Identifying Stressors and Checking Perceptions

I know that Thursday is all about the thingamajigs that we find helpful. Originally my thought was to share actual tangible things, things with parts and texture, effective apps for all things with screens. But that is too limiting, I think.

For the last few months Drawman has been complaining obsessing about how he hates two of his classes. These are normally classes he enjoys as he finds the content interesting. When pressed for reasons why, Drawman gets impatient and tells me it’s the other kids who act like thugs. Gee, honey, what does that look like exactly?

Hard as I tried, I could not determine if his discomfort was a problem with teacher behavior management, Drawman’s misinterpretation of peer group antics, anxiety-based thinking errors, boredom, or the content has just become more difficult and he is not connecting to it.  I couldn’t tell if some of his peers were being ‘thugs’ every day, throughout the class time or only occasionally. I couldn’t tell if he was being picked on or if peers were joking around and he wasn’t understanding their humor.

I was in contact with the school and we discussed how to schedule Drawman for his sophomore year. He kept reporting that he wanted to be in more general ed classes because he missed those peeps and the kinds of class discussions that take place in those classes. You see, right now, he receives most of his content area instruction in cross cat pull out classes. These classes used to be LD kids only. They have evolved, in the last 4 years or so, to more cross cat pull out classes. Someone forgot to provide the teachers of these classes with any refreshers on UDL and differentiation. They also forgot to provide adequate support to these teachers. The students that seem to drag the whole thing down are the ED/EBD kiddos. My favorite group. I spent my whole career with this group and the work was fascinating, challenging, satisfying. And I loved every minute of it. But many of these students do not belong in a mix of students with cognitive challenges, social communication deficits, and more fragile or timid personalities. They tend to take class discussions in directions some of their nonED/EBD peers are not able to enjoy or benefit.

So, since Drawman is very bright, very kind and responsible AND has lower tolerance for too much teacher verbiage (lecturing/sit and get), processes language  a few beats behind, and needs to be offered a variety of ways to show and apply what he has learned, we thought these smaller pullout classes would serve him well for his Freshman year. Little did we know that although these classes were supposed to be small, 10-12 kids, they were actually full to capacity with 20 students or more.  And the range of ability was crazy.

As I worked this over in my mind in the wee hours of each morning, I realized we could not make assumptions (see yesterday’s post) about what Drawman was telling us. That we really did not have enough information to warrant a complete schedule overhaul. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. And while in a perfect world, my bright kid on the spectrum would be included in all general education classes with whatever supports he needed, budgets won’t allow for it, teachers and schools are not ready for it. They just aren’t. Some schools say they are full inclusion, but they do a half assed job of it and students suffer.

Anyway, the challenge here was figuring out what was really bugging Drawman in these two classes. His case manager had popped in the class more than once and observed nothing unusual.

We needed to see through Drawman’s lens. We needed him to document what he was experiencing in these classes. If he is the one doing the documenting, that gives us a great way to better understand where his discomfort is coming from, how he is perceiving all that goes on. If he does the documenting and then his safe adults reflect with him about what he has documented, perhaps he will better understand it himself.

So, today’s thingamajig is the daily documentation form below.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 11.25.49 AM

It took a bit for me to work out the categories. I had to be mindful of how I worded those column titles. I wanted the focus on Drawman’s perceptions and internal reactions. I did not want it limited to other student behaviors. I also wanted Drawmwn to report what he was finding positive and of benefit in his classes so we could understand the proportionality of actual events and his reactions to them.

I can report today that this thingamajig has been highly effective. HIGHLY effective. Because Drawman is a reflective guy with personal insight, this worked. We were able to help him understand that some of what he was reporting as cause for stress was just typical teenage behavior and we are able to help him understand that taking what is said literally is part of the problem. Enter his social communication teacher (who is FABUALOUS). She has already developed social stories and meaningful ways to practice interpretation of what high schoolers say and how they act.  We also discovered that he is enjoying much of what is going on in his classes, that he reports much of the work and class discussions are good enough. In looking at his documentation, Drawman discovered that what was triggering him was not happening every day, many days, but not every day and worrying about what might happen was taking a lot of energy.

We will continue with this daily documentation as it seems to be a good thing for Drawman to look at. It’s a way for him to decide if his reactions are based in misperceptions, misinterpretations. And this allows for him to begin to apply all the great strategies his supporters have taught him. He is introspective enough to make good use of this tool.

Full disclosure. As a mom I am disheartened that teachers aren’t already doing these things for kids as a way to fully understand and that I had to figure this out.  As a former teacher and current consultant I can pump my fist and shout, ‘score!’

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2 thoughts on “Identifying Stressors and Checking Perceptions

  1. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that can have the most impact! I can see the amount of time that went into that wording. It leaves so little room for even the most literal of thinkers to go off kilter. Thanks for this! You are a total rockstar!

    Liked by 1 person

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