a blog about raising a daughter with cerebral palsy and learning unexpected lessons along the way

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Not Already

It's no secret that Oia has a significant expressive language delay. Her verbal communication skills are in the ballpark of 1 yr old. She has roughly 30-35 words that she is consistently able to articulate and relies heavily on gestures to address her wants and needs to those around her. Gesturing is a fairly new skill for her which has made our lives a little bit easier, as one can only imagine. Pointing is another one of her very new skills. Developmentally, babies learn to isolate one finger and point by 12 months old. Oia is just shy of her third birthday and is finally perfecting a good point.

Oia's gestures are important to us and we view them as a step forward in her communication. We are also thankful Oia even has the ability to 'speak' to us in such a way. CP can rob a kiddo of many functions, even a simple hand or arm movement, so I consider ourselves fortunate that Oia can point at what she is talking about or tap a chair to indicate that she wants you to sit beside her. Sometimes the gesture may be a tap on Rob's head after she's just handed him a hat indicating she wants him to put it on. Sometimes the gesture may be gently pushing you in one direction as she is 'telling' you to come with her. Sometimes she cups her little hand around your chin to turn your head in her direction because she wants you to look at her or she has something very important to show you. The gestures are little tugs at our heart that make us smile with pride because she has found a voice through her hands; and quite frankly, because she can do it at all.

On the other hand, kids don't view Oia's gestures the same way. I respect that. Preschoolers are very egocentric and most have little to no room in their world for others. This is why sharing is so hard for preschool aged children. However, being egocentric is age appropriate.

Which leads me to this...
I picked Oia up from school today and when she saw me her faced washed with relief and she began to cry. She threw her little arms up and wanted me NOW. She pointed to the door and uttered a "go, Mommy, go" through a couple of tears. Not the same face I got on Monday. She wanted to go home. Her teacher told me that she began to get a little fussy about 30 minutes prior. Then, she proceeds to tell me that Oia has been "touching" kids a lot. So excuse my indecent mind but I asked, "What do you mean by touching?" She tells me Oia has been pulling on kids, tugging on their shirts, and even "annoying" them and specifically shares with me two classmates who had had their fill of Oia today. I was frozen for a minute, not really believing that she was having this conversation with me. Then, she tells me that if Oia does this type of thing to the wrong kid, she'll end up getting hit (I think the word she used was "decked" but I'm not certain as her words made me numb for a moment.)

Really? I wanted to say in reply Did I really hear you correctly? Here's a news flash for ya...My daughter is trying to socially engage herself in a new environment with new people, without the help of people she knows AND without the appropriate language skills to do so. She is doing the best she can. In Oia's world, pulling on a classmate translates to "Hey, come play with me!". What's so wrong with that?

And the kicker in all this is that I specifically mentioned in her IEP meeting last week how Oia communicates through gesture and that I was concerned how her peers would perceive this. They assured me this was typical behavior and no big deal in this classroom as teaching social skills was a major focus in preschool. So, I expressed this fact prior to school starting and she still had the audacity to bring it to my attention today on only the 2nd day of preschool and act as though this is a major problem. The part that has made me sick all day is that apparently they are not allowing this behavior. They tell me that Oia gets very hurt and cries when they tell her "No". This equates to Oia as not being allowed to talk her classmates because essentially talking is what she is doing through gestures.

I'm upset. Actually, it makes me sad for Oia. She is in a classroom where differences should be embraced, not punished. I can guarantee Oia has NO IDEA what she is doing wrong, and truthfully, it's not wrong. There are many ways to communicate and I would hope that any adult working in Oia's classroom would take the time to turn such a situation into a teachable moment for the classmate that is being "annoyed" and let this be a time to teach compassion. Inform peers that Oia doesn't 'talk' like everyone else and she is trying to play too. She is not trying to hurt anyone but instead being curious and hopeful to make a new friend. I also would hope that the adults are modeling the desired behavior by providing the words that Oia should use instead during these interactions rather than tapping one's shoulder and "annoying" someone.

This is a special education environment. Oia's only means of communication shouldn't be an issue on Day 2 of preschool. Maybe in Kindergarten or even later, yes, but not right now. I feel a meeting is in order.


  1. You have my vote - there should be a meeting. My typically developing four year old's day care class has a rule - keep your hands to yourself - precisely because they can't follow that direction. A special needs program needs to focus on meeting Oia's NEEDS which include communication.

  2. You are exactly right that they should first understand why she is doing this and they should use the moment to teach the kids that Oia is trying to "talk" to them. If they are constantly telling Oia not to do that, then the kids will pick up on it and not be accepting. Oia will not feel comfortable in the classroom or with the other kids.

    Sometimes I wonder if these teachers have actually ever worked with kids with special needs. What are they thinking??

    Finally, I agree with having a meeting now. I wouldn't wait for it to get better because I don't think it will. You could create a Behavior (I hate that word!) Plan. That way everyone who works with Oia will be on the same page and treating this "behavior" in a way that you approve of.

