Before we begin…
Conversations with M:

M: Mommy, can I wear my new sunglasses that Uncle Kevin gave me?
Me: Sure, but please be careful with them.
M: *Walks over to mirror, puts on sunglasses and strikes a pose.  Then he leans forward and whispers to the mirror* There’s a NEW man in town! *walks away*

In my last blog, I talked about how this year started off bumpy for M.  He was having a hard time with Grade 3 and dealing with a lot of anxiety, sensory issues and frustration.

After discussing the situation with his Teacher and his SERT, we began working on solutions.  We realised that we definitely needed to set up a meeting to address things like the EA situation, but we needed to try to do what we could to reduce the stress, anxiety and frustration now. Right away we took steps to try to improve the situation. Knowing that the point system in the class was a huge source of frustration his Teacher suggested it might help if we started to use it at home and I was happy to do so.  We hoped that him having it at home as well as school, might reduce some of the stress and anxiety related to it.  As well, I had a discussion about it with him.  I told him that instead of getting upset when the Teacher got a point, that he should try to think of ways that he could help the class gain a point.

Next I talked to his SERT, again breaking into tears. (I unfortunately am a very emotional person and can’t help it.  I think I apologized about 20 times to both his Teacher and SERT that I was bawling and both of them assured me that they understood completely)  First she said she would hunt down some form of technology for him to use to reduce the amount of writing he would need to do.  This would help until the scrip from the OT went through.  She also found some small sensory things for him to use.  I have found that smells are very calming for M and have in the past used scented, flavoured lip balms to help him calm down when he was upset.  He loves good smells and a bad smell can be really difficult for him to deal with.  She had a wonderful EA in the school who made coloured, scented rice as a sensory item for the kids, so his SERT got him some of those.  She also was going to work on his visual calendar and set up a frustration scale for him.  He would be able to tell them where he was at any time from a 1 to a 5.  At a 1 he was completely calm and happy, at a 5, he was ready to melt down.  This gave him a way of being able to express himself.

I had a lot of talks with him and explained that I wanted him to try to tell me about things that had happened during his day. I told him that unless it was something truly major, I was not going to get mad at him.  The school was already handling whatever took place and I just wanted to discuss it with him.  This was something the school and I had discussed before that if the situation was handled there, there was no need to get upset over it.  Instead we would try to see how he could have handled it instead.  For example, one afternoon he was telling me how he had become very upset in the morning.  When I asked him what happened, he explained that he was in a group of kids and it had become too crowded for him.  So as a result he stood up and ran out of the class.  He also screamed. We talked about how he could have gone to the Teacher and told her how he was feeling and see if she could find a solution for him. (We are trying to get him to realise that he has to let us know what he’s feeling, something he really struggles with)  He explained that he couldn’t tell her because he didn’t know the word for what he was feeling.  I told him that he could tell her just that.  “I’m feeling something and I don’t know the right word.”  Another issue his SERT and Teacher were able to help with was the stress of the hallway in the morning.  It was so busy, loud and just generally overwhelming for him.  They decided that they would have someone bring him in right away when he got off the bus and bring him upstairs to undress and get into class before anyone else came.  This also gave him extra time to calm down and settle in for the day.

All of these things were a huge help to him and things improved, but they were still far from ideal.  We were going to have to have a meeting.  The EA situation was still all over the place.  Right now he was working with one of his favourite EA’s in the world.  But she was there for a limited time and when she left, it was going to be really hard on him knowing she would not be back.  He still would have many different EA’s in a day and while they are all wonderful, not all of them were the right fit for him.  I knew that the school wanted what was best for him, but they too were limited in their resources.  I knew there were many kids in that school with special needs and they all needed support.  But I also knew that this is my child and it is HIS needs that I needed to ensure were being met.  I walked into that meeting with my heart in my stomach.  I was so scared that I might have to fight to get him what he needed.

His Teacher, SERT and Principal all came to the meeting.  I had many time interacted with his principal and I have always had a great deal of respect for him.  He truly tries to know and understand all of his kids and I am amazed at how a man with such a large number of students manages to connect with so many of them.

