Week Four. Disaster?

It was all going so well. Or pretty well. I mean, it was going.

Wednesday of Week Four came the harbinger that the adjustment to Martin’s new school may not be as smooth as appearances. I was working in my City office when, right about school-dismissal time, I received this email from Martin’s teacher:

Hi Mrs. [M—],

Martin had some trouble today during both “Read Aloud” time and Silent Reading.  As I was reading aloud to the children on the carpet, he made noises and distracted the other children.  I needed to stop several times to remind him how we show good listening.  The other children really enjoy “Read Aloud” time and become frustrated when we need to stop many times.  He also had trouble reading silently this afternoon during reading time and could not control his laughter and calling out. We moved his color clip to yellow today but he shouted how he doesn’t care and he’s not going to try tomorrow.  It seems that these two times are particularly troubling for him during the day.  When I do see the behaviorist this week I will ask her to help us with a plan for these two times.

I just wanted to touch base and let you know our concerns here today.

Thanks so much,

Mrs. [N—]

Oh no! Oh no! I have two greatest fears, this first month at Martin’s new school: (1) bullying/rejection, and (2) that he will be removed from general education. This email, while mostly directed at fear (2), also touched upon fear (1), namely, that Martin’s behavior was frustrating the other children. The situation came with the compounding factor that uncontrolled laughing and outbursts are often related to Martin’s biomedical treatment, as when we are “kicking up” too many bugs/toxins/parasites/whatever. “Sorry about that. Must’ve kicked up too many parasites again” is not the most practicable response to give a mainstream public-school teacher.

Immediately I responded, copying Adrian and Martin’s behaviorist:

Mrs. [N—],

Thanks so much for the update, and I can imagine that it must be frustrating if Martin was distracting the other children. Could you tell me—is this behavior new, or has it been ongoing? We have had (short-lived, I’m glad) times in the past when Martin had trouble controlling his laughter, so it would be helpful to know how long it’s been continuing this time. We will absolutely address this with Martin and also check in with Darlene [the behaviorist] about her opinion on how to handle.

I will let you know what Darlene and I discuss, and I’m sure you will have a chance to speak with her this week also. Please keep us posted.

Best,

Maria

Next, I texted Darlene:

Just got an email from Mrs. [N—] that Martin is disrupting reading time with laughter and outbursts. She wants help with behavior modification suggestions.

She responded within seconds, seemingly aware of the situation already:

Yes. Sorry, I was supposed to go there today. Still sitting at desk at home doing emails and plans. Aide reached out yesterday, said he was silly. Thought maybe tired.

We continued:

I’m contacting his doctor now about whether we can cut back on anything that might be causing the silliness, but I’m worried. I think we should get a plan in place ASAP. Can you get to [his school] tomorrow?

Yes.

At this point, Darlene telephoned me. She said that she thought Martin’s behavior—especially the part when he said he “doesn’t care” and won’t even try to achieve “green light” rating tomorrow—might be a reaction to some of his first rejection experiences. She relayed an event the previous week when the teacher had asked the class to pair up for an exercise. The pupils began turning to whoever was closest and forming groups of two. Martin missed the social cue and instead yelled, “Who wants to be my partner? Who’s going to be partner with me?” He ended up the only kid without a partner. Darlene also said Martin has been withdrawing more at recess, and that his aide has had increasing trouble getting him to engage. She did say that sometimes Martin sits with a couple kids who play with stuffed superhero toys, and that maybe he’d like to bring a similar toy to play along.

We hung up, but my mind was still on Martin, and definitely not on work. I wrote a message to Martin’s doctor, asking what we might antimicrobials we could consider relaxing, and what else I could do to support him and control the laughing fits.

Darlene and I started texting again:

Glad I wasn’t there when no one partnered up with him last week—that kind of stuff just kills me.

I know. It was a day when substitute was there.

Substitute teacher, or substitute aide?

Teacher. There was a sub teacher for a couple days last week. All these could be contributing.

Miss I [Martin’s aide] was his partner for a bit, then she switched and was a partner with someone else and Martin partnered with a student.

Eek. Need to find a better way to address these skills.

Writing to teacher and aide now.

Please let them know that Adrian and I take this seriously and will work with everyone to resolve ASAP.

