Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I Know Him

So I saw this posted on Facebook.  And, after reading it, I thought "I taught Adam Lanza."

When I worked at a childcare center as a 3 year old teacher (before working at WEE), I had a little boy in my class that I will call "Bryan" for the purposes of this post.

I had a class of 13 at the beginning of the year (by myself, up to 15 is legal).  One of those came to me about 10 am from public school.  She had Cystic Fibrosis and had some very special needs (seizures, not potty trained, developmentally about 18 months in a 3 year old body and in a class full of 3 year olds).  It was already difficult to give all the children the attention they needed with my CF friend and I asked for an aide.  I did not get one.

About a month in, they moved a little girl from another classroom into mine because the girl's teacher refused to "deal with her" anymore.  She had a single mother who was pregnant.  Her behavior was understandable and, with some attention, manageable.  But it was getting even harder to split my attention.

Then, a few weeks later, I got Bryan.  Bryan came to us from another school, where he had been asked to leave.  He was put in my class because I had the opening (he made the 15th) but my director said she thought I'd be able to handle him best.  (To this day I'm not sure if she meant it or was just buttering me up...)  I had asked for an assistant before, but after Bryan came along, I asked more and more often.  Eventually, after seeing his behavior, I got one.  She was in other classes more often than mine, because they preferred to move people around to getting a sub.  I agree that it's cheaper that way, and I did get paid more an hour there than any other place, but it was not a good choice except from a business standpoint.

From the beginning, Bryan behaved differently than the other children.  He was the sweetest child in the class when I could catch him in the right mood.  He'd want to snuggle, tell you stories, do a puzzle with you, or just be near you as he did his own thing.  It seemed like maybe all he needed was some attention and, like my friend before, be able to function in our classroom.  If we break all behavior down into three parts Antecedent, Behavior, and Consequence, and we agree that there is always all three, but sometimes they aren't apparent, I can say that, while I know there was an Antecedent, it was not always apparent.  Sometimes, I knew what was fixing to set him off and could move him or the other children before the behavior started.  Sometimes, there was not apparent Antecedent.  In typical behavior modification fashion, I tried varying consequences to find one that worked.  But it was never consistent.  One day, something would work, the next, he'd laugh at it.  Avoiding the antecedents that set him off was impossible.  Some were avoidable, but most were not.  And his behaviors were increasingly dangerous to himself and others.

The incident that led to my actually getting an assistant (well, getting her sometimes) was particularity scary.  Just before lunch it was our routine to clean up from centers, get out our mats for nap, and, if we had time depending on how long the rest took us, read on our mats until lunch.  This day, Bryan had refused to clean up when the other children did.  Knowing it would most likely upset him, I moved the mats of the children who slept in Homeliving to other areas.  Then I approached him, still playing, in Homeliving.  Very calmly, I told him that it was time to clean up and go to lunch.  We'd had a pretty good day that day.  I was hoping that if I was calm, he'd take the cue from me and clean up and it wouldn't be a problem.  Even knowing he'd probably be set off, I didn't (and still don't ) think that should have excused him from doing what was expected.  There are times we have choices and times we don't and I think that is something we need to teach young children.

So, I asked him to clean up.

He continued playing as if he hadn't heard me.

I turned his body so I could make eye contact and repeated that it was time to clean up so we could go to lunch.

As loudly as he could, he called me an "f"ing "b" and said that he didn't have to do what I told him and his daddy would come "get me."  Calmly (on the outside at least), I told him that I was ready to go to lunch and I very much wanted him to clean up so we could go.  He said, in his most authoritative and demanding voice "take me to the office!"

You see, I had made the mistake of giving away my authority once, in sending him to the office when I was feeling particularly defeated one day.  And he quite enjoyed the attention he got.  So it became a mantra to him, anytime he was in trouble, to say "take me to the office."  With the exception of the time he was sick, he never went to the office again.

Instead of taking him to the office, I called the office to ask that someone come take my other children to lunch so that I could continue to help Bryan make a good choice but my other children wouldn't miss lunch.  He responded by throwing his shoes at me from across the room.  Thankfully, he didn't hit any other children.  Sadly, it was because they knew to look out for things like that from him.

As I made sure no one was hit and read to other children while waiting for the person to come, he began pushing the Homeliving furniture down on the other children.  I'm not sure how I moved so fast, but I kept the child-sized refrigerator from landing on the child laying on his mat behind it.

I told the children to line up, someone would be there soon to take them to lunch.  The director came in.  She saw what had happened and took the class for me.  It was days later that the assistant came.  Honestly, she didn't have the training or the apparent desire to help with the children that needed extra attention.  But she did help with the others so that I could give the extra attention.

