An Open Letter to My Son’s School Administrators

After a fifteen-month hiatus while homeschooling, Nigel started back part-time at the local public school this week. How has it gone for him? Today was Day 3, and I had to write the following email, which was sent to the school’s special education coordinator, the district’s special education director, the regional autism consultant, and his social skills class facilitator:

Everyone,

I wanted to bring a concern of mine to your attention. Today when I picked Nigel up after lunch, he came out to the car twirling around in the parking lot with a sheepish look on his face. Apparently a group of girls had been hanging around him at lunch, and they told him that another boy had “stolen” someone’s cookie, and that he – Nigel – needed to “do something about it,” even though Nigel had nothing to do with the situation (which I think was contrived). So Nigel said that he chased the boy around to impress the girls, because they encouraged him to. This is just the sort of social problem that causes concerns. Nigel is usually fine in class where it’s structured and supervised, but these problems come up at lunch. The kids are not overtly being mean, but they take advantage of both Nigel’s trusting nature and his yearning to be accepted, and they get him to do things that either make a fool out of him or get him in trouble. After Nigel had chased the kid around, one of the girls linked arms with Nigel and walked somewhere and kissed him, in front of others. These kids are having fun at Nigel’s expense, even though he doesn’t realize it because of his autism.

So I talked with him about a) not chasing anyone around for any reason, and b) not doing things kids tell him to do when he’s at lunch. If this continues, not only will he wind up getting in trouble, when it was not his idea in the first place, but it’s continuing a vicious cycle of using him for entertainment – he told me that the girls actually told him that he was “entertaining.” I do not want my son used in this manner! This has happened before at this school, and I’m upset about it happening again. Is it possible for situations like this to be roll-played in the social skills class? Nigel needs to be able to recognize when his peers are using him for entertainment, since the school doesn’t seem to think it’s important to teach the non-autistic kids not to take advantage of those with social difficulties.

The risperidone is helping Nigel, and he is making such an effort, is so motivated to get back, and he has to deal with kids who try to make a fool of him and get him in trouble. This is why I mentioned the Circle of Friends program at the meeting last week, and why I think it’s so important to implement something like that. The school needs to foster awareness and compassion for students with social difficulties. No one would dare treat someone that way who’s in a wheelchair, so why does the administration say things like “this is a hard age” when someone who does not have a visible disability is targeted? This issue needs to be addressed. I realize that Nigel will be moving on from this school soon [because he is in 8th grade], but he has four more years in this district with the same peers, and there are others coming after him who would also benefit from a program like Circle of Friends. How can we go about setting this up?

Thank you,

Tanya Savko

The good news is that within a half an hour, the district special education director sent me a very supportive response thanking me for notifying her, telling me that she would meet with the school principal tomorrow, and, most importantly, assuring me that she is “committed to making this work for Nigel.”

It sometimes takes awhile – we were having these school issues two years ago – but the squeaky wheel eventually gets the grease.

23 thoughts on “An Open Letter to My Son’s School Administrators

  1. Fearless Females

    Oh geez… You have to stay on top of them, however. from my experience they like to tell you what you want to hear, and then do nothing about it…

    It’s certainly a tough one… but teaching Nigel to ignore the kids when they ask him to do things like this will certainly dissuade kids, but like you said, Nigel will have a hard time knowing the difference btw good attention and bad attention…

  2. Sheri

    The worst times of the day at a public school are those settings where there is “free play”…where the teachers are only slightly monitoring the actions of lots of children in an open space. Those are the times when we have had the most incidents of issue….just a couple of weeks ago Brenden got written up on the playground for being bullied…they bullied, Brenden told a teacher (YEA! for progress..he recognized and did the right thing), teacher did nothing, and the kids did it again…Brenden went ballistic and he (HE!!!) got in trouble.

    But, alas, most of the time, the squeaky wheel DOES get the grease…I vocalized my thoughts (I stopped short of saying “That’s crap!” to the V.P). I try to squeak often and as a result his teachers and the principal and V.P. mostly don’t have much use for me, but then, who cares what they think…I am and will always be Brenden’s biggest advocate and their cooperation is necessary but not their friendship.

