Here are some things that present themselves as very big clues to me that Julio is not in the right classroom environment:
- During a mini lesson, he got up from his seat and began conducting an invisible boxing match with an invisible opponent. He danced around the room, punching the air.
- During a read aloud, he suddenly began grabbing his head, wrenching himself from side to side, throwing his body out of his seat. When I asked him what was wrong, he said he was having a "nightmare."
- When he is working independently and gets frustrated, he starts pounding on his desk and punching himself in the head.
- He has started singing, humming, pounding on his desk, kicking at his desk, and grabbing his desk and shaking it aggressively, all during what is supposed to be a quiet working period.
- The other day, he got upset, so he took everything out of his desk, hurled it to the floor, and then flopped himself on top of it and lay there.
So the guidance counselor and I sat down with Mom for what I can safely say was the World's Most Awkward Parent Meeting. In it I tried to talk gently but firmly about how Julio struggles and will continue to struggle in my class because it's not the right environment for him. I told Mom that Julio knows what he needs and asks for it: He asks me to turn the lights off because it will "relax" him, he asks me to take breaks for walks around the room, he asks me for much more individual attention than I can give him because there are 28 students in our class instead of 12 and only one teacher instead of two adults, which is what he would get if he were in the 12:1:1 class that his hypothetical IEP recommends for him.
Mom categorically does not want him in special education. Mom thinks he would "fall behind" in a special education class "with other kids like him." I think Mom is falling prey to the stigma that says that special education = dumb. I tried to explain to Mom that this isn't an academic issue, that Julio is very bright but isn't getting the services he needs. I said that, if he were to be in a special ed class, when he goes to third grade (the first "testing" grade), he would still take the same test as everybody else, but he would get to take it in a calmer environment with modifications that would hopefully prevent him from punching himself in the head.
Mom said that she didn't realize he hadn't been "behaving" and had just taken all his toys away from him. I told Mom that I knew she and Julio discussed good behavior at home, that it wasn't like anyone thought his behavior was a reflection on her parenting, and that she could take all his toys away from him but it wouldn't help his behavior because he can't control himself. I said that Julio tells other kids that he can't control himself, that he knows how he's expected to behave but he just can't do it. I said that his opinion of himself is starting to suffer because he feels like he's constantly letting other people down with his behavior, because he's always promising to behave but then he can't do it.
After an infinity of talking, the guidance counselor asked Mom what she thought of all this. That's when we experienced one of those long, awkward, crickets-chirping silences.
Oh, and did I mention this meeting took place after we returned from a field trip? I happen to have the most motion-sick class on the planet, and on every trip we take I have at least two pale and sweaty kids in the front of the bus leaning over barf bags while their seatmates anxiously monitor them for signs of vomit. On this particular trip, Felix, eyeing his seatmate, said to me, "If I smell throw-up, it makes me throw up." Me: "She's not going to throw up, honey. We're so close to school." Felix: "But if she throws up and I smell the throw-up, I'll throw up." Me: "Then if she throws up, you'll hold your nose."
So we were literally a block away from school and I thought we were home free when one of my parent chaperones abruptly jumped up and asked the bus driver to let him off. Initially I thought that since we were stuck in traffic so close to school, he figured he'd just let himself off. That is, until his son, whom he'd been sitting with, glumly pointed to the floor of the bus and said morosely, "He threw up."
Yup, my parent chaperone had ralphed onto the floor of the bus. And do you know what happens when you're on a bus that's lurching forward and there's liquid on the floor? That's right, it oozes forward. So the girls in the seat in front of the vomit in question began shrieking, "It's coming toward us!" Meanwhile, his son was left holding this giant water bottle that they'd brought along, and he continued, "And he was throwing up into the water and now I can't drink any more water."
An eternity later, we arrived at school. My motion-sick friends shakily let themselves off the bus. Everyone was tired, starving and -- judging by the unmistakable severity of the pee dances taking place on the sidewalk -- desperate to use the bathroom. As we wearily made our way to the door of the school, the bus driver began honking at me.
He rolled down the window. And he handed me -- can you guess? -- the giant water bottle full of my parent chaperone's upchuck.