Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Paper Airplanes

For the past week or so, Tizzy has been obsessed with making paper airplanes. I had to look up on the Internet to find out how to make a decent one, and I figured out how to make two different airplanes really well. We use up tons of paper every day making more planes. Well, I use up tons of paper making more planes. I have tried to teach Tizzy how to make them, but his turn out looking like this... 

... and then he gets aggravated and throws it at me. So I make them for both of us, out of old worksheets, or copy paper that I liberate from the printer. We throw our airplanes in the hallway near the social worker's office, where there are no classes to be disturbed by us. Lately, since the weather has been nice, we've also been going outside. Our school is pretty relaxed, so I am allowed to take Tizzy outside by myself during the school day, whereas at some of the other schools I've worked at I wouldn't have even been allowed to take him out in the hallway alone! We spend most of our breaks flying our little airplanes, and Tizzy actually does more work and has less meltdowns when we've been spending time outside. There is something cool about watching the planes float through the air. Although once one landed on the roof of a portable classroom, and another got stuck in a tree!

In a few days, I will be taking a real plane ride back to Chicago to visit my parents. I am going to be gone for all of spring break, plus two extra days. I had to explain to Tizzy that I will be gone for two days, which made him sort of upset. I made a really detailed sub plan for whoever the sub turns out to be, plus I am going to leave some fun and easy activities for Tizzy's "work basket," and I am going to have to hope for the best!

Tizzy is so sweet. For a while, right after I was permanently hired as his 1:1, he went through a period where he was saying he hated me and wanted me to go away, he was hitting me and kicking me every day, etc. But then, suddenly, he stopped doing that, and now he hugs me and tells me he never wants me to leave. 

Today he had an episode where he didn't want to do work so he ran off, causing another teacher and I to have to follow him and eventually catch him so he wouldn't leave the building alone. Later, I was trying to help him understand about choices and consequences. I said, "When you choose to run away and be unsafe, Mrs. W gets worried..."

Tizzy interrupted, "I don't care, because Mrs. W is stupid and smelly."

"... and Miss Angel gets worried," I went on. 

Tizzy was quiet for a second, and then said, "You're not stupid and smelly." 

Coming from Tizzy, that is a major compliment!

I think about all of that time when I was subbing, when I was so nervous and anxious that I often couldn't manage to go to work at all. I think about all of the jobs that I applied for, when I finally decided that being an assistant would be okay... jobs that I never even got interviewed for. I wonder if it was all because I needed to be here, right now, for Tizzy? Do you believe in things like that?

I do.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Thank You, Mr. Hero

This is going to be a venting post, okay, everyone? I rarely get angry or irritable, but this is something that really irritated me at work.

First, a little background.

Tizzy, the little guy I work with, comes from a family where the normal behavior is rowdiness, swearing, yelling, and even breaking the law. His parents were former gang members, and a few of his older siblings and cousins have already been in jail. This could explain a little about where some of Tizzy's behavioral challenges come from. Tizzy especially seems to crave male attention. Because I think it is good for him to see some adult men behaving in positive, socially acceptable ways (such as not punching each other or screaming at others) I try to encourage any relationships he can build with the handful of adult men who work in the school... the PE teachers (even the one who isn't HIS PE teacher), the custodian, etc. There are not many to choose from, unfortunately. The librarian is a male but he seems intimidated by Tizzy, and tends to handle any and all "problem" behaviors by repeatedly saying, "Johnny, the expectation is that you do this. Johnny, it is expected that you do this." (Ugh, don't get me started on the expected/unexpected behaviors thing. That is a rant for another day.)

There is an administrator in the district who comes to our school once or twice a month.  In the past, when Tizzy's behavior has gotten beyond the point of his control, this administrator... who I'll call Mr. Hero... happened to be in the building and was one of the people who came to help. His usual method of helping was to take Tizzy by the hand, bring him to his office, and spend some time talking and playing games with him. This was good in many ways, because it was nice for Tizzy to spend quality time with someone... except that, after the first time, Tizzy started purposely acting up whenever he thought Mr. Hero was in the building. He even said, "I want to go to Mr. Hero's office." So I tried to reinforce that, whenever Mr. Hero was in the building, we'd ask Mr. Hero to spend some positive time with Tizzy. Tizzy would not need to be out of control in order to see Mr. Hero. He wouldn't even need to be particularly "good." He could just go, for the sake of going, and have that special time.

