Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Kids Always Win Me Over

Christmas is almost here! Have you checked out my Autism/ADHD/Special Needs Gift Guide yet? 

Hi everyone! It is finally Friday, and I am exhausted because I've had a busy week! I actually worked every day this week! You might remember last week I worked all week helping some kindergartners with behavioral problems in a regular ed class. Then the people from the office had asked me to come back this week to work in a special education classroom. As it turned out, the job was not in a special ed classroom at all, but another job as a 1:1 assistant for yet another little kindergarten boy with behavioral problems! This job turned out to be good and bad in many ways. The little boy I worked with was named "Myles," and he reminded me in some ways of "Taz," which was hard for me.*
Like Taz, Myles was a little boy who was living in kinship foster care because his parents were, probably due to drugs and other problems, unable or unwilling to care for him. I didn't get to know that much about Myles's background because I was just a lowly sub, but I did hear a few things. Like Taz, Myles was a very smart kid, although he had some learning problems. Like Taz, Myles was very hyperactive and really did not have much control over his activity level. You might picture trying to get a four-month-old puppy to sit quietly and work on math problems, and that would be pretty much what it would be like to get Myles (or Taz) to do these things. 
It is actually hard for me to write about Myles today because I have so much to say but I can't really organize my mind around it. On my first day, they only told me what classroom to go to, and what the child's name was, and nothing else. When I got to the classroom, the teacher pointed him out to me (he was wearing a red sweatshirt) but told me nothing else. When I sat down next to him, he was friendly and told me all about his breakfast, his Matchbox Cars, and the names of his friends. When the teacher called all of the children to come sit on the carpet, and Myles bounced around the classroom instead, and I tried to get him to sit on the carpet, he ignored me. The teacher whispered to me, "Being near him and talking directly to him doesn't work."
Uh... okay...
The special ed teacher gave me this clip board with all of these charts that I was supposed to use with Myles. On one chart I was supposed to tally up how many times he needed to be told to do things before he actually did them, throughout the day. Another was some sort of smiley chart, on which you were supposed to mark a smiley face, straight face or sad face for each activity of the day. On another chart, he was supposed to earn stars for following directions, and when he got ten stars he could get a break. But the classroom teacher told me, no, he doesn't use any of those behavior charts, but yes, I was supposed to do the tally mark things.
The children switch classrooms for one of their Reading sessions. Because now in kindergarten they don't do much playing... they do reading, writing and math all day long. So anyways I went with Myles to the other kindergarten class, which was actually the class I worked in last week with Josh and Tony. Instead of going to the carpet in that classroom, Myles ran over to the puzzles and started trying to play with them. I tried to figure out how to get him over to the carpet without being near him or speaking to him. I wasn't successful. Then some random assistant who was in there started trying to get him to go to the carpet... she apparently was familiar with him... and when he wouldn't go, she went to get the special ed teacher, who also tried to get him to go to the carpet. They finally got him to go by saying he could earn two puzzle pieces for each thing he did in class. 
I was already wishing I could be anywhere else but there, but that point. I hate not knowing what I am supposed to do! But actually, it wasn't so bad. Myles was a sweet little kid, really, the problem was the teachers. Each person who worked with Myles seemed to have different theories and plans. The classroom teacher's theory was, "Myles needs to be able to do exactly what all of the other children are doing. If he can't, then there is a problem and he shouldn't be in this class." She told me that. So the special ed teacher was giving me these things to do with Myles... like the visual symbol page, which I eventually replaced with some smaller cards with stick drawing pictures that Myles could hold and read... and the break schedule (because, yes, he was supposed to be earning the stars and taking breaks) and half the time the teacher was just thinking I was coddling him by letting him earn extra breaks for doing what the other children were just expected to do with no extra reward, and the other half of the time she was just glad for me to take him out of the classroom for any reason, even if he spent all day playing with an iPad in the library. 
