“Great First Day”

My son has started first grade.  This is not the ideal first grade placement.  He is coming from a school where there were 2 teachers for 12 students.  He is entering a school where there is one teacher for 28 students.   He is going from half days to full days.  New kids, new teacher.

This is huge.

The photos I took and posted Wednesday, were of the drop off.  He looked happy.  Handsome and curious about his new surroundings.  I was told he had a great first day. But let me let you in on a little secret.   That phrase? “Great first day”?  That means different things to different people.  It is a superficial remark, said without much thought, a polite response that hides what is beneath the surface where most people don’t care to go.  It’s akin to a response of “Fine.” to the question, “How are you?”

The tutors reported an awesome first day because they did not have to intervene for behaviors. He made it without sticking out, melting down, falling to pieces. The first grade teacher reported a great first day because he was “just like the other kids.” “He blended.”  The Special Ed Director concluded my son had a “fantastic first day” based on his smile.

So, a smile, no outbursts, and blending makes for an awesome first day.  Okay, I can think of a lot worse outcomes.  But the hairs on the back of my neck are standing up when I hear too much praise for my son “blending”.  I have to say that I find it a bit offensive that they are making so much of his ability to “chameleon-ize” his autism.

Honestly, I felt like the school personnel thought Toots was going to fit a stereotype that he doesn’t fit.  They made way too much of his “blending” with neurotypicals.  This is something that, at our location on the spectrum, I find a double-edged sword.  My son is different by his delays in language, ability to communicate, respond, and socialize.  He is often in his own world.  Yet, there are so many cool, special, funny, awesome things about him that once you know him, you cannot resist the lure of his friendship: – to the girls he’s got the kevorka; for the guys, they get the mancrush. But when there is a focus on one part of him or another, the other gets lost and his identity with it.

And when he “chameleon-izes”, he suppresses things. Yesterday night, at home, he resurrected an old behavior – screaming, loudly and obnoxiously at video games on his iPad or Wii, no control – no stop button, earning a time out and lost electronics for the rest of the night.  He was releasing all the pent up emotions of the day in his familiar, over-the-top where it’s safe, way.

These are the things the school didn’t see.

My son’s teacher has been teaching for 30 years.  How do I know?  Because she emphasized this to me on both days I met her. Perhaps, to assure me she knows what she is doing.  Instead, I’m pondering whether she’s had enough, is waiting for the retirement figure to hit acceptable, is burnt out, or not going to be willing to stick her neck out for wrongs, when she so close to the exit door.

She’s been given a huge class.  She’s sent work he’s done in class home, unmarked.   There’s been no homework, a stark contrast to last year in kindergarten, where he had homework from his first day – always returned reviewed and graded.

The day before school started, Tootles and I met the teacher.  I explained to her that, at times, my son might appear as though he is not listening.  He will look off in another direction and mumble to himself, but I assured her, he will absorb everything that is said.  She responded by saying she had a student like that last year, with no diagnosis.  Perhaps, she felt she could say no more.  Perhaps, there was a struggle to get a diagnosis or referral.  Or perhaps the idea never crossed her mind.  I don’t know.   I then learned this teacher had no referral for special needs last year.  Putting those two “facts” together left me unsettled.

I am trying so hard not to make judgments- yet.  The teacher seems strong and my son needs that.  But so far, the strength I see is more like crowd control than teacher.  She’s definitely got a full load with 28 students.

How much individual attention will my son receive?  The class will be broken up for PE, music, computer lab and library time.   She will work with half the class while the others are out.  Maybe that will help.

When I asked who would walk the six year olds to the other side of the campus to the gym, music room or computer lab, she said she would walk the whole class over and take half back for the first week.  After that, they will be on their own.
This is a “semi” open campus.  There is a fence but it does not fully enclose the buildings. Adjacent to the school is a beautiful park with a pond.  My son is not a known wanderer but absent a one-on-one aide?  He’d never make it. After school, the first day, I’m not comfortable but I rest in the knowledge that the ABA tutors are providing an independent check on my son’s education and safety.  I think I’m “so lucky” that the district agreed to provide this service for my son in his IEP offer.

After school on the first day, I got a text message saying the school district wants to reneg on their offer of a full time non-contracted ABA aide and instead provide their own employee as my son’s afternoon aide, since he’s had such a good day.  Yes, really.  Based on his first day.

There’s the other edge to that sword, you see?  The bad use of a “great first day.”

I thought we’d reached a detente. Apparently not.  So on goes the battle armor.  The thread of trust broken.

And here I thought I was going to hang up my briefcase and be an official SAHM… Ah well.  Once a shark, always a shark.  They just didn’t recognize me in my shades.

