I had a conference with Bud's teacher, Mrs. Hanlan, and the special ed team this week. My sense going into the meeting was that the year is going well, that his teacher and he are a good "fit," and that the dysregulation that was a hallmark of his second grade year has faded substantially in third grade - and I was delighted to hear that the team felt the same way.
They told me about the progress Bud has made in the past few months - like the real conversation he had with a neurotypical peer about a class project on scientists and the stories he's added to his writing journal that are actual accounts of his life and not scripts lifted from Elmo's World (though, I must admit, Bud seems to prefer fiction over nonfiction, as he tends toward revisionist history. One account of a real hike we did together, in which I lost my sunglasses, ended with Bud saving the day and finding the glasses behind a rock. Alas, in real life, it took a trip to the pharmacy to get some new sunglasses on my face.) I also heard about Bud's challenges this year, and while they remain real and significant, there were no surprises and nothing that took my breath away. This, I have learned, is a sign that the school year is starting well.
One story, in particular, captured the essence of his third-grade classroom for me. Mrs. Hanlan told me that last week the children were working in their writing journals on pieces about something they do well. Bud was in the back of the classroom, behind a bookshelf and out of view of the class, writing his essay on the classroom computer with his aide, Ms. Brett. He was good, he told Ms. Brett, at singing. And then, to prove his point, he launched into the ABC song.
Mrs. Hanlan watched as the other children worked at their desks. At first, Bud sang low and the children paid little attention. As the song progressed, though, so did Bud's confidence, and soon he was singing at full voice. The children stopped what they were doing and started listening, looking up at the teacher to gauge her reaction. She knew that Bud couldn't see his classmates' response, so as soon as he finished, she said quietly to the class, "Now you sing back to him."
The children launched into the ABCs in response, and as Bud peered around the corner to watch them, his smile grew and his eyes gleamed. As soon as they finished, Bud, uncertain about how to handle the sudden attention, flushed a bright pink, turned to his aide and said, "Movement break?"
Ms. Brett stood with him and they made their way into the hallway, then Bud turned back, popped his head into the doorway, and said, "Thank you, everybody. Bye, now!"
A girl in the class, not sure what to make of the exchange, giggled the kind of nervous giggle that conveys discomfort - the kind of giggle that says, "That was not what I'm used to, and so I'm not sure if that was okay."
Mrs. Hanlan took her cue and addressed the class. "Bud communicates in a different way," she told them, "And we just had really good communication with Bud."
As she finished recounting the story, she said to me, "I hope that was okay to say. It felt like an important moment."
"It was more than okay," I answered, surprised that I was not too choked up to speak.
As we were wrapping up our conference, I raised the issue that had been on my mind, but that I'd been afraid to address: homework. I launched in, tripping over my words: "Homework is a battle for us. Bud fights it with everything he has. "Home is NOT school!" he tells me. It's not possible to do it during the week - he's exhausted after a full day at school, and by the time I get home from work we have just about an hour before it's time to get him ready for bed. So that leaves the weekends - which is our time - our only time - our Mom and Bud Days - and he resents the imposition of homework on that time - and I dread the battle that I know it will bring - and - and - and -"
Mrs. Hanlan understood completely. Even in the classroom, she said, she saw that she had much greater success when she engaged Bud in an activity without announcing that the activity was about to begin. Proclamations like "In a few minutes, we will write a story" prompted argument from Bud; sidling up to him with a laptop prompted cooperation. So we've decided to take an integrated approach to homework. We're focusing on reading - an activity he has always done at home, but has lately been fighting. And they'll keep me updated with the concepts that I can reinforce at home - for instance, they're currently working with him on the value of pennies, nickels and dimes. So, we can count change at home. Or play restaurant. Or buy candy at the store. But I won't have to clear the Sunday papers off the kitchen table and lay out a stack of printed worksheets and prepare for battle.
Bud's teacher and team also have great ideas about the direction to take with him in the months to come. Music, they said, is key. They will find more opportunities to build music into the classroom - perhaps call-and-response songs, or singing in a round - or dancing, which might appeal to Bud's musical affinity and also address his need for movement and strong sensory input in a way that includes the other children in the class. And they'll focus on peer interaction - one-on-one opportunities to play simple games, to have "parallel" play on the playground when it's not swarming with children, to have back-and-forth engagement and conversation. Bud's ready, they say, and the other children in the class will be eager to participate.
We've still got a lot to work on, of course, and Bud still has challenges, both academic and attitudinal. But there are glimmers there as well. I've mentioned before that Bud starts his school day the same way almost every day - by walking into the school lobby and greeting Ms. Brett, whom he adores, by bellowing "OH NO! IT'S YOU AGAIN!", before turning to me and pleading with me not to leave.
But Friday - coincidentally, the day after my meeting with Bud's team - Bud broke with his routine. We walked through the school doors and Bud approached Ms. Brett and said "Howdy!" I didn't want to give him any time to reconsider, so I gave him a very quick kiss and turned to rush out the door, as I heard his chipper voice behind me call out "Bye, Mom!"
I still don't know what prompted Bud's sudden change of heart and dramatic change in pattern, and I'm certainly not sure that it will last. But it's a start - a good start - and I'll take it. This year - this third grade year - I will gladly take it all.