An ongoing challenge with Tizzy has been getting him to do work. He hates work of any sort. I try to make it fun and motivating for him by finding hands-on activities he can do, like stacking paper cups on which I've written alphabet letters, or using M&M's to practice Touch Math. Each day I put three "works" in his basket, and when he completes them all, he gets a treat, like a sucker or a pack of stickers. Often, it works. Sometimes, it doesn't. If Tizzy starts to act out (or ideally, if he just requests a break) he is allowed to take five minutes in a quiet room relaxing or doing something he enjoys, and then go back to work. He can take as many breaks as he wants, but the work is going to be there waiting for him, and eventually he usually just agrees to do it. And usually, once he is doing it, he LIKES it! It is just his Oppositional Defiant Disorder that makes him want to fight it.

This past week, Mr. Hero was in the building for several days. I was glad to see him, because I thought Tizzy would get to spend time with him. The problem was, any time Tizzy started to act out because he wanted to get out of work, Mr. Hero would come, take Tizzy by the hand, and take him somewhere to draw pictures or play games on a tablet. Of course, when Tizzy was drawing pictures and playing games with Mr. Hero, he was happy and calm. Tizzy really is an awesome little guy when he's in a good mood... he's sweet, polite, funny, and personable. So again and again, I would try to get Tizzy to do some work, he would start to get aggravated, and Mr. Hero would appear to whisk him away. He also suggested that, since Tizzy enjoyed playing on the tablet, he could just play educational games on a tablet all day. (Which I suppose might be okay, except that, once you actually told Tizzy he needed to play certain games and not just record videos of himself making goofy faces, all Hell would break loose once again!)

So basically, Tizzy got zero work done all week. He also got out of going to music, gym, and his inclusion class all week. Plus he came to the conclusion that all of the teachers and assistants that have tried to get him to do his work are just full of beans.

Monday should be an interesting day! Mr. Hero won't be in the building, so I'm not sure if Tizzy will realize that nobody is going to rescue him from his work and he might as well do it, or if he will be swinging upside down from the rafters and yelling obscenities all day long in hopes of getting out of learning his ABC's!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

I Ran Until You Found Me

Tizzy, the kindergartner I've been working with, had a few different 1:1 assistants before me. For some reason the school district does things in an odd way... if they think a kid needs a 1:1 but the kid hasn't officially been approved for one, they are allowed to post it as an "open position" on the sub board, supposedly for up to 20 days. In that time, they are supposed to be able to have an IEP meeting and get it approved for a 1:1. In the months before winter break, I worked in several of these "open" positions, all, coincidentally or not, for kindergarten boys who just weren't succeeding in the rigid, academic based, all day kindergarten classrooms.

A few of these boys probably just weren't quite ready for kindergarten, and a few obviously had something different going on... not necessarily a special need they were born with, but more like coming from homes with really difficult or chaotic circumstances, kids who were just emotionally and socially not prepared for school. One job was with a little boy named "Sandy" who had entered regular kindergarten, having never gone to preschool or any other program before, and was very clearly autistic, but the parents either had no idea about it or didn't want to know about it. This little guy wasn't a, "Hmm, he may have Aspergers, or maybe he just needs to catch up developmentally." He was pretty much, like, if you wanted to give someone a great example of a child with autism, you could introduce them to him. I was with him in the general ed kindergarten classroom, and they actually wanted me to continue as his official 1:1 after he was moved to a special education classroom, but he ended up not getting approved for a 1:1. Shortly after that, I took another "open position" subbing job that was supposed to be for one day... it was Tizzy! He is in the same special ed classroom that Sandy was moved to.

