As you can probably tell, this month has been a particularly crazy month for our family. We started the month on a holiday camping trip/ disc golf extravaganza, came home to Jake’s 2nd grade debut, only to be followed up by the beginning of our 1st soccer season, ever. And it’s not over yet. We are anticipating a big weekend coming up as Ryan is standing in an out of state wedding and the grandma’s are coming out to care for the boys in our absence. All of us are feeling the stress, including my little ray of sunshine, Ben. Ben has always been great at transitions and eager for new things, but he was very reluctant to start Preschool this year.
At the end of the last school year, Ben tested as profoundly delayed on his preschool screening in language, and it was decided that Benjamin repeat a Phonology class. (Phonology is phonics, which is a class to work on his speech delay. He’s using words very well, but he cannot pronounce several consonant sounds correctly, so he’s difficult to understand.For instance, when he says “Kitty Cat”, it sounds like “Titty Tat”.) This class will be during the mornings, alternating six weeks on and off, throughout the school year. He was also to be put in a half day Title I Preschool for language skills. (Title I preschool is government funded preschool that works with kids on a more one on one level. You have to be qualified, as in, you have to have a significant issue that these teachers can help with. The program is really quite amazing, as they mandate teachers to have home visits and parents nights at the school to ensure that the home is supporting the development of the child. It’s a good experience for the whole family.) This particular Title I class is devoted to teaching children language skills, and is apparently most often full of children who do not speak English at home as a primary language. Obviously this isn’t the case in our house hold, but instead I think I speak sooooo much English at home, Ben never got an word in edgewise and now he needs the practice…. Regardless, these classes in combination will hopefully help bridge the gap in Ben’s conversation skills and facilitate his peer interactions because his classmates will be able to better understand him.
Ben has been historically behind in language, which is why he took the Phonology class last year. To this point, though, it had never affected his social development. Currently, as he’s becoming more school aged, it is starting to affect how he interacts, so this year we are really putting him through a lot more helpful class, in effort to get him on track before he starts Kindergarten next year. Plus, Ben really wants to make friends, and he’s getting frustrated that other children don’t understand him, so I know in my heart it’s finally time to really push him.
Last year, we went with a conservative approach and just tried to add phonology, thinking that Ben would probably adjust quickly with minimal speech therapy. Surprisingly, he was very excited at the idea of going to school, particularly riding on the school bus, and so it felt reassuring and promising to send him each day. He loved his teachers, enjoyed his friends and loved to make art to bring home and give as presents. At that time, Ben would be upset on weekends because he couldn’t wait to use his glue stick again.
So, I must admit I was floored when Ryan and I took Ben to his preschool orientation and he was upset. He did not want to go to that “school” because the room was different than his room last year. He did not want this new teacher because she was not his teacher from last year. He did not want to come to this school because these friends he was sitting with were not his friends from last year. He was upset. He clung to me, and wouldn’t let me leave to go to the parent meeting. (Ryan went, so no big loss.) Though as upset as he was, when he realized I wasn’t leaving him, he began signing his favorite song loudly trying to get the teacher’s attention and tried telling every kid in class about his two kitties. (Though sadly none of them understood him.) I was genuinely surprised to see Ben exhibiting a behavior called “rigidity”. which I can best describe as a child’s inability to accept change or adapt outside of their comfort zone. Now, “rigidity” was a behavior that Jake displayed so frequently that it was the first sign of autism that his doctors would pick up on. Ben though, had always been open and accepting of change. I felt a pang of guilt and started questioning if I had just been in denial. Next, I witnessed another symptom that I clearly remembered Jacob displaying, which I don’t have a specific name for, but I’ll refer to as inadequate volume control. This problem sticks out like a sore thumb, even at home, but I had not seen how drastic it was in a school setting prior to this orientation. Ben will talk very loudly, regardless of the volume levels that people are appropriately using around him. Though some people are loud speakers, they generally have some sort of fluctuation to their volume patterns to mimic patterns being heard around them, even if they are still louder than everyone around them when adjusting. Ben will shout whether you are whispering or singing to him. He can, however, lower his voice if prompted enough, but his natural instinct to do so is just not there. As I was sitting on this class room floor building block towers with my loud, rigid son, I noticed that he was becoming red faced. He was upset and my heart was aching for him.