(To be continued)


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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27 Responses to “Great First Day”

  1. Oh, Karen. I feel for you. You know I do. After struggling for the past year with a teacher (who is, by the way, an incredible preschool teacher… just not the greatest “autism teacher”) I truly understand the double-edged sword of “a great day.”

    You’ll recognize my advice as the same advice you gave me — document everything. I found that keeping a voluntary “daily passport” really helped me. Each day, I wrote a few lines on how Little Miss did the night before, what she ate (if anything) and how her attitude was that day. I sent that in the backpack to the teacher and I know she read it (because every once in a while, I’d get comments back). But the more important thing about that notebook is that I have a journal of the hours outside the school day.

    I’m sending hugs and strength to you, my friend and of course — you know where to find me if you want to talk IEP strategy!

    • solodialogue says:

      You are such a comfort, Karla. Always. I love the idea of a “daily passport”. I somehow doubt this woman, who has yet to grade or remark on a single paper, would read it. Toots was given an assignment to write numbers 1-5 (which by the way- he did in beginning kindergarten). Toots then read, by himself, the instruction at the bottom of the page to “Write number sentences. Use a plus sign (+)” He wrote 1+5=6. None of the kids in the class, per the tutors, wrote an equation. The tutor told Toots to show the teacher. Her response, without looking was, “You’re finished? Good job. Put it in the basket” where it stayed til it went in the backpack to come home to me unmarked – unreviewed. Nice, eh? See why she probably would not read my “passport”? 28 is a lot of kids on an open campus.

      Thanks for the hugs and strength. And, I’ll be browsing your notes from that conference again, soon! xoxo

  2. Allie says:

    Hmmmmmmm. I see a lot of “red flags” here. The pond is beyond scary. The emphasis on blending. The teacher trying hard to convince you that 30 years means something. The reneg on the ABA is appalling. Can they just decide that on their own? Hello IEP meeting.

    • solodialogue says:

      I almost wrote those words “red flags” – so true. The pond is so attractive. There are geese there. The playground lures, and then right past it down an open grassy field is the pond. Why did she tell me so many times how long she’d been there? Don’t actions speak louder than words? And no-they won’t be deciding that reneg on their own. Big fight brewing – yes. Welcome to 1st grade, right?

  3. Wow, yes, I see a lot to be concerned about there. I am sorry you have to go back to battle, it gets so tiresome to be fighting all the time, but I have no doubt T is in great hands with you at the table!

  4. savvyadvocatemom says:

    Listen to your gut. I wanted to believe that the next door school was good enough for my son and ended up moving him in the 3rd grade; we had heard lots of praise for that school, (from lots of NT parents with NT kids.) Its a good school if your kid doesn’t need special ed. services, but bad things happened there. We are lucky that we had another school to go to. Document, keep your ABA tutors there as watchers, do not let them change a thing with his services without an IEP meeting, have it written in his IEP that he needs an escort past the scary pond….use all your experience and don’t trust that teacher, or that school farther than you can toss them. I like to believe that others have good intentions, but sometimes that isn’t really the case. Keep looking for the right school. I am thinking good thoughts for you and Toots.

    • solodialogue says:

      Yes, yes. I heard good things about this school – from this school and from a couple of people who’d heard good things about it… If Toots did not have special needs, I think I’d still be concerned due to the openness of the campus, the pond, and the restrooms are like gas station restrooms – the doors are on the outside of the building – not in the class room or down an enclosed hallway. If the 6 year olds need to use the restroom, they are sent on their own! That freaks me out a little. Some bad person could go in those restrooms and lurk in there. I mean, we are in an isolated area, but bad people are everywhere!

      I will be keeping my independent ABA tutors there, not just due to their expertise and because they are essential support, but because they are a check and balance against a school that has breached its tenuous trust with me from the end of the very first day. What a shame. Still looking. Thanks for keeping us in your thoughts. You too are a very strong and smart person to have in one’s corner and I am grateful!

  5. Lisa says:

    Is it bad that I literally heard alarm bells going off in my head as I read this?? I agree with everyone above. I was nodding with each and every comment. The one thing, educationally speaking, that made my heart skip a beat the most was the school wanting to pull the ABA tutor. After day one. THEY DON’T KNOW YOUR CHILD AFTER ONE SINGLE DAY AT SCHOOL. I don’t care how many years the teacher has been teaching, or how well he “blended” (WTH?!), or that he smiled nicely at the director. They call these people “specialists”?!