    Good luck and email me if you would like to discuss this more.

  3. I am so sorry that this has happened. I hope that one of the students that she was speaking of was not Landon. There are ways of handing this like teaching the other children that Oia is just trying to tell them something. I think it may taking training on both sides, the other children need to learn she is trying to play with them or tell them something and on Oia's side that not everyone wants to be touch and to listen to them is they say "no" (that may be hard...landon still doesn't fully understand that yet). I know that yesterday morning Oia was VERY interested in Landon's hearing aids. She kept wanting to pull on them. I was still there so I just bent down beside them and talked with her about them. When she would put her hand up to tug at them I just said "no touch. Landon needs those to hear" and she put her hand down. Now she kept doing it but I just kept saying the same thing and she was fine....just interested. Landon finally just put his hand on her arm as if to make sure she couldn't get to him but I don't think he was harsh or mean. I hope this was not it. Again I am so sorry this is going on.

  4. That's outrageous. Seriously? This is a teacher with special needs experience..or teaching experience period? Did she think all of her students were going to show up knowing proper social protocols? Isn't that one of the things that she should be trying to teach them? You know...as a teacher?! It sounds like she doesn't know what to do or how to deal with it.

    I would be very upset too. I would absolutely call a meeting to set the tone for the year. Sheesh!

  5. Have a meeting.

    Maybe teach Oia some sign language too? Does she know some already? Just a thought.

  6. My heart sank when I read this. Please let us know how the meeting goes!

  7. Oh my gosh. I am so sad that this happened. That was completely unprofessional of the teacher. They should be helping all the children understand that each child is different and communicates differently. That is what an inclusive classroom setting is all about!! I am so sorry that your first week of school ended this way. I would have a difficult time "getting over" this although I think it can be done with a meeting (and some deep breaths). Were these teachers in the IEP meeting last week? If they were not then it is a communication gap that needs to be closed in the future. Good luck and let us know how things go.

  8. As a special ed preschool teacher, I am shocked and embarassed that Oia's teacher behaved that way. Even if Oia does start using some signs, she would still probably have to touch the other kids just to get their attention. You need to call another meeting of Oia's IEP team (which you can do at any time) and discuss this issue with the team. Ask the teacher how she would feel if someone took her voice away. By taking away Oia's ability to touch others, she is taking away her voice. Also, if they haven't already done so, they should have an assistive technology assessment for Oia to see if there are any devices to help give her a "voice". My son (now 31) had mild CP and used to have to touch others a lot as well to get their attention and to communicate.

  9. Ummmm. My initial response is that the teacher better watch out or somebody is going to deck her!

    I would say that a meeting is definitely in order. In particular, I would want to know the following:

    Is it the touching itself, or is Oia's touch rough, or perhaps to an area of the body not commonly viewed as appropriate (Lord known my kid hits me in the boob a million times a day)

    Also, is Oia being seated next to children who are sensitive to touch? I understand that some children on the spectrum and also those with sensory processing disorder might not be equipped to deal with the sensory input. In general, I'm surprised it's even an issue. I once subbed in a Kindergarten class and the whole freaking class attached themselves to my body to walk to the bus line at the end of the day. In general, I find young kids to be pretty touch feely (see also: kid hits my boob a million times a day).

    I'd also make sure the principal was present because HELLO this woman clearly needs to get some things straight.

  10. An IEP meeting is definitely in order. I am sick just reading this! I'm so sorry. And I too think she needs an augmentative communication evaluation. Oh my! So sorry you are dealing with this--on day 2 especially!!! Wade starts school on Monday, and I am already beside myself with anxiety.

  11. I can't even believe this happened! On the 2nd day?! As if you're not totally stressed already about her starting school...you didn't need this. Neither did sweet Oia! She has come a long way in communicating, and this just breaks my heart.
    I do think a meeting is in order as well. Especially since you already brought this up as a concern, and they assured you it wouldn't be a problem.
    Best of luck for you guys. I hope next week goes better :)

  12. YES a meeting is in order. I'm pretty upset right now! First of all, how experienced is this teacher? I mean...really. This is totally, in my opinion, unprofessional. #1 -- Discussed at the IEP. #2 -- Handled poorly. If the teacher was concerned, then she should have talked to you using appropriate, sensitive language that expresses her concern. I was a teacher. You were a teacher. ANY teacher knows that. I'm really upset about this. Poor sweet Oia. Good luck.

  13. Oh this just breaks my heart. This teacher needs to understand Oia's needs and how to include her in the classroom. The worst thing they can do is say no. Poor Oia! I hope once you can sit down with the teachers, ASAP, that things will change for her so she can continue to use her communication skills with support and understanding. And the whole 'getting decked' thing is unbelievable. Why isn't she teaching those kids that is not ok instead of waiting for it to happen. Intervention quick.