I remember on several occasions telling my husband that I would see that boy's face on the news one day.  I hoped not, but his parents weren't very interested in helping him, only in threatening discipline at home for his behavior at school.  For awhile they pretended it didn't happen at home.

His aunt told me different.

After a month or so, I thought that maybe with all the words he knew that he should not have known and all the threats he used to beat, "get," spank, whup, hurt, or kill others, that maybe he was being exposed to things he shouldn't and reported the family to CPS.  I hoped that, even if they didn't find any abuse or neglect, they might be able to suggest he get help too and the parents would listen then.

CPS sent me a letter that said nothing was wrong in the household.

Incidentally, the father-figure (who wasn't biological, but was the only father the child had ever known, and who I only met on one occasion) was out of the picture about a week before I received the letter.  I don't know if it was related.  Bryan's behavior improved a little bit after the father left.  Then it took a sharp spiral down.

There were several incidents.  My reflexes became quicker the longer he was with me.  He tried to bite, kick, hit, etc.  I would eventually put him in a hold until he calmed down.  He threw my glasses across the room once.  I have no idea how they came through unscathed.  He was belligerent and threatening.  At one point, I tried ignoring the behavior entirely.  I'd move him to a section of the room, and bring all the other kids to another section.  They'd try to tell me what he was doing, but I told them to pretend like he wasn't there.  Sometimes that deescalated the situation.  Sometimes it made it worse.  I never quite knew what would work.

One day, he took a block (one of those really long, wooden ones) and threw it because the boys in the block center said they didn't want to play with him (not that I blamed them, but before I could intervene in any way, the block was thrown).

It hit another little boy in the back of his head.

It's not very pleasant to have to tell a parent that their child might have a concussion because another child in your class threw a block at them.

Then Bryan wanted to know why the other child was crying.

The other children became increasingly mistrustful of him, never wanting him to play with him.  When he did play with them, 90% of the time he was sweet and played very well with them, willing to do what they others were doing, happy to be whatever member of the family they said he should be or to build whatever they decided to build, taking turns with art supplies or books or puzzles.

 But they all knew there was that other 10% when he could hurt them. 

I feel like I was judged, by other teachers, the parents, the office staff.  I feel like they thought it was me that was the problem and that I just couldn't handle him.  Most of the time, when we were with the other classes or when someone new was in the room, he was his normal, happy self.  Very rarely did others see the other side of him.  I began to think it was me, too.  I left that job after 5 months.  There were many, many reasons.  But he was part of it.  The fact that I couldn't get help for him.  The fact that I began to believe I was part of the problem.  (I no longer think that, but at the time I was too close to see it.) The fact that I couldn't get help in my classroom.

I can imagine the mother of a similar child must feel all of those things and more, with more intensity. 

Bryan should be in 2nd grade by now.  I hope that he got some help.  I hope that someone advocated for him.  I hope I never see his face on the news.  But I wouldn't be surprised. 

I think too often today, we get stuck in the PC world of Least Restrictive Environment and are too busy trying to figure out what is best and most normal for the person with special needs to realize it may not be best or normal for anyone else.  You know, I'm sad for the families that lost their babies.  But I am devastated for the babies who have to figure out how to cope with what they saw.  We don't expect grown-ups to deal well, and these babies don't have the emotional maturity to even start to process. 

I think too often today we see people as two-part beings (mind and body) when we were created three-part beings (mind, body, and soul).  I think that a gun was no more responsible for any of the school shootings than the block was when Bryan hit the other little boy.  Inanimate objects cannot be responsible.

Issues aside, a person makes choices everyday.  If a person has proven incapable of making good, safe choices for themselves and others, the issues should not keep us from protecting everyone from those choices.

I do not propose to know the answers.  I was incapable of keeping a three-year-old from hurting others.  I just think that instead of wasting time talking about guns, we need to talk about people.  School tragedies have a history of being the catalyst that solves issues.  In New London, Texas, a natural gas leak and a spark blew up a school.  295 students and teachers lost their lives.  The response?  Oderize gas so people know it's leaking.  This tragedy in CT has the ability to be a catalyst.  Let us pray it is a catalyst for the right changes.

This transcript of a speech, given by Darrell Scott, father of two Columbine victims (one, a witness, the other, a victim) says things well.

I may have alienated people, both by the length of this post and the conclusions at the end, but I am glad to have put my jumbled thoughts into jumbled words.

Also, for someone who writes infinity better than I, read this.  

Branalyn