We had left the cocoon of kindergarten with an incredible teacher and parapro. Minnie also had to head to Pre-k and leave Miss Nikki. This was emotional for us, even though we lived 2 doors down, Nikki had become a very important person in all of our lives and Minnie was going to a public Pre-K with 25 kids in a class, after a year of being one of 5. I have long loved teachers and had many important ones in my life, but with Mickey, I had no idea that his success could be almost entirely based on a teacher.
We loved Mrs. R., his new first grade teacher. The rest of his team carried over from kindergarten – speech, OT, Special Ed and the behavior parapro he shared with several other special needs students (she could be called to come get him at any time he was struggling and take him for a sensory break or just a walk). Mrs. R. was sweet, energetic and young. She had talked to his previous teacher, read his IEP and I thought she was ready. First grade is far more structured than kindergarten. The class parapro was only in the room part time. In a class of 22, Mickey had a hard time from day one.
In the meantime, Minnie was really having a hard time getting excited for pre-k. She didn’t want to leave Ms. Nikki, she was scared. This was new for us, because in almost all ways she is relatively fearless – she loves people, makes friends wherever she went and was very outgoing. The first day she cried, hysterical crying that could be heard all the way down the hall. I struggled – that was very unusual for her.
Mickey started the same day and his first day would be among his best. His teacher had been concerned, but she sent me a glowing email about his day. I was surprised and pleased. As the summer had progressed, so did his behavior. Meltdowns were far less frequent and of shorter duration when they did happen. They were still as intense as ever, but they lasted an hour or less generally. But, there were still a lot of them that seemed to come from nowhere – triggers weren’t always easily identified.
That would be one of the best days of the school year. Behavior at school declined from that day forward. His teacher called, the principal called and we had meetings with his therapists trying to deal with each behavior as it reared its head. There were a lot of phone calls. He had to be removed from the classroom nearly every day – he was a distraction to his classmates. If the teacher helped another student he would act out until they sent him to the special ed class. The issue with that was that the special ed teacher was only there until noon. After that he was either in a room with the special needs parapro or he had to go back to the general education class. He hated being in the class, even though he loved the teacher and several of his classmates. It was partly sensory (which we didn’t know then – remember we still thought we were dealing with bipolar, not so much Autism, though he had a PDD NOS diagnosis.
Mickey can also be a master manipulator. He figured out early that if he acted out in Mrs. R.’s class, he could leave. Mickey would prefer one on one adult time to almost anything else, and he knew he would get that time. They would warn him that if he couldn’t get it together, he couldn’t go back to the general education class – this was fine by Mickey. The school was unintentionally fueling the behaviors. We had started to see this at home too. If I tried to sooth him or paid him attention during his meltdowns, they would never end. If I offered an incentive that he wasn’t that interested in (say jumpy bounce house place, where the noise bothered him or pumpkin patch, which he didn’t have any idea what it was), he would act out so that he didn’t have to go.
What we had found successful was to walk away. If he threw himself down on the floor or started coming after one of us at home, we took him to his room and closed the door. At his therapists suggestion, I had turned the door knob around to be able to lock the door from the hallway. This was not to be used long term, just until he calmed down – plus he figured out how to pick the lock with a penny, so it wasn’t terribly useful, but he would have to calm down enough to do it. It was just a means to get him to get under control. The first time we did it, he kicked the door so hard that it went through the door frame and I had to crowbar him out. But, after that, we started to see success. He would yell and scream and kick, but when he wasn’t getting his payout it would stop. He would get under control, knock on the door and speak appropriately. Then we would talk about what had happened. If he lost it while that conversation was happening, I would walk out again. Mickey didn’t like to talk about negatives, so that happened several times as well.
But, we were getting somewhere. Now, how do you translate that same response in a school setting? Obviously they can’t leave him unattended in a room, nor would I want them to. His room was as safe as possible, but that option didn’t exist in a school setting. They agreed that they were feeding the problem and we worked to find a solution. They did, they had a storage room that wasn’t used much and they cleared it out. They weren’t permitted to close the door without a teacher in the room, but she agreed not to speak to him or acknowledge him. Until he calmed, she would sit with her back to him. This worked. We started to see less rages, because he wasn’t getting his payout. But, that wouldn’t last.
At this point, I want to say that none of this is what I thought parenting would be like. Locking your kid in a room? What kind of monster does that? It is important to know that he was safe, he was never locked in overnight or for any length of time once he was calm. This was only to slow down the tantrum and keep my daughter safe, as before we figured this out, she was locking herself away from him and he had a whole house to destroy. His room was contained and anything breakable or dangerous had been removed. Also, we haven’t had to do that since Feb of 2013, so in 4-5 months he figured out that those behaviors weren’t getting him what he wanted and that entire process became unnecessary. I do realize that this blog opens myself up to criticism, and I am ok with that. I never had any desire to parent a kid that needed to be locked in a room, yet I got a kid that I love more than life itself that had to be kept safe and learn how to behave appropriately and deal with his anger in a constructive way. In conjunction with 6 day a week therapy, this was one of many many tools we used.