I just heard from Samara. She said Martin told her immediately that he was laughing too much at school, and agreed that he lost his iPad privileges for today. She also said he said, “Maybe I can use it tomorrow,” which would suggest he was just frustrated when he said he’s not even going to try.

Exactly. I think it was just because he didn’t know what else to say. I sent email just asking if certain times of day or activities [are problematic]. How are peer relations. I did not copy you as I want them to give straightforward responses.

Yes, that’s good. I have already contacted the doctor. Since I am not at home tonight, I asked Samara not to be angry at him, but more to try to build his confidence about earning iPad tomorrow. I pass through Penn Station on my way home. I will check the shops for a superhero of the type you mentioned. I can also check Stop & Shop when I arrive home late.

This was certainly a diversion from arguing about Conjoint Analysis plus to determine consumer valuation of product attributes.

My attempts at humor are so lame. Darlene didn’t respond to that last text. Instead, she sent a picture of the stuffed superhero she’d mentioned, the kind two boys had on the playground:

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I kept going:

Thanks. I will take a look ASAP. And if you have words of reassurance, please feel free! Of course I am currently doubting whether we made the right choice for this year, but that may be just premature freaking out.

Absolutely just freaking out.

Okay. That’s me, I guess.

As horrible as it sounds it’s better for the kids to treat him as any other kid then to treat him as the class pet with special needs. Does that make sense? If they’re treating him like they see him as an equal.

        Maybe. If he’s ready.

Meaning he’s going to be going through some Growing Pains like just any other kid. My daughter comes home sometimes to say the same thing nobody playing with her. I just have to create something to help them through lunch and recess so he can get some friends.

Would you consider throwing like a fall party or something maybe even at your house as a get-to-know-everybody party. Unfortunately his birthday isn’t until June. Could you do a Halloween party? This way you could get to know some of the other moms and maybe start to have some play dates to foster some relationships just one-on-one.

Egads! Was she kidding? With my introverted nature and minimal confidence in my own social skills, I live in perpetual anxiety. What if I threw a party for Martin, and no one came?

Hmmm. Not a bad idea. But I do have a fear of no-shows! We have a play date this Friday with Lucas from his class. Fingers crossed. Also, I love the way your autocorrect capitalized “Growing Pains.”

Okay great.

That seemed like my cue to stop texting Darlene. So I did, for a few hours. At 8:30 pm, on my way home (Wednesdays I work late), I texted her a photo:

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Found this at Penn Station Kmart. Not exact but I hope close enough.

Perfect.

Hooray! I will send it to school with him tomorrow, with the instruction that he can take it out for recess. I detest the Penn Station Kmart. Only dedication to my child could make this happen.

You’re the best.

Martin is the best. Just want to help him understand that.

Terrified at the Philharmonic

In August, when we were vacationing in Austria and Germany, we took Martin to the Vienna Philharmonic. The Philharmonic was playing at the Salzburg Festival. We made a (loooong) day trip from Munich, where we were staying. The Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel was conducting a program of Richard Strauss and René Staar, and Staar was even in attendance. Adrian, who is crazy about Dudamel, got himself into concert mood by looping Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” endlessly in our vacation rental car. The Philharmonic adventure was the splurge of our vacation, a really big deal for us, and it meant the world to Adrian that he could bring Martin along.

We prepped Martin for days. In Martin’s presence I would say casually, “Hey, Daddy [Adrian], when we go to the symphony, can we talk during the music?” Adrian would answer, “Oh, no. Definitely not. During the music we have to be quiet.” Or Adrian would remark, “Hey, Mommy, did you know it is fine to clap at the symphony, but only when everyone else is clapping?” I would return, “I do know that! When Mr. Dudamel comes on stage, I will clap and then be completely quiet until the end of the music, when everyone claps.”

The morning of the performance, I helped Martin dress in a shirt, tie, and sweater vest packed especially for the occasion, and off we sped to Salzburg.

To be honest, I was terrified. We couldn’t have been the only ones who considered the day a splurge (the Salzburg Festival is expensive!), and judging from the number of fuddy-duddies in attendance, a Martin outburst would have made our family very unpopular in the Great Festival Hall. To boot, the performance was being recorded. I assume the sound engineers can edit out something like an autistic six-year-old blurting, “Can a viola play in a reggae band?” I mean, if you buy a live taping, you don’t hear the audience’s coughing or candy wrappers. Then again, we were seated in the second orchestra row, nearly under the tiny microphones suspended from the ceiling. Each time the music fell soft or paused, I tensed. Martin is not good at silence.

