So, I'm not really sure why I'm writing this diary, honestly. It's going to be rambling, and probably depressing, but I've got to get out what we've been going though lately. I've written a few diaries over the years, but deleted them all a couple of years ago when we got a note at work warning against politically partisan speech in public. It's long been the rule, but this time they specifically included things like Daily Kos diaries. I need my job, so down they went. The tags remain, weirdly, even though the diaries don't. It's hard not to be politically partisan living in Paul Broun's district, that's all I'll say (though we were happily redistricted to John Barrow recently). Enough of that, lest I stray into publicly partisan speech (eye roll). It's not really the point of this. This is a mom's distress that her 9-year-old was surrounded by police officers and then summarily kicked out of the only school she's ever known without a chance to say goodbye and sent to a small, self-contained room with 6 other children, mostly 5th graders, and bare painted concrete brick walls. That's really all it is. Feel free to ignore this diary, which really has not much of a place here, or read on below the squiggle. All I ask is that you not be unkind, because, well, we've been through enough this week. Helpful advice is more than welcome--I'm begging for it.
Before I start, let me say that I'm well aware that we're a family that's lucky in our circumstances. In the face of the hell other Americans and citizens of the world are dealing with, this diary is the height of 1st world whining. In the life of one little girl, though, and of what it says about how we deal with those who are "different," it's meaningful. Or I think it is, anyway.
As those of you who know me are already aware, all three of my children have been diagnosed on the autistic spectrum. The twins, now 11, thrive despite being odd. They both have friends who appreciate what they have to offer enough to also appreciate their oddities. Yes, my older daughter may howl in public from time to time without the faintest idea why that's not "normal," but she is also in the process of getting donated equipment to establish an astronomy club at her middle school. She pressed the family in kindergarten to not spend on gifts for each other but to donate to Heifer International instead. Her brother is frequently viewed as somewhat dim by his peers, but they couldn't be more wrong. He's just slow because he's meticulous. He is fundamentally unable of breaking rules, and that includes skipping steps in math. But when given the time to work through things, he tests way above his grade level, and his teachers are always shocked that after a year of struggling in their math classes, he suddenly gets perfect or near-perfect scores on the yearly Georgia skills test in all categories because he's given the time to work things out. Their amazement has become a yearly irritant to me (did I not tell you this very thing at the start of the year?!) but I couldn't be prouder of him. During today's ill-fated meeting, he sat with his arms around his little sister telling her how much he loves her and promising her his entire dog-eared collection of Goosebumps books, which he hasn't read in years but still treasures and defends from her concerted attempts at pilfering. I suppose technically it was yesterday's meeting, but since I'm still up and it's still dark, it's today to me.
The parents, if it's relevant: I'm an analyst working for the US government (and darned proud to do so) and their dad left private industry about a decade ago to pursue a lifelong dream of teaching. He teaches basic physics and chemistry in the county, though he's more of a bio guy. He used to teach biology, but was pulled to his current position because (warning--my speculation here) he refused to do what all the other bio teachers do here and provide creation "science" pamphlets on the sly. GA, to its credit, does not permit the teaching of anything but evolution. We've been married for 20 years plus a bit now and still are happy to see each other every day. :)
Enough background blather. This is about the little one and I've barely mentioned her. She's the one who's most unable to comprehend the world around her. She's extremely bright, but lacks all sense of how what she says or does will be received, leading to panic that causes her to flee, shut down, or lash out. She was diagnosed on the spectrum in kindergarten, when her method of avoiding the change and chaos of circle time was to hide under her desk prompted her teacher to practically demand that we get her treated. Over the years, it's gotten steadily worse at school. She's always in trouble for some offense or another that has without exception occurred during transitions, when the adults around her are distracted and she can be picked on at a time when chaos has her already on edge. Last year, the same GA boys who aren't allowed "president cookies" because they would grind President Obama's cookie face-down into dust surrounded my odd child and taunted her until she pushed them and ran away. They're clever enough to do it when teachers aren't looking, and she's unable to explain feelings well enough to get across what's going on. The best she can come up with in the heat of the moment is, "They were annoying me." I've been trying to explain to her that she needs to use different words for years now, but she can't. I'd say won't or doesn't, but I've come to believe it's can't. Running away was an automatic suspension; she was suspended for 16 days of 2nd grade and nothing we could say helped. All the while, the county has flat out refused to give her any kind of IEP or 504 plan or in any way document that she's autistic because her academics weren't bad enough. Yes, really. This year, she'd already been suspended for something like 10 days before this week because, having learned her lesson about running away, she took to pushing them away when they made fun of her for her height (she's a head taller than the next tallest kid in her grade) and her odd, autistic speech patterns and her general "differentness." Again, when asked why she shoved so-and-so, she could only say that he had annoyed her. She doesn't understand how she appears when she's angry (face beet-red and scrunched, arms crossed) or why other people will react to it.
Worse, because we've done social stories ad nauseum with her, she can tell you anything you want to know about how humans are supposed to behave. What she can't do is apply those situations to anything other than the exact situation of the story. And she doesn't see why the kids around her get to be so mean and she's not allowed to defend herself when adults won't. None of these behaviors manifest around family where she feels safe, by the way, so it's hard to help her.
This year, as I said has been particularly bad. The kids and teachers have lost all patience with her oddness and have no willingness to tolerate it any longer. Mind you, they all say that she is without fail polite and trouble-free in the classroom setting. It's just in the halls, at lunch, at recess--basically, anywhere where she can be shoved and mocked without witnesses--that she has trouble.
