Work with me, please.

Archive for May, 2011

“You Smell Very Bad”


When I told Hubby yesterday about an email from reading teacher Mr. J saying that Mae told him he smelled “very bad” and should maybe take a shower, Hubby asked “Well, is it true?  Does he smell?” Hubby was being funny (I think), yet his question highlights the difficulty of getting Mae to realize and accept that she should keep some thoughts to herself.  Mr. J said that he didn’t think Mae meant any harm.  Knowing Mae as I do, she probably thought she was being helpful to Mr. J.

When I told Mae that she should not tell someone that they smell bad because it’s hurtful, she responded, “But he smelled bad to me.”  I tried again, “Even if someone does have an odor or you think they do, you should not tell them so because it may hurt their feelings.  And, this applies for grown-ups and kids.”

She gave me a you-don’t-get-it look, and said defiantly, “I think he smelled bad, and I can tell him.”

I repeated myself, and as I did, I knew that it wasn’t working.  She’d turned away and it was clear that she wasn’t in a receptive mood.  I will have to try again later, in a different way, to make the point.  The good news is that Mr. J’s email also said that Mae did very well yesterday on following instructions and completing her work.

I am beginning to understand better the difference between a kid being a kid and saying something inappropriate, and the lack of judgment and self-checking that goes with Asperger’s.  It’s not that Mae is unaware that certain comments can be mean or hurtful.  If I ask her how she would feel if she were on the receiving end, she consistently says  “sad.”  If I ask her how she thinks the listener feels when she says something mean, she consistently says “sad.”  However, she often speaks without checking herself first.  And, bam, she’s in trouble again, not understanding what’s wrong with speaking something that she has observed.

So, this weekend, in between unpacking the inflatable pool and throwing something simple on the grill, I’ll be flipping through some books trying to find ways to describe and demonstrate self-checking.

Problem Solving 101 for Mr. Reading Teacher

Mae spent reading period in the office today.  Her reading teacher, Mr. J, took her there after she spoke disrespectfully to him.  I was co-facilitating a discussion on motivating and recognizing employees when Mr. J attempted to reach me by phone.  His voicemail message said that for the past couple of weeks, Mae had been “saying disrespectful things, interrupting class, and not obeying instructions.”  My first thought was “Two weeks and I’m just hearing from you on the day that you decide to take her to the office?”  He has not been Mae’s reading teacher for very long, and I have not met him yet.  In retrospect, I wish I had introduced myself to him when I first learned that he would be taking over Mae’s reading group, and I should have encouraged him to contact me if and as soon as he had any concerns.

 Anyway, when I returned Mr. J’s call today, he told me that Mae seems disinterested at times, and that she doesn’t want to do her work or she does it very slowly.  When she does finally do her work, she does a phenomenal job.  Part of the problem is that she reads faster than the other child (there are only two of them in this pull-out group), and when she finishes her silent reading first, she becomes impatient and restless while waiting for her classmate.  When they are taking turns reading aloud, she doesn’t always stop to allow her classmate to have his turn.  She doesn’t like to sit when she’s told to and follow other instructions.  Mr. J said that Mae has told him “I wish my other teacher was back.  I don’t like you.” and “You’re too strict.”

As I listened to him, I was thinking that he sounded so green, so new and uninitiated.  I am not a teacher, and I recognize what a difficult job it must be.  On top of that, I know that my daughter presents challenges that can test the most patient of the patient.  From my heavily biased, parental perspective — Mr. J needs to buck up.  Here is what I wanted to say to Mr. J.:

There are only TWO frigging kids in the reading group!  What kind of education, training and experience have you had that didn’t prepare you to handle TWO frigging students?  Just TWO.  Mae is entitled to an opinion; tell her how to keep her opinion to herself or express it respectfully and give a consequence if she doesn’t or a reward if she does.  Try to get to the bottom of why she feels that way.  If she doesn’t like you, it’s probably not for nothing.  Talk to more experienced teachers down the hall, and find out what they do.  Talk to her homeroom teacher.  Do you think you’re the first adult in the school that she has crossed paths with, and how do you think the others handled it?  By my calculation, your decision to wait and call me after the problem has grown to this point, means that you have added to the problem.  You’re telling me that she is more advanced than the other student in terms of pace of reading and comprehension and that she seems disinterested, and that yet you have to try to keep them on the same level.  Are you listening to yourself?  And, grow another layer of skin.  Your feelings are hurt because a seven-year old says “I don’t like you”, and how long are you planning on staying in this teaching business?

Instead, I told Mr. J that Hubby and I would talk to Mae and remind her that the teacher is the leader in the classroom and that she has to be a good citizen, which includes following the teacher’s instructions and speaking respectfully.  I recommended that he give her extra or more challenging work, if possible, to keep her interested and focused.

