Wednesday, May 25, 2011

5/25/2011 The Principal's Office

Whew -- today it was me and Dave who went to the Principal's office. This time, for a meeting with the principal, Gabriel's teacher, and the school psychologist who had observed him.

Gabriel's been much better-behaved lately, but the discussion was about broader concerns of his "social pragmatics." He does too many things that are just not within acceptable social norms; too many things that are blindly inconsiderate to others, inappropriate, and that interfere with his work and his classmates' work.

For example, in art class, when the art teacher announced that today was the last day of art, Gabriel blurted out, "GOOD!" He doesn't care if it hurts anyone's feelings or if it's inappropriate.

The psychologist also noted that often he's pushed away from his table, doesn't appear engaged with his class, he's off in his own world, tilting on his chair at times when the rest of the class is paying attention.

And then there's the humming. Behaviors to shut out outside sounds aren't all that unusual, but they're not all that common either. Gabriel hums and sings at times that really aren't appropriate, like when he's in a group that needs to be listening to what's going on.

The psychologist suggested we look into a series of books about "Social Stories," to help make him more aware with normal, sensitive, acceptable social interaction. I was struck, because it reminded me of last summer, when my thoughtful brother-in-law brought the movie "The Bridge to Terabithia" and showed it to all the kids. He did that with Gabriel in mind, thinking that it would demonstrate the notions of empathy and being aware of others' feelings. I suspect the lesson was lost on Gabriel, but it's not lost on me -- if we're to help him become more in touch with other people, and in turn, himself, it will be a gradual, incremental process.

Gabriel's teacher commented that sometimes Gabriel stays behind after class is over, just to talk to her. She also commented that she sees changes in him when there's something going on with me, like if I'm away or when I went back to work. Gabriel is such a not-sensitive kid that it's not easy to detect outside factors that affect him, but I am increasingly aware of how important a close relationship with me is to him. Of course, all kids need their mothers, but not all kids have the same level of emotional resiliency. Gabriel is the most emotionally resilient kid I know -- or is he? Maybe it's more like he concentrates all his emotional needs in a few places, in a few people. He's not the kind of person who makes many friends or who has (or at least expresses) deep need for approval or closeness with other kids or even adults. That's not to say he doesn't have it -- it's just harder to detect, and much harder to see when it's not being satisfied.

Gabriel's emotional makeup is so much like his father's and (paternal) grandfather's that it's almost frightening.

But Gabriel's father's relationship with his mother is nothing like Gabriel's relationship with his mother (that would be me), and I'm determined to continue that. It's just so hard to know when I'm doing something right or wrong.

I know some things I do very right with Gabriel, that he loves -- he really likes the active things we do together, which are also the highlights of my life. But we can't camp and hike and ski together every day; I need to fill in the gaps inbetween. It's not as simple as just spending more time together; often if we're both available he wants to do something else.

Another thing that came up several times in our meeting today, and this is a little weird talking about but maybe I've underestimated it, is that if the school district were still doing this, he'd probably be classified as "gifted." The school psychologist made sure to clarify that there are "high-achieving" kids and so-called "gifted" kids. Most who do very well in school are "high-achieving" -- motivated, commited, invested in their work. That's SO not Gabriel. He doesn't care. And he doesn't do well in school, to the point of frustrating teachers and aides because they sense that he's so capable.

"Gifted" kids are different from "high achievers" -- often they have social issues, they don't necessarily do well on tests (though many do), they show extraordinary talent in specific areas, and often fall flat in other areas, don't always fit in well to regular school, and just think differently. That IS Gabriel, to a tee. If our school still had a "gifted" program, his teacher would recommend him to it.

I'd have objected to a "gifted" program because I assumed that just means more work and competition for grades, plus I find the term "gifted" offensive. But from what we learned today, the former "gifted" program wasn't exactly for "high-achieving" kids, it was for weird geeky kids. I'm OK with "weird." I have to be -- my son sings and hums all the time and frankly can be pretty weird.

Anyway, in the end, we gave our permission for a "full assessment," a complete psychological profile that the school will do in August, partly to screen for autistic-characteristic traits and Asperger's. We talked about the flags Gabriel had as a toddler, but thinking has evolved in the past 6 years. Some kids who show minor signs, as Gabriel did, outgrow those specific signs as toddlers (spinning, lining things up), but then those traits manifest themselves in other ways when they're older. Definitions have changed too; Asperger's is now officially not on the autistic scale, it's its own syndrome. We were told when he was 4 that Gabriel most definitely was not an Asperger's kid (speech delay is not characteristic of Asperger's), but apparently that's been re-thought too.

This is exhausting. At least now I have a little more vindication of my frustration and struggle when he was the world's toughest toddler -- it's NOT ME! He really is different! But while I could do without struggle and being on first-name basis with the principal, I deeply, deeply love different. And weird.


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