So all that was the leadup to Tuesday, when she snuck her purse into her bookbag to take to school. She'd last used it when we when camping a couple of weeks ago, and she'd apparently put her father's fold-out camping blade, an artifact of sleek black and shiny silver (along with pink, her favorite colors) into it along with her other treasures. Let me be clear, though, this is a nasty piece of work that I've cut myself on--it has no place in the hands of a kid (or me, apparently) and stays with the camping equipment. Because we don't go through the gear except when we're packing it up, no one missed it. She said she'd forgotten she'd put it in there, and had no explanation for taking it beyond, "It was shiny and it looked neat." In the morning, she pulled out her purse and was fishing in it with her friends to show them one of her treasures--a lovely painted small notebook with "jewels" on it in which she'd written a story about all of them. They saw the knife however, and rightly told her it wasn't allowed to be at school. She panicked and begged them not to say anything, sure it would result in another suspension and knowing that all her time off was really hurting my husband's job, and mine. She planned to just take it home and give it to her father. They didn't say anything until the afternoon, but eventually the girl she thinks of as her best friend, who may or may not like her at all but who does usually tolerate her, worked up the courage to say something to the teacher (again, rightly so) and thus ended my child's life as she knows it.
The assistant principal, who has been the only really source of advocacy my little one has had over the years, called me at work and told me the police were on the way and that I needed to get there NOW to protect my daughter. She has and will always have my thanks for that. I ran the more than 1/2 mile to my car and sped to the school. I didn't beat the police there, but on the way I contacted her psychiatrist 's office and found that at age nine, she was probably going to be taken away in the back of a police car. I was a bit shameless with the officers, pointing out that my father and Littlest's grandmother were both retired police officers, that's I'd spent time serving my country abroad, and that she was autistic and didn't understand what she'd done. Which she didn't. They were reasonable and let her go home with me. They have filed all the necessary paperwork, and she may yet be charged, but I am hopeful she won't be. God, I hope she won't be.
For her part, she's only ever seen a knife used as a tool and was flabbergasted that anyone would think it was a weapon. It's for cutting ropes when necessary and putting cuts in dead wood so they break for campfires and similar outdoorsy tasks. She also, not understanding the severity of the trouble she was in, apparently rolled her eyes at Best Friend and said, in a silly voice, "You're so doooooomed." She was confused as could be that someone would think she would be threatening her best friend from kindergarten. As a usually rational adult, I can't see how she didn't see those two things. Regardless, they were STILL not willing to put her in for an IEP or any other kind of support services. Another nice note--while her two best friends were very clear that she did not take out or try to show the knife in any way, the girls who don't like her had her whipping open the knife and menacing people with it. All without being noticed, I should add. That's clearly bull, as the stupid thing is impossible to shut once it's open (it locks in place for "safety"). Hence, me cutting myself on it. Little liars.
Over the past few days, I've finally gotten her to really open up about how she feels. She describes her world as two, really. One, where she lives with her family, and people understand her and she understands them. It's predictable, and people don't assume everything she says or does is wrong and scary--and people don't pick on her except when she wrecks lego city or steals the aforementioned treasured Goosebumps books. When she's scared, she can go to her parents or her big sister and everything is right. Then there's school, where everything is so unpredictable and no one will help. She's unable to predict how people will take anything she says or does, and she more or less views them all as some irrational separate species (her words). The adults, however, always take the side of the other kids, telling her that she's so big she scares them (which dowright pisses me off, by the way) and that she's the one who's irrational and wrong. She just needs to be normal, she's told, but there's no roadmap for her, and all her attempts go awry, sometimes badly.
Fast-forward to today (well, it's light now, so we'll give in and call it yesterday) and a meeting with the principals and the county officials. She is no longer allowed to step foot in the only school she's ever known. Until the paperwork is done, she's not going to school at all. When all is complete, she will be transferred to a self-contained facility nearly an hour away housed in a title 1 school (I mention that only because it was mentioned half a dozen times or so during the meeting) where her entire social circle will consist of six children, five of whom are older boys. The painted concrete walls are bare because the kids get upset and tear stuff off them. The few desks are widely spaced because the kids can't be near one another. The teacher seems kind and caring, but the classroom just looks so... sad. She'll be the lone 3rd grader. It might be ok. It really might. Of the tiny number of kids in her "class," three of them are gifted. She'll be allowed to study whatever she wants, so she's not stuck with third grade science and reading any longer, both of which she already knows inside and out. She can test out and study fourth or fifth grade instead. So, that doesn't sound horrible. But... it'll be quite a change on so many levels.
When we were leaving the meeting, her old school was letting out. The group of girls that she's thought of as friends (including those who claimed she waved it around) walked by and, clearly theatrically, screamed, "Oh God, it's her! I'm so scared!" before sneering at her and walking off. Heartrendingly, she ran after them, trying to say goodbye to her "friends" one last time. In the car, on the long way to see her new school, she flipped through the school directory, checking off the names of all the children she wanted to say goodbye to (including the group of girls who pulled the sneer thing) and asking if she could call them. I don't really know what to say. Yes, she should be allowed to say goodbye, but how do I tell her that they were never her friends without destroying the last bits of her world?
If you're still with me, (and why on earth would you be--my goodness I've rambled), please just think about a confused little girl's tears as she sits in a plain concrete room and try, just try, to be kinder to the next "different" person you run across.
8:05 AM PT: AAAH!!! Small, but seriously irritating update: Her old school just called and said that they can't kick her out until she's had a hearing and eye test done. However, they'd suspended her on the day they did that for the school. So they want her to come up, go straight to the office, and have it done. But they're having a school event and kids will be around, so they don't want her to come in until after that's done. They had the sense to have our beloved assistant principal call, because I think I would have been downright nasty to anyone else. She, oh so shockingly, doesn't want to go. I am so freakin' furious.