When I talked to Mae at home this evening, she told me that today’s particular issue was that she muttered to herself “I don’t like Mr. J____.  He’s last on my ‘I like’ list and first on my ‘I hate’ list.”  (Without condoning the behavior, I have to say that’s pretty clever.  Redundant maybe, but clever.  I don’t know where the phrases originated, but it’s a heck of a lot more creative and interesting than “I don’t like you.”  How could Mr. J not recognize and seize that as a teaching moment?)  I told Mae that she will sometimes disagree with a teacher, and that’s fine, and that she still has to speak respectfully or keep her thoughts to herself.  I reminded her that she can use her journal to express her thoughts if, for example, she thinks the teacher is being mean or too strict.

Yes, Mae gets saucy sometimes.  And, yes, she responds well to boundaries once they are made clear.  It seems reasonable to me to expect a teacher to set and reinforce boundaries, especially if he or she is willing to work with and use the parents as a resource.

A Doctor Who Makes Phone Calls?

Today, I had a follow-up call with Dr. Mike, the psychologist who conducted Mae’s neuropsychological evaluation.  He’d called to see if he could offer any assistance and guidance.  He wanted to know if we had any questions for him now that we have had a chance to read and digest the evaluation report.  He asked how things have been going.

Wow.  I didn’t know there are doctors who make such calls.  Granted, he may be following a standard protocol.  However, my human resources/employee relations nose knows when someone is following a script and going through the motions and when they are doing their job well, and Dr. Mike is most definitely doing his job well.  He strikes me as bright, committed and genuinely interested.

I told him that Mae seems to have matured a lot since the evaluation.  She has a greater appreciation for consequences and is showing more self-control.  I told him that cognitive behavioral therapy with Dr. Laura has been going well, and we’ve only had a couple of major in-school incidents since January.  I spoke cautiously, pointing out that we’re coming upon some major transitions with school ending, vacation in SC, and then the beginning of summer camp.  Also, since spring started and I began wearing short sleeves again, Mae has been rubbing on my arms (which is downright annoying for me personally; I have learned through this experience that I don’t particularly like to be touched).  We’ll see if she begins to touch her classmates’ and teachers’ arms.

I did have a question for Dr. Mike about Mae’s motor-visual skills.  She has lost interest in the puzzles we bought for her, and I asked Dr. Mike how much we should encourage her to use them or if there is something else we should try.  He recommended that we not push her too hard.  He says that she is so strong in so many other areas that she’ll do well anyway.  That’s a relief.

Dr. Mike said that it sounds as though we are doing the right things and that we should continue to monitor areas where Mae has difficulty.  He said again that he is making himself available if we need assistance or have questions.


The End of Toe Jam



Finally, after three years, ten months, and twenty-four days, Jay discovered that his toes should be washed.  I walked into his room after bath on Tuesday night.  He was sitting on his bed, whining and rubbing his feet together.

“There’s something wrong with my feet.”

I walked over and asked what was wrong.  He pulled apart two toes, and said, “See, there’s something on my toes.”  Rolls of dead skin.

From his earliest days, Jay would jerk away his feet and wail whenever his toes were touched.  Hubby gives Jay most of his baths these days; I gave up washing between and under his toes months and months ago.  I settled for firmly holding his ankles and quickly swiping a soapy towel across the bottom of his feet, hoping that just the fact that he’d stepped into the water would remove at least surface dirt from the toes.  Swiping a towel across his feet was problematic as well, but I got away with it.

A couple of weeks ago, Jay came up with what he thought was a great idea.  I could wash his legs, and he would wash his feet.  Ok, I can work with that.  So, here’s what he did when I gave him the soapy towel:  he wrapped the towel around his feet and wiggled his toes.  First one foot, and then the other.  He gave the towel back to me.  Of course, he was satisfied and proud.

So, Tuesday night, Jay sat on his bad and let me wipe away the loose dead skin.  Since then, he has been willing to get his feet washed.   In fact, he is insisting that we wash his feet.  He had a bath last night, and then he asked this morning to have his toes washed again.

Hallelu.  Better late than never.

You Can’t Win Unless You Play

And, playing doesn’t mean you’re going to win.

Mae didn’t get selected in the lottery for the county’s full-day gifted program near us.  She is number 38 on the waiting list.  We had pretty much decided to keep her in private school anyway.

I do, however, think it’s unfortunate that there are not enough full-day spaces for county students who meet the gifted criteria.  I had no idea before she was tested that gifted education is such a political and contested issue.  I’m a little relieved that we will be spared the messy side of it.

How ironic that we moved to this neighborhood for the public schools.  From now on, when I think about the taxes we pay, I’m going to focus on benefits like reliable first responders, clean streets, and speedy snow removal.  As for the fraction that goes to the school system, I wish the kids and their families a solid education and positive experience.

