A Letter to My Son’s New One-on-One Teachers:
Dear Mrs. L and Mrs. C,
First let me tell you how happy I am that you both are working with Howie this year. It gives me great comfort to know that the two of you are part of his team. This will be an important transition year for him, and I’m so glad that you’ll be a part of that.
Since this is the first time you’ve worked with Howie in this setting, I thought I’d give you some sense of where he is today since school ended in June. I figured it might be best to break it up into subjects and write about his strengths in those areas as well as where he might need some more guidance.
Language: Howie has come quite far over the summer with his use of language in general, and more specifically appropriate social language. He’s become much clearer in using his words to convey his thoughts and frustrations and has become quite a deep thinker (asking a LOT of “why” questions and is very curious about the world around him). He relies less on noises and babbling than he did before and is more interested in trying to get his point across. The echolalia has decreased quite a bit and he has a better handle on using words and phrases (and expressions) in the correct way.
With that comes new challenges for him. He still struggles with the appropriate tone and volume of his words, as well as the appropriate social language when playing with others or attempting to join in with others. He is still quick to get frustrated when things are exactly his way, or how he thinks things should be, so the need for perfection is still there. Howie will also “level up” or “level down” to his surroundings – meaning that if he’s around kids/adults speaking appropriately and acting appropriately, he will too. We saw that quite a bit this summer with his older brother. He was quite articulate when around Gerry. However, we saw the flip side with his younger brother Lewis. He would tend to imitate Lewis’ babbling and beginning vocabulary and think it was funny. We worked hard with Howie to encourage him to be Lewis’ teacher and teach him the right way to say words. We had limited success with that. I’m sure his social language skills group will help a lot in that area.
Self-care: Howie is completely toilet trained at this point, and now has the language to ask to go the bathroom and will tell you what he needs to do there. He is not adept yet at wiping himself up after pooping, so just be alert to that.
Academic: Howie ’s been practicing writing his name and can sound out some three letter words. He knows all his letters and letter sounds and can count at least to thirty (maybe higher). To see this from him, though, he needs to be in the “right” setting. If he’s overloaded or over stimulated or just silly, he won’t sit still long enough to show you.
Transitions: Transitions have definitely gotten easier for Howie, but he still has a very hard time moving from a preferred activity to a non-preferred one. We were actually able to move away from using the PECS schedule towards the end of the summer, but I think that’s because camp was in session. I’m guessing with school back we’ll be using it again at home.
Sensory: This remains Howie’s biggest obstacle by far. I firmly believe his sensory processing disorder drives his whole diagnosis and affects almost all aspects of his ability to function appropriately in a classroom setting. He gets easily over stimulated and overloaded, especially if there are many options to choose from and many things going on. I’ll give you two recent examples from the summer to help illustrate my point: one morning before camp, Howie fell into the toilet when he tried to sit down to poop. While he seemed to recover ok at the time, he was incredibly out of sorts for the whole day – clinging to me on the way out of the car, a ton of babbling and giant hugs on our way into camp, and then he had an incredibly hard day at camp. The sensation of falling, the feeling of his pajamas being wet, and the fear and anger than came with him falling in to the toilet did him in for the whole day.
Another example comes one night when he was in his room alone. He came running out of there screaming because he “was trying to read and the clock was TOO LOUD!!”. This is not a new clock, but because he was trying to concentrate on a book the ticking bothered him. We gave him some headphones and moved him onto his bed away from the clock and he calmed down and read his book.
Both examples were interesting to me because in one case (the toilet) he was so overwhelmed that he couldn’t tell me what was wrong until hours later but in the other case (the clock) he knew right away and could express it. We’re working hard on moving towards the latter, but sometimes just removing him from the situation and asking him what is going on (now that his language is better) is the key to understanding his difficult behavior.
One phrase you might hear from him quite a bit is “My bones made me do it”. Somehow in his mind he has separated out the idea that he doesn’t have control over his behavior, especially when it’s something he wasn’t supposed to do. We’ve tried to tell him that his brain tells his bones what to do, and his brain needs to tell his bones to make “green choices”, etc. Just wanted you to know what that means if/when you hear it from him.
More recently, he’s developed aversions to certain smells, so there’s a chance that someone’s lunch or snack may bother him if it’s next to him, but it’s mostly noises and movements and crowds that are his triggers. Eating his own food is still a struggle sometimes. I will try to pack a variety of things that I think might interest him, as well as some consistent choices so he doesn’t get upset. He likes his yogurt smoothies in a particular way, and I’m sure he’ll tell you how 🙂 There may be days when he eats it all, or days when he won’t eat a thing. I’m not worried about it as long as he tries to sit with everyone.
I’ll be sending a lot of this to the school OT as well. His biggest issue is still self-regulating, and he may need or ask for many squeezes and hugs, or many jumps on the trampoline to help get his body feeling better. We’ve seen this mostly after eating or after a tough transition.
I will do my best to let you know that morning if anything is already off with him (bad night sleep, more toilet mishaps, etc.) so you have a heads up for the day.
Overall I think Howie has grown a lot this summer. He’s become much more independent minded and interested in trying new things on his own. He’s developed quite a sense of humor as well and has a new love for learning that is just very cool. I’m hoping he’ll be able to show all that to you and more. He’s quite aware now of the log sheets that you fill out, since we go over them at the end of the day and he gets rewarded for making all “green choices”. I’m hoping he has many of those days with you.
Thank you again! I’m very excited for school to start.
As a note, a few books that might help understand Howie and his sensory issues more are “The Out-of-Sync Child” and “Sensational Kids”. They both really describe him perfectly. I have copies of both books and am happy to lend you them if you want.
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray
You’ll never know dear how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away.” – You Are My Sunshine by Bing Crosby