I was with Tizzy that first day, and then they asked me to come back for the rest of the week, and then the week after that, and then the week after that... At first, I sort of hoped the job would end, because it was a challenging one, and when you're on just a short term subbing job it is kind of hard to work with a kid with a lot of behavioral challenges, because you don't have that connection with them yet. But soon we were building a connection. Tizzy asked me several times how long I would be with him, and said he wanted me to stay.

After a few weeks I went to the principal and said that, if the "open" position actually became open for real, I'd be interested in staying on. I also said that, if someone else was going to be hired, I'd like to know ahead of time so I could tell Tizzy when I was leaving. I didn't want him to just show up one day and find me gone. That is what often happens with subbing jobs.

 She replied that she'd let me know when it became open, but that I'd have to apply like everyone else. By that time, though, they were just scheduling me in week after week, without even bothering to ask me anymore!

It was long past 20 days when the job finally opened up, and by that time, although I did have to fill out an application, it was pretty much just assumed that the job would be mine. And so, last week was my first official week doing the job that I have been doing since January!
ANYWAYS... so like I said, before I came along, Tizzy had several other people subbing as a 1:1 for him. He had told me before about a woman who he calls a "granny" who had worked with him for a while, and he'd let me know that he hadn't liked her, so he'd hit her and kicked her all day long, and finally she'd gone away forever.

Tizzy also hits me and kicks me quite often. I reminded him of this, but he said, "Only a little bit!" I think he has some amount of control over his behavior, but not a lot. He does know what he's doing some of the time, and will hit, kick, and otherwise "misbehave" to get his way or to get out of doing work... but he also hits a point where he loses control, and later doesn't even remember much.
So today the teacher and two of the assistants were out sick, and we had three subs in their places. Tizzy recognized one of them as the "granny" that had worked with him once. She seemed mild-mannered enough, and I wasn't sure why Tizzy remembered her so unfondly.

But later, a classroom volunteer told me about a situation she'd had to intervene in. The Granny had been working with Sandy in the kitchen. The volunteer walked into the kitchen and found Alex sitting on the ground and screaming, and the Granny standing over him, also screaming. She was trying to get Sandy to do something. Probably to do his work. And he, being Sandy, had probably started refusing, getting up and wandering around the room, yelling, "No work!" And the Granny handled it by screaming back at him, which was just getting Sandy even more riled up, basically pushing the little dude into full meltdown mode. Seeing this, the volunteer said to Granny, "Do you mind if I take over?" Granny stepped aside but was still glaring at Sandy, so the volunteer said, "Could you please go away?" (That is what she told me she actually said!) Then the volunteer just said to Sandy, "Come on, friend, lets finish our work." And Sandy calmed down, took her hand, and sat with her and finished his work.

After hearing this story, I had a better idea of what had probably gone on between Granny and Tizzy. One of the things I like about the classroom I work in is that the teacher and all of the assistants seem to agree that yelling or shaming children is mean and useless. They all stick to being calm but firm, patient and understanding while still making sure that the kids know what they need to do.


Moving on.

Towards the end of the day, Tizzy, once again, started telling me the story of him and the Granny. He told me again that he kicked her and hit her. "And then they held me," he said, meaning that someone probably restrained him, "and then I ran. And I ran and I ran and ran and ran and ran and ran... until you found me!"

I don't know why, but his words, the way he said it, touched my heart. Of course, I didn't literally start working with Tizzy in the middle of the day while he was still running from the first sub. I actually was in the building, though, that day, working with an older kid in another classroom. But I really didn't meet Tizzy until the next morning, when his teacher handed me a folder full of worksheets for him and said, "He isn't doing much academic work at this point... we're basically trying to manage his behavior," and let me know that I'd probably spend most of the day with him in the social worker's office. But since he sometimes doesn't remember everything that happens when he's upset, maybe in his memory it really does seem like I appeared while he was still running.

Either way, I'm glad I found Tizzy. I really do love the kid.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Tizzy, The World, And Everything

Hi everyone! Here I am blogging again! It has been taking me a while to get back into the groove of blogging. I don't know why I have so much trouble focusing on it lately... I love blogging, but sometimes my brain is just so listless lately!

