I walked into Finn’s pre-school classroom to help the class make a Fall themed craft for some senior citizens. I waved at Finn, but tried not to make too much of a fuss. He smiled at me, but I knew that look in his eye. On the inside, he was happy to see me, but he couldn’t take the surprise of my presence (even though I told him before school that I was coming.)
He started to melt down, so the teacher took him into the hallway. I didn’t know if I should go and help her calm my own child or if I should leave it to her. I decided since I was the reason he was upset that I should just stay put.
I sat at the miniature sized table fumbling with maroon colored raffia ribbon and fought back the urge to jump up when I heard Finn screaming in the hallway. Unbeknownst to me, there was a little girl sitting at the table and staring at my erratic behavior. I tried to pull it together. I introduced myself and said, “Hey cutie, what’s your name?”
She said, “You’re Finn’s Mom. Finn’s bad.”
Another little girl walked up and chimed in and said, “Yea, he hits everyone.”
I felt like the air left the room. A lump was starting to well in my throat and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to compose myself.
I finished the craft with the two little girls (and no Finn). I ran ran out of the school as fast as I could and cried all the way home.
That was two years ago.
On Monday, Finn started the first day of the rest of his school life. He was back in the inclusion setting for 100% of his day. It was such an amazing milestone for him.
A day I didn’t expect to come so fast.
A day I would have never wrapped my brain around on that terrible craft day back in pre-school.
I am so grateful for every pitfall in this fated journey.
I said it before, but the day Finn was classified into a self contained classroom was one of the worst days of my life. Not because I never thought he would see the light of an inclusion classroom again, but because I felt like I failed him. I didn’t know the law. I didn’t know how to advocate for him. I let the school make me believe that inclusion was the best place for him and watched them let him sink to the bottom without a shred of support or accommodation until it was too late.
He was overwhelmed and defensive. He needed to feel safe and supported. I didn’t know how to help him.
When Finn started pre-school, they told us “inclusion was best for him because he would model the other children’s behavior.” He couldn’t have cared less about the other kids. They only complicated his day. They were loud and unpredictable and they touched his stuff. The only thing he learned from that setting is that if you hit a kid when they touch your stuff then you get to leave the classroom and go for a walk.
It took almost 2 years to unlearn the damage those first 6 months in pre-school did.
I never cared that he was self contained. If educating Finn in a room full of fish made him happy in his own skin, then I was all for it. I just didn’t want him coming home and saying he was “a bad boy” and he wanted to kill himself (at age 4!)
His self contained teacher was like a grandmother to him and his aide was like a fairy Godmother. They loved him and he loved them. They made him feel safe. They let him write “really big numbers” and they helped him learn to love school.
That whole first year of school, Finn didn’t leave his classroom to attend a “special” (like gym, art or music). He couldn’t handle the transition. He couldn’t walk in a line with other kids. He couldn’t handle the noise.
The following year, he stayed self contained, but started going to specials (with the help of his brother at first and then a peer buddy). And then in the Spring of last year, I wrote this about Finn dipping his toes in the inclusion pool. It’s so amazing to see how far he has come.
I posted on Facebook a few weeks back that Finn said, “Kids like me because I’m a good boy.” You have no idea how that made my heart sing! He is like a different kid now.
I volunteered in Finn’s classroom for Center time yesterday. While waiting to be let into the room, I stood outside the classroom and peeked in the door. One of his friends told him I was there and he turned to see. My heart sank. He smiled and waved and went back to his work. I danced a little jig in the hallway alone. When I got into the room, he said, “Mommy, I wish I could be at your Center, but that’s ok.”
It felt like a lifetime since that stupid Fall craft in pre-school.
I always knew he could do it. I just needed to believe.