Monday, October 18, 2010

Not the Middle School I Remember

I just got a call from the assistant principal at Joey's middle school.  Joey got into trouble in his first period class on Friday and will have to do detention.  Oh. My. God.

Maybe I should start over and give a little background here.  Joey has autism.  Not the non-speaking, flailing limbed, people look at you like what the hell is wrong with your child autism.  Not Rain Man autism - he won't perform circus tricks or count cards in Vegas.  I'm certainly extremely sensitive and sympathetic of parents who have children with that type of autism, because life with autism is hard.  But I think that if Joey were reassessed today, he would actually be diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, which is a much higher functioning form of the disorder.  Joey didn't talk until he was four years old and we knew something was wrong - that something being developmental delays.  The psychologist for the school system who evaluated him actually gave him an I.Q. score of 62 and I sobbed.  But then Joey started to talk and we all realized oh my God, this kid is freaking smart!  62?  I don't think so.  Once he started talking, we quickly realized that not only was he smart, he could really do anything he set his mind to.  He just had, well, a few quirks.

Joey managed to overachieve every expectation I ever had of him.  When he was first evaluated, we didn't know if he would end up at an institution some day because we couldn't take care of him.  This summer, at age eleven, he finished all seven books in the Harry Potter series.  Did I mention that he's smart?  The kid loves to read!  He also loves video games and is impressively good at them.  He loves to play with the dog.  He likes bossing the younger neighbor boys around, in a Joey kind of way, because he's older and, obviously, he knows more than they do.  He's a gentle, kind, loving little soul who doesn't quite know where he fits into the world yet and doesn't quite "get" social relationships or how friendships work (one of the down sides to this autism thing).  He's innocent and I want to keep it that way.  But now he's in middle school.

I was under the possibly deluded idea that our society had become more accepting of people who were a "little different" (said in hushed tones).  My youngest son practically sailed through elementary school and I was lulled into a false sense of security when his teachers all told me what a joy he was to have as a student and how much the other kids loved him.  I thought, wow, things are really changing.  How amazing.  When I was in school, if you had glasses, you got called "four eyes."  If you had braces, you were "metal mouth."  You were tormented until you developed an eating disorder.  Now, if you have the slightest whiff of a "disability," they put you closer to the board and write you an IEP for an accommodation. 

Because Joey was diagnosed at age three with autism, he began school two years before kindergarten for early intervention.  He had wonderful teachers and understanding classmates.  He was included in the main stream, regular classes from the time he entered elementary school and, with help, he never failed to make the honor roll.  Every year, I would say to Justin, "I'm so scared this is the year that the kids are going to start teasing Joey."  And every year Justin would say, "You say that every year.  Joey's going to be fine."  A new year would start, Joey would come home happy, the kids wouldn't tease him, and I would sigh with relief and think wow, things have changed.

Apparently, they haven't changed that much.

Don't get me wrong.  Our middle school is really quite good.  I love the teachers.  They're flexible, they understand when your kid is having difficulty, and they have a very strict anti-bullying policy.  My older two sons managed to get through the same school without needing therapy.  I thought we might possibly be okay.  Um....

Joey began middle school this year with lots of practice beforehand (who'd have thought a kid would find his locker so much fun?) and a big brother in eighth grade, who I made swear to me that he would protect his vulnerable little brother.  Jamie is two years older than Joey and, honestly, his best friend in the world.  He told me recently, "If he wasn't autistic, I would probably sock him more."  Jamie's a great kid.  I figured that he would at least be there when the other eighth graders are around to make sure Joey didn't get clobbered on a regular basis just because he liked to obsess about his Mario Brothers video games.

What I just didn't figure on was the other sixth graders.  You know.  The ones he went to school with last year?

The first incident this year happened while Joey was working in a group.  In true, autistic fashion, he blurted out, "Oh crap! Oh crap! Oh shit!"  And some little turd tattled on him.

One thing about autism - it's honest.  If Joey has a thought, everyone knows it.  And yes, I do know where he learned those words.  I confess.  He probably learned them at home.  After he blurted out "dammit" in fourth grade and almost got kicked off of the in-school winter hockey team, we had many discussions about how it's not appropriate to say those words in certain places.  Unfortunately, Joey does not have the social filter that allows "normal" kids to say those words at will in a group of other eleven year olds, but be sweet as pie, language wise, whenever anyone in authority is in the room.  So Joey, without thinking, blurted out those magic words he's heard so many times around our home and promptly got told on to the teacher.  And got detention.

I managed to talk them out of the detention, because, really, shouldn't he get a little leeway for not always being able to control what he says?  To Joey, every word is equal.  A word is a word.  If we give these "naughty" words the power to get us into trouble, then aren't we really punishing a whole culture?  I hear these words out of every teenage mouth I pass by.  And, um, most adults.  Does the school system honestly believe that by giving a detention, those words will never pass my son's lips again?  With Joey, probably not.  He's going to say them.  I think there may be a connection between autism and tourettes syndrome, because Joey just doesn't seem to have the ability to think before he speaks.  Or maybe he just takes after his mother.

So that was the first incident.

Today I get the phone call.  The one I've been dreading since Joey started this whole school experience.  It's the assistant principal and I am informed that on Friday, Joey was being tormented by some little jerk who was flicking rubber bands at him.  In an effort to defend himself, my sensitive little guy picked up the nearest object handy which, unfortunately, happened to be a pair of scissors.  I suspect he was using them as a blunt object in self-defense and not trying to stab the kid, since no one got hurt.  But, he got written up and detention.

I ask you.  Who really deserves the punishment here?  The child who accidentally grabbed the wrong instrument in an effort to ward off flying objects being hurled directly at him, or the child who was tormenting him by flinging rubber bands at a disabled child?

I'm seriously thinking of home schooling.

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