The best part of a new school year is the fresh start. No matter what happened the year before, you only have to deal for nine months at the most, then you’re on to a different classroom, teacher, and group of students. It’s kind of awesome when you think about it.
Last school year didn’t start out so hot for Cameron. About a month into it, I was on the phone with a therapist trying to figure out how to help our son, who had been turning into an emotional hurricane nearly every school night. Each night was a mystery of what his Sensory Processing Disorder would serve up real nice-and-special for the family. Sometimes we had “angry frustration over 10-minutes of homework,” with a side of “hit your sister.” Other nights we were given “bossy controlling rule-maker” followed by “uncontrollable crying for an hour because your three-year-old sister looked at you.” And when we were lucky, we had “snuggly lover” accompanied by “working really hard to find something to feel sad about.”
Once we figured out that Cameron had SPD, we weren’t exactly sure how to help him. The few things I did ask his teacher to do were rarely done, and I felt like Cameron was spinning his wheels (as were his parents). His therapist gave us a nice list of things for his teacher to do to help him, but we were never able to coordinate a meeting with his her to review them. Before you knew it, it was the end of the school year and he was doing fine enough; so we decided to call it a wash and start fresh this year.
This is the first year we’ve started the school year knowing Cameron has SPD, which is a big advantage for him, his teacher, and us. First of all, I asked around to figure out what teacher would be best for him. Then, I did something I’d NEVER imagined I would do… I called his principal to request this specific teacher. I decided to take initiative, since he has learning needs that can be helped or hindered by the right teacher. This is kind of against my philosophy because I feel like an important skill for people to have is to deal with learning from/working with/being with people they don’t necessarily enjoy. However, when I saw his love of school dwindle last year, I decided to take action and request someone who would work with him in a more proactive manner. We’ve now had nearly a year to figure out some tricks that work for Cameron, so when I went into his school on Meet the Teacher day, I had a mental list of things to tell his new (and requested) teacher. It kind of went like this (written in the play version; feel free to grab a friend and act this out). Also, if you click on the link, you’ll see the “xtranormal.com” version acted out in a mini-cartoon.
Cameron’s Back to School Act 1
Cameron’s Back to School, Act 1 (click link to view short cartoon movie of this Act)
[Cameron and his sister are playing loudly with beanbags in the corner, imagining that they are a draw-bridge, among other things while jumping and making crazy animal noises. Katina and Mr. G are on the opposite corner of the room, talking quietly.]
Katina: I just want you to know that Cameron has been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder. He is a sensory seeker, which means he’s kind of grabby towards other kids and needs to be reminded to keep his hands to himself. He has a hard time sitting still sometimes, too.
Mr. G: Oh, do you think he’d like to sit on a cushion? [gestures to blue, nubby, wedge-shaped cushion near where he’s standing]
Katina: Yes! I also have tried to have him sit on a yoga ball at home while he did his homework, and he did say that he liked that.
Mr. G: There’s actually a classroom in our district that has those ball chairs for every student. I think that teacher got a grant. I can’t afford to get those chairs for my whole class, but if you want to send one in with Cameron, he could use it here.
Katina: Wow! That’s great! Maybe I will, if Cameron is okay with that. Also, he has terrible handwriting. He’s been tested for occupational therapy, and he doesn’t qualify, but it’s been an issue in school for quite awhile.
Mr. G: Can he type?
Katina: No, but if you’re willing to let him do that, I’ll start practicing with him at home.
Mr. G: Well, if that works better, that would be fine. It doesn’t matter to me.
Katina: I really don’t make him practice extra writing at home because I don’t want him to hate to write. He has really great ideas, and he can get them down on paper, but it’s hard to read.
Mr. G: My goal is to make it so he doesn’t hate writing too, so we’ll do whatever works for him.
Katina: Great. Another thing is that Cameron tends to lose control when he’s excited and needs to be reminded to calm down. We do brush him with a sensory brush, and it really calms him down.
Mr. G: If you want to send the brush to school, I would be fine brushing him here.
