be in the classroom with XX again this year, and I'm asking you to please keep an eye on their interactions when they do share a class.

Many times during the year, almost daily, SG was called “gay,” “fat,” “retard,” “stupid,” “weak,” “wimp,” “soft,” and other similar insults. He was mocked for his weight, among other things. These insults were done during unstructured time, hallway transitions, and during lunch, and even very quietly during class when the teachers were busy with other students. The antagonizing was often subtle and covert, until SG would lose his temper.

SG did his best to ignore the insults, and sometimes he could brush them off and move on, but sometimes he would reach his limit and react loudly, yelling at the other students. His overreaction seemed to be the goal of the other students, who would get him upset then be amused when he'd get in trouble for yelling or swearing at them. At times he would also swear at his teachers when they tried to intervene or divert him or the other students with whom he was angry. He would always apologize and feel badly for acting out at adults after he calmed down, but the damage was done, and by losing his temper and swearing in class he put the teachers in a position where they had to give him a detention for his public outburst and offensive language. In the second half of last year he had more write-ups and detentions and suspensions than his previous 2 ½ years in public school combined, and then some. We had several meetings with his teachers and with Mr. G, Mrs. J, Mr. F, and Mr. L to try to address this issue, but the fact was that no matter how hard SG tried to mind his behavior (and he did try, beyond what most kids with Aspergers can handle), the other students continued their bullying behavior. Not enough changed from the other students, and then SG was assaulted at the very end of the year.

SG now feels that the school will do little or nothing to keep him safe, and that school is not a place where he will be allowed to learn in peace. He's a struggling student in math and science, and needs all the help he can get. Last year his grades bottomed out as his stress level peaked, in spite of intervention at school and at home, and counseling both at school and individually outside of school. He became inconsistent at turning in work, depressed, and angry, and felt that he'd gotten into such a deep hole that he'd never be able to climb out again, so why try? He gave up. Over the summer he confessed to us that he'd felt suicidal in the spring, but didn't tell anyone.

SG also started antagonizing some of the other students back, to avoid being seen as weak (one of their taunts). He figured he would strike first, and get the upper hand. That never worked in his favor either. Discipline at school and at home did little to curb his growing urge to lash out at the students he thought had bullied him. I'm very concerned about this negative cycle in his life. His emotional maturity is delayed due to his Asperger Syndrome, and it's taking him longer to internalize the self-control that will allow him to make better decisions when he's upset. It's as if he's almost 15 years old chronologically, he looks 17 or 18 physically, and he acts 11 or 12 emotionally. It's not a good combination. He needs consistent, step-by-step help with being able to recognize his own emotions and modify his behavior or choose to leave a situation before things get to the explosion point.

SG needs continued help to manage his emotions and reactions to negative situations in school. He knows the steps he can take to defuse situations or report teasing or bullying, but he often forgets to implement these steps in the heat of the moment. Mrs. J has done a wonderful job working with SG to self-monitor and find better ways to deal with his emotions than acting out verbally, including peer mediation with his classmate CC, with whom he has had many difficulties. (SG and CC often get on each others' nerves because they've known each other for a few years, have been friends in the past, and are very much alike in personality and stress points.) SG has recently stated to me that he'd like to patch up his relationship with CC so they can help each other and stand up for each other, instead of working against each other. I hope the two of them can work on this goal and become friends again.

This seems like a whole lot of negatives to start my introduction of my son to you, but it's necessary if you're going to understand some of the peer relationships and interactions you're likely to see with SG in class. My hope is that having more staff working with him will allow more eyes to be on the peer interactions, so that bullying issues can be nipped in the bud before they become serious. I don't want SG to disrupt your classes by his own behavior, but I also don't want him to be goaded into doing so due to covert peer bullying. We all agree that school should be a safe environment for our students. It was not always that way for SG last year. I sincerely hope that this year is much better for him.

I know you've read SG's IEP by now and understand the basics of his needs – his executive function issues, his need for help being organized, his math learning disability, his social/emotional immaturity, his perseveration on topics of interest to him, and his distractibility. I know you'll address those needs with skill and dedication. I don't need to rehash them here.

What I want you to know about my son is that he's a really neat young man. He loves all sorts of music, collects vintage video games, and is crazy about cars. He likes to study public safety, fire alarms, auto crash tests, shipwrecks, and natural disasters. He hopes to work in criminal justice someday, and will be going to BOCES in a couple years to give it a try. He has a sharp sense of humor (including word-play), and loves good old-fashioned slapstick comedy (ask him about Buster Keaton, or Harold Lloyd, or the Three Stooges). He enjoys working with younger kids, and helps in our church's toddler nursery. He's gentle and kind with kids with disabilities, and volunteers to work with a younger kid with severe classic autism at church (with adult supervision), and he makes time to play with our neighbor's young son who has Down Syndrome when he and his father walk over to use our old swing set. He's discovered that he likes to write, and this summer has been working on a screenplay for a crime drama. SG is interested in business, and wants to give the Future Business Leaders of America club a try. SG has a great memory for detail and trivia for subjects he's interested in. He enjoys studying history, but isn't much into reading fiction - he prefers to read for information, not pleasure. He's interested in forensics, and loves watching cop shows and true crime dramatizations. He's been taking a fitness class since the spring, with TC of NBC Gym. He enjoys being helpful and he likes routine. He collects Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars, and has a pet guinea pig named Flash. He's a gentle giant.

I hope this letter will give you some insight into SG's life. He wants to succeed. He wants to get better grades, pass everything, and move on in life. He's motivated to do well in school to have privileges like attending school dances, going to after-school clubs, and eventually having his own car on campus. It's easy for him to get into a negative emotional cycle, but sometimes he can just as easily be distracted from the downward spin.

A few last-minute suggestions:

It would be good if he could be reminded to take advantage of being allowed to go to the Guidance Office if he needs a cooling-off period during the day, or to chat with his counselor for a few minutes, if he can recognize he needs that space BEFORE he loses his cool.

Music is an excellent reward for his good choices – he uses his iPod to listen to music to calm himself all the time. Ask him about Jazz sometime.

He might also benefit from having lunch in the library, since I know Mrs. S has in the past let a limited number of students who need the quiet to do that. The cafeteria is auditory and social torture for SG.

Large study halls can also pose the same social/auditory issues as the cafeteria for SG, unless the teacher has a strict quiet study hall policy. If the study hall he is in is too noisy/crowded, please encourage him to find a teacher with a resource period he can take advantage of.

SG and I have discussed his academics, and he realizes that he needs to stay after for 10th period 3-4 days per week, for help with homework and projects. Most days I will pick him up from that (unless he rode his bike), since he views riding the late bus as a punishment and a trial.

SG has also expressed an interest in learning about lighting/sound board for drama club. That may be another good outlet for him as an extracurricular activity.

SG can be a bit of a daydreamer, and is easily distracted from the task at hand. He'll be more focused if he's not near a window or at the back of the classroom.

Thank you for taking the time to read this – I appreciate your hard work with our students, and I know you want SG to succeed almost as much as his father and I do. If you have ANY questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to call or email me or my husband. Also, if I'm subbing that day, you can catch me at school. Our contact information is below.