    The other thing that freaks me out, just as a parent, is allowing kids to walk past a park with a pond. Even NT kids could be enticed by that sparkling water…hells to the no, my friend. Even more so, the fact that these are FIRST GRADERS!!!! There is a creek next to my sons’ school. FIFTH GRADERS are constantly in that thing…FIFTH GRADERS.

    Sending hugs and good thoughts…and know that I’m always here to listen…wishing you best of luck! Go get ’em!

    • solodialogue says:

      You so understand me, Lisa!! That is it exactly! How could they offer the ABA provider, I accept by starting there and then they try this?! It’s just over the top.

      That pond has always scared me. The kids are not allowed to “walk past” on the way here and there. The park is right next to the school and the school is not fully fenced in. It’s open. They go outdoors to transition between buildings. Toots, without a tutor, would forget where he was going, wander off and end up at that pond. I read the number one cause of death for autistic children is drowning. Yeah. He will never lose the tutor while attending that school. Never.

      Thanks for the hugs and good thoughts! I need them!! xoxo

  6. Lizbeth says:

    Well hell. I’m pissed for you. When words are used against you, to further a cause that is not yours, that is the lowest form of low. I am more that pissed for you….that steams me.

    Start your documentation. Document what’s going on at home—if he’s having any meltdowns at home and if he’s reacting. That can be used to show he’s not getting what he needs at school. And time will be your ally here. If T is anything like Alex, the honeymoon will be over soon enough.

    I’m sorry Karen. So sorry. It’s not acceptable to use one day as data enough to switch things around. Lord, even a functional assessment takes weeks, I’d remind her of that. That tells me a lot about that individual and a shark in sheep’s clothing is still a shark.

    • solodialogue says:

      That is pretty low, isn’t it? I hate documentation, just as much as the rest of you. I know a lot of bloggers won’t write the school stuff on blogs for many reasons. For me, it just is what it is. If someone comes here and reads it from the school, hey, welcome. These are my perceptions. They are welcome to participate and try and change those. But this becomes part of my documentation – only a part. The rest is written down. Toots is saying he wants to keep going to the school and not do the work at home with me – perhaps the less of two evils? Lol. We shall see. I’ve stripped off the sheep’s clothing. It’s just unbelievable that they would try this bait and switch on me. Really. Not good. Thanks for your support! You are a powerful ally! xoxo

  7. Mary says:

    All I could think reading this was “AAARRRGGGHHHHHH!!!!!” Welcome to our world. 😦

    Freckles had an IEP for preschool. It was presented as a threat. “If we put her in preschool, she’ll have to be labeled ‘special needs’.” In kindergarten the IEP had mysteriously disappeared. Do you know how many times it took TWO teachers to drag the kid into the preschool? Yes, she was THAT kid.

    Now she’s “perfect” and “so smart” and “such a good student”. Only because she’s afraid to get in trouble at school. She’s afraid the teacher won’t like her or the other kids will make fun of her so she holds it all in until she gets home. Until she makes herself sick, I’m afraid.

    Only this week, she verbally lashed out at another girl. I can’t be sure what happened, but the kid annoyed her and she told the girl off. I don’t know if I should be proud or sad? The teacher had no idea until I emailed her.

    Oh, and Freckles has no trouble at all paying attention? Then why was she the one who noticed the spider high up on the wall during class today? Was the teacher floating around up there during the lesson?

    You need a new teacher. Yes, after one day.

    • solodialogue says:

      Oh my gosh, Mary. That she makes herself sick makes me so sad and heartsick for both of you! There must be a way to allow her a break during the day to accommodate her disability and give her a chance to “let it out” or “refresh” herself. I would look into this kind of break for her in a resource room, doing something she enjoys for 30 minutes or so a day. As far as verbally lashing out, I did the same thing when I was young. It’s great that she is standing up for herself. I go with proud.

      It’s funny how the facts never match the “report”. It sounds like Freckles may need a more attentive teacher too. I have a very strong suspicion, I may need a different school altogether but I will wait, as Denise says, and give it some more time. With the ABA tutors, I get independent, non-school affiliated, reports of the teacher’s performance and my son’s ability to focus, participate, integrate and succeed. It’s simply too early to tell. But early reports do not look good.

  8. Denise says:

    Karen, I am starting my 31st year teaching and I’m not ready for retirement yet! I love my job and the kids I teach and hope Tay’s teacher does too! All kids,austic or not, have a “Honeymoon” period in school. It usually last for a few days then the real personalities come out. My advise is to give Tay and new school 6-8 weeks to feel comfortable with each other, then possibly see about changes need to help him suceed. 1 day does not tell anyone anything, let alone how the year will follow. Usually the transition from half day to full day is a big deal for all first graders. It’s a long day for those little guys! I’m sure all of his classmates had melt downs when they got home. Its a big change! I know, I even have melt downs the first week of school when I get home! Home is the place we all feel safe and have people who love us unconditionally!
    Sending you lots of love!