Thank goodness we were near the side aisle. In case of emergency, I was poised to scoop Martin into my arms, make for the exit, and keep his mouth covered until we reached the safety of the ladies’ restroom. I would grab my purse on the run, so that I could use my iPhone to keep him busy until the final applause. That was my fallback plan.

I didn’t need it. Martin did swell. Sure, he had trouble sitting still. He sat in his seat, then flopped to the side, then climbed onto Adrian’s lap, fussed, transferred to my lap, stood and bounced, ended the first half reclined with his feet on Adrian and head against my arm. During intermission we snapped photos and discussed the performance so far. Martin said, “When Mr. Dudamel came on the stage, I clapped!”

Minutes after Dudamel’s baton rose on the second half came Martin’s lone outburst. Throughout the concert, when Martin seemed like he might chatter, I’d been covering his mouth lightly with my palm. At once, he blurted, not too loud: “Mommy, if I talk, put your hand over my mouth!” (Which I did.) That was it. That was the worst.

I did not enjoy the concert as much as I would have if Martin had not been present. At no point did I close my eyes and relax into the music. Martin being next to me, on top of me, on top of Adrian, was Damocles’s sword; under those circumstances, how could I find Zarathustra’s wisdom in music? Nevertheless, I’m glad we brought Martin. What an experience! How joyous was I when, as we exited our seats, a older woman some rows behind us spotted Martin and said, “Oh my! Is the little boy still here? He was so quiet, I assumed maybe he’d left at intermission.”

No way! The concert was magnificent, and Martin deserved to hear it live.

The day we saw the Philharmonic was rainy. Martin got a new umbrella!

The day we saw the Philharmonic was rainy. Martin got a new umbrella!

Tanked. Temporarily.

We’re tanked.

This past week Martin has displayed long-forgotten symptoms: clumsiness, running circles around our apartment, low name responsiveness, even some toe-walking. Toe walking! What’s up with that? His attention has gone MIA, and his daytime sleepiness makes me suspect nighttime restlessness. He is inserting into his mouth anything he can get his hands on. And when he can’t get his hands on anything, he simply inserts his hand.

Times like this used to trigger hopelessness in me. All this work, I would think, and we’ve gone nowhere?

I’m more sanguine these days. So we’re tanked—big deal. Paradoxically, Martin’s language has been stronger than ever, notwithstanding the symptomatic behavior. As to that behavior, maybe the blame lies with the onslaught of pollens and other allergens our early spring has brought. Or else residual dust or cement particulates from our recent mini-renovation (we had some work done in the apartment when I took Martin to visit his grandparents over spring break) could be bothering Martin. Most likely, we need to tweak something in his supplementation protocol.

Whatever it is, we’ll figure it out. I know that we’re tanked only temporarily. I’ve seen what Martin can do and know we’ll get back there, and beyond.

Of course, feeling calm overall, on a general basis, does not translate into rationality every minute. This weekend Martin and I were riding a carousel, on horses side-by-side, when I caught him arching his back and stretching his neck to look at the ceiling and even behind him. That’s a sensory stimulant, one that’s been gone more than a year; it used to be hard to take Martin to restaurants, because he would throw his head back so far from the highchair that he blocked aisles, and I fretted about decapitation by waiter or bathroom-bound patron.

On the carousel I was alarmed and disheartened to see the behavior reemerge.

“Martin,” I said, “sit up like a big boy. No throwing your head back.”

Martin complied and straightened his back, but 10 seconds later he leaned back, hands clutching the horse’s pole, and gazed upward.

“Martin, please. Sit up like a big boy.”

Martin complied again, then said, “There are flowers up there.”

“What?” I asked. “Where?”

“Right there!” He threw back his head and pointing to the carousel’s ceiling.

I looked and saw what had caught his eye: lovely flowers hand-stenciled above us.

False alarm. No sensory stimulation. Just Martin appreciating the world around him.

“Martin, those flowers are lovely.”

Adrian helps Martin with his balance on a weekend stroll.