I mentioned before that the school brought in a “classroom consultant” to help the teacher figure out how to deal with Son’s hitting issues, not to mention a couple of other children who were also bringing “challenges” to the class. The consultant came on two separate days to observe the class, with an eye in particular on my son’s behaviours. After her observations and further discussion with the teacher, funding for an extra teacher was approved.
This past week the consultant met with Husband and I to discuss her findings and to interview us. We didn’t know what to expect, but my fear was that she was going to suggest that Son had some kind of “diagnosable condition” like ADD or whatever. She spent most of the time asking us questions about Son – his likes and dislikes, which situations work well for him and which don’t, questions about his abilities to perform tasks, play with stuff, etc. She then talked about what recommendations she was going to make in her report to the teacher. The purpose of this report is to make suggestions for activities and/or changes in the environment that will help both Son and other children in the class.
For example, there is a “rocket ship” structure in the classroom. It’s basically a large wooden box, about 2′ x 3′ and 4′ tall attached to a corner of the room with a single large circular opening as the “entrance”. While some children love to play in there, and can do so quite successfully, for my Son such an environment is courting disaster. The consultant told us that this sort of structure is actually challenging for many children and is not the sort of thing she would recommend having in a preschool class. At the very least, it should have two entrances so children don’t feel “trapped” or a “peephole” through which kids can communicate with those who don’t wish to go inside. These are the types of things that will go into her report.
By the way, a very interesting outcome of our discussion of Son’s behaviour in tight quarters led to the eye-opening suggestion by her that our boy might be claustrophobic. It was one of those lightbulb moments where Husband and I just went “wow….that would explain so much!”.
I also told her Son’s story: how he started out at age 2 “randomly assaulting” children without so much as a glint of expression on his face other than curiosity perhaps. His modus operandi was to grab hold of their checks and squeeze, to scratch slowly, or to pull hair: all sensory experiences. And then I described how, over the course of his fourth year (age 3 to 4) he began to show clear signs of empathy, recognizing that he was hurting kids and feeling bad about it. The aggression then changed into a response to clear frustration or anger (which was sort of a relief for me; I’d worried that Son was a sociopath!) with hitting now being the most common occurrence. But the key piece of my worrying was my suspicion that he still, every now and then, appeared to lash out at a child for “no apparent reason”.
Well, the consultant explained to me that there was “always a reason” (I’m sure she meant in the absence of any pathology). It may be that the “victim” had done something earlier that wasn’t noticed by anyone (like a verbal exchange). Or it may be that the “victim” was in the wrong place at the wrong time as the child finally let loose in response to something that may have happened earlier with a different child or group of children. She explained how kids process emotions and how it is not at all unusual for their frustration to come out at times that appear disconnected (to us) from the event.
She also pointed out that keeping that anger/frustration under control takes a whole lot of energy (ask any parent, ha ha) and kids are already expending huge amounts of mental energy as they engage in various play activities around the classroom. Taking turns, sharing, working together, figuring out puzzles, exploring building toys, creating art…all these activities take mental energy and some kids can be particularly challenged by them. For example, one day my Son apparently engaged in a friendly 20 minute game of “Bingo” with 3 other children at a table without any incident: that alone required turn-taking, patience, dealing with the frustration of not marking their card, not winning, etc). The consultant said that some kind of physical outlet after such an activity would be good for our son and kids like him, as this had obviously taken a good deal of focus on his part.
At the end of our talk I was so relieved. She saw nothing abnormal about his language, motor skills, play, etc…his “personal challenges” are limited to the social/behavioural aspect of dealing with anger and frustration in socially appropriate ways. I told her that I had been worried she would tell us he has some sort of “disorder” and she said that if she had noticed signs that were consistent with a known condition (autism, etc) she would be ethically bound to share that with us: she saw no such signs. What a relief!
So here’s the bottom line: she agreed that our boy has many behaviours that are what would be called “sensory seeking” and “sensory avoidance” but not to the point of having SID or something similar. She agreed that his “aggression” at age 2 was probably just sensory-seeking. She suggested that he no longer engages in “unprovoked” attacks, but rather has difficulty regulating himself when angry or frustrated. She pointed out the many ways in which he successfully navigated challenging situations during her observation, and I myself have noticed these more regularly now. It’s to be expected that when he has reached his limit he will “fail” and we shouldn’t let those obscure all the successes that came before that final incident.
The extra teacher will continue to work with him as I have done since the very beginning: giving him the tools he needs to replace the hitting with more socially appropriate expressions of emotion. He is doing SO WELL with this and now that he has someone to stand by him through the whole preschool day, I am feeling really confident that he will make huge progress.
I cannot tell you how relieved I am to have my gut feeling about him validated. It has also helped me to get a clear mental picture of where he was and where we are going. The worst part of all this journey was not understanding why he was doing the things he was doing! Now I feel I understand and it gives me a much clearer picture of where to go from here. I also see that light at the end of the tunnel and am so grateful!