Anyways, the last time I wrote, I was subbing as a 1:1 assistant for a kindergarten boy with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. The good news is, as of last week they hired me as a regular employee, for the rest of the school year! My master plan is that this will help me get into a teaching position for next school year. I'll have great experience and great references within the school district, and that should help me out! Tizzy is an interesting kid to work with. The main challenge is getting him to do any sort of school work. If you try to  get him to do anything even vaguely work-like, he screams "NO!" and may go into a full meltdown, complete with climbing up on tables, breaking things, hitting others, and swearing. If you have ever known, or worked with, a child with ODD, you know that the worst thing you can do is get in any sort of power battle with them! So my main strategy, from the beginning, has always been to remain calm at all times, and not engage in any arguments with him. If he screams at me, "SHUT UP!" I do not try to lecture him on saying kinder words, or punish him for saying it. I more or less just ignore the words, and focus more on the reason he is saying it. When I started, nobody really knew quite what to do with Tizzy, and my job was pretty much just to babysit him and try to keep him pacified as much as possible. When it turned out I was going to be staying on the job longer than just a few days, I started trying to get him to do some work. I succeeded for a while, but the more Tizzy gets to know and love you, the more he unleashes his fury on you. More recently I came up with a system in which I put five different learning activities (maybe a worksheet, maybe a puzzle, maybe a game, etc) in five zip lock bags, each labeled with a color. He has a paper with different colored boxes representing the five bags. He gets to pick a color to work on, and when he finishes it, he can put an X in that color box. When he finishes all five tasks, he gets to pick a treat. I've only been doing it for the past few days, but so far it has worked wonderfully... he's still been a little ornery while doing the work, but at this point I couldn't care less if he has a bad attitude, as long as he's actually doing something! When he's not angry, he's actually a delightful little kid.

Anyways, Tizzy keeps me busy, and I spend a lot of my evenings planning more things for him to do. I find a lot of ideas on Pinterest, and I can adapt them into things that will work well for Tizzy.

I've also been trying to get out in the world on the weekends and have some fun. This past Saturday I did the coolest thing in the world. I found a sanctuary farm RIGHT HERE IN MY TOWN! It is a really small farm, and unlike the other sanctuary farms in the area that invite volunteers to come on only certain days, and it sort of feels like all of the volunteers are competing to show each other what great farmers they are, this one is more laid back. I spent a few hours volunteering there, and I was the only volunteer. The husband and wife who run the farm are so nice, and the animals were so happy and well cared for. They've built a little animal village so all of the animals have their own houses, complete with lighting! The geese even have a chandelier and a swimming pool!

I spent part of the time tying flags on an electric fence to keep the animals away from it. My supervisor for this job was a goose named Gomez, who followed me around and honked at me the whole time. He was a really nice goose. I'm pretty sure he is the nicest goose I have ever met.

I also got to brush a llama! The llama's name was Peaches, and she was the sweetest thing! She loves to put her face right in your face and make little humming noises at you. She didn't particularly like getting brushed, though... this was her first time, so she was confused about the purpose. But she was really matted and had leaves stuck all over her. (All of the animals on this farm are rescued, and many of them are from places where they were neglected pretty badly.) I also got to pet a pig and a lamb, and some goats! And two awesome dogs. I was in HEAVEN. Heaven, I tell you! When I die and go to Heaven, it is going to be just like that farm, but all of my past pets will be there with me, and there will be pizza and chocolate cake and Dr. Pepper.

I also took Lily, and my aunt and uncle's dog Roo, to an Easter party for dogs on Sunday. It was rainy and muddy out so not many people came, but they had fun playing with some other dogs. I've been trying to do something special with Lily every weekend, which usually means going to a dog park or doggie playgroup. I'm not sure how much she likes it. She does a lot of observing. But I think she enjoys being out and doing something different, and she definitely likes riding in the car with me. She's my little partner in crime.

So anyways, that is what is new with me. What's new with YOU?