Wednesday, October 06, 2010

I guess we all have our hot-button issues.

In case you missed what's going on in the comments on my last post about D. hugging other kids and squeezing their hands, here's a quick recap:

Bob said, "There must be found a way to prevent any child from repeatedly being on the receiving end of unwelcome touches - and in the short term." 


I asked him what he'd suggest, and if he felt that my kid shouldn't be around the "normal" kids. And I wasn't trying to be snarky (well, maybe just a little) -- I really wanted to get in the other parents' heads. And Bob said:

I suppose that yes, I think that a child who cannot be prevented from repeatedly subjecting others to unwanted touch should not be in the classroom. But I find it hard to believe that this prevention cannot be accomplished. Couldn't a reasonably energetic para prevent such touches? Isn't that precisely what we would expect if a student was a physical danger to others, or to themselves? Why is this any different?
I'm curious to be in your head, too. If another child were handling your child against her will, repeatedly, and she were upset and bewildered and anxious and not wanting to go to school - would you think that an "ongoing process" was good enough, and, meanwhile, that it wasn't the touching child's parents' problem because those parent "aren't there to do anything about it"?  
So, here's the thing: the first time I heard about this issue was that first note. I wrote a response. The next day came the second note. Now, it is entirely possible that the hugging/squeezing has been going on since the first day of school and no one bothered to mention it to me until that first note last week. And if that's the case, then it was probably NOT an issue for the child involved. But then a parent saw it and decided that it was Not Okay and complained, and then a note came home. Or, the hugging and squeezing started more recently and again was not enough of a problem to warrant a note home until a parent complained about it.

It's also possible that it started whenever it started and was immediately a real issue for the kids involved, but the teacher thought she could handle it until she thought she couldn't handle it and then she wrote a note home. But I think that Bob's assessment of the issue is wrong. I really have trouble believing that D. was handling another child "against her will, repeatedly, and she [was] upset and bewildered and anxious and not wanting to go to school." If that was truly the case, then it deserves more than a scrawled note on a daily conduct sheet.

There was another incident at school. A parent dropped a child off in the classroom and then went to the assistant principal and told him that D. had shoved her out of the class. The AP came to the teacher to find out what happened. The teacher -- and this is the strict teacher, the one who told D., "You don't say no to me," -- said, "What? No! The parent dropped off the child, and D. said, 'Ok, you go to work now, bye!, and closed the classroom door." Yes, he did put a hand on the parent, but the teacher insists that it was not a shove, and certainly not with violence or malice.

I have frequently seen D. interact with kids. He is often physical, because that's an easier way for him to communicate than verbally. He often hugs kids, he often squeezes their hands, and he sometimes lifts them up. This is generally accompanied by a lot of laughter -- from both children. If the other child seems taken aback, shy, or frightened, I intervene. But if they are having fun, I usually stand to the side, watching closely, but smiling.

I have seen other parents watching, also cautiously, but smiling, unless or until there is a problem. I have seen other parents glance over, assess the situation, and determine quickly that there is nothing to worry about.

And I have seen parents immediately jump in to admonish D. or quickly pull their children away from him as if he is a contagious leper.

It is always interesting to me to note that the leper parents generally have children who think NOTHING of walking up to my kid, shoving him, and walking away laughing. Or telling him, "No, D., you can't sit with us."

Many times, I've thought that if D. has a more distinctive look -- say, the features of Down syndrome, or the tight limbs of cerebral palsy -- people would cut him more slack. They would see, and they would immediately know. But he blends. Unless you know what you're looking for, you might see a typical 12-year-old. (And let's remember that my son is 6.) So no one thinks there's a reason to be kind or understanding.

I guess I don't really have good answers. But I wanted to at least tell you my side.

10 comments:

Bob said...

I was going to get defensive, especially after the comment from Chai saying I should get a life. But instead I just feel misunderstood, and since the misunderstanding was partly my fault, I apologize for it. I agree with about 85% of what writergrrl says in this post.

My post was primarily a reaction to Cate's comment, who suggested writing to the teacher, "I am tired of notes about situations that are not my problem." I think that is not OK. Parents are responsible to help with their children's issues in school, whatever they are.