Most of the time, he wasn't even that disruptive... no more so than any other 6-year-old who has to spend seven hours at school doing academic work. There were plenty of other kids in the class who were doing the same things as Myles, sometimes even more frequently, like interrupting during story time or talking without raising their hand or moving their legs out of the criss-cross-applesauce position during the never-ending carpet lessons. Occasionally  he did have what could be called a tantrum or "melt-down," and it was a doozy. But the rest of the time... it was like he was being disciplined all day long, for things that were pretty typical little boy behaviors, just because he also occasionally had more severe behaviors. Because these severe behaviors existed sometimes and because he had so little control over them, he was expected to be behaving BETTER than the other children. Seven kids could all be crashing the Matchbox cars together during play time, but Myles would be the one who had his Matchbox car confiscated. And to me, what 6-year-old doesn't crash the cars together when they play with them? 
The adults frustrated me. But the kids always win me over. I connected with Myles. He listened to me most of the time. He wanted to please the adults around him, He tried. During our breaks when we escaped from the classroom and went to the library, I played board games with him. I played Matchbox cars with him on the floor. I taught him how to draw snowflakes. I drew stars on his chart when he was doing good work, and then changed the stars to smileys, and then boots, and then cars, and then M's, at his request. When he had one of his biggest meltdowns, he clung to me and cried. I thought he was having a pretty good week. The classroom teacher said his behavior was going downhill. 
The kindergarten has a special day when everyone's parents are invited to come make mini gingerbread houses with them. The houses were made out of graham crackers. Nobody from Myles's family came, so I made his gingerbread house with him. I helped him spread the frosting onto the graham cracker walls. I told him I was good at spreading things because I loved peanut butter sandwiches, and he laughed. He was excited that I helped him, and told his teacher, "She helped me! She did the frosting, and I put the candies on!" He worked very hard on his little house. Later they had to write in their journals. He drew pictures in cars, and I wrote down a few sentences that he dictated to me. Again, he was excited to have my help, and he ran to the teacher to show her his journal. "She helped me with the words!" he said. (Myles never did learn my name.) 
I mentioned to the special ed teacher that I would be glad to come back after winter break to keep working as a 1:1 for Myles. She told me it was "covered," but that there would be other kids who would need help. Later as I walked Myles to the bus for the last time, I told him, "When you come back from vacation, I might not be in your class anymore. Someone else might be coming to hang out with you and help you."
He frowned and said, "But I want you to hang out with me!" It had only been 5 days, but it felt like it had been a year. 
Earlier today while we were taking a break, Myles was drawing on a dry erase board. He drew this picture and said it was him and me. He had to erase his head and re-draw it three times because he kept making it too small to fit his smile onto. I wanted to take a picture of it with my phone so I could remember. I let Myles take the picture. He took about fifty, and then somehow took an extremely fast stop-motion video of me from about twenty different angles. I have no idea how he did it. He scrolled through the other photos stored in my phone, and wanted to know the names of all of my pets and how old they were. He took pictures of the table and the ceiling and my feet. Later, I would not want to delete them. 
Here is the one of his drawing of him and I. I am the tall one. I am bald, I guess.

I hate these jobs because the teachers and other assistants confuse me and frustrate me. But the kids always win me over... especially the ones like Myles. It is always really hard to say goodbye.

*Taz was a first grader I worked as a 1:1 for a few years ago and it was a horrible experience, not at all because of the child, but because of the teachers and other staff members I worked with. Horrible. I think this job was one of the reasons that I started having even more anxiety about work and have had such a hard time with jobs ever since then! You can read about Taz here if you want to.


  1. Dear Myles. I wish those adults would stop forcing him to be someone he's not ready to be. Downhill? I don't think so! I'm glad at least he has you, Angel!

  2. The teachers and assistants had quixotic and unfair standards for Myles. No kid can meet those standards.

  3. WE NEED MORE PEOPLE LIKE YOU IN "THE SYSTEM." I know it's so grueling (I am a teacher too), but think of the difference you are making for the kids!
    Thanks and love,

  4. You just have to continue doing the best job you can with whichever child you are assigned to. We all know you are having a very positive impact on them!


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