School is looming around the corner and I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I’ll have time to myself again and return to grocery shopping during the morning – still without children. On the other hand, there will be two schedules this year, elementary and middle school start at different times. Add to that the homework, orchestra (which in 5th grade practices outside of school hours), occupational therapy (which is at a time which is going to be crazy), and helping the middle child get through the year with a minimum of issues.
My middle child was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder last spring. We spent a marking period prior to the diagnosis being called into school because she had taken off down a hallway and wouldn’t return to class, or because she refused to read out loud, or and number of issues which looked behavioral, but which we now know were due to the sensory issues. I cringed every time the phone rang, hoping it wouldn’t be the school. I got the impression that her 4th grade teacher may have been inclined to gossip, which I know first hand that gossip about students does occur in teacher lounges, and I’m concerned that whatever teacher she’s assigned to this year will have a pre-conceived idea of her. We couldn’t even begin communication with a teacher for this year as the district is in complete turmoil (5 of 12 elementary schools will not be open this year) and teachers uncertain. We’ll have one week to communicate with her new teacher before school begins.
One week just isn’t enough time as sensory processing disorder is just beginning to be a familiar topic. It’s often hand in hand with autism and ADHD, so a lot of times it’s not seen as a separate problem. Our child is not Autistic nor does she have ADHD. It doesn’t fit into a nice, familiar box, and therefore is more difficult for the school to handle. At least at ours, and I feel we have a pretty good school. Her teacher last year wasn’t a lot of help. Our daughter had two stressballs in her desk to help when she became upset. The principal suggested it, and both myself and my daughter’s counselor discussed it with the teacher. One day I found one of the stressballs in my daughter’s backpack. This confused me so I asked her why it had come home. The teacher had told her she could only keep one of the “toys” at school. Upon asking the teacher about it, she had “forgotten” what they were for. I wasn’t happy to learn that she had been calling them toys, either (in front of the other students, even). I actually received a call from the school one day because my daughter was spinning – on the playground at recess. I was asked to come in because they were worried she would fall down. I can’t tell you how many times I had mentioned that this was something she did when needing to calm herself down and that she does not become dizzy.
No matter how many times I told this teacher that reading or sharing out loud could be terrifying to my daughter, and please only ask her once then move on, I received numerous notes about her “refusing to share” or read in front of the class. It’s 4th grade, not a high school speech class, and she was still doing the required work.
We began occupational therapy as soon as we knew she had sensory problems, yet because the only time slot available was during school, we were given a hard time about pulling her once a week for the hour and a half (which includes drive time). Never mind the fact that her reactions could lose a whole afternoon for her. Then her wonderful teacher made sure she took time, as I was picking my daughter up for OT two weeks before the end of school, to tell me how worried she is about 5th grade. I simply replied “That’s why we started OT now rather than wait for summer. We have to leave or we’ll be late.”
One of the times I was called to the school it was because my daughter hit a substitute. That sounded pretty bad until the sub herself described the incident. The sub was a veteran teacher, newly retired. At the end of the day she took it upon herself to push my daughter to write more in her homework book than normal (every entry had both her teacher’s and my initials to show we’d seen them). My daughter became upset, threw the book in her desk and held the desk lid down. By the sub’s own words, my daughter was not screaming, kicking, or causing a disturbance in any way. She was simply holding her desk closed. This sub then grabbed my daughter’s wrist. That’s when my daughter hit her. The sub grabbed my wrist to demonstrate and it was an uncomfortable grip and it took a lot of will power not to pull away. My daughter had to apologize to the sub, but the sub never had to admit doing anything wrong. She chose to create a power struggle, then grabbed my daughter. Did my daughter do wrong in hitting her? Absolutely. Did the sub also do wrong? Absolutely.
Now that you’d gotten through all of this ranting, let me state that I was a teacher before the kids came along. I am from a family in which just about every family has at least one teacher, and it was my father’s profession until he retired last year. I am familiar with the teacher’s perspective and how the school side of things work. I never expected to be so frustrated with a school or a teacher. Sensory issues can look so much like behavior problems that I think it’s hard for those who’ve never heard of this to believe it’s not just bad behavior. Am I worried about this upcoming school year? Absolutely.