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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Fight Night

Wednesday nights are fight nights at our house. Which is ironic because they are also Youth Group nights. Ben, Jonah and Alex go to church every Wednesday night and spend the evening learning, worshipping, socializing, and supporting peers. And every single time they all come in the door from Youth Group, they are all in the middle of a humongous argument. It's sometimes the worst argument of the week, as far as intensity, second only to Ben's Weekend Meltdowns.

Last night, in particular, was especially horrid. Jonah had stayed home because he wasn't feeling well. Apparently, Ben had had a major meltdown in the car about something and it spilled over when he and Alex walked in the door. Ben curled up next to me and cried and yelled and hugged. He talked about a lot of things. Things that hurt his feelings. Things that worried him. Things that made him upset. 

I told Ben that sometimes when people switch gears from one activity to another, their brains just go bonkers. It's really stressful, and sometimes they get crabby or angry because of that stress. I said it seems like a lot of times when Ben has to get into or out of the car, this is stressful for him and so his brain freaks out. I asked him to brainstorm (no pun intended) with me about ways to help him go from the excitement and awesomeness of Youth Group out to the normal-ness of the car, Dad, and Jonah. I asked him if he knows what irritates him about making that change. Does the music of the radio irritate him? He always seems thirsty in the car, and the cause of many meltdowns is that Ben needs a drink and there isn't one available until he gets home. I said we will make sure next week that Ben has a big water bottle with him for after Youth Group. He thought that was a great idea. I asked him if it would help to have earphones and some music to listen to right after Youth Group ends all the way until he gets home. He said he thought it would be better to have noise blocking headphones with him to mute things like his brother talking or annoying radio sounds. He also said he needs Dad to know that in therapy we've talked about how when Ben is upset, it helps him to get a big, firm hug. The deep pressure helps him calm down, and the touch reminds him he is loved, cared for, and safe. He said he wants Dad to hug him when he is having a hard time dealing with life.

When I am with Ben and he struggles with transitions, I can identify what sets him off, and what the root of the meltdown is. But it's hard when I'm not at Youth Group, so I don't know what the problems are on the way home. But I'm really tired of the three guys walking in the door every. single. wednesday. night. in a huge fight. So we have to figure out what's going on, what's setting the boys off, and how to fix it. Usually it's a pretty easy fix. I know when I pick the boys up from school on Tuesdays to jet to therapy, I have to have water bottles and snacks for all or there will be an epic meltdown. Or four. That's something I've learned- that if the kids are hungry or thirsty, that's enough to set them off into a rage. Easy fix. So next week we'll try water bottles in the car after Youth Group, and noise blocking headphones. And hugs. Don't forget the hugs.

I took Ben up to bed after he and Dad made up. Ben crawled in bed, laying his tear-streaked cheeks on his blankie with a sigh. We "Talked About Our Day"-- our nightly routine. Ben always says "Can we Talk About Our Day?" So we talked. Then Ben mentioned that a teacher that day had said in front of the whole class that they "shouldn't pull a Ben Newsom and only finish half of the sheet" they were working on. 

Uh, what now?

I asked Ben more for more details. He said the teacher had said the same thing about a friend of his, who also has Tourette's Syndrome, the day before. Ben said this comment had made him feel very embarrassed because the whole class turned to watch him as he wrote on his paper, and the teacher had hurt his feelings. As Ben talked, I got more and more upset. My heart sank. I asked Ben if I could talk to the teacher about this. He said no, because then if the teacher talked to him about it, he would cry and feel embarrassed. I told him I was very upset that this had happened to him, and that it was not ok. I started getting teary and told Ben I was so upset that I felt like crying. Which he couldn't believe, because I only cry about super important things.

We ended our Talk in a positive way and Ben asked if I could stay in his room while he fell asleep. So I lay on the floor with my head on his stuffed turtle and let the tears roll silently down my cheeks. I've perfected the art of silent crying, which really comes in handy a lot. I am so tired. I am so tired of constant struggles. I'm so tired from the work I do to help the kids thrive, and then to have it undone by a teacher, where I send my boys every day and where they are supposed to be respected and nurtured…that is just too much. 

