Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Last Days of School: Morale

Tomorrow is the last day of school for the kids. Kelly and Robbie are both pretty excited for summer. As someone who works from home, summer creates a bit more stress but Joy keeps both of them pretty busy and they understand how important it is not to bother me during the work day.

I'm very proud of both of them. Kelly ended the year on a high note by scoring excellent on her TAKS tests (statewide standardized tests). She was commended in math and was one question away from being commended in writing. I'll withhold my judgment about the disparity of her standardized test scores with her classroom scores. I'll just say that Joy did a great job preparing her.

Robbie had a roller coaster of a year but it ended very well. I couldn't be happier for him or with him.

Today, each of the grades had a party at school. Robbie had been dreading his party for days. He'd been talking about it a lot, hoping to convince Joy to let him stay home. It was obviously a great source of anxiety for him. I'm not sure if he feared the noise or the emotions or just wanted an excuse to stay home from school. Nonetheless, Joy finally convinced him that if he went to school and then the party, but didn't like the party, he could come home. Daddy would be there if he wanted to come home.

Daddy was there.

How did it go?

Questions like this are usually considered rhetorical. It's like, "How are you?" Most times, people expect "fine" or "good" or some other brief, unimportant response. In Autism World, this is never a rhetorical question. Whether it's a trip to the occupational therapist, a trip to the mall or even a visit to a friend's house, this question demands a thorough answer. "Fine" isn't going to cut it.

So, how did it go?

I thought about this as I watched the first grade class enjoy its party. All of them were outside enjoying a series of games. It was like one big recess. I knew I would be asked how it went so I was already thinking about my answer before the party was over.

As a I thought about it, the concept of morale came into my mind. When someone asks, "How's morale?" what they're really asking is "How's everyone dealing with a situation that sucks?" Morale is usually spoken in the context of troops in a war or employees after layoffs or a company set back. Nobody asks, "How's the morale?" of a hockey team that just won the Stanley Cup. Asking about morale applies context to the question without actually describing it.

If I answer the question above without context the answer will be quite different than if I answered with context.

So, how did it go - without context?

I caught up with Robbie's class when they were already outside. Most of the kids were playing with jump ropes or four-square or just having fun with each other. Robbie stood off to the side by himself, in his own little world. He'd spin around and mutter to himself a bit. When it was time for the class to move on to the next area, his teacher had to pull him into the line because he didn't come on his own. He didn't play any of the games. After a while, he just sat down next to the teacher.

After a few "stations", each of the kids was given a freeze pop to cool off. Robbie wanted a red one. Unfortunately, the parent helping gave Robbie a lemon flavored one - not a red one. I don't know why she didn't give him a red one. They still had a few. He took one bite of the lemon flavored one, told her it was "yucky" and threw it away.

When his class arrived at the place where they could write with chalk, Robbie was excited. He grabbed a piece of chalk and wrote away. When he walked over to another area to continue his artistry, he tripped on a curb and skinned his leg pretty badly - blood and all. I whisked him down to the nurse's office, where he proclaimed, "That party is dangerous!"

After, a quick swab to clean the wound and two Band-Aids later, we went back to the party as it was ending. I followed him back into his classroom. He'd had enough. It was time to go home - 5 minutes before final bell.

So, how did it go - with context?

When I arrived at the party late, I was surprised to see Robbie with the class. I expected him to be angry with me for being late and want to leave immediately. But he didn't. He made it clear to both me and his teacher that he wanted to stay (though, I don't think he realized that this was the party - I think he was expecting something in the classroom). He was enjoying himself. When the teacher asked him to do something, like get in line to move to the next play areas, he did it. No fussing. No tantrums. Nice smooth transitions.

When he didn't get the red freeze pop, he was disappointed. But he didn't throw a fit, or yell or kick or scream. He told the woman he wanted a red one and she didn't give it to him. He was disappointed and expressed his disappointment. When I asked her a few minutes later if they still had a red one, she pulled one out of the ice chest and handed it to Robbie. Disaster averted. A few minutes later, a little girl walked up to him and said, "Look, Robbie. I've got a red one just like you!"

Although he was in real pain after his fall, he handled himself very well. After it happened, he walked up to me and said (with a wince) that he'd hurt himself and needed to go to the nurse's office. When I saw the size of the scrape and blood, I agreed. No one knew what had happened. They were surprised to see us go. He went to the nurse's office calmly. It was a far walk for a first grader with a limp. When we arrived, he didn't want her to clean the wound but didn't give her any trouble when she did. When I asked if he wanted to go home or back to the party, he chose the party. When we returned, his teacher and the special education specialist were astounded. Nobody (including me) expected him to return. I thought the day was done.

He left his class five minutes early; which was sixty-five minutes later than I expected.

So, how did it go - really?

It went great. Much better than I ever expected. Thanks for asking.

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