But I thought writergrrl handled this situation 100% appropriately.
You responded to the first note promptly, and the contents of that note were news to you; what else could you do but write back with constructive suggestions? And your suggestions were constructive.

The real misunderstanding is that I wrote "repeated, unwelcome touching" in my comment NOT to suggest that this was what D. was doing, but rather to say that IF the touches were both repeated and unwelcome, then it was not adequate to respond with an "ongoing process" and with lobbying or re-educating other parents to get used to it, as Cate suggested and Chai implied. I totally agree that if other kids like physically interacting with D., there is no problem. I totally agree that if something happens only once, no big deal. And I totally agree that it is 100% not OK to come down harder on D. for problematic behaviors than on any other kid for similar behaviors.

Your initial post says the teacher said that D. "keeps" squeezing other children, that the squeezing is "hard," and that there was more than one complaint. So, it is not crazy for me to have thought that the post was about "unwelcome, repeated" touching. But I wasn't sure that this was what was happening, and so I tried to qualify my post and say that I was only talking about "unwelcome, repeated" touching. Clearly, I was understood differently by several people, which tells me that I could have expressed myself better.

I do stand by my view that IF a child is subjected to touching and that IF that touching is both repeated AND unwelcome, then the school has to find a way to stop it in the short term. I do not agree with Cate that I should have to keep my child at home in order to protect her from being repeatedly handled by other children against her will. (And, btw, nowhere did I say my kid a "normal" kid. She does not deserve to be kept home, in a bubble, any more than anybody else.)

I also think, though, that the teacher behaved appropriately in his or her first and second notes. I took your title of the last post, "like a kick in the stomach," to suggest that you thought otherwise. But if all you were saying was, here's one more problem to put on the ever-growing mountain of things to deal with, I am with you there too.

Finally, I think that if other kids are shoving D. (on a regular basis, as you imply, but I'm not sure about that either), you should expect it to be stopped, in the short term.

p.s. I am a follower of this blog because I think that you are a energetic & devoted parent and an interesting writer. If you agree with moplans that I should read but not comment, say so and I will shut up.

Bob said...

I was going to get defensive, especially after the comment from Chai saying I should get a life. But instead I just feel misunderstood, and since the misunderstanding was partly my fault, I apologize for it. I agree with about 85% of what writergrrl says in this post.

My post was primarily a reaction to Cate's comment, who suggested writing to the teacher, "I am tired of notes about situations that are not my problem." I think that is not OK. Parents are responsible to help with their children's issues in school, whatever they are.

But I thought writergrrl handled this situation 100% appropriately.
You responded to the first note promptly, and the contents of that note were news to you; what else could you do but write back with constructive suggestions? And your suggestions were constructive.

The real misunderstanding is that I wrote "repeated, unwelcome touching" in my comment NOT to suggest that this was what D. was doing, but rather to say that IF the touches were both repeated and unwelcome, then it was not adequate to respond with an "ongoing process" and with lobbying or re-educating other parents to get used to it, as Cate suggested and Chai implied. I totally agree that if other kids like physically interacting with D., there is no problem. I totally agree that if something happens only once, no big deal. And I totally agree that it is 100% not OK to come down harder on D. for problematic behaviors than on any other kid for similar behaviors.

Your initial post says the teacher said that D. "keeps" squeezing other children, that the squeezing is "hard," and that there was more than one complaint. So, it is not crazy for me to have thought that the post was about "unwelcome, repeated" touching. But I wasn't sure that this was what was happening, and so I tried to qualify my post and say that I was only talking about "unwelcome, repeated" touching. Clearly, I was understood differently by several people, which tells me that I could have expressed myself better.

I do stand by my view that IF a child is subjected to touching and that IF that touching is both repeated AND unwelcome, then the school has to find a way to stop it in the short term. I do not agree with Cate that I should have to keep my child at home in order to protect her from being repeatedly handled by other children against her will. (And, btw, nowhere did I say my kid a "normal" kid. She does not deserve to be kept home, in a bubble, any more than anybody else.)

I also think, though, that the teacher behaved appropriately in his or her first and second notes. I took your title of the last post, "like a kick in the stomach," to suggest that you thought otherwise. But if all you were saying was, here's one more problem to put on the ever-growing mountain of things to deal with, I am with you there too.

