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An Open Letter to the school (and anyone else listening)

It has not even been 2 full weeks back at school for the year and my middle son has been at the office the first 3 days sadly, along with frequent trips in between. He was so anxious the days leading up to school starting that he was lashing out to everyone around him here at home. I could feel his tension and see how nervous and upset he was, even though he claimed his new school year had nothing to do with his mood. I crossed my fingers, prayed and hoped that the transition would be a smooth one for him.

Why wouldn't it be? I have done so much ahead of time to prepare him for this big move to high school. I had a meeting with his old Middle School to close out his IPP (his individualized learning plan) and I took it right over to the High School and met with some of the educators there to talk extensively to them about my son's file, what he would require with supports and how to make it an easier transition for him. I was assured that they will do whatever they can to make it a positive experience on my son so he does not go into a new school with a negative mentality that he will hate it for the next 4 years. We talked extensively on his demeanour, his behaviour when he becomes overwhelmed and how others perceive him. I made sure to let them know of his most recent Educational Assessment that my husband and I had done privately so he would have everything up to date.

My son does not like change, or the unknown. So these 2 facilitators that I met planned and brought Maddox in ahead of time to do a private tour of the high school and see the classrooms and meet some of the teachers he will have. They assured me that he would have mostly male teachers, except one female for English, but that would start 2nd term and she would ensure to build a relationship with him before January so he would be settled in her class. I was still nervous, but felt I did what I needed to do to prepare for his school year and forgot about it until recently.

The week before school started we were able to log into my son's class schedule online to see his timetable and teachers. Once I logged in, anxiety set in. His classes were all wrong. It was not as I discussed previously. Thankfully the school office was open and I made a call. After speaking to them, it was realized that my son got seeded into the wrong group of kids for classes and had to be changed to a different pool of kids for classes. I was glad that we caught this mistake before the first day of school. His classes were changed the next day and we prepared for the first day. I still felt uneasy.

The first day of school my boy was sent to the office. During the last class of the day. He assured me it was only for making a comment about hitting kids in the head with the ball as they were going to play Dodgeball. I could go on and on about how my son's side of the story may differ from the teachers, or how this one trip to the office on the first day has now turned my son against this (female) teacher for the entire year now, but that's irrelevant. I understand how many high school teachers want to set the precedent for the Grade 9's right off the start and ensure they know what kind of behaviour is expected, but I feel that some understanding should be observed.

The second day of school my boy was sent to the office after lunch for running in the halls. I understand that there is a rule against this, and again later I found out that not only was he just running in the hall (what his story was), but he also tried to run away from a teacher who was trying to get his attention about his actions. The educator that sent him to the office did not understand that my son just came in from his lunch recess and was not able to expel his nervous energy before returning to class. He told me later that him and his buddy used to run around the playground during lunch recess and see who was faster. They tried to do this again that day and were told that they aren't allowed to run in that area any longer as it belongs to the younger kids in Middle School and they need to return to the High School area. While I understand this, these active boys should have been directed to a place where they COULD run and race together before having to return to class.

Now to a normal teenager, these 2 incidents are minimal and would probably be forgotten within a day or two. But for my son, being sent to the office on both days of school so far gives him the impression that this will be a regular occurrence and sets the precedence of a negative experience for him with school. My son takes everything personally and does not forgive/forget easily. These few days have been heavy on this Momma's heart.

I have 4 children myself, with each of them taking a large piece of my heart where I worry about them and things they may have to face and overcome as they grow. Each child has different traits and a personality of their own, but for my middle son, I worry for him, because I worry that he cannot be himself. As he grows, it becomes more and more apparent that he is punished/chastised for just exhibiting his personality traits.

