A thin layer of snow has fallen since earlier this morning. Rather than the heavy blanket we’ve often felt being dropped on us, we are currently like sweet Mallorca rolls, dusted liberally with confectioner’s sugar. It’s not at all bad; it doesn’t feel like Winter is throwing a tantrum and needs a time-out. It feels like Winter is reminding us of its presence, but it’s tired, and this is just a cameo appearance. For a winter-weary population, this feels like a nuisance that we have to humor (Uncle Winter had too much to drink again, and we’re listening to the abridged version of how awesome he was in high school.)
Cause for concern: we met with very little resistance from J when it was announced that he had to stay home today. The cold is pesky, and he is congested, and complains of a scratchy throat. He looks tired, but not so much so that one would say he needs to sleep. Maybe he is just weary from all the confrontation he feels compelled to by this one person who makes him uncomfortable at school. He knows, of course, that hitting himself is wrong, wrong, wrong, but he also seems to be inclined to think this is the only option for him in that situation.
We are in slippery-slope territory with this matter. I’ve tried to get around it, and I can’t seem to find a reasonable solution that will help J more than minimally, and -trust me- I KNOW that J is responsible for his own emotional well-being and has to learn to manage himself when he’s put in close proximity to someone who doesn’t rub him the right way. At the same time, when your kid (ok, your grown-up kid) comes home with an abrasion the size of a silver dollar on his forehead every time they have to work with one particular individual, you have to take a step back and consider the possibilities.
Over time, the skin on J’s forehead has become rather fragile. If you look carefully at the area of his hairline where he has the habit of hitting himself, there are faded scars, and the skin is thin and shiny. Doing damage there is not difficult. J knows this; he is aware that hitting himself is upsetting for everyone around him, but (emotionally) he still feels compelled to do it when he is extremely upset. There was a time when J would hit himself if he didn’t get his way; this is no longer the case. J now hits himself when he has reached a point where nothing else he has done has yielded the desired results. This is how we know that this particular person distresses him more than he can handle. It is a quandary, and we have to work through it, don’t we?
Yesterday seems to have been a pretty rough day. J came home distressed, and apologetic about having hit himself. The note in the book (written by the individual with whom he has issues) shed no light on what had happened. We later found out that the situation was played down in the note. When we realized that J wasn’t feeling well it was because we walked into his TV room and found him teary-eyed, wanting a hug, and complaining of a scratchy throat, a cold, dry lips, dry eyes, you name it. This was more of an emotional malaise than a physical one, and it was upsetting enough to him to sit through a rather long visit to the Urgent Care.
I’m not trying to read into this more than there is, but I have to read what there is…and the first incontrovertible fact is she has been present for all the other major incidents J has experienced this school year. As Sherlock Holmes says: “eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth.” We’ve eliminated regression, lighting, noise level, petit mal seizures, attention-seeking, skin rashes, a nervous tick, that it’s part of his “routine,” and all that’s left is (let’s call her) Tiffany. Other students have had, over time, similar issues with Tiffany. I don’t know Tiffany, but I get the feeling there’s something about her that the kids sense doesn’t quite empathize with them.
Are teachers and aides supposed to empathize with the Special Education population they serve? Yes, I think empathy is the right feeling as opposed to sympathy. No person can truly understand how a developmentally-disabled or handicapped individual feels unless they have been in the same exact situation. I, for example, can try to understand how J feels, but only from the standpoint of someone who observes him closely, has lived with him his whole life, and actually puts effort into comprehending J as an individual, and his Autism as a significant factor in how he behaves, thinks, feels, and so forth. A classroom setting isn’t the most conducive to this kind of interaction, and I don’t think we should expect any more than is humanly possible when you are trying to empathize with a dozen students with varying degrees of difficulty in different areas. I know this, and I want to be fair to J and to this person, but the only one I have any influence over is J.
There was a time when people chose fields of endeavor based on vocation, ability, skill. Now, because there are so many of us populating a vast world with dwindling opportunities to shine according to our inclination, we tend to choose because a certain occupation has opportunities galore, is about to boom, pays well, requires little training. I come from a family of teachers; my aunt was a much loved History teacher; my grandmother was an extremely efficient Spanish professor; my uncle was amazing at teaching future teachers; my other uncle taught Shop, and I never saw him saw a straight line in his life so I wonder what he was like molding future carpenters. I tried to be a teacher. I failed miserably. I loved the subject I was teaching (English,) but I hated the rest of the undertaking; I had no patience for the whole thing. It figures that I would find myself trying to teach the most basic skills to one of the least malleable individuals I’ve ever come across, and that patience is the daily bread I must have an endless store of…
Does Tiffany like her job? Does Tiffany feel overwhelmed by what she has to do? Does Tiffany even understand what she’s supposed to be doing, and how the mind she’s clashing with day after day after miserable day works? She’s done this job for a long time, but that doesn’t really answer any of those questions, does it? Albert Einstein, whose intellect I wouldn’t dare to say I understand one bit, is quoted as saying “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I don’t know if this applies to Tiffany, or if it applies to J. It could even apply to me, or Dada. Some step in the process is being repeated, and it’s yielding the same exact result over and over again. The question remaining is: how do we deal with that particular step without anyone being the worse for wear?
For the time being, I will continue to put band-aids on J’s forehead to remind him of how it hurts when he hits himself. I will continue to remind him that there are better ways to deal with this kind of stress. I will count with him the days remaining until the end of the school year, and I will see what can be done to alleviate this situation without ruining someone’s career, or impacting their job security.
I look at very delicate skin, and blood pooling under it, and I wonder how much more damage J can do until it’s too much. That’s his brain getting jostled, jarred and shaken under there, and we have very thick skulls (literal and figurative,) but there’s a limit to what those thick skulls can do to protect what’s underneath. I don’t want us to slowly inch back to where J’s ONLY resource was SIB. I flatly refuse to go back there, but I have to figure out which path will lead us to a healthy and reasonable resolution.
If Vivaldi wrote sublime music to echo the emotions elicited by weather and seasons, maybe all this confectioner’s sugar will help…or, perhaps, a bowl of ice cream would be better?