First of all, a huge thank you to everyone who commented on the Beyond the PAIL post. I’m still working through the comments, but it’s clear that many of us do identify as “other.” More to come on that as I have volunteered to host one of the “Healing Salons” that Mel suggested for helping the ALI community heal and work through some of the questions that were raised.
We removed Daniel from his preschool at the end of February. It wasn’t a difficult decision; it began to seem like the only thing we could do. As you might recall, we had some issues with our preschool.
A week after I filled out the forms for Project Enlightenment to evaluate him, his teachers told me that Project Enlightenment couldn’t evaluate him because it is a county-based service, and we live in a neighboring county. They quickly looked up our county and gave me the name of a similar service although when I went to the website, I discovered the service was located in Kansas and not in NC. Oops. More Googling, and I couldn’t find the service for my county.
In retrospect, I’m really glad that his teachers made that mistake because otherwise I might have agreed once again to have Daniel evaluated, and I think the roadblock helped me start to see the situation more clearly. A few days after Jimmy’s grandmother died, Jimmy and I attended the mid-year parent-teacher conference. We looked pretty rough: I was sporting third-day hair, little make up and whatever I had thrown on that was clean that day. Jimmy had on a hat and several days of stubble. We probably gave off a feral vibe to the teachers and frankly, weren’t in the greatest moods, especially since we had the super-fun task of going shopping for funeral clothes for us and Daniel afterwards.
The teachers didn’t have much to say to us, and it was an awkward meeting. They kept pushing to have him evaluated, saying “there’s no harm.” They told us nothing had really changed behavior-wise since December. They handed us developmental milestones for two-year-olds and three-year-olds, and I pointed out that he was doing all the things on both lists. I tried to tell them how well Daniel moves and how surprised I was that they thought he had poor motor skills. We reiterated how the Daniel they see is very different from the Daniel we see every day. Finally, very frustrated, I asked them if there was anything positive they could say about my child because all I had heard for 2 months were his “problems.”
When we left the conference, I knew we were at a stalemate with his teachers. It’s like they had checked a box labelled “Problem” next to Daniel’s name and moved on.
A few weeks later, I took Daniel to the pediatrician for his 2.5 year well-baby visit (2 months late). I told the pediatrician everything and after she observed Daniel shyly interacting with her, she agreed that it sounded like his school wasn’t a good fit and we should find something else. People, when your child will interact with the doctor who has given him shots that make him cry every visit but not with his teachers, you know there’s a problem with the school.
At that point, we were already thinking about taking him out of school at the end of February, and I had started researching other preschools. I thought that a school a little more lesson-based might be better for my curious little boy. We had just received the monthly calendar from his teachers and I noticed that there was a little note telling us that one of the little boys had left the class. I knew this little boy’s mother had been having trouble with the teachers too, so I emailed her, and she confirmed that they had wanted her to get him evaluated as well and that every specialist she took him to agreed that there was no problem with her child except the school. She also told me she had observed one of the teachers restraining Daniel during recess so that he couldn’t leave the playground area (it’s fenced in, so he couldn’t leave the area, but he liked to run in the grass around the playground equipment). She admitted that she didn’t know the back story and could be misinterpreting what she saw, and I know that a disgruntled parent isn’t the most reliable source, but still. Her story pretty much sealed it for us, but due to previously-made appointments, we had to keep him there a few more weeks.
On his last day, at pick up, the teacher reported he had opened the door to his class and ran down the hall. She commented, “it was a challenging day” and shook her head. I emailed the school that afternoon to tell them we were withdrawing him. I had spent a lot of time since December scrutinizing Daniel and worrying, Googling behaviors incessantly, stressing every Tuesday and Thursday (preschool days), and hearing Daniel say, “Not go to school” and what I realized was this:
There was absolutely nothing wrong with my child.
His only “problem” was that he was miserable at preschool. What I think happened is that his teachers convicted of him of being 2 and a half: not sitting still, having difficulty transitioning between activities, hitting, running, knocking stuff over. I think that when he started to hit the other children, a very normal stage for toddlers according to my frantic Internet searches, his teachers overreacted and maybe they scared him and he shut down. Whatever the cause, he was unhappy there.
His last school artwork is still on our refrigerator, and it makes me sad when I see it. I hoped he would meet and make friends with other children with whom we could have play dates. I looked forward to picture day and enjoyed helping at the parties. Most importantly, I wanted him to have fun and he didn’t. When we use the word “school” now, he says, “No” very firmly, and that makes me sad. I loved school and I can’t believe that he has already had a bad experience with school before he is 3.
I’m saddest of all, though, that I didn’t realize his unhappiness sooner and that we left him in a situation for months that made him miserable. It breaks my heart to think he may have felt disliked by his teachers or at least that it wasn’t a safe, nurturing place for him.
And I’m angry at the school and myself because I was so caught up in the evaluation drama and my worry that I allowed it to color – however briefly – how I saw Daniel. I felt like I couldn’t take him out in public or out with friends because he would be judged; we would be judged. He would embarrass us. I am angry that I kept trying to put him in some box and diagnose him. I’m angry at myself for not realizing that when he ran on the playground or out of his classroom, he was literally trying to run away from them. I wish I had just trusted my mommy instincts from the beginning and replied, “I don’t think so” when they brought up having him evaluated.
So maybe it wasn’t me; it was you.
Disclaimer: I’m not trying to discount or belittle the experience of anyone who is dealing with special needs. If I thought Daniel needed to be evaluated, I would do so in a heartbeat. These posts reflect my frustration with our former preschool and how they perceived and treated him.