I don’t know if everyone else’s phone does this, but ours -for some as-yet-unexplained reason- seems to ring “different” when the call’s not a good one. I’m sure you’ve known moments like this one: the phone rings and the sound is ordinary enough, but when you look at the Caller ID, instead of seeing your child’s teacher’s name or the school’s name, you see Danger, Will Robinson! Danger, Will Robinson! You answer the phone not with the cordial hello that social courtesy has taught you to issue but rather with closed eyes, fingers crossed and “is everything OK?” You know everything is NOT OK, but you hope against all hope that you’re being a Nervous Nellie rather than an Foresight-ful Fran.
“In all the time I’ve known him, J hasn’t been THIS upset! He just went OFF like a Roman candle and hit himself, screamed, and flatly refused to do a group activity.” In your mind, you see children cowering in corners, pieces of human limbs strewn over tables and broken glass. Perhaps, because that’s how your mind works since watching way too many cartoons when you were little, the wall has a J-shaped silhouette where he broke through and escaped to the greater Morgantown area where he is now terrorizing the locals. “Is anyone hurt?,” you ask. “Oh, he banged his head up and bit his tongue, but he’s fine now.” “Anyone ELSE hurt?,” you ask, opening one eye and crossing toes. “No, no, no…everyone is fine. I’m just sorry he banged his head and…well…he’s kinda bruised and scratched, but he was too quick for us…,” the teacher says sweetly and apologetically. You are SO glad no one tried to get to him to stop him because, quite honestly, in spite of all the insurance you carry, you don’t carry enough to patch up your conscience if anyone else is hurt.
“What happened?” You ask about possible ambient noises out of the ordinary (thinking about his hypersensitive hearing,) any changes in lighting, any different people in class, etc., etc. You should work for the FBI, your mind works in such clinical ways when it comes to these things. After fifteen minutes of deconstructing the events that just transpired in the classroom, you and the teacher reach the conclusion that J was -and these were MY words, mind you- “being a total asshole and trying to assert and impose his will.” Well, the teacher says kindly, maybe he was just not in the mood to play Bingo. “Not in the mood my ass,” you say, not unkindly; “you gave him an out and he didn’t take it. Instead of asking for “escape,” he decided to throw a tantrum. THAT is “being an asshole.” THAT is unacceptable. Is he there? May I speak to him?” Yes, of course…she puts him on speakerphone. “J! Hello, my darling. This is the voice of doom speaking. (He knows it’s me, and that’s the code for “I know what you did.”) What happened, my love? Why are you angry? Take out your Proloquo and tell TEACHER how you feel. We ALWAYS say how we feel; we DO NOT have tantrums in lieu of saying how we feel.”
I hear the Proloquo, but it’s muffled. “What did he say?,” I ask. “He says he’s HOMESICK,” his teacher tells me with a hint of tenderness in her voice. “May I speak to him again, please? No speakerphone?” Yes, she says, and I hear it switch. I say: “J, can you hear me?” HEAR ME, he replies. “What a pile of pure and unadulterated bullshit is that??? Homesick? You’re no more homesick than I am Julia Roberts! You were rude and you are going to apologize. We will talk about this when you get home. Understood?” SORRY, he says to his teacher, and she takes the phone back.
An hour and a half later, J gets off the bus covering his forehead with his hair. “Excuse me? What are you doing?,” I tell him. He tries to shake my hand. “Uh, NO! Let me see your forehead!,” I say, standing with my hands on my hips (a clear sign of trouble around these parts.) J rolls his eyes and brushes his hair to the side. Two large abrasions go from hairline to eyebrow on the right side of his temple. “J…,” I shake my head and he extends his hand again. “No, I am NOT shaking your hand, sir! I am not particularly happy at this moment.” We start walking. J is looking at the office from the corner of his eye, and I say “don’t even THINK about it.” So he asks, instead, for the key and we check the mail.
Anyone who saw us walking home will have witnessed a rather spirited exchange between J and I. Hands quickly moving through the air (which is intensified by the fact that I’m Puerto Rican and that’s a natural state for us when we’re talking…so imagine ASL in the midst of all that!,) I explained to J why I wouldn’t shake his hand AT THAT PARTICULAR MOMENT…
The gist of it was “Your teacher was worried. Your teacher called me and said “J is upset and hurt himself, and I don’t know why.” She offered you a break in your corner and you didn’t take it. You threw a tantrum. That is not the right way to do this. I know you get upset, but you cannot worry people without trying to talk to them first.” At home we looked at his forehead in the mirror, and he seemed suddenly aware of the damage he had done to himself. I made him show me his tongue. It was no longer bleeding, but you could tell he’d bitten it…
I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting with him at random moments and asking him how he felt. I made him take out his Proloquo and express his mood at the moment. Over and over we went through how he cannot throw tantrums like that if he hasn’t made a concerted attempt to communicate his frustration. Before bed we, once more, went over how today he’d get to school, put his things in his locker and then sit with the group to follow the schedule. Then we shook hands. Heartily. And we hugged.
I repeated this early this morning. So far so good…
Am I the only parent of an autistic individual who has one of those “nuclear facility” boards that announce THIS FAMILY HAS NOT HAD AN ALARMING CALL FROM SCHOOL IN ______ DAYS? I had to reset mine to ZERO yesterday…I’m hoping to start adding days to it today.