Finally, I think that if other kids are shoving D. (on a regular basis, as you imply, but I'm not sure about that either), you should expect it to be stopped, in the short term.

p.s. I am a follower of this blog because I think that you are a energetic & devoted parent and an interesting writer. If you agree with moplans that I should read but not comment, say so and I will shut up.

Bob said...

I was going to get defensive, especially after the comment from Chai saying I should get a life. But instead I just feel misunderstood, and since the misunderstanding was partly my fault, I apologize for it. I agree with about 85% of what writergrrl says in this post.

My post was primarily a reaction to Cate's comment, who suggested writing to the teacher, "I am tired of notes about situations that are not my problem." I think that is not OK. Parents are responsible to help with their children's issues in school, whatever they are.

But I thought writergrrl handled this situation 100% appropriately.
You responded to the first note promptly, and the contents of that note were news to you; what else could you do but write back with constructive suggestions? And your suggestions were constructive.

The real misunderstanding is that I wrote "repeated, unwelcome touching" in my comment NOT to suggest that this was what D. was doing, but rather to say that IF the touches were both repeated and unwelcome, then it was not adequate to respond with an "ongoing process" and with lobbying or re-educating other parents to get used to it, as Cate suggested and Chai implied. I totally agree that if other kids like physically interacting with D., there is no problem. I totally agree that if something happens only once, no big deal. And I totally agree that it is 100% not OK to come down harder on D. for problematic behaviors than on any other kid for similar behaviors.

Your initial post says the teacher said that D. "keeps" squeezing other children, that the squeezing is "hard," and that there was more than one complaint. So, it is not crazy for me to have thought that the post was about "unwelcome, repeated" touching. But I wasn't sure that this was what was happening, and so I tried to qualify my post and say that I was only talking about "unwelcome, repeated" touching. Clearly, I was understood differently by several people, which tells me that I could have expressed myself better.

I do stand by my view that IF a child is subjected to touching and that IF that touching is both repeated AND unwelcome, then the school has to find a way to stop it in the short term. I do not agree with Cate that I should have to keep my child at home in order to protect her from being repeatedly handled by other children against her will. (And, btw, nowhere did I say my kid a "normal" kid. She does not deserve to be kept home, in a bubble, any more than anybody else.)

I also think, though, that the teacher behaved appropriately in his or her first and second notes. I took your title of the last post, "like a kick in the stomach," to suggest that you thought otherwise. But if all you were saying was, here's one more problem to put on the ever-growing mountain of things to deal with, I am with you there too.

Finally, I think that if other kids are shoving D. (on a regular basis, as you imply, but I'm not sure about that either), you should expect it to be stopped, in the short term.

p.s. I am a follower of this blog because I think that you are a energetic & devoted parent and an interesting writer. If you agree with moplans that I should read but not comment, say so and I will shut up.

Bob said...

Sorry for the triple posting - I clearly hit the wrong button, but am not sure what I did wrong. I can't delete the duplicates from my end. -Bob

fern said...

This has been an interesting discussion and I can see many sides, so let me tell my background. I taught special education for a number of years (where I advocated solely for my students) have my own child with atypical behaviors (where I advocate solely for my son), and am now an administrator in early childhood where keeping all the children safe and providing the best possible education for all children is my job.

It seems to me that there needs to be more education and preparation all around. D needs to keep learning about appropriate touching and personal boundaries. The other children need to learn about acceptance and tolerance of those who learn differently and how to react. Children can learn to say "D-please don't hug me, shake hands instead" Parents need to learn this, and learn how to help their children be advocates for themselves, but at the same time be kind and accepting.

Also-if the goal is for D to give up a behavior (hugging without permission, etc) then a new behavior has to be taught to take its place. This is essential!

This is all an ongoing process--for everyone.

persephone said...

Heh. Blogger says it can't process my comment because it's too long. I should probably cut it, but I'm going to post it in 2 parts instead and hope Writergrrl takes it as a sign of how much I care, rather than how much I can't stop talking. :)

PART 1: I'm reading backwards here, having missed the first round, and the first thing I want to say is: BIG hugs to Writergrrl. I know exactly what you meant by "kick in the stomach."

