Today I volunteered at my daughter’s school in her Kindergarten classroom for their Halloween party. It was a quick visit to drop off cupcakes and help out for a little bit. Of course, the moment I entered the room the school psychologist asked me to visit his office on my way out. But Ally came running over to me with excitement and I tried to forget what awful news they had for me.
I helped kids make little ghosts with glue and cotton balls and they all followed directions and listened, even Ally. Several kids wanted me to know that Ally isn’t nice to them or her teacher and asked me why doesn’t she like anyone?
“Why is so mean?” a little girl wanted to know.
I forced a smile and simply said, “I promise she likes all of you and says nice things about everyone at home.” I quickly redirected them to look at the awesome ghosts they had just made and commented on their costumes.
What are you supposed to say to a group of 5-6 year old kids about autism? Are you supposed to say anything at all? I looked up and saw Ally at a station where she threaded a mummy with yarn. It seemed like she was having a good day.
And I knew a few minutes later when I heard one of the paraprofessionals asking a child not to touch that, stop doing that, you need to listen—that it was Ally, and I turned around to confirm that it was indeed Ally. The first thing I noted to myself was…they aren’t following her IEP. It clearly states on page 9, “avoid directly commenting on challenging behavior.”
Her teacher also pulled me aside after we served them party snacks to tell me about the rough start Ally had and how she didn’t even make it to the Halloween parade since she had a meltdown and had to go with the Child Study Team. That all she was asked to do was write her letters and it set her off.
And then there was Ally in front of a table of kids pointing and talking to a group of her classmates and her teacher asked me how I would handle that, since she is probably saying mean things to them right now. I walked over to the table and pulled her aside and asked what she just said,
“I told them we should have a costume contest and I could be the judge.”
I turned to the table of kids and asked them if Ally said that. They said yes and smiled. And then I felt horrible because there I was, along with the adults in her classroom, assuming she was being bad when she wasn’t. This is autism folks. When school staff can only tell you the bad stuff and they assume the worst of your child when they don’t have the tools they need to be successful.
As I got ready to leave, feeling angry with myself for ever agreeing to put her into a general education classroom, a little girl came up to me and told me that she loves Ally and she is her best friend. I noticed that she is the girl who sits next to Ally at their own table away from the other kids. This is the girl she sits with at lunch and talks about all the time. I almost cried at how sweet it is but also wondered if her parents knew she has been isolated and paired with my child because I think their child is amazing, but would they want this for their child? To be friends with the kid everyone thinks is bad. The kid that everyone thinks is mean.
After the party, I stopped by the office and her school psychologist handed me a signed letter documenting the incident from earlier. This is the first time they have ever documented anything. It mentioned how she couldn’t calm down, she shouted, refused to apologize. All I could really say was that my child has autism and no matter how many degrees everyone has and how much they think they know about education, that Ally has specific needs that require people to approach her differently and handle her uniquely and if staff can’t follow her IEP, we have set her up for failure.