Sunday, November 09, 2008

Third grade's the charm

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.


Anonymous said...

Wow, what a great start to his year. I *adore* his teacher...and he sounds like a seriously charming boy. May the rest of the year go so smoothly.

Niksmom said...

Wow. Simply, wow. I laughed out loud and then got kind of teary reading about the ABC song incident. Bud's teacher sounds like an absolute gem, too. What great ideas for "homework" help.

Nothing like a heavy heaping of love and consistency with a dash of tincture of time thrown in, eh?

Anonymous said...

I think we need to move where you are.

I am always so very glad to hear about Bud's progress and the amazing team that you have there. Thanks for sharing 'the good stuff'.

Compare that to my parent/teacher conference last week where the teacher handed me 2 papers, didn't explain them, hadn't looked at them herself, and had nothing to say to me. For ten minutes.


Anonymous said...

Lucky Bud. And I'm so happy and relieved for you because as we know too well, when things are working at school, things are working. I hope the rest of the year goes well!!

kristina said...

Slowly and steady a when you're not looking, the progress---ok, the change---comes.

SpooWriter said...


Can Bud's teacher come talk to some of the general education teachers at my school?

You, and Bud, are very lucky. :-)

Anonymous said...

thank you for sharing this. The homework tips may be something that we will have to try to implement in the future. We are already battling homework in Kindergarten, so worried about higher grades!

Robin said...

What a thrilling update. I'm so glad to hear how well Bud is doing in third grade, and I'm thrilled that his teacher is doing so right by him. And to hear that he went easily into school the next day - that's how you know that things are REALLY going well!

*m* said...

This makes me a little weepy--in a good way, of course. Such great progress. Bravo for Bud, and his team, and his chorus! And his mom.

pixiemama said...

Wow. I'm going to "steal" these homework ideas to share with my son's teacher! I've been looking for an answer to that difficult battle. Thank you!

JoyMama said...

The ABCs interaction was priceless - what magnificent quick thinking on the part of the teacher! And wonderful problem-solving about the homework too.

I find it so interesting that preparing Bud for upcoming tasks is actually counterproductive when it comes to schoolwork -- when so many kids *need* to get those prompts in advance, or risk meltdown. Sometimes our kids just defy conventional wisdom, eh?

Anonymous said...


I stumbled onto your web site while researching anti-anxiety medications for my son. Stephen is 12 yrs old and after reading some of your stories I believe our sons have alot in common. He sounds axactly like Stephen did a few years back. Thanks for the info regarding your expierences with meds. Up until now we have managed without but we are now moving forward. Thanks again!


MOM-NOS said...

Sue, if more specific information about our experience with medication would be helpful, please feel free to contact me at momnosatgmaildotcom.

Thanks for stopping by!

Maddy said...

Thank you for that delightfully heart warming update.
Best wishes as always

Stat Mama said...

Our kids are fortunate to be in a time where issues are understood more fully, and dealt with in a kinder manner. I had the same issue with homework. I was utterly drained at the end of the school day, and there was no way I was going to deal with any more of it at home. Home was my time. Not to mention paper is a major sensory problem for me. And of course, my grades suffered and teachers treated me like I just didn't care. Oh, I cared. I just couldn't deal with the overload.

It sounds like your son has a wonderful teacher...and a wonderful advocate mom :)

datri said...

Your son has an amazing teacher! It always seems so hit and miss with school. Sometimes you get great teachers who are willing to do what works for your child and sometimes you get the "my way or the highway" teachers.

Would it be ok if I dropped you an email about medication? My daughter started Risperdal 4 weeks ago and aside from the eating nonstop, I haven't seen much change.

MOM-NOS said...

Datri, yes, absolutely feel free to e-mail!

Drama Mama said...

I want to dip Mrs. Hanlan in gold.

Unknown said...

The ABC interaction - how incredibly understanding, what quick thinking, what a gem of a teacher. I'm so happy for Bud - and you! It's these small moments of bliss which keep us parents going!

TEACH said...

It sounds like Bud is off to a great start with this school year and I am sure you are not only happy about this, but proud of him at the same time. I have read so many different accounts and heard so many “horror” stories from parents who have children who really struggle at the beginning of a new school year. As I am sure you are very much aware of, it is very difficult for children with autism to adapt to changes in their life and they just do not do well with changes in routines or schedules. A new school year brings about a whirlwind of change, not only a classroom full of new faces, but also new teachers that each have their individual teaching techniques and practices. It sounds like your son won the lottery with the teacher he has this year for third grade.
I love the story of how Bud started singing during the middle of class, just to prove that he was good at it. His aide must have been shocked! As you described his classroom environment and how the room is set up, I began wondering if he did not realize or maybe he just was unaware that his classmates would not be able to hear him singing. If he was seated behind a bookshelf while working on his essay on the computer, he may have not been able to see his peers and he may have forgotten that they were even in the same room as him. I love that Bud’s classmates then sung back to them. Even though it seems that he became embarrassed after this singing back and forth took place, I think it was a wonderful experience for Bud to be a part of. Of course I do not know what Bud’s normal behaviors usually look or sound like, but as I read your blog, I was surprised to read that he did not become overwhelmed throughout this. Most children with autism would be likely to scream out at their classmates for singing back or they would break-down and cry over embarrassment and maybe even thinking that his or her classmates were making fun of them. Does Bud usually get embarrassed easily or does he usually just go about doing his own thing, no matter who is watching? I know that some children with autism would do things like this to get attention, but I really think that Bud just wanted his aide to understand that he was a good singer. It was great that his classroom teacher took the time to explain to the rest of the class what had just taken place because that also will help the rest of the children understand Bud better. It may even help them understand how they can interact and communicate with Bud both in and outside of the classroom.
I can see how homework can be a battle, but it can become a battle with every child. They work all day during the school day and when they get home from school, all they want to do is play and have fun, not complete more work. It is great that Bud’s classroom teacher is so willing to offer suggestions on ways to practice the skills he learns during the school day, without having it turn into a battle. Playing things such as restaurant in order to practice learning money, not only is an important life skill, but it will also help him function in his community in an easier manner. His teacher seems to really have picked up on things that set Bud off and this is very important in order for him to be the most successful in school. It sounds like a great home/school connection has been formed between you and his teachers at school and that can play a huge role in why Bud is having such a successful year so far in third grade.

Nope. said...

That alphabet story...freaking excellent. I wish I had the understanding of such teachers in grade school...she sounds wonderful. Nominate her for teacher of the year.

j, aspie extraordinaire.

Beth Allums said...

Oh my goodness! I am so thrilled to read this. I am just now catching up - and so glad you are posting again. This is magical.