I'm glad Bob clarified, and I don't think what I'm about to say is really related to his comments, against or in support. I just wanted to volunteer a perspective as another mother of a child with special needs - except he's on the other side of this problem: he's aversive to touch.

My kid is the one who's scared to walk into a room if there are more than 2 people in it...because someone might bump into him. Mine is the kid who responds to other kids coming up to him to smile and say hello, with "Go away!" because they're standing too close for comfort. He cried for hours after a nurse put a hospital bracelet on him without asking. If someone hugged him without permission, I'm guessing he would flip.

Now, I firmly believe BOTH of our kids have a right to be in a mainstream classroom. And I believe both of us have a responsibility to do exactly what we're doing: get our kids whatever help we can, and be active participants in problem-solving whatever comes up. It's hard work, but I don't see any sign that Writergrrl is shirking it. I think part of why that second note was such a "kick in the stomach" was that it was so discouraging. All it said was "nothing you're doing is working and people are tired of it." And there wasn't anything constructive to balance it, like "I'm out of ideas too, but let's get together and see if we can think of any new ones." Honestly, after the first exchange of notes hit a dead end, the teacher should have called to talk, not sent another one.

persephone said...

PART 2: Personally, I *do* think it's an ongoing process. I firmly believe my kid has a right to be protected from unwanted touch. BUT I don't believe that is a one-sided responsibility - whether on the part of other people never to touch him, or on mine, to always prevent people from touching him. There's a line, obviously, and if someone is touching him in an objectively hurtful way OR if he's falling apart too much to cope with it, I always step in. But part of my job (and his teachers' job) is to teach him how to advocate for HIMSELF about unwanted touch. He needs to learn how to say "I need more space." He needs to know how to do that in a real-life setting, with real people who sometimes bump into him, or even think he wants a hug when he doesn't. Otherwise, he's going to have to go live in a cave when he grows up and his mommy isn't there to protect him.

I think if someone else's kid was repeatedly squeezing my kid, my first reaction would be to make sure this isn't a bully/victim situation. But once I found out it wasn't targeted at my child, the other child is like this with everyone, in fact he's actually trying to be affectionate - I would still think it was a problem; but one that *I* need to help solve, as much as the other parent.

So those were the two things I wanted to (very longwindedly, OMG) say: I don't know if it's fair to say, as some commenters did, that the other parents are overreacting to something that probably doesn't even bother their kids. Maybe they are; maybe they're not. They could have a kid like mine, and they might not be fully conscious of what the problem is yet, or what they're supposed to be doing about it - sensory issues can take a WHILE to diagnose - they just have a gut feeling this is going to be bad for their kid and they feel compelled to stop it.

But that doesn't mean this is all D's fault. Or Writergrrl's fault. Or ANYONE'S fault. So yeah. I am tired of hearing that she's getting notes saying "this is your problem, and we're running out of patience for you to fix it."

ella said...

What a frustrating situation, WG.

I don't have kids at all, let alone kids with Sotos or other special needs. So my comments are just ideas, and if they're terrible, I apologize.

One of your commenters on the previous post wrote: "basically we continue to reinforce that hugs are for home/family and teach replacement greetings. and yes, it's an ongoing process!" - and one on this post wrote: "Also-if the goal is for D to give up a behavior (hugging without permission, etc) then a new behavior has to be taught to take its place. This is essential!"

So...could you/teacher/everyone work with D to teach him that, if you want to hug someone at home, you hug Mommy or Daddy or any of your siblings; but if you want to hug someone at school, you hug the teddy bear? Would "hugging the bear" be enough of a replacement?

I wish you the best of luck, WG. And I hope D's school is going well for him this year outside of this particular issue!

Mia said...

My brother is eight and mildy autistic (and a pain in my ass!) and he likes to squeeze/hug his friends. Tightly!!! He's a very physical boy, too--I blame all the musical theater I influence him with. I'm touchy feely too! :D

I hope that the issue gets revolved soon.

(Does D. know how to squeeze hard and soft? Cos my brother sure doesn't, except with our baby cousin... we have to constantly remind him to be gentle with my great grandma but he doesn't really get it...)

Oh, and D. sounds super awesome and cute. Just sayin'. :)

moplans said...

amen persephone - this is hard work.
Kudos to you WG and thanks for sharing with us here so we can learn.