I have the kids all in a zillion therapies to try and help them as much as possible as they grow and mature into adulthood. I have them see a holistic chiropractor for all-natural supplements and vitamins to help their bodies and brains develop right. They all started a yoga class last week. They see an energy worker to help clear their negative energy and anxiety. We do brushing and tapping and hugging. They do zero balancing. We do every single thing that I think might help the kids. And to know that one teacher can undo so much work by a comment she makes in front of my son and all his peers…that is just too much.

After Ben fell asleep I went downstairs to cry out loud. Sob, actually. For a really long time. Because I can feel Ben's heart. I feel how he feels. I feel how he felt when the teacher ridiculed him. I feel how crushed he was. And it crushed my heart too. So I just sat and wept last night. Actually, my eyes are still leaking. And my dad just called to chat and I cried more. My face now officially looks as puffy as the Pillsbury Dough Boy's, only not as cute and without the giggle. So if you see me today and ask why I'm so puffy, I am going to lie to you and tell you it's my allergies. Otherwise I'll start crying again.

Alex had to step in and take action last night since it was just too much for me. He sent some emails and asked the teacher to give him a call today. Which she did. She said that what she told the class was that they needed to write a page. And that if they wrote big, like Ben, then they needed to write a page and a half.

Now. I'm the first one to say oh man, my kid misunderstood something. He got it wrong. He doesn't 'get' sarcasm. He overreacted. And in this case, I don't think he did. I don't think he got it wrong, or overreacted, or misunderstood. This has happened in the past with this teacher, where a comment has been made that has hurt Ben's feelings, so I touch base with her about it, she tells me a different story, and we move on. We asked Ben this morning if the teacher's story is what actually happened. He said "No!" Here are my clues. "Pull a Ben Newsom" is not part of Ben's lingo, part of his vocabulary. He and his friend talked yesterday about how this teacher makes comments about them that they hate. His friend had the same comment made about him the day before. I can tell by Ben's face when he's not telling the truth, and let me tell ya. He's telling the truth about this one. Which infuriates me. If Ben's large writing is an issue, because of his fine motor skill problems, the teacher could have said to the class "Please write a whole page." Then she could have gone quietly to Ben's desk and told him privately that since he writes large, he needs to write a page and a half. Or she could have just left names out of it altogether and there wouldn't have been any problem. 

Alex explained to the teacher that Ben is very literal. Regardless of the words the teacher used, the message Ben received is that he is not good enough. That his peers should mock him. That he has some problems. That he is a trouble-maker. That he is not doing his best. And that is not ok.

If Ben had gotten up today and asked not to go to school, I would have said awesome. Let's go have a mental health day and do a million fun things to erase the horrible feelings this teacher has left hanging in our hearts. But he didn't ask to stay home. So I have to have my own mental health day. Ben has an IEP due to his anxiety, which often leads to school avoidance. What does a teacher think will happen if she calls him out in front of the class for a perceived deficit? Does she think that will calm his anxiety and make him happy to go to her class?

The teacher said she will talk to Ben today and apologize. That's wonderful, but the damage is done. How many times this year have I asked the school to recognize Ben and Jonah's invisible disabilities? To give them some accommodations that will alleviate anxiety, help them to not shut down when they get 'stuck' on something, help break down large assignments? How many times has a social worker or teacher told me this year that Ben is manipulating me, lying to me, not telling me everything in order to get a reaction out of me? Regardless of whether my son can physically fit his body into his locker, his desire to escape is what concerns me. Regardless of whether the teacher said "don't pull a Ben Newsom" or something else derogatory, the message was sent to Ben, and his peers, that something is wrong with him and he is bad. This is not ok.

Who can blame Ben for having a meltdown after Youth Group over needing water, when this is what he has had to deal with all day at school? When this is what he is holding in, and holding together, all day? There is always more behind a meltdown than what meets the eye. At least Wednesday night Fight Nights can be fixed, with water bottles, head phones, and hugs. Not everything in life is so easily repaired.

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