When we left the orientation, we went to visit the room his phonology class was in. Luckily, this was in the same room as last year, so he was slightly more comfortable in this area. We expected just to walk by the room, but his teacher happened to see Ben in the hallway and offered us a room tour. She was very polite and pleasant, and I appreciated her warmth. Though Ben was at least willing to let go of my hand and tour the room and talk with his new teacher, (unlike he had been in his earlier classroom setting) he was still insistent that the room was not organized correctly and the teacher was not the right teacher. (His teacher from last year retired, and I can only imagine she must have been fantastic at what she did, to have this little boy missing her so badly.) His new teacher explained to him that she had retired, and that the retired teacher had left her (his new teacher) with lots of stories about things Benjamin likes. She knew he liked to sing, which immediately prompted him to start singing, loudly, again…
I was pretty nervous about his disposition towards his new classes. I was also nervous because no one really seemed to know how he was going to get smoothly from one class to the next, by himself, and manage to eat lunch along the way….
But, I decided I had to be brave if I expected Benjamin to. So, I took him shopping for his short list of school supplies, and let him pick out a bigger backpack than he had last year. He was VERY excited about his new Lightening McQueen big boy backpack, and this helped him decided he would in fact give preschool a try. I felt a little tension melt away.
And just a few days later, his preschool teachers showed up for his first home visit. I missed the majority of this visit being at work, but somehow during that time, they decided that Benjamin would be better suited a school which was nearer our home, so that we could help him with his lunch. Unfortunately, the phonology class is not offered at this school, so he will still have to bus across town in the mornings, but this was at least for the class he enjoyed.
We got a single days notice with the school transfer, and so I went with Ben on his first day of class to ensure he didn’t get lost at his new Preschool that I’d been thinking he’d never been to. But as it turned out, this was the exact same preschool that Jake had been to, with the exact same three teachers, in the exact same classroom. I felt immediately relieved walking up the familiar stairway to his room. Jake’s former teacher’s smiles melted away tons of the stress I had been feeling, and memories of Jake being so excited with these teachers left me feeling especially excited for Benjamin.
To my surprise, the teachers, who also had a single day’s notice of Benjamin’s presence in their classroom, needed no introduction at all. Each of them looked at Ben with wide eyes, and began remarking how they could see he was Jake’s brother, and how they could hear Jake’s voice in Ben’s voice. They observed that his mannerisms were similar, and they were excited to have another little Jake in the room. They told Ben that they remembered him, because in fact, we used to bring Benjamin up to the classroom to pick Jake up from school, and he was always invited to play with the big kids on parents nights. At that time, Benjamin wasn’t even yet two years old, so though he couldn’t remember them, they remembered him quite fondly. Then they turned their attention from Benjamin growing and inquired how Jacob had grown. They were very excited to hear that Jake was released completely from the special education program, was functioning well above grade level in all his academics, and even competing in a team sport. I think they knew that the intervention they had provided in Jake’s learning had gotten him to where he’s at today. I certainly knew that, anyhow, and so I was even more excited that Ben had been switched to the new school.
Benjamin must have felt my guard let down, as he began to relax and flow along with the other children. I was easily able to leave him without protest as the children worked on their pretzel style criss cross applesauce sitting. When I returned, he was bubbly and interacting in his classroom wonderfully. His teachers told me that he was wonderful through out the class time, and that he had lots of fun. They also informed me that when he was asked to come back tomorrow, he refused. I was perplexed by this, because he was obviously having fun. Later, he acknowledged that preschool was fun, but he didn’t want to go back because, he “didn’t get to use [his] glue sticks, so there was no reason to go back”. Relieved, I decided that he would not have any significant problems returning the next day. And in fact, Ryan said he did very well.
All in all, I think Benjamin is on the right track. He seems to be enjoying his new school, and I am eagerly awaiting the arriving of one of his new art works. Hopefully, once he uses his glue sticks, he’ll be just as convinced as I am!