Right away they told me some of the changes they had just made to his situation.  First, his SERT has searched out and found a laptop for him to work on while we waited for his scrip to go through from the OT (Occupational Therapist).  Together we added a lot of things to his scrip for sensory equipment such as a pressure vest (this makes him feel like he’s getting a hug all the time something that M really needs when he’s stressed), a beanbag chair for when they are sitting on the floor as that is really hard for him, a peapod (this is like a beanbag chair but without the pellets so it is filled with air and just surrounds and gives them a squeeze) a sit fit cushion for his chair, a fidget box and more.  While we are waiting for that to come through however they had found some sensory equipment for him to help in the meantime.  They had worked on his visual schedule, this allows him not only to know what is coming up at all times, but to have some control over some things like when he gets a break he can choose what he places in that slot.  They added breaks for him, something the OT has approved and they have been able to add to his IEP (Individual Education Plan).  Some of the breaks are sensory breaks while others are movement breaks.  They insure that M gets his work done but they have realised that these breaks are so important for him and let him come down after working hard.  When he has one of these breaks, he chooses what he would like to do.  His choices depend on if it is a sensory or a movement break.  This helps to give him a degree of control and reward.  His SERT has set up an area in her office which is right next to his classroom that will have some of his sensory equipment, such as the peapod.  This way he doesn’t have to go all the way downstairs to the sensory room.  He often will go to visit her when he needs a break or when he’s upset.  She is fantastic with him and he has a wonderful relationship with her.  Next, they asked that from then on I make sure to put his snack in a separate bag so he can bring just that in for snack time. They told me he was often eating his entire lunch on first break and then had nothing for second. Next, they asked me how I felt about them creating an office for him.  They said he would have his own little area that they would call his office and this would be where he would work.  It would remove a lot of the distractions and sensory obstacles in class when he was working and help him to focus.  I thought it was an amazing idea.  And perhaps most importantly they altered his EA schedule so he has just one EA at all times.  They chose someone who works really well with him and who he likes very much. I was overwhelmed with how they had basically addressed everything I was concerned about and fixed it.

So, how has it all turned out?  Shortly after that, I got his first progress report.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  All of his subjects were marked “Progressing Well”.  But it was the other part of the report card that brought tears to my eyes.  On this area, the marks are NI (Needs Improvement), S (Satisfactory), G (Good) and E (Excellent).  For Organisation, Independent Work, Initiative and Self-Regulation he got a G.  I was over the moon.  But then, for Responsibility and Collaboration, he got an E.

About a week later, we had a parent Teacher meeting.  Both his Teacher and his SERT attended the meeting. At M’s school the interviews are student lead.  I absolutely love this.  Gone are the days of a child sitting at home or right outside the room, filled with anxiety, not knowing what is being said.  The children are able to choose the things they feel they did well, areas they have improved, areas they feel they need to work harder on and things they are really proud of.   I can’t tell you how incredibly proud I was of him and how overwhelmed and amazed I was over all they had done for him.  M had a script that he read from for the interview.  He had and his SERT had sat down the day before and rehearsed the script so he would feel prepared and confident when presenting his work.  He read from the script introducing us even though we had met many times already, however after the introductions he insisted “This is where you are supposed to shake hands!” Which made all of us laugh and of course his Teacher and I shook hands, after all that was “what you are supposed to do”.

As I sat there looking at all of this stuff I was holding back tears.  The visual schedule his SERT had created must have taken a huge amount of time and effort to create.  She had everything laminated with pictures and it all went onto the schedule with Velcro.  Each day it would be set up for him so he knew what was coming and when it came to his breaks and choices he would pick out a different sheet with more pictures on velcro and place his choice in the slot.  He pulled out his work to show me all the things he was doing and what he felt proud of as well as what he realised he needed to work harder on.  After each, he would come to a part in the schedule where he would say “Do you have any questions or comments?”  Sometimes I would ask him about it always commenting on how wonderful it all was.  At one point when he asked me for any questions or comments, I sat there smiling so wide and all that came out was “I am just so proud of you.”  His teacher smiled at me and said, “And that is the best comment of all.”

His office was wonderful and they had even put a picture of him in his Halloween costume up on the wall to help make it special.  His schedule was there and he had bins next to him with his choices and some sensory equipment.  Do we still have challenges and difficult days?  Yes, of course we do, but they are much fewer and farther between. As we finished up the meeting I looked at the smile on his face I could see that the best thing that had come out of this was the change in how he felt. For M, grade 3 had gone from a “can’t” to being a “CAN and WILL”.