Katina: Well, I don’t know if Cameron would feel weird about that, but if he’s fine with it, I think that’s a great idea. There’s one more thing. I am a teacher, and so I was curious about his reading level. He reads really well, but running records (where he reads aloud and a teacher records any errors he makes while reading) are not easy for him. He has a hard time getting his words out in general, which includes while he reads. I gave him a reading test at the beginning of the summer and asked him to read silently, and then I asked him comprehension questions. He was at a middle school level when I tested him. I’m not saying that’s for sure where he’s at, but I feel like he comprehends best when he’s not reading aloud to someone. When he reads aloud, he’s placed at about a fourth grade level. I’m not trying to tell you what to do, but I’m just letting you know that happened.
Mr. G [smiling and nodding]: My son was the same way. After I told his teacher about that, she tested him after he read silently and she said she’d never give him another running record again.
Katina: Thank you.
Mr. G: I’m not the best communicator, so if there’s something else, please just let me know.
Katina: I’m not a helicopter mom; I just wanted you to know about Cameron before you start.
I left Cameron’s school thinking, “Oh. My. Gosh. This couldn’t be more perfect!” I was excited and hopeful for Cameron. Flash forward to the first day of school. (You’ll need four people for this act, but one part isn’t a speaking role).
Cameron’s Back to School Act 2
Cameron’s Back to School, Act 2 (click to link to a short movie of this act. There are only two characters in the movie because that’s all the website allows.)
[Jon, Katina, Cameron and Amelia are eating dinner around the table, discussing the kids’ first days at school. Amelia is making a mess, has already spilled milk, is playing with her food more than eating it, and has pasta sauce on her face, in her eyebrow, and in her hair.]
Jon: How was your first day, Cameron?
Cameron: It was great! I was so good I got two back scratches from Mr. G.
[Jon and Katina give curious looks to each other.]
Katina: …Really? Does he do that to everyone?
Cameron: No, just me. He said real quiet to me, ‘Your mom said I can scratch your back if you want me to. Is it alright if I scratch your back?’
[Jon and Katina exchange glances]
Jon: Hmm. Were you around other people?
Cameron: Yeah, I was at my desk.
Katina: Let me take this opportunity to remind you that if you ever feel uncomfortable with an adult-that they’re touching you inappropriately- you have to tell us. Even if they tell you not to.
Cameron: I know. I like Mr. G. because he touches me.
[Jon and Katina exchange concerned, surprised, yet somewhat amused glances)
Jon: What do you mean?
Cameron: Like he touches my arm and my head when he’s talking to me.
Katina: Yeah, you do like that.
Cameron: Can we send my brush to school?
Katina: I’m not sure I’m comfortable with him brushing you quite yet.
I know in my heart that Mr. G is not a creepster. I know that he was doing what he knows works for Cameron, because it turns out that Mr. G’s son is kind of similar to Cameron. So I am so grateful that he’s being so kind to and understanding of Cameron. However, due to the fact that I am a mother, I can’t help the weird vibes that this whole conversation gave me. I was planning on addressing the brushing with Mr. G after the school year was rolling a bit more.
Well, it turns out that Cameron REALLY wanted to be brushed at school, because he “scheduled a private meeting” with Mr. G in the library, where he asked where and when Mr. G would be able to brush him during the school day. Don’t get me wrong; I am proud of his self-advocacy skills, and I’m thrilled that he clearly feels a strong connection with his teacher. But still… this is probably something that should be discussed with his parents before taking it to the teacher. But this should come as no surprise to me. Cameron is a “go get ‘em” kind of guy. When he wants something, he figures out how to get it. I should be happy he didn’t “schedule a private meeting” with the principal regarding this pressing issue of brushing. Luckily, his teacher told him that he needed to talk to us before the brushing could occur.
So the good news is we have a teacher who is willing to go above and beyond to meet the needs of our son without an IEP (Individualized Education Program). The other good news is that I don’t think there’s a bad news (yet). Cameron and his self-advocacy have worked towards getting what he needs, and that is a step in the right direction. Now we need to work on his approach, both when telling stories about being “touched” and when asking his teacher for things prior to discussing it with his parents. We’re getting there!