    • solodialogue says:

      Denise, you are so completely different! You are a gifted educator, much like Tootles’ kindergarten teachers, one with concern, love and caring in your heart. The problem here is that your little 2nd cousin has a specially trained team of ABA tutors, 3 specifically who have different shifts with him at school, one tutor per shift. Each tutor collects data, prompts his participation, response, facilitates his understanding of instructions on an individual basis, redirects him to the task at hand, manages his physical safety, participates in a weekly meeting to discuss his strengths and weaknesses and where new programs are devised to address his disabilities.

      The “powers that be” at this school have manifested to me their lack of understanding of my son’s abilities and wish to yank these essential people from him. To him, these ABA tutors are like a wheelchair is to a physically disabled person. He needs this support to get from here to there, not only physically but due to his Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and his autism. So, you can imagine my shock when after a single day, he revoked what he offered to provide which lulled me to accept this school. To say I was disappointed is a vast understatement. It breached the delicate trust and makes me question everything – from the choice of teacher (one he placed me with but he did not even know) to why they would allow 6 year olds to walk across an open campus unsupervised…

      Sending lots of love back!

  9. Oh, my. So much I can relate to. Made my stomach cringe and knot. Sigh. Andrew held it together in elementary school and then would explode when he got home. Because he had one “good” day based on their stereotypical criteria they want to adjust the aide….please…don’t get me started!!!! The nerve. Teachers number one need education and compassion….crowd control doesn’t reach the aspie heart…..hang in there. HUGS 🙂

    • solodialogue says:

      This is why what you wrote struck such a chord with me today. Amazing that you received that advice in the grocery store. It made me wonder. I asked the Tootles whether he wanted to continue at school or do home school. Apparently, the school is what he wants right now! I will give it some time. Meanwhile, I will fight to maintain his current ABA tutors, one-on-one. Don’t worry – no one will move those tutors away from my son! I couldn’t help that little girl who held tight to Justice but I will help my son. xoxo

      • awe…you make me tear up, just knowing the heart you have for your son. Bless you and all will be as meant to be. 🙂 I trust you’ve got the brains and know-how to show those “boobs” (want to use another b word) what is best for your son…. Hugs!

      • solodialogue says:

        You and the boobs! I have a tune for that granny song and that is what I’m thinking of now! Lol! No tearing up. That’s only allowed for me when I read about that little girl we know. ❤

      • lol….yes….is a word that seems to be in my vocab. That and poop head. lol. 🙂

  10. Kara says:

    Well, fabulous. And, as those of us in a spectrum family know, behavior is so easily predicted from previous behavior. Glup!

  11. I definitely agree with everyone’s comments above^ and you have got to trust your instincts on this. I had a cynical chuckle to myself that they thought they could guage T’s behavior after only one day. Joel’s first day in Pre-K was a nightmare. He had meltdowns, he was overwhelmed, it was not a pretty picture. Based on that, the staff at his school wanted to have him come for only 1/2 a day (their Pre-k program is an all-day thing) and then have him spend the rest of the day at a local day care center. Husband and I refused because we KNOW our child and what he is capable of. He had behaved the exact same way his first day of preschool months before, but every day after that he did fine. It was just a matter of transitioning him. We asked that they let him finish out the week on a full-day routine and then we would go from there. They agreed to the trial and the next day at school, Joel was a dream pupil. He didn’t meltdown once. He worked well with his paraprofessional and teachers. After that, we have had no problems with the staff. They apologized and agreed with us that Joel could handle the full-day schedule and we have worked very well with them since then.

    And that duck pond thing and outdoor bathroom access? I would lose sleep over that. I’m anxious to see how this works out for Tootles. I’ll definitely keep my fingers crossed for your family on this.

  12. Urgh….all so familiar! I loved the word chameleon -ize. That’s exactly what they do! I also hate that phrase: he’s had a good day…..bleugh…..that usually means that were in for fireworks at home!
    I wish I could offer some advice instead of just saying: ME TOO to everything that you wrote…sigh…. It HAS to get better right?

  13. Oh, Karen – I am so sorry for what Tootles and you are going through. The hair is standing up on my neck and I am seeing all those red flags as well. We all know there is no way to know a child after 1 day…even with 30 years of experience. If there is anything I have picked up from reading your blog – I know you are a fighter and Tootles is so lucky for that. Will be thinking of you. {{hugs}}

  14. Pingback: The Last Straw. | Solodialogue

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