Different Perspectives, Various Perceptions

December 6, 2015 – January 24, 2016

I worry about Robert’s future. I worry every day. I teach Robert hoping that whatever he learns now, would make his future a little easier, nicer, and safer. But, of course his future also depends on the people who will have more or less contact with him in the years to come. Their approaches to  Robert, their empathy or lack of it, the images they form of Robert – all of that can either help Robert or it can destroy him.

Winter 2010

Robert was brought home on his school bus 30 minutes earlier than usually. Moreover, he was accompanied by his special ed teacher and the vice principal of the high school.  I rushed outside and anxiously asked what had happened. The answer was short and snappy, “He just wanted too many popsicles.”

-“Was he aggressive?” I asked already anticipating the dreaded answer.

I learned, that  he  grabbed the teacher’s arm

That is all what I learned. Nothing else.

I tried to  understand the circumstances in which the aggression happened. I called the teacher. I called the principal.  I called the special ed director. Nobody wanted to elucidate me on any details that led to this behaviors.

Since I didn’t learn events that lead to Robert’s aggressive behaviors I didn’t know how to react and what to tell Robert. He couldn’t tell me.  After all, Robert never explains himself.  To the contrary, it is I who helps him understand his actions and their consequences. But to do so, I would have to know all the details and those were concealed from me at that time. So I didn’t do anything, but sent Robert to school that day and the day after. I kept sending Robert to school for a few more weeks.  I knew he was in distress, but I didn’t know what was the reason for it.  One day in March, I was called to pick Robert from school.  When I saw him, he was walking with his teacher in a very busy hallway. He was hitting his own face with the full force over and over.  He seemed terribly unhappy.  He was crying either from pain or from being lost and misunderstood. Nobody would want to see a child in such a state. Nobody.

I removed Robert from this classroom. At home he quickly recovered.

After more than two years, I learned the circumstances of Robert’s behavior.

As he and other children were waiting in the classroom for the school bus, Robert was given a popsicle.  He consumed one and kept asking for another one. Maybe he got up from his chair.  The teacher told him to sit and Robert returned to his chair and sat down continuing waiting for the bus.  The teacher, however, went back to the freezer, took out one more popsicle and approached Robert’s chair. Waving popsicle in front of his eyes kept mocking Robert, “Popsicle, popsicle, you want another popsicle? ”

That is when Robert tried to grab the popsicle.  As I understand it now, Robert followed the teacher grabbing her arm as she tried to put popsicle back in the freezer.

No, I don’t condone Robert’s behavior at all. Not at all.  Had I known about it then, I would have taken a few steps to make Robert understand the ramifications of such actions and I would try to prevent similar behavior to be exhibited in the future.

Five Years Forward

Fall 2015

Robert came home from his Day Program.  In his notebook I found a long description of what had happened that day.  While walking through hallway during his lunch break, Robert noticed fish crackers in one of the rooms he walked by.  He loves those crackers, but he cannot eat them, as they cause, for unexplainable reason,  severe stomach pain a few hours later.  Still, he grabbed a bag of those crackers.  The instructor quickly took it back but Robert tried to retrieve it again. In an effort to do so, he grabbed and pinched the arm of instructor. He didn’t get the crackers, so he tried to get them another way. He stole 25 cents from the instructor’s purse and ran to the wending machine to purchase the crackers. It didn’t work, of course.  The bag of crackers cost more than what he stole.  I also learned from this note that later, Robert calmed down considerably and followed the rest of the day’s routine.

As I said, I didn’t condone Robert’s behavior. I thought about it. We talked about it. With my help, Robert wrote a long note to his instructors to tell them that he was sorry, that he understood what he did wrong. We went to his Day Program together with bunch of flowers.  Robert seemed very concerned as he read the long letter.  I had to give the instructor the copy of a letter, as Robert’s pronunciation was such that only a few words could be understood. The instructor who listened patiently seemed slightly embarrassed.  “Oh no”, she said when Robert finished, ” We were just feeling sorry for Robert because of his distress and confusion.”

I felt my heart melting.

Robert exhibited almost the same behavior in both situations and yet the reactions were so very different.

Those reactions were what caused Robert to fail in one setting and succeed  in the second.

He couldn’t trust his teacher in 2010.  But for Robert being in a setting in which he couldn’t trust anybody, meant losing the ground under his feet. He became lost, bewildered, and utterly miserable.

Although now, he still has and causes some problems (mainly because of his OCD like behaviors) he does trust the adults who surround him in his Day Program and he comes home not only happy but, well,  pleased with himself.

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