  3. Barry

    These pieces of human garbage that choose to make toys of our children are totally beyond redemption – forgiveness can come from someone else, I would never give it (these leopards never change their spots). I was raised by my parents not to be like this to others (disability or not) but my observations of late seem to show respect for others is a quickly fading moral. This is a responsibility of parents not schools, schools avoid such issues for fear of offending anyone – that the disabled are often the target for ridicule makes it easier for the school to do nothing since many do not have a voice or are entirely dismissed. My son is 4 ½, ASD, and this kind of issue is my biggest concern for our son in the school setting. You are better than me at how you handled it, I think if it were me “hand over hand” prompting may have been used. One good thing though – I had some challenges when I was younger [fine now] and I was a favorite bully target for some time, which after I got a bit bigger I resolved quite quickly. The good news here is that every single one of those subhuman bullies is, now, a complete utter loser on any basis you use (job, family, home, etc). So, what goes around comes around – the true punishment for these wretched creatures is the fact that this is how they live their life (as wretched creatures that is).

  4. Lex Savko

    Tanya, that was a fantastic e-mail you wrote. Very eloquent description of a very stressful situation. I think you’ve provided them with a positive alternative, I just hope they are sympathetic enough to act on your suggestions.

  5. Michelle S

    Good email! I have to say though, I don’t really think they need to focus on teaching Nigel what to do as much as teaching his peers what is acceptable behavior. That is one of the reasons Daniel has been so successful, the social workers have put a lot of time into educating the peers. Then when they know them they would never do these sort of mean things at their expense. And if someone would, another peer would step in and stop it!

  6. Tanya Savko Post author

    Sheri – the same thing has happened to Nigel with repeated bullying/harassment – he’ll respond out of frustration and then HE gets in trouble. Another vicious cycle.

    Michelle – I agree completely. For years I’ve bitten my tongue because it’s all been about “fixing” the autistic kid, with minimal action to promote autism awareness and peer empathy at school. I sure hope we’re finally on the path to change that here.

  7. Niika

    Beautifully written and to the point with constructive suggestions. The Circle of Friends is a great idea. Keep up the great work! Yes, the squeaky wheel does get heard. I do believe that.

  8. Carol

    Also,Protection & Advocacy (Here in Ca) has told me if you want something resolved w/out them stalling, send them a letter stating,”On (give date), you assured me that you would resolve____ situation. Please respond by (give them two weeks), and let me know what you intend to do about this.”
    Of course, they won’t e-mail you back–they will almost always call you, so it becomes “he said/she said” (I’ve been told “if it’s not on paper, it wasn’t said”). No problem–you keep sending that e-mail, stating what they told you over the phone. Or, better yet – CERTIFIED MAIL! That REALLY gets their attention!
    Excellent letter, by the way.

  9. Cody

    “using him for entertainment” I have never heard it put that way. I love it, and I will steal it the first time I have have to talk to Nolan about being made fun of in school. It really is a great description of what the other kids are doing.

  10. jess

    thank goodness he can (and did) tell you what happened. it’s heartbreaking to think of the kids who don’t have the same facility.

    and thank goodness he has a mom who keeps at it and rallies the team creatively and respectfully. they know you’ll stay on em until he gets what he needs.

  11. babs

    OMG. This could be us, today. Any day. And the school is just as oblivious. They con the Captain into singing in class…and laugh, and the teachers tell me that the kids really appreciate the Captain and his talent. Say what? Are you kidding? Some days it’s so hopeless.

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  14. Aradia

    Teens and pre-teens are obsessed with fitting in and being like their peers. Stir in shows like South Park where the disabled or different are mocked and you have kids who ridicule their different-acting peers.
    It’s done out of fear and to avoid being singled out and mocked themselves. I think every teen, even the alpha ones, secretly fears something is very wrong with them. I remember being frightened that maybe I was retarded (sorry, that’s the word we used back in the 70s) and everybody knew except for me.
    You did the right thing with those girls.

  15. Diana

    Hi
    The same is happening to my son. kids in school make him do things, and because he wants to be accepted, he gets in trouble. He is in 7 grade. the kids in this school just want to have fun, and he is always excluded from the group.
    very sad!

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