Saturday, February 1, 2014

Two Alarms, One Scared Kid

So far, adjustment to baby #3 in our household has gone as well as can be expected.

We've gotten one "But I'm sad I can't play football around the baby" (gee, who would that be from?) and an abundance of whiney-ness. Can't really complain there. Especially because Ethan had, at his own admission, a kind of rough week at school.

Monday, while I was still in the hospital, Dan was on kid-duty in the morning, of course. They were all running late so he told Ethan he had to get hot lunch. This deviates from the routine. Both kiddos only like hot lunch when it's pizza day, and it was decidedly not pizza day. There were tears when Dan dropped him off. Then (why oh why that day of all days) they had a darned fire drill. I couldn't believe it. He's dreaded the fire drill for months (ever since the last one), and then they set the thing off on his one day when everything is completely out of whack? Ethan was not pleased.

The next day Gramma picked him up at school and he came home announcing that "ten bad things happened at school today," but he wouldn't elaborate on what the ten were. I think one of them had to do with his teacher being gone for part of the day at meetings and having a substitute, another sad deviation from routine.

On a side note, when I heard Ethan talk about "ten bad things" I wanted to start giggling because it reminded me of childhood. I was a horrid big sister sometimes. I basically blackmailed my poor younger brother Nate with what I called "The Five Bad Things," which were minor indiscretions I'd caught him at (like saying the word "crap") that I'd dangle over his head whenever he was doing something I didn't like. Stop that or I'll tell mom and dad about The Five Bad Things, I'd say in an ominous voice, and he usually whipped right back into line. I know. I was terrible.

So then on Wednesday and Thursday Ethan started to talk about art. I probed deeper. Apparently his art teacher has instituted a new system to keep them quiet. She's rigged up something that includes lights that flash from green to yellow to red. When the red light goes off (whenever they're too loud) some kind of alarm goes off.

I can't think of a worse way to torment Ethan, this boy who runs away from the Simon game and can't stand the buzzer on Family Feud.

"Last week I hardly cut any lines, because I was looking at the light. It was changing to yellow and I knew the alarm would go off soon," he told me.

I could see the sad image in my head: the rest of the kids chatting and cutting, and Ethan, heart pounding, unable to focus on the task before him, casting glances every few seconds at the cursed light.

The other night he announced that to top things off, his teacher had said there would be another fire drill on Friday. I thought it was a good thing he was at least getting a heads-up, but Ethan didn't see it that way. Before bedtime, he started begging to stay home from school. "But I have a cough!" he kept saying. Then a few minutes later he'd start in with, "I don't want those alarms to go off. I don't want to go."

It's sad to see him like this. I know there are days when all kids dread going to school. The thing with Ethan is, he likes school and he likes work. He just doesn't know how to deal with the anxiety of something unanticipated like an alarm or a buzzer going off and catching him off guard.

I wrote to Ethan's teacher Friday morning to warn her about how he was feeling and to see if there was anything we could do to help him. She said she'd work on it and ask one of the special ed. teachers for advice. When I picked him up after school and asked him about his day, he seemed visibly relieved.

"It wasn't a fire drill, it was Code Red," he said. "No alarms. We just had to practice being vey quiet near the teacher's desk." Code Red drills were instituted after Newtown last year. The whole thing makes me a little sad, and I always wonder what they tell the kids as far as why they are practicing the drill. But to Ethan, obviously Code Red was a walk in the park compared to blaring, blinking alarms.

As for art?

"My teacher turned off the alarm," he said. "The lights still flash but it doesn't go off." Obviously, someone had talked to the art teacher. I asked him if he was able to focus on his work, and he said yes.

I thought of something I'd read by a fellow autism mamma blogger the other day, about teaching her child to advocate for herself. I thought about the fact that we haven't had that "talk" yet, about the ways he is different and what that means. We're getting closer to that point, but not yet. Still, I knew we could start planting the seeds.

"You know Ethan, if something bothering you or stressing you out at school, never be afraid to speak up," I told him. "The teachers are there to help you. They don't want you to sit there in fear and not be able to concentrate on your work."

As we drove home I wondered if this was an issue that would be harder to resolve if Ethan was removed from special ed. without the constant relationship with special ed. staff. I filed that away to use at another more unanswered question, as we take the steps toward making a decision.

1 comment:

Floortime Lite Mama said...

CONGRATS on the new baby that is AWESOME
OS excited for you -
That alarm thing broke my heart