Summers at home with the children is always difficult, so of course I was thrilled to the center of my being when school started. The thrill was short lived. Zoe immediately started having issues in school with aggression and acting out. The second week of school she was suspended for hitting another child. There was absolutely nothing done to try to transition her into the new school and program, so I tried to get her ready by talking to her about it a lot, driving her to the school and making sure she got to check the place out during back to school day. This clearly wasn’t enough.
There was one child in the class she remembered from elementary school and he became her primary target. She hit and scratched him so many times his parents were coming down hard on the school to do something, which resulted in the suspension and a bullying report being filed against her. So now my daughter is labeled a bully within the FCPS system. I do sympathize with the other parents. If their child was attacking mine I’d be all over both them and the school to keep him in check too, so I completely get it. At the same time, though, Zoe wasn’t harassing the other child for the sake of self-esteem or for giggles. She was letting us know she was overwhelmed the only way she knows how. By raising hell. The bullying report puts a label on her that will now follow her throughout the rest of her school years. That really worries me. If she didn’t have so many intellectual and developmental issues to live with, I have no doubt she’d have been fine. All we can do now is hope this doesn’t come back to bite her (and by extension, her dad and I) later.
During the first six weeks of school we had three IEP meetings and weekly call-ins to come see the vice principal because Zoe was acting out. She went after adults as well as other children, she didn’t care. It’s difficult to describe the feeling of attending a meeting with teachers and administrators who have bruises and scratches all over their hands and arms from run-ins with my daughter. Multiple reports were written, multiple calls were made (both to me and the school), and we were working with Zoe at home to try and prevent her from attacking people, but in the end, nothing really worked and I felt we had no choice but to find another placement for her. I actually felt that this was the best thing for Zoe early on, at about the second week of school. Her dad disagreed and we kept her there much longer than I would have if the decision were up to me alone. He felt that the school was just trying to get rid of her and I was willing to give in too easily. I didn’t see it as giving in or giving up; I just wanted to do what was best for Zoe and nothing any of us were doing was working.
I am so grateful to the vice principal. She tried everything she could to minimize the effect on Zoe’s school record. After the first suspension Zoe was also having behavior issues on the bus, getting out of her seat and attacking the bus assistant and the boy she kept hitting at school. That poor kid really didn’t get a break until we took Zoe out of that program and sent her to a different school. Her behavior on the bus caused her to get a bus suspension, which the vice principal labeled on the paperwork as an ‘educational exercise’ in the hope of lightening the load on my daughter’s rapidly-increasing negative behavior reports.
In mid-October I received a call from a police officer about Zoe’s attacks on the same boy she’d been targeting since school started. The boy’s parents felt that neither the school or we were doing anything to attempt to control her and he was becoming afraid to go to school, so they called the police. I completely understand their anger and concern. From their point of view we were all just allowing it to happen. The reality of it was that we were working our asses off to find the one thing she would respond to so she could actually start doing some learning and everyone could find peace. The call from the cop was the end of trying to make things work at that school. With or without my husband’s cooperation, I was finding another program for Zoe. Fortunately, he was in agreement. That phone call was one of the most difficult I’ve ever had. The entire time the cop was lecturing me about what I should be doing to get Zoe to behave and work with the school, and I kept telling him that not only were we doing all of those things, we’d gotten her psych at KKI involved. I felt we were doing everything we could. He wasn’t hearing it. The next step would probably be an expulsion. Then we’d have no options within the public school system and the nearest school for Autistic children is in Baltimore – almost ninety minutes away. My hands shook for hours after I hung up.
The last meeting we had at the school was attended by a rep from the county and the teacher from the Challenges program at another school. To her credit, the teacher didn’t even flinch or look uncertain when we explained what had been going on. She’s been working with kids on the spectrum for awhile and was genuinely happy to have Zoe transfer into her class. She brought a ‘welcome to our class’ book and when I saw that one of the class assistants and several friends from the elementary school were there, I knew this was the right place for Zoe. I took her for a visit and it was like a homecoming. Smiles, bouncing and joy all around. She was transferred at the beginning of November and there haven’t been any issues. The teacher and other students adore her, the program is exactly what she needs and Zoe is a very happy girl. I get almost daily texts from the teacher, pictures, updates – all positive. My baby girl has even connected with another boy she used to go to elementary school with in an age-appropriate way and has a one-on-one relationship with him. Her first boyfriend and her first kiss happened right there in the classroom. They actually communicate in a way that all the adults tell me is truly astonishing to watch. I don’t worry about the two of them behaving inappropriately because there are several assistants in the classroom and the teacher interacts with her students constantly. If they start getting a little too ‘touchy’, she’ll intervene. They haven’t. They talk, hug and play together, which I think is really wonderful. The teacher is going to make a video of them interacting and send it to me when she gets a chance.
It has taken me awhile to not be anxious when I see her bounce onto the bus in the morning. I still get that ‘what fresh hell is this?’ feeling sometimes when my phone sounds off and I see that it’s Zoe’s teacher calling, but not as often as I did a few months ago. It’s an amazing and beautiful thing to see my daughter so happy in the morning again. For a couple of months she looked like she was walking the Green Mile on the way to the bus. She truly loves her teacher, school, program and the other students. Little by little my anxiety is diminishing. If I believed in miracles, I’d say Zoe’s new teacher deserves to be declared one.
All of the stress of the last few months has taken a very definite toll on me and Larry, though. We’re exhausted. I didn’t fall away from my spirituality completely, but I haven’t practiced it. My altar is dusty, my candles and incense unburned. I didn’t even have the energy to do anything for Samhain, which comes during the time of year when I feel the most spiritually grounded and connected. I feel as though Autumn came and went without joy. Unappreciated. Now that my energy is returning (and becoming more positive), I am motivated to clean off my altar and go back to daily prayer. I really should have been doing this while going through the stress. Spiritual practice has a calming influence on me when little else does. My days were so filled with anxiety negativity I literally felt that I had nothing left, neither for Deity nor myself. There was a void.
I want to bring in the new year by creating some positive energy in our home. John and I made a good start to getting the chaos in the basement cleared out but there is still a lot to get done. The effort was derailed by constant trips back and forth to the school, Zoe’s physical therapy, holiday stress and dwindling interest. I went on autopilot and only did what I absolutely had to in order to keep the place running and everyone fed and in clean clothes. Now I’m starting to feel the first sparks of interest in doing more.
So today I’m going to take step one: cleaning and rearranging my altar. I feel as though once that’s done, I’ll be good to go after everything else. :o)