It’s been a rough few weeks around these parts. Chad’s homework for school is through the roof and, for one of the weeks, he was on 24-7 call for the hospital, which means we couldn’t leave the house lest he be paged. Not that we really going anywhere, though. Our weekends used to have at least one family day where we’d go to a kids’ museum or do a special activity together, followed by lunch and ice cream, but this semester has prohibited Chad from doing much other than eating meals with us. Otherwise, he’s hitting the books and I’m chasing after Nate.
Five weeks into the academic year and Nate’s finally getting acclimated to the schedule. The first two weeks at school were marked with Nate dropping to the ground and refusing to move or hitting his head on the floor. One meltdown lasted so long that he missed music class entirely. By the time he got his wits about him and walked to music class, he would have only had time to turn around and go to Ms. Mollie’s for speech. So, Susie made an executive decision. She took “music” off the picture schedule and moved “Ms. Mollie” to the top. Lo and behold, Nate stood up, dusted himself off, and skipped to Mollie’s class…. (So, yeah, the new music teacher and new music classroom location, all the way on the other side of the school, has something to do with this particular meltdown…but still….) The neurotypical kids who participate in integrated activities aren’t the same ones he played with last school year. Minute environmental changes–a new chair, a different table–affect Nate in really strong ways. Changes in curriculum to “mix things up” are really disarming to Tater.
Nate has four integrated classes–music (twice a week), gym, and “media,” which is the newfangled word for library. There’s a new music teacher’s classroom is no longer next to Ms. Susie’s room. And the music teacher created two physical spaces in the classroom–one for singing (or, in Nate’s case, signing) and one for dancing. (Nate likes dancing much more than singing, and he lets his preference be known.) In gym, Mr. M. made stations of activities. The first one might be bouncing a ball, the second might be throwing a bean bag, etc. and the kids, in small groups, rotate through. Nate loves some stations.; others, he hates. In media, Nate listens to a story read by the librarian and sits with his class and a neurotypical class. There are bean bags chairs for Nate’s class to enjoy, which give them a little sensory input. For reasons unknown, Nate cannot stop crashing into the blue bean bag chair in the library (though the blue one in Ms. Susie’s room is totally unattractive) but he will sit appropriately in the yellow or green one. So, to get through media, Nate’s therapists have to strategize how to a) get Nate to avoid the blue bean bag and b) secure Nate a green or yellow one so he can participate in story time.
After struggling with Nate’s unwillingness to participate in these activities appropriately, Susie and the gang had a bit of a brainstorm, which resulted in a pretty amazing rule. The Rule? Just be. Nate’s only requirement in these special classes is to just be there. In Mr. M’s gym class, Nate doesn’t have to participate in a station he doesn’t like, but he does have to be there until it’s time to move along to the next one. In music, Nate might think signing is a stinky alternative to singing but, regardless, he has to just be on that side of the room until everyone’s asked to dance in the other section of the room. In the library, Nate has to be appropriately sitting in a bean bag. He doesn’t have to look at the librarian, he doesn’t have to care about the book, he doesn’t have to do any of the joint responses about the story. Nate just has to be there. Once Susie thought this up, she quickly emailed all the specialists and explained this was the new law of the land: her kids just have to be at the activity and that requirement is pretty damn hard for them most of the time. No specialist is to ask any more of our kids than just being present in the room — and they all jumped on board.
Just be is actually a really good life lesson. Think about it. I bet you’ve employed this skill during more staff meetings than you can count. That lunch with the friend that can’t stop talking? You totally employed just be. And this rule doesn’t let Nate wiggle his way out of an activity–he has to be in the room but no demands are put on him once he’s there, except for, well, stay seated in the library or stand up/sit down in music or move along to the next station in gym. Once Nate realizes that this expectation is on him then, maybe, he’ll want to join in on the fun that the other kids are having. Trust me, whenever he dips his toe in that water, his therapists will throw him a massive parade.