Thursday, January 08, 2009

It's All in How You Look at It

I spent quite some time this afternoon meeting with our speech therapist, principal, and psychologist, about our old friend Bulldozer.

Bulldozer has been doing remarkably well; even amidst a meds change (that last year put him into a several weeks' multiple-meltdowns-a-day), he has had many days without any aggression towards kids, and 7 of the last month's school days without any aggression at all.

When he does have a meltdown, he is able to stay in his seat (I move anything throwable) and is done in a matter of less than 10 minutes.  Last year, a "good" meltdown was one where he didn't try to climb over the table at me and screamed for less than half an hour.

So, I am rather pleased with his progress.  This has been a huge process of working intensively on pro-social communication (appropriate protests and requesting a break) while simultaneously working on compliance (mostly through fading the immediacy of response to a request for a break -- we're now to the "please finish the activity, and then you may ___" stage).  It has also been an interesting process of learning what exactly makes Bulldozer tick, and what his true triggers are.

See, I figured out quite quickly that transitions are a huge issue for him, but what I also came to realize was that the reason for this is a marked rigidity in his thinking, along with a healthy dose of control issues.

So, I added visual timers to the classroom (the Time Timer software; I'd had several Time Timers, but they all broke over the years) and started with task checklists.  He only needs them now for super high stress things -- like our CAPA testing last spring.  I also added a bunch of transition supports -- transition objects, having special jobs, and so forth.  His favorite thing to do is to help pass out our color-coded subject folders, which has the nifty side effect of having him forget he should be loudly protesting the fact that he just doesn't like to do what's in those folders.

This is not to say Bulldozer is perfect, and the reason we had this meeting was that one day he pulled an aide's hair during speech because the speech aide went from preferred to sort of preferred to REALLY NON-PREFERRED (and non-planned, and therefore non-primed and non-prepared-for) activity.

Had Bulldozer melted then, it would have been regrettable but understandable.

But, no...Bulldozer tried in every way he has (gestures, words, vocalizations, and signs) to say "I really don't want to do Thing Three."  This is his behavior support plan, and the exact behavior we are targeting -- but the speech aide ignored his protests, and he pulled my aide's hair.

Things hit the fan then, culminating in this meeting, which I requested the principal attend, because our speech therapist has decided that his aggression isn't reducing (??!??!) because I think it's acceptable.

Yes, acceptable.

I don't remember which happened first -- whether I started crying from being insulted or got mad from being...well, mad...but both happened pretty quickly.

The thing is, she thinks I find it acceptable, because I am pleased with the progress he has made in the last year.

The thing is, a year ago, we were happy if he had decreased his meltdowns to one medium one by a Friday.  He could not stand in line with his classmates.  He threw or tore his papers.  He could not participate in whole group activities, at all.  When they started, he'd melt down.  I am surprised his social studies book is still in one piece.

Now, he has about a minor meltdown (screaming, crying, attempts to hit but stays in his seat) that lasts about 10 minutes at a time a week.  Some weeks, he has none.  He lines up with his class both before and after recess.  He...well, doesn't...tear or throw papers.  He accepts transitions to whole group activities. His attention span is small and he doesn't always appear to be listening (and yet, he often answers questions correctly even so), but he is there in body and not melting down.  He has only had one meltdown during social studies all year.

Is he perfect?


But am I pleased with his progress?

Heck, yeah.

It's kind of like Elastigirl today -- she came back on the bus because no one was home.  To entertain her, I started her favorite CD.  She approached the CD player and started pushing buttons.  I let her play around for a while, and she figured out what the "stop" button does, that she should push "play" for music (though she often pushed it twice and paused it) and how to switch songs.

Did she listen to more than 10 seconds of any song?  No.  Did she accidentally change songs when she didn't mean to?  Assuredly.  But did she begin to learn how to use a device that's hugely important for her leisure time?


(She also walked up to me and told me she'd had a BM, in an unfortunate way, but she used to just sit there and indulge in her unfortunate way.  Would I prefer she didn't use her unfortunate way?  FRELL YES.  But is that progress?  Yes.)

I guess what I'm getting at here is that, if I only measured my kids against the gold standard of age-appropriate, typically developing behavior and academic achievement -- I'd go crazy.  I'd never see any success...and why would I want to keep doing a job I continually failed at?

What I tried to explain to Speech Therapist D (and failed to, I think) was that my philosophy is to look at a child where they are, and if they go from 10% to 20%, I am going to celebrate that 10% increase and not focus on the 80% they have left to go -- I'll focus on the next 10%, and the next 10% and so on.

Meanwhile, I have to get on Teacher M's case to document the current behavioral squalls Third Grade J is having, because I swear to Chilnak, I cannot endure another year of "but he never did that before!" -- not that Bulldozer's past IEPs being full of behavioral goals and other Behavior Support Plans made a difference here.

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