Lots of water under the bridge since my last post (apologies in advance for the long post here). We finally left our public school district. We exhausted other options. Encountered idiots and jackasses along the way. But, we made our way into a better school community. This school doesn’t pay lip service to inclusion or espouse a zero tolerance no-bullying policy. Rather it uses the work of Kim Payne to create an environment that is always in the process of learning how to include, accept, and create space for all differences.
The amazing letter from our class teacher has started the process of disclosure and inclusion with our special needs child:
We are now in our math block. We started the block by finding the prime numbers of all the numbers from 1 to 100. All numbers have a secret life of their own. This week we will learn how to expand and reduce fractions. Fractions, like our children, can change their appearance while keeping the same value!
Finding the prime factors of a number led us to finding “common factors for our class of students.” The appreciation of the differences and uniqueness of each individual came when we looked at each child in the class as a prime number…. The importance of the social learning even during a math block can never be overstated, for creating a harmonious and safe environment is one of the first conditions for academic learning. Meeting the children where they are emotionally and involving them in a healthy social process is an important step towards developing a fine sense of what is socially beautiful and harmonic. We want the children to be polite, not to talk behind other children’s backs and understand the impact of their words and deeds on other children. While it is natural for the children to react to someone who is different by experiencing feelings of anger, unease or suspicion, our job is to encourage the appreciation of differences. We need to give the children extra emotional support when necessary and enough tools to navigate the social realm. We need to show them ways to interpret the language of feelings, and, very important, to let them know how they are doing through continuous feedback. When we all work together in this direction, healthy social interactions will occur and through collective effort the class will grow together socially!
It is important to know children’s differences in order to support them. Since many of the fourth graders seemed confused about Ruby’s behavior, her parents decided to share some of her social challenges. Her genuine yearning to be part of a social group and her desire to improve her skills are gratifying for me to witness. Ruby’s behavior is not intentional, but it is a riddle for many students. She is expected to comply with the rules and expectations of the class and she follows my directions thoroughly, even though she needs repetitive support.
I find the parent’s letter (see below) very informative. It will give you a picture of Ruby’s social challenges and it will help you to coach your children on how to respond when a problem arises. Please, encourage them to ask for help, if necessary. If you also have any questions, please, feel free to address them to ……. me. We will carry on the discussion at the Parent Evening, on ……… We want to use the meeting to talk about our children’s interactions and ways to coach them to be supportive and inclusive to each other without burdening them. We are hoping for tolerance and communication when things are frustrating and overwhelming.”
Here is our letter:
“I wanted to send this email to everyone in Ruby’s class in an effort to help people understand her learning style. We want the parents of the 4th grade class to know about this because we don’t think that it’s anything that needs to be kept secret and because Ruby’s unique social learning style affects how she interacts with her peers. Due to her quirky behaviors and learning challenges, we have had her evaluated several times since she was 4 years old. At the most recent evaluation, the psychologist found that Ruby has likely high functioning autism, anxiety and ADHD. Ruby also has challenges with her sensory system. She can be very sensitive to certain kinds of sensory input and has difficulty registering other kinds of input. We hope that, with more information about Ruby, you can help your child cope with the behaviors of hers that can be disarming.
From a social-emotional perspective, Ruby has a hard time understanding social nuance.
Here are some the other functional challenges that Ruby has:
her body needs more movement, weight and vestibular input than typical kids
she has difficulty holding her attention long enough to get the full picture in a situation
she has difficulty reading facial expressions and taking another perspective
she can get stuck on ideas that she likes and she will repeat herself
she imitates high-intensity reactions, like slang words and high-emotion facial expressions
Amazingly, with all of this going on in her system, she is really soaring academically here at ….., and we are so proud of how hard she works.
Ruby and children like her are at a high risk for bullying and social exclusion because she appears very typically developing, but she is not quite high-functioning enough to blend in with her peers. Typical peers see her and know that something is different about her, but without understanding that she can’t help what she is doing, they perceive her as intentionally annoying. Due to the imbalance of power between her and her neurotypical peers, traditional conflict resolution formats often have not been successful, because there is no incentive for the typical children to behave inclusively, change their attitudes, or try to understand a child with differences. Current research on bullying is bearing this out.
We have met with the psychologist and Ruby to begin the process of explaining some of these differences to Ruby, so that Ruby has a better understanding of her different neurological wiring. She is learning strategies to self-advocate when she gets into conflicts with her peers.
Your child may come home saying that the things Ruby does are annoying, which is not Ruby’s intention. Feel free to explain to your children that Ruby’s brain works differently. Sometimes just naming that fact can help ease a situation. There are specific tools and responses that we feel work effectively. If you are interested in hearing more about them, contact me directly.
There will be things that come up that will be difficult to navigate, but I am confident in the deep well of compassion within this community. Please don’t hesitate to bring matters to our attention, if something is bothering your child. Understanding how to handle herself socially is Ruby’s life work, and it is our journey as parents to guide her.
Our basic expectations are that her experiences here are neutral and not hurtful. We don’t expect her to have a set of best friends. She has a few trusted friends outside of school. However, we hope that common politeness, basic tolerance and open communication can be extended to her in the class. We don’t expect people to feel burdened by the need to include her in every out-of-school event, but she also doesn’t need this rubbed in her face.
If people are interested in getting together to problem-solve or talk more openly about this, we will have this as a topic at one of the next meetings.”
So begins the process of authentic inclusion for us……more soon.