New school. New teacher. New friends. You know the drill – it’s hard for any kid in kindergarten. Well, this was the start of my son Jack’s journey toward his diagnosis. After months of blaming his kindergarten teacher for lack of teaching ability, I now thank her for recognizing the signs of his disability and pushing me to get him evaluated.
The year before, Jack graduated from junior kindergarten (or T-K as it’s sometimes called) with eighteen other students at a small school near our home in the suburbs. Going to his school was like watching an episode of “Cheers,” where everyone knew Jack’s name – from the fifth graders, coaches, teachers and even the principal. My Jack – the Mayor of the school – was very well liked and exceled in the classroom. It was a great school, but it lost funding after the school year, so we were left to find a new school.
We decided to move to a beach city in Southern California to be near my job and attend an elementary school in a small district with a strong reputation. At this point, we didn’t know of Jack’s autism and thought it would be good for him and my daughter to enjoy “city life.”
Early Signs of Trouble
The school year began, and Jack was attending kindergarten with 36 other active and boisterous kids. With one teacher and occasional parent volunteers, it was like walking into a war zone – casualties everywhere! The class seemed disorganized, the kids had difficulty listening and could not seem to keep their hands to themselves. After a visit to the classroom, I thought, “What have I done?” I started receiving emails from his teacher. At first, they were mere updates of his day. Then, they became more troubling as she started documenting incidents of the day and included the school principal in the communications. Jack started to bite other kids. He began hitting other boys… and girls. He asked for bathroom breaks 5 times a day. And he would regularly tell the teacher “NO,” yelled out bad words when asked to do his classwork and destroyed school supplies. This was serious.
I scheduled a meeting with her to talk about what was happening in the classroom. I believed this was Jack’s way of acting out because of moving to a new city and going to a new school that was four times bigger than his previous school. It was overwhelming. During this meeting, she explained his behaviors and what she believed to be the cause of them. To me, I felt it was because her classroom was disorganized, and she had no control over her students. She then said, Jack can’t read. I nearly lost it. “How can my son, who was a stellar student at his previous school, all of sudden not be able to read? This is your problem, not his.” I then stormed out of the meeting. I was furious.
Because we were new to the school, I wanted to be a good parent partner. The teacher recommended a rewards chart. A simple, red – green – yellow, for Jack’s behaviors and I would get a weekly report of his progress. For a few weeks that worked, but the behaviors were inconsistent and there was no real change as he headed into the middle of the school year. At this point, she recommended Jack get tested for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
I was, yet again, upset about her recommendation and went straight to the principal’s office. I explained the situation and how I had been working with the teacher, but that I felt she just didn’t like Jack. I then asked for him to be transferred to another teacher and classroom. The principal seemed to be sympathetic to my concerns and said Jack didn’t need to be evaluated but would speak with the teacher to find out what was going on. A few weeks later the principal called a whopper of a meeting. We walked in to what I believed to be a “transfer to new classroom” meeting with Jack’s teachers. What it felt like, was an intervention.
The district psychiatrist, school occupational therapist, speech therapist, behavioral specialist and other school resource specialists were all sitting around a table and asked my husband and me to walk in, sit down and shut the door. In the weeks leading up to this meeting, they had been observing Jack in the classroom and they gave us some “tough love” about what they observed. They suggested that Jack was showing signs of autism and urged us to get him evaluated. This was the first day of Jack’s ASD journey.
Don’t Ignore the Signs
I never thanked Jack’s kindergarten teacher and to this day, I feel terrible about it. We left the school after his official diagnosis to be near the ABA services that were covered by our insurance. If your child’s teacher is actively communicating with you about your child’s negative behavior, listen to her/him. Don’t sabotage your child’s diagnosis by not seeing the signs.