These are some of my favorite things people said to me when I struggled over my son Teddy, who has Aspergers, being placed in an emotional conflicted classroom…
“Oh, you just worry too much.”
“Relax. It will be okay.”
Or, a personal favorite,
“They are professionals, they’re trained. They know what they are doing.”
You know how sometimes you can hear something and it settles right, it makes sense. And then other times, you hear something and you bristle, it makes you uncomfortable, you just know, instinctively, it isn’t right.
From the very first moment an EC placement was mentioned for Teddy when he was struggling in first grade, I knew it wasn’t right.
But it was always school’s solution to everything.
He fell apart. I asked for an aide. They said EC Classroom. I settled for homeschooling.
When he regressed even more while homeschooling, and we discussed plans to return him to school the next year, I asked for an aide, they said EC Classroom.
It was all they acted like they knew how to do.
And I let them wear my out.
I ignored my instincts and tried to believe their chorus of “It won’t be long, we’ll begin mainstreaming within six weeks…”
I didn’t know what else to do. “Just six weeks I thought…”
Well, in those first six weeks he did make progress and things did go well, after NINE weeks, the teacher even wrote of Teddy,
October 21, 1999
Teddy has been very successful in our self-contained classroom. He (usually) works without complaint, participates in all activities, and exhibits an enthusiastic attitude towards school.
I am very pleased with his progress so far – Teddy is a treasure to work with!
Our goal now is to help Teddy transfer these skills into a large, less structured setting.
Nine weeks, great progress, and not a SINGLE moment in the mainstream classroom.
“Our goal is to now help Teddy transfer these skills…”
Each and every time I asked when Teddy was going to be mainstreamed I heard, “We are working towards that.” Or, “It’s our goal.”
Eight more weeks slipped away without any effort to move him out of the room.
And then this happened…
My notes from December 9, 1999
Mrs. Clemens called just before 3 p.m. to tell me Ted was really upset and tantruming and was being kept in the Time Out Booth until I could come and get him.
When I arrived, school had been dismissed and the classroom was empty save the teacher. I found Ted going around the room throwing chairs, knocking books off the desks, knocking the erasers off the chalkboard and being very loud.
Occasionally he would almost smile.
I got him to agree to calmly leave the building with me. We got in the car and he continued acting upset. I told him he was not going to be able to play on the computer until he stopped and told me what was going on. He immediately stopped and said,
After watching those kids for 90 days I knew exactly what to do to get them to call you so you would come and get me.
My jaw dropped. It was a good thing I had not even turned on the car because if I had been driving, I would have swerved off the road.
Those fuckers, I thought.
My mind wandered back to a conversation we had at the August IEP meeting that placed him in this setting…
“But kids with autism model behavior from those they are around.” I said. “You are putting him in this class because he doesn’t behave well, yet he’s going to be with other kids that don’t behave well? How is he going to learn positive behaviors in such an environment?“
“Oh,” they replied, “because the class is so small we have really good control over the kids and he will get so much one on one time he’ll learn fast and won’t have to be in the room long. We we will begin mainstreaming him within six weeks.”
When Ted is truly raging he can’t calm himself down and immediately start talking with me. And I saw him practically smiling in the classroom. He NEVER smiles when he is having a meltdown.
The whole episode was an act, taught to him by school, and from this room I so vehemently did not want him in.
For this very reason.
I sat in the car for a few moments. My instinct was to go back into school and have my own meltdown, but I had Teddy calm and didn’t want to take him inside and lose my cool in front of him.
So I drove home.
Immediately upon my arrival I called Mrs. Clemens to tell her what Ted had told me.
I explained to her I was not happy with the behaviors he had displayed and told her I had NEVER seen him throw furniture, or any other items before today and felt strongly he had learned this behavior at school.
She agreed and told me one of the children, who was no longer enrolled in the class, used to engage in these behaviors.
I was then introduced to Tony, my son’s classmate, a little boy I never have met and whose story I will never forget…
Tony was born addicted to crack, and sadly, nine years later, his mother was still a user. In addition to seizures, he had violent tantrums. His mother spent frequent periods of time away from the house and lived with a man who was a drug dealer. It was this man who usually awaited Tony in the afternoon when he arrived home from school. Tony told Mrs. Clemens that he did not like this man and she suspected abuse. She had even contacted child welfare several times to report her concerns but was told each time they could do nothing due to a lack of evidence.
Just about every afternoon, as school was drawing to a close, Tony would throw a fit and tear up the classroom because he did not want to go home to this man. Often he was upset enough that he could not be placed on the bus, and on these occasions, the police were called to take him home.
Eventually, the man who lived with Tony was arrested for drug dealing. Both the dealing and arrest had taken place in front of Tony. The next day, more upset than ever, Tony brought 12 razor blades to school and said he wanted to use them on Mrs. Clemens.
Tony was removed from school, removed from his home and placed in a residential juvenile facility.
Just as my instincts had told me, an emotionally conflicted classroom was the last place a child with Aspergers, already unsteady in the social and daily living skills, should be. For over a year I tried to explained this to the school system. I gave them books and videos about Aspergers. Still they persisted. Why are you putting my vulnerable child in this situation? I asked, in vain, at this point. Unfortunately, this story was not the end, but rather, marked the beginning of Teddy’s troubles in the self-contained classroom.