anxiety,  autism,  high school

This Time I Remembered

Alert: J will probably have a kick out of school meltdown. I think it’s almost hilarious that the default location says “home”

If I ever were to write a memoir, I’d have to write about the Novembers. There’s at least three chapters worth of Novembers.

J and November have a thing. I’m not sure exactly what it is. But it’s a turbulent, hostile thing. For the last three years, during the second week of November, J has been kicked out of school.

The gales of November? The witch of November? The Ides of November? I feel like it should have an official name or diagnosis. And since there hasn’t been any logical explanation for the annual event, I feel like there must be some almost supernatural force behind it. Because that’s what we humans do. If we can’t explain it with logic, we blame it on the universe.

Here’s an overview of the last three years (as documented by my blog):

November 2015: The Mid-Semester Slump

J was in grade 7. Both Steve and I showed up to the school when the principal called. We probably discussed for about a good hour trying to determine what had gone wrong. We went through all the questions like “Have there been any changes in routine? Could his mouth be bothering him? (he gnaws cankers into his cheeks and lip like nobody’s business) Could it be daylight savings? (I swear it’s dark by 5 here in Fargo) We’re coming up on the holidays (and once again a change in routine) could it be that? Or maybe he’s being a middle schooler trying to test the limits. Maybe he’s just being obstinate and defiant?” No answers, just questions. Finally, looking at my own teaching experiences, I chalked it up to the mid semester slump:

“The mid-semester slump is where the honeymoon with your students is over, and the feeling is mutual on their end. You’re counting down the weeks until the end of semester, and you’re trying to keep that vigor and passion for your subject even though they’re half awake and attendance is spotty because of pressures from other classes. Out of nowhere you have students showing up during your office hours—office hours you’re desperately trying to keep open so you can catch up on grading. These are the students that haven’t attended your class since the third week of the semester, and even though your grades aren’t up-to-date on Blackboard, you know that they’re failing your class now and they will fail your class by the end of the semester. You have to break the news to them—the news they already know. Sometimes they’ll even say, ‘If I don’t pass your class, Ms. Beck, I’ll be kicked out of school.’ And even though it’s not your fault they’re failing your class, you feel like an awful person, and you hope they don’t show up during the last few days of the semester to fill out an SROI (a student evaluation of the instructor’s teaching abilities) because you don’t want them filling it out while they’re still mad at you for not passing them.”

November 2016: How Sci-fi and Seal Got Us Through the Week

Grade 8. Steve was out of town for a work conference. It was the day after the election. I was trying to process things, because the only thing I could think about was the mean, terrible election campaigning–specifically the mocking of a disabled reporter–and my son has disabilities so what does that mean for us? And then came the phone call from the principal.

“It was while I was running errands I got the call that J was having a meltdown and I needed to get to the school as soon as possible. I never, ever, cry when I have to go up to the school and address J’s behavioural issues, but Wednesday afternoon I just started bawling. I was running on two hours of sleep, I was mad at the world and at J. I cried because I have no idea what’s going to happen to kids like J. Because saying terrible things about people who are different has become so normal over the last year. Am I going to be living that small town Midwestern town life again, where prejudice against people who didn’t “fit in” was every day life? Will J now be facing that? Raising a child with disabilities is hard–Steve and I all worry and work hard to make sure J has the best opportunities possible. We don’t need things to get harder.”

November 2017: Some Weeks

Grade 9. J got kicked out of school for the first time in high school the second week of November. And as I started blogging about it, I finally made the connection:

“Last year J had an epic meltdown the day after election day. In fact, he got kicked out of school and I had to bring him home early. And then I remembered, hey…when did I write that post about being in the mid-semester slump? 2 years ago at around this exact time. Guess what happened this week? any guesses?…

If I had known now what I did then–if I had been better at “tracking the trends” of J’s anxiety, I would have put the pieces together that the second week of November spells J being kicked out of school. I could spin my brain for the next 15 years on what the trigger is–is it a number on the calendar? is it daylight savings? is it because it’s a short school week because Nov 11 is a holiday? is it because it’s the election week? I’m not going to play that game. I’ve put an alert on my calendar for the second week of November, for a BIG HEADS UP on J behaviour. I’ve given up on trying to decode his anxiety. It is what it is.”

November 2018

I set that alert. A full year in advance. This time I knew it was coming. This time I let J’s special ed teacher know as soon as I saw the alert in my calendar. She let all J’s teacher and the principal know, and everyone came up with a wonderful plan to help J through the week–incentives, strategies, all of it. How did it go?

We made it.

Was it perfect? Well some things happened. J came home November 1 (after having a great day at school), went straight to bed and cried his eyes out for 25-30 min. I asked him why he was so upset and he said, “I don’t know,” and started crying again. November 2 J went to school and halfway through the day his teacher called saying he was having a hard time, and trying everything in his power to keep it under control. I drove up to school to check on him (because I rather have him come home not feeling well than to be sent home because he lost it and couldn’t manage his behaviour). The poor kid had been bawling for the last 25-30 min, but by the time I got there, he had calmed himself down.

And we survived meltdown week, including an unexpected doctor’s appointment (for a minor cold and pink eye) but we made it. With the disrupted schedule and the pink eye, we made it. J didn’t get kicked out of school.

I’m calling it a win.

And I’m setting an alert in my phone for next year. Just in case.





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