Sunday, January 13, 2013

Letting Go... Or, Careful what you wish for

I love all my kiddos.

They are amazing, quirky, smart, funny and affectionate, each in their own ways. 

But let’s be honest – with 5 kids on the “severe” end of the spectrum in one room, things can get really crazy. (* and don’t get me started about how much I hate “severe” as a descriptor, but  as a blanket statement for the similarities in terms of how their individual autism presents, and how they've landed in Room 10, it’s a necessary evil) Everyone has off days, and although they don’t always start off that way, one of them having a really off day can often escalate into triggering others into a bad day, which can set off a roller-coaster of insanity that turns 3pm into heaven on earth. But thankfully, most of the kids are pretty even keel most days, and if we divide and conquer we can usually manage to keep everything chugging along, learning and even laughing as we get through our days together.

Except for Mr. Intense.  My precious boy, I am sad to say, has more bad days than good, and this is not a new pattern.  Truth be told, his worst days now are still light-years better than they were last year (pre-meds) – check in here for a taste of what we were all going through then.  However, even with the meds, even with consistency and amazing levels of support from all kinds of sources, good days for him still are a pleasant surprise. 

Late last school year, after a slew of accident reports and ongoing interventions, we all agreed that the level of support we were able to provide for him in our public school setting wasn't enough, and decided to seek placement for him in a provincial-level classroom – something they call Tre-ADD(Treatment, Research, and Education for Autism and Developmental Disorders).  For those who don’t want to check the link – they’re still classroom-based programs housed in schools, but they are staffed by therapists, a coordinator, and have their own support staff (nurses, OTs, PTs, etc.) They’re (typically) kids whose behaviour is such that they’re not able to be successful in a classroom, and it’s not an endgame – the program is designed to have kids go in for a couple of years and work on behaviour and readiness skills, and then eventually go back to their local schools. It’s the Cadillac of publicly-funded programs, basically.

Anyway, after filling out all the paperwork back in the spring, we heard nothing for months and months, and finally my principal got fed up with negotiating the school board red tape and called the program herself, and back in November, they came for a meeting and observation of Mr. Intense. Of course, the day they came he was a PERFECT angel all day, but with the amount of documentation we had and the amount of help and support his family really needs, they agreed to consider him, and the week before the holiday break, we got the call that he’s been given a placement, and will likely be moving there by the end of this month.  I was thrilled – and not just because I won’t be getting my hair pulled 40+ times a day for the first time in almost 2 years...

I was thrilled for his dad, who is raising him alone here while mom stays at home overseas and supports them, because there were no appropriate schools for Mr. Intense there, and despite the fact that they are both well-educated, they couldn't find jobs here. Dad is drowning with no family or friends for support, and will really benefit for all the extras that the new program provides.

I was thrilled for the other kiddos, because the number of times they've had their hair pulled, been hit, shoved or had their food or materials grabbed out of their hands is just not fair, and the reality of him not being in our room means they will all get more attention, less harried teachers and a quieter, calmer learning environment.

Most of all, though, I was thrilled for Mr. Intense. His is SO smart, and my inability to meet his needs has caused us both endless frustration.  He needs a functional communication system, a way to express himself, and skills to be able to self-regulate so that he can show everyone just how smart he really is every day, not just in rare flashes. And without 1-on-1, and without a team of people who are far more organized, consistent and knowledgeable than my staff and I, we can’t give him that. And so I was thrilled...

As we returned in January, though, the reality of him leaving has begun to set in, and I’d be lying if I didn't admit that my heart is breaking just a little. On our first day back Monday, he spend the day hugging me. All day.  He was so happy to be back that he didn't pull my hair (or anyone else’s) even once, and he would literally circle the room, come running over to wherever I was, hug me, and then go back to what he was doing. Over and over. It didn't last past Monday, but it was so damn endearing that it kept me smiling all day long. By Wednesday, he was back to being upset all day, and when I had to call his dad to come and get him Thursday because he had been in meltdown mode all day, I literally cried.  In front of dad.  By the time dad arrived, Mr. Intense was sitting still in the Quiet Room, head in his hands, with his nearly-broken glasses sitting on my desk and chairs overturned all over the room, and when dad wondered aloud (to both Mr. Intense and I) “What happened?”, I teared up and answered “I don’t know. He’s just so upset, and I don’t know what’s going on, and I’m sorry. I just love him so much... I wish I knew how to make him not upset!” Dad, who is lovely and supportive, reassured me “I know. I’m so appreciative of everything you do for him. I know you love him”, which of course just made me cry harder.

As he headed home with dad and I headed off to meet up with my TA’s and the rest of the kids, I was hit with such a wave of disappointment and sadness. Why did I resort to calling dad? What could I have done differently? How could I send him home when I know my time left with him is so short?

And I know myself well enough to know that that last question is also part of the answer – because even though I know Tre-ADD is what’s best for him, there will always be a part of me that will feel as though I failed him – not just on Thursday, but in general.  There will always be a part of me that wonders if I hadn't pushed to send him to Tre-ADD, if I had just tried harder, or tried something different, or been more patient, that he might have been more successful in Room 10. And I hate that feeling. And I know, as I sit here with tears in my eyes, that when the day comes when he finally does leave us, I won’t be thrilled about it at all.  I’ll be sad. But maybe that’s my saving grace, because if I’m truly sad and not happy, it means that I sent him for the right reasons, not the wrong ones.  And although it won’t erase the feeling of having failed him, it will allow me to take comfort in remembering those hugs and that brilliant smile once it’s gone, and to know that part of being a good teacher to these kiddos is knowing enough to know when to let them go, because somebody out there knows way more than me about how to help him, and maybe my job was to help get him to those folks. I hope...