So here is my Open Letter to my son's High School (and aides, bus drivers, supervisors, anyone):

I know my son so much more than anyone. I'm the one he comes to and lashes out at. I hear his hurtful words, feel his anxiety and see his frustration every day. I also get the hugs and text messages of love as he tries to keep connected. He has to take medication every day to help his brain learn to slow down and not react all the time. But about 75% of the time, he still reacts before his brain even has a chance to think about telling him that maybe he shouldn't act a certain way. He has no empathy and cannot understand feelings of others. As a young child he was often confused because kids wouldn't want to be his friend and he would leave them crying from something he said. He does not know his words hurt. We have tried to get this through to him and he still cannot fathom the concept. The best we have done is get him to stop, and sometimes he says that some people don't like his words, so he just doesn't talk now. He doesn't know why, just that he can't. And that's the best we can do for now. So now my son stays quiet, not talking since he only knows that he upsets people, by just being him.

It hurts my Mommy-heart so much when I see how frustrated he gets and cannot control his feelings or actions. While you see an angry teenager who is disrespectful, I see a teenager who is lonely and cannot make meaningful connections with peers and teachers to help him regulate himself daily.

Please let me son MOVE. If he is starting to become agitated in class, get him to run a lap outside the school, send him for a drink of water, get him to do push-ups in the hallway for 3 min. ANYTHING. Challenge his body when his brain is failing him.

Sitting all day, trying to learn stuff with his peers that he cannot understand is HARD. The education system has failed him for many years and now he is quite a bit behind those in his grade level. It takes all of his mental energy to just understand some questions and before he can even come up with an answer, his brain is done. He does not ask for help. He does not like to be singled out. He does not like to seem inferior to his peers. Every day my dear sweet boy says he is stupid, he is dumb, he is retarded. (Yes, I know that is a bad word and we correct him daily on proper use of social terms) We tell him every day that he is smart and give him specific examples of how he can do things that others can't. But his brain still tells him the negative. Especially when he gets negative feedback at school each day.

Often his frustrations at school spill out to other areas of his life. His bus ride home, his family, his friends (or lack there of) and even people at extra-circular activities. They see Maddox as an angry person, one that wants to hurt others with his words, someone who is not interested in trying to do better, act better. My son is very black and white. It is either good or bad, there is no in-between. When he gets negative feedback from his peers or other adults in his life, he feeds off of it and carries it. And the weight is heavy. On him. On us.

And I know this is a lot for people to understand. And it's hard. And seems like a lot of work. Trust me it is. It is our life, his life and we live it every day. When it is bad, it can be very bad. But when it isn't as bad, it can be pretty good. Granted, Maddox's bad days do not look like other teenager's bad days and can seem extreme to people on the outside. But we try very hard to minimize the collateral damage on those very bad days, hoping that they become few and far between as he grows and uses the skills we try to give him each day.

The current education system is not in place to help those who don't fit into the 'conformity box' unfortunately. If a child requires any sort of special help, support or aides, it is very difficult to get these needs met, and even if they do have some resources for them, they have to split them between several students, minimizing the actual benefit for that said child. Parents and guardians, are left feeling hopeless and without guidance on how to help their child outside their home.

I've been told many times to home school my son to eliminate the issues he has currently. But to take a child with social skill issues with learning difficulties and isolate him further from his peers is not going to benefit him at all. It will in fact make his issues worse. He needs to learn how to act in public, how to handle his frustrations and anger with people besides his own family. Plus, he feels safe with me, which essentially means he treats me the worst. Because he knows I will always love him no matter what.

I really wish I had the answers. If I did I would make this so much better for him, for us. But please, do not try to make my son change his personality so he will 'behave better' for you. Use his energy to help him get through the day, the good ones and bad ones, and give him the tools and supports he needs to be successful in life so that he doesn't feel like a complete failure every day. You can't expect an apprentice carpenter to help build a house if you don't give him the right tools to do it, so don't expect my son to behave the way you want or complete his school work each day if you don't give him the right tools to do it. This Mommy can only give him so many tools. there are so many more he needs and you will be the ones to give them to him.

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