Last summer, we place Ethan in Easter Seals autism preschool program, Intensive Therapy Autism Program or ITAP. We did this in order for Ethan to continue his progress that he had made through our school districtr's preschool program. He had made great strides...especially in his social skills....and we didn't want him to "lose" those things he had learned. Plus this program would include therapies that he desperately needs. It was perfect for us.
We were planning only doing the ITAP program for the summer, but we discovered that we could do it alongside of his existing district preschool program! We were thrilled! So, this year, Ethan has been going to ITAP for 3 hours, 2 mornings a week and attending his general education preschool every afternoon for 3 hours. Well folks, from the very beginning of this school year, Ethan has been fighting against this new schedule. At first we thought it was just due to his digestion issues. Well, that lasted for about 3-4 months before we discovered the issue & could help Ethan feel better. I assumed that once that subsided, his fits regarding going to school would stop. It didn't.
After Christmas, Ethan seemed to be even more agitated, and his teachers reported an increase in physical aggression towards his peers in the classroom. I asked the therapists at his ITAP program, and they too had noticed this change. We began looking into helping Ethan express his emotions in a more acceptable way by focusing on understanding his emotions. He can match an expression with a face, no problem. But actually knowing what that emotion feels like in his body.....there was the missing link. And that is a difficult thing to understand. Especially for Ethan who thinks that saying he feels anything other than "happy" is "wrong."
The other day, Ethan was frustrated with his fine motor skills. He became so frustrated that he threw whatever it was that he was playing with. Instead of getting upset about his reaction, I sat down next to him & told him that he was FEELING frustration. I pointed to the emotion card picture and repeated what he was feeling. "Ethan, you are feeling frustrated because putting the card back in the box is a little tricky. It's okay to feel frustrated. When you feel frustrated, use your words & tell me that you feel frustrated." This is how I have been instructed to help Ethan understand his emotions. A funny story...Ethan was in the bathroom taking a bath. I was in the living room picking up toys, and Ethan called for me to come & "watch him play." I told him that I was cleaning the living room and would be there soon. Pretty soon, we heard splashing from the bathroom & Ethan yelled, "Mommy! The face I am feeling is mad!" Hard to ignore the splashing behavior, but I was so excited that he recognized the feeling & verbalized it! I praised him with my excited voice from the living room....but I still didn't go in the bathroom. I didn't want him to think splashing equals mommy comes immediately.
So, this area has been going well. We have been using social stories about personal space, and ITAP has been working with him on what to do when you feel mad/sad/upet/etc. We even have given Ethan's preschool a copy of these materials to use at school as well. However, Ethan's willingness to go to school has still been decreasing. From the moment it's time to go to school to the time he walks into school, it is all out meltdown city. I have tried everything....an expected routine before school time, transition toys, positive & negative consequences, and even bribed him with fast food (his favorite). Somethings would work for a couple of days, and then back to war. I have taken him to the car literally kicking & screaming while I carry him...and this kid is 52 pounds! One particular day a couple of weeks ago, Ethan was so upset that he began banging his head against his car window & biting himself. I pulled into the parking lot of school, carried him inside, and he reluctantly went with his peers. I came back to the van, and guess what happened.....yep.....I lost it.
The next day as we started to begin to get ready for school, he started up again. Folks, I just didn't have it in me anymore. I deemed ourselves a "Snow Day" since several schools in our area were closing for bad weather. I just needed a break from war. He had worn me down, and I was waving the white flag in defeat. Everything is a battle with him....eating, sleeping, self help skills.....and I was ready to pull him out from school. At that point, I just didn't think it was worth the fight nor did I think I had any fight left in me.
I kept Ethan home from school the rest of the week. We still attended ITAP and went to our church's playgroup in order to get in some socializing. That Saturday, he spent several hours at my sister's house with her 2 kids, and she reported no aggressive behavior whatsoever. Maybe the break was doing Ethan some good as well. Maybe I should pull him out of preschool?
Well, after a few days of "recovery," I came back to my senses. Pulling Ethan from preschool would not solve any issue he was having....it would just be running away & Ethan needs to learn to work through things....not be put in a bubble...no matter how much I would love that protection. Ethan is able to handle this situation, and I needed to take my big girl pill and face it too.
This past Thursday, Corey & I had a meeting with his principal, his classroom teacher & his case worker. We found out that Ethan's behavior in the classroom had drastically improved in the last several weeks before our self given break from school. Seems as if working on emotions has been helping! So why the recent extreme fits??? We brainstormed several ideas, and it was a very wonderful meeting. We think maybe the transition from playing at home to coming to school is hard on him.....as transitions are usually difficult for him. Since a transition toy did not help Ethan, I am now the transition toy. :0) I will be walking Ethan to his classroom door, bypassing the students lining up at the door. And if I need to stay & eat lunch with him, I will do that too. And the last 2 days, I have done so. And it seems to be helping a lot.
Ethan is not the only one learning & progressing. I have learned a lot this school year, too. I'm so thankful for Ethan's team to be helping him but helping me learn as well. Would I handle this situation differently in the future? Probably. Did I learn a lot during this time? Absolutely. We all want the best for Ethan & want him to have a positive learning experience, and we are sooooo blessed to have these particular teachers & therapists in our lives. We all know that bad days will occur....maybe even bad weeks. But having a group of people that are flexible & understanding makes things so much easier.