Raising Darin might be the most refining activity of my life. No other project requires me to stand apart from everyone and determine what is right so carefully.
The past 4 years have been huge in this area. Discovering how much teachers, school, and autism understanding can affect his behavior has transformed our lives.
It started with our amazing teacher Ms Lowe, the first teacher Darin had in Friendswood, for 2nd grade. It continued with Ms Leslie at Windsong in 4th & 5th, as well as Kyle working with Darin at home. Those 4 people figured out how Darin could learn academics, manage his behaviors, and learn to play & stay on task himself.
This all led to a great summer 2018.
Then came the Fall.
Fall 2018 was a nightmare. Darin moved from Windsong to Friendswood Junior High.
By day 2 of 6th grade, I knew his teacher, Ms Byrd, lacked all the understanding of Ms Lowe, Ms Stamper, and Ms Leslie. She was using methods tested and determined ineffective with Darin.
By week 7, I was so concerned I had held multiple team meetings and reached out to the Special Ed Director.
That’s when it became unbearable. Darin was trying to communicate something (all behavior is communication) and I didn’t know what. But he was regressing to disrupted behavior we hadn’t seen since 2013. He started peeing on the floor at school. He threw multiple things at our TV.
When I entered a team meeting at school week 9, I found out he had been removed to a separate classroom without other students, and with one adult at a time. No one would nail down what day that began, but someone mentioned 3 weeks in passing…
Coincidence? I think not. All the worst had happened in the last 3 week…
Honestly, the stress was killing my gut. All day I dreaded the report of his day at school.
After the meeting on 10/23, I was driving around crying. I couldn’t imagine his day in an isolated room.
So on 10/26, I sent a recording device to hear his day. Maybe it was better than my fears. Maybe he really required reinforcements every minute to stay on task. Maybe the staff was doing all they could to manage him.
Or maybe not.
Over the weekend of 10/26-10/28, I listened to a recording of his day from 7:45a-2:30p.
It started out pretty good.
- A sweet paraeducator sat chatting with him before school started, while he listened to music on his iPad.
- Once school started, he continued with music on the iPad for about 15 min.
- Then a teacher came in to work on Spelling for 15 min… he was engaged, compliant, and DIDN’T get any reinforcement for 15 mins. Good job, Darin!
- Then he got back on his iPad with music for 30 min.
At this point, I think “wow, he is a lot more compliant during lessons than I’ve been told” and “he is using his iPad a lot”. Not criminal.
The lesson is totally unplanned. But again not criminal, just disappointing.
- Then his main teacher comes in and works with him about 20 min. He’s happy and laughing, and engaged. Once again no reinforcements or special prompts were used.
- Then he gets his iPad again… about 10:30 in the morning… after about 35 mins of instruction, and 45 mins of iPad… and HIS INSTRUCTION FOR THE DAY WAS COMPLETE.
- He spent 2 class periods listening to his iPad music, alone with a Para, with minimal conversation and nothing offered to do.
- Then he was taken out of the room for lunch.
- When he returned, he was yelled at and his iPad was removed. He was passed between a para & the teacher, who both yelled at him… and the teacher told him to lay on the floor, put his noise in the corner, that he wasn’t going to be wanted by the person picking him up, that if he peed on the floor he wouldn’t get to go home.
- So he peed. And the teacher reported that he was just laying on the floor with his iPad and he peed out of the blue.
This was psychological manipulation, threatening of being held hostage, fear-mongering, and gas-lighting.
This was all my worst nightmare.
But it was also a clear understanding of what he was communicating to me by his crazy behavior in the past few weeks.
So I told him this…
- that I understood him
- that I was sorry
- that I didn’t know they were treating him this way
And I started pointing out how I was trying to be different…
- “I am listening and trying to help you”
- “I am not ignoring you”
- “I am here for you”
The transformation was spectacular.
He really started calming down.
And clinging to me. If I tried to go to the gym in the evening, he wanted to go along. He barely let me out of his sign.
But he was otherwise calm.
Then he spread his trust to Arabella. About 2 weeks after this discovery, I really noticed this change:
We went to Jumping Jungle, and he barely played away from Arabella & I, and eventually just sat in her lap.
Within 2 more weeks, Darin’s whole demeanor had changed at home. We took him to visit a small church, without a special needs class to attend, and he remained with us in the service quietly for 95% of the time, only leaving to get a drink & returning quietly.
It has now been 2 months of building trust and learning better how to really understand Darin and here is what I have concluded:
- I am so thankful for the 4 great years of teachers who made it easy for me to spot when things were not right.
- When you cannot speak up, it is so easy for someone in authority to shape the narrative about you…. it is abuse and I will fight for accountability.
- Listening and showing Darin I understand him has great rewards! So far, we have experienced some of the greatest holidays of our family’s life, and the difference is wonderful.
It’s hard to be thankful for anything horrible, but I am thankful to understand Darin better and what that has led to.
This has also led me to be super protective of him, and unwilling to take chances with his emotional safety.
- We tried a new school, specifically for kids with autism, Children’s Oasis Education Program. After 2 days, I had seen multiple red flags that they were no more equipped than Ms Byrd.
- In 2019, I am working on a plan for him to be taught at home by special educators and myself, and we will combine this with community activities to provide a full life of learning, support, and love.
This is not the path I foresaw, but it is the road before me. By His grace, I will walk it in hope that He has always given me what I need for Darin.