This Is Gonna Hurt Me More . . .

Mae’s teacher called me today.  As I thought, she was too busy to email me on Friday.  Mae told the story right.  Teacher confirmed that students started telling her after recess that Mae had either “pushed them, bumped them or said something mean to them” that day.  And, yes, she did ask the class how many of them had been hurt by Mae, and yes, at least half the class (ten students) raised a hand.  Teacher said that she asked Mae to look around and see the impact she was having on the class.  She said that Mae looked sad, and then apologized.   She said that Mae had a good day from that point.

Teacher said they then had a class discussion about being careful and accepting responsibility for your actions.  Some of the incidents may have been unintentional, and Teacher said that she made the discussion into a “teaching moment.”  She said Mae was receptive and responsive to the feedback from her peers.

I trust Teacher with Mae.  I believed her today when she told me that she is very conscious of children’s feelings, and that the purpose of asking the students who had been hurt was not to shame Mae.  Teacher wants an open classroom where she and the students can discuss issues and problems and help each other solve them.  She says she has done this before with other students.  I asked Teacher if she had also asked the class if Mae had helped anyone or been kind to anyone that day.  She said that she didn’t, but she does encourage them to encourage each other and notice when someone is doing good.  I believe that too.

Truthfully, Mae didn’t seem scarred by having her classmates finger her.  And, I realize now that she was speaking with accountability when she told me what happened on Friday evening.  That’s why she was able to speak about it so calmly and evenly.  I’m the one feeling sore about this.  I wish Teacher had asked the kids about something positive so that the discussion could have been more balanced.

Hubby is ok with the way that Teacher handled it, and I felt better after I spoke to him about it.  It’s true that Mae needs to face reality and understand the impact of her actions.  Still, it bothers me that (1) Mae made so many bad choices in a single day, or even within a few hours, and (2) that her whole class may be thinking that that is all she is — someone who makes bad choices.  Dr. Laura, when we talked about it this evening, seemed to think, yes, it sounds like a lot, but all kids have off days.  She reminded me that most days for the past few months have been good days, which is true.

Maybe I need to loosen up.  As I’ve said many times, I have a great deal of admiration and respect for Teacher.  I”ll have to trust her on this one, even if it takes me a few days to get there.  With only 13 school days left in the year, I may as well.

Lego the Ego

Mae got in trouble early last week for throwing a Lego piece at one of her classmates after they argued over who should clean up the Lego pieces that Mae spread over the floor.  Guess who Mae thought should clean up the mess?  Not her.

She ended the school week on blue, for “hurting some classmates during recess.” Some?  I asked how many.  Mae answered, “12 or 13.”  Thinking maybe she was confused about how to estimate a number, I asked her to name the kids.  She named four.  So, I said, with relief, it wasn’t 12 or 13.  Then, she explained in more detail.  They were playing tag or chase.  She tagged some kids and some of them didn’t like it.  When the kids returned to the classroom after recess, they started telling Teacher that Mae had hurt them.  According to Mae, Teacher asked the class how many of them had been hurt by Mae during recess, and 12 or 13 of them raised their hand.  Mae has 19 classmates.

It’s a strange story.  She told it in what sounded like a truthful manner.  By and large, she’s an honest kid and, even though she can be dramatic and colorful, she talked to me in a calm and even tone.  We talked about what will happen is she’s not nice to her friends (she won’t have any).  I told her that her friends like her best when she is nice, kind, sharing, fun, funny and polite.  I know that she understands that.  She gets “carried away,” in her words, at times.  Her face went sad, and she asked that we not tell Dr. Laura.  She thinks that Dr. Laura will get mad at her.  I tried to reassure her that Dr. Laura will not get mad, and I told her, in case she was wondering, that I wasn’t mad at her — just disappointed to hear her say that she’d treated her classmates in a hurtful way.

I’m reserving further judgment about what happened until I have a chance to talk to Teacher myself.  I’ve emailed her and requested a phone call on Monday.  Usually, Teacher calls or emails if Mae has a bad day.  And, Friday was clearly a bad day.  Mae didn’t even finish her math during class.  I couldn’t get a clear explanation of that either.  The worksheet had a red checkmark for the first problem, and red x’s by the remaining four problems — totally unlike Mae.  She could only tell me that she didn’t finish and that she started crying when she didn’t finish.


On a happier note, we made it to Dharma for Kids today for the first time in a very long time, and both Mae and Jay did a good job of meditating (for all of the two minutes that the teacher led the group in meditation — gotta start somewhere) and participating in the activities.  The day got even better when we beat the thunderstorm and made it to Brookside Gardens.  We saw magnificent gardens, butterflies and moths.  I even managed to plant a few flowers myself once we made it home.  It has been a beautiful Sunday, and I hope this signifies a good week for all of us, especially Mae.


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