Saturday, May 10, 2014

Change is inevitable and necessary


I haven’t written an update in so long, and it seems that the past several months have flown in a blur. This winter was extremely challenging for us for many reasons, including a painful snowpocalypse that left us indoors far longer than is healthy for any of us. With that came depression, rage, and many other unpleasant mood swings from every single one of us in the house. There were weeks where we just fed off of each other’s “stuff,” and all forms of coping mechanisms became somewhat crippling and divisive. In the midst of all of that, we decided to re-enroll the boy child in public school on a part time basis.

It started this summer when we had the neuropsych evaluation that, although we now realize inaccurately diagnosed him as intellectually disabled, did put the nibble into my brain that he likely wasn’t going to get all the necessary developmental help with just me alone. So we started more private therapy, including occupational, speech, and aqua. These have all strengthened him and have helped him develop more appropriate means of emotional and sensory regulation. He is progressing quite well, and in the past few months we have really seen an improvement with his mood to the point where we have cut his medication in half with the intention of eliminating it altogether.

After a disastrous attempt at going through a special education attorney who could not follow directions, we decided to start the evaluation process on our own with the school. The assistant student services coordinator for the district contacted me, and we set up numerous evaluations with the staff at his old school with the assumption that he would not be returning to a general ed classroom there after the nightmare that was 2nd grade. That process, although thorough, took 4 months starting in December, and by end of March, we had found the perfect classroom for him. He is now in a self-contained classroom with 5 other kids, and the staff there is supportive and incredible. The primary focus of the program is learning to reach for appropriate coping tools for dealing with frustration and other difficult emotions. The first hour of each day is designated for emotionally checking in with each other and talking through any lingering issues before beginning the day. There are sensory breaks scheduled into the day, and there is never any pressure to remain seated. Perrin is free to get up and move about as needed without judgment or admonishment. There’s even a fellow ticcer that he can commiserate with. He only attends until after lunch and recess, and we continue to homeschool and attend therapy in the afternoon. It is the best of both worlds, and we couldn’t be happier with this change.

Today, after 4 weeks in the program, I met with his entire team to follow up on his progress, and I heard nothing but wonderful things about my son. About how he shows empathy towards his classmates and is becoming more receptive to social correction when he says something unkind in the spur of the moment. He is developing a better understanding of why it’s important to think before he acts and how things said and done in the heat of frustration can be hurtful to others. He is developing friendships and practicing those social skills that just weren’t possible on a daily basis while homeschooling. Although there have been so many benefits to homeschooling full time, I have realized that Perrin truly desired that rigid schedule of walking into a classroom, hanging up his backpack, and starting the school day with other kids every single day. He was the most excited about getting to take a lunchbox to the cafeteria every day and eat with other kids. These were things I had no idea he cared about until now.

The past two years have really opened my eyes about my view of education, and my priorities have definitely shifted in what I consider to be crucial in harvesting a love of learning. Perrin may still struggle to read, but he devours information about history and science in his own ways. We have learned to adjust expectations and find creative ways to learn. I have loved that watching documentaries and visiting museums became our primary source or information about the world around us. I loved that I didn’t have to teach to a test or give grades, which would have been soul crushing to him. But, in the end, I also realized that spending 13 hours of every day with each other was damaging our relationship, and I needed some of the pressure off of me before it became too much to handle for both of us. I missed being “fun Mom” and dreaded the daily argument over schoolwork that left us both stressed and exhausted. I needed a team.

But now he and I get 3 hours of our own lives, independent of each other, and I love the freedom he now feels at being part of a classroom again. I love that his new teacher and I are partners in his education, where we both understand that some days it’s just going to be about helping Perrin get through the day, and if that means no academic work gets done but he comes home happy, that was a good day.  I love that an important part of their day is playing games and having a dance party to cheer everyone up when the work is too hard. I love hearing Perrin brag to me that he used a coping tool when he got upset or that he earned a reward for helping a friend when he was feeling sad. It’s just enough time for him to feel like he’s no longer missing out on something but not so much that he’s strapped to a desk all day wrestling with his own body.

We have found that delicate balance where we are all happy with the situation, and we will ride this joy for as long as it lasts. As we do all the others. Together.