I had a meeting today with Janey's teacher, her ABA therapist, the ABA supervisor and the director of Janey's section of the autism program. The school arranged the meeting just to let me get to know everyone, to put names with faces, and to talk a little about their behavior plan with Janey.
After the meeting, I had a feeling that has almost always been my feeling after any meetings at any school my children have attended---a lucky feeling. A feeling that I am extremely fortunate in having schools, teachers, therapists, aides and administrators that are dedicated, caring, professional and intelligent people. I don't take that for granted. I know that isn't the case with every school or district everywhere. But it's been my experience over the 17 years I've had dealings with the Boston Public Schools, with very, very few exceptions.
Last year was a tough one. I didn't want to move Janey from the inclusion school she attended, the same school her brothers had attended. That school had recently been expanded to include preschool through high school, which in Janey's case would have meant until she was 22. Just after that, we were faced with the fact that Janey needed something more than her school could give her. She needed to be in an autism-only classroom, in what the Boston schools call an autism strand, where she could have the supports of not just a teacher but a whole staff devoted to autistic kids. I resisted the change, but I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do.
Janey's new school is very big. The autism program is only a part of it, with around 19 autism classrooms. The K-8 school has around 800 students total. Her old school was about 220. That was a huge change. But I'm gradually feeling a little more at home there. It will probably never feel quite as much like a home away from home as her old school did, but what is important is how Janey feels, and I think she feels at home there.
I saw Janey for a minute today. Her class was going to lunch (crazily early, at 10:30!) She was in line, holding her water bottle and looking like part of the crowd (except for being a girl---there is one other girl in her class, but as will probably always be the case for Janey, the class is mostly boys). She came over to see me for a minute, and I hugged her and said "You need to go with your class now" and she cheerfully did. That was the routine. That was the plan.
We talked a lot about Janey's screaming at the meeting. I loved it that everyone wanted to deal consistently with it, and that they did understand that it's almost impossible to see what triggers the screaming. Since no one method seems to work much better than any other, it makes sense for there to be a consistent approach to the behavior. At school, when she screams, they give it as little attention as possibly directly. If she is doing a preferred activity, they take away the activity and say "Tell me when you are ready" If it's not a preferred activity, like desk work, they leave it in front of her. If she moves to bite her arms, they put her hands down. When she says she is ready, they go back to what was being done. I told them about the screaming room (when we take Janey to the bathroom to scream if she isn't able to stop) and they liked that idea and might use that as an alternative for when the screams persist.
The last few days have felt more manageable with Janey. The bus is getting more consistent and we are falling more into the rhythm of the school year. I made sure to tell everyone today that they preserve my sanity every day, and I hope every special educator out there knows that although I don't like to throw around the word "hero" until it's meaningless, I'll make an exception here. You are heroes.