My oldest, Chi, started third grade this year. A lot of damage was done to his ability to cope in school during his second grade year (or maybe this link or this one) and it was imperative that we get a teacher that would be willing to do a lot of work with him. We got one.

Miz Eff is really fantastic. She understood what I needed when I told her what Chi had struggled with during the last year and that I felt one of the biggest issues was low expectations and inconsistencies during his daily schedule and his consequences/reward system.

Not only did I change my expectations of Chi over the summer, I worked to get him on a sensory diet to help him stay organized and calm. Integrating this diet into school was going to require the approval and assistance of Chi’s teacher and I have worked with Miz Eff to make it as unobtrusive to the classroom as possible.

A sensory diet is a variety of tools to help sensory kids cope with over and under sensitivities and to help them manage the varying needs they have for motion and deep pressure stimulation. Chi’s sensory diet includes, but is not and will not be limited to a weighted blanket and brushing tools neither of which can be used in school, but  he has a weighted backpack he can wear to and from various activites that gives the same deep pressure stimulation of the blanket and the brushing. He has fidgets that are both oral and tactile, although not necessarily both at once. He has noise canceling headphones which are probably the number one item he has at school since auditory stimuli effect him the most negatively followed closely by visual stimuli. There isn’t much we can do about the busy nature of the walls in a third grade classroom or the stimulation being in room full of colorful, active 9 year olds poses, but if we help him in all the other areas, hopefully he won’t be too overwhelmed visually. Then, with the help of Miz Eff, we have instituted some sensory break times in which Chi can go down the hall to get a drink, do jumping jacks, and wall pushups if he needs to burn energy or wake himself up from one of his over-stimulated crashes. Finally, he has a cushion to sit on that helps him with his motion needs. It can only be used for 20 minutes at a time to remain useful and is yet another thing Chi needs help from his teacher to know when to use.

At the beginning of the year, not only did I want to incorporate Chi’s sensory diet into his school day for the first time, but I needed to address the outstanding problems that had cropped up during the final months of second grade. I had a conference with his new the day before school started and again a couple of weeks into school after she got to know Chi. She has been really fantastic. She is unafraid to be stern with him and to she is able to maintain the consistancy he needs in his daily routine.

Third grade is all about teaching kids, who heretofore have had their hands held through any and all things at school, independence. It is mind boggling to me the level of independence that is expected compared to last year, and I though last year was all about the independence. Last year was a cake walk as far as personal responsibility is concerned. Outside of repairing existing damage, this has been the hardest thing for Chi to grasp.

The boy is not the least little bit organized even though he craves that very order he seems incapable of. He has to learn to remember what folders to take where and what to put in them in a way that places those folders in his internal schedule and makes them a permanent part of his school day. I may have to tape lists of things he needs to check for at 230p everyday to his desk or something. The upside of all of the organizational and independence train wreckage that third grade has been so far is that Miz Eff says  Chi isn’t so far removed from his classmates with this handicap. I know that will change and the disparities between he and his classmates will widen and glare more brightly, but for now he is able to be one of them.

Chi is remarkable at math, but I’m not so sure that’s a blessing. He can, and will, solve all problems in his head and can not seem to grasp the idea of showing his work. I don’t think there is a process in his brain that is similar to working a problem out on paper. He just sees the problem and then knows the answer. I suspect this is the case because of the way he solves word problems. He reads it and at the end, when the question is posed as to what needs solving, Chi says the answer with no pausing for pondering at all. He does this with written equations, as well, but it becomes much more obvious that he doesn’t get “working out” the problem in steps. He could just tell you the answer, but if you try to get him to work the basic steps to solve a problem he gets all flustered and can’t tell you what 6 plus 8 is. He has to count on his fingers.

So at the beginning of the school year he was “tested” to see what level of math he would fit into and was placed in the advanced class. This year the kids change classes to their different math class which means that Chi has a different teacher from Miz Eff in a different classroom. Chi flailed and flailed. We were having troubles getting him to do the two to three pages of homework every night and on some nights it would take from 530p till bedtime at 800p with a small stop for dinner to not complete all of his math homework. You know a kid is struggling when he would rather do his spelling and writing homework than his math considering that he HATES writing with a passion and will do whatever it takes to minimize the amount of time he is putting pencil to paper.

By the mid-semester mark, Chi was failing math. He was failing writing, too, but that was a big part of some of the damage from second grade that we were dealing with, and he was getting better. Even at the apex of the worst times he had at the end of last school year, Chi did his math, and now here he was, failing. His teacher seemed to think he couldn’t keep up and that he needed to be moved. I wasn’t convinced introducing change into an already tough situation was a good solution since Chi’s reaction to change is sketchy at best and severely damaging at worst. The last thing I wanted was to set Chi back after all of the slow forward progress we’d been making. Miz Eff seemed to think the change was best although she did express hesitation in introducing any changes at all to Chi’s schedule, but we went ahead with the change of class and teacher and I worked to prepare Chi as well as could be managed to help him deal with the change better. AND WHAT A CHANGE IT HAS BEEN!

Math teacher 1 harped on Chi all the time to show his work. I think he was shutting down in class because of it. This caused him to hide inside his own head and not paying attention when he needed to be learning, thus putting him behind even more. Math Teacher 2 has allowed Chi to work, generally, as he needs to, and while they work at a slightly slower pace than the first math class, they are doing the same work. There is less homework, although Chi does all of it in a flash. MT2 asks that Chi show his work occasionally because he does need to know the basic steps of working a problem in order to do more complex problems later on. Although, I personally see the value in that, I also think that Chi will astound them all and be able to go from A to X without any stops in between. I think the chemistry between Chi and MT2 is much better, but whatever the case, he is now exceeding expectations in math. From failing to working beyond grade level in three weeks’ time.

I had my last conference with Miz Eff about three weeks before the Christmas break and she had nothing but positive things to say. All of the hard work at the beginning of the year to correct things he was struggling with has paid off big time. She said that at the beginning of the year he stuck out like a sore thumb and sought out solitude over the company of his classmates in everything, including outside play, but as the year has moved forward, unless you know what to look for, or experience one of his bad days, you can not tell that there is anything unique about Chi just by watching the classroom; except that Chi insists on having his desk kept away from the large conglomerate of desks that dominate the center of the room. Chi likes his all off by himself.

You cannot imagine the relief of knowing that hard work and finding the right tools and protocols can truly make a difference. I was struggling to stay positive because even with the small forward steps it seemed like we lived in Setback Land and it had a black hole level pull. It seemed like we’d never emerge beyond the event horizon and into the light of true progress and functionality. Yet, here we are. I can not be thankful enough. I also can not be vigilant enough.

We have a meeting with the 504 coordinator in two days to discuss Chi’s 504 and whether he still needs it or if it needs modification. I don’t believe keeping the one we have in place will be an issue, but I need changes added. I’m prepared for a battle, but I don’t really believe there will be one. There is too much evidence on my side. I can not let it get as bad as it did last year. There really is no telling how long lasting some of the damage wrought to Chi’s psyche will be, but we will continue to work. Continue to fight. Continue to move forward. No breath holding here, though. We will be very proactive.