When someone talks to me about a pattern, a distinct image forms in my mind. I see 3 or 4 objects repeated in the same sequence over and over again.
But since I started recognizing the developmental issues in my two younger children, that definition had to expand.
You see, Autism changed the way I view every part of this world. It changed how I have to see everything.
My twins started full-day kindergarten this school year. And, despite having some issues, it’s been a reasonable success. But we have had some “hiccups”. Specifically with my daughter, Ballerina, who just left the special education classroom to enter a general education learning environment. And with that change came several new expectations. She is expected to fit in with everyone else. She is expected to follow the rules and routines set up by her classroom teacher. She is expected to learn and not be a disruptive force in the classroom.
For her, school starts the moment she steps into the building. The school houses Head Start, Pre-Kindergarten classes as well as Kindergarten through 5th grade. She is expected to join the other kindergarteners, first and second graders in the school cafeteria (a.k.a. “All Purpose Room”) and wait on line with her class so that she can be escorted to her classroom by the teacher. This started on the second day of school. On that first day, because she has a history of elopement (has not been an issue for over 2 years, but with a new school they rightfully felt it was necessary to be prepared), she was asked to walk at the end of the line to hold the teacher’s hand. This was a perfectly reasonable request. And, with minimal crying, she complied quite well. I walked away thinking that we were in good shape. She wasn’t alone in crying when parents left their kindergarteners behind. This one little problem would resolve itself quickly as she learned that this is how her day would go.
But I didn’t think about it. Dad and I have a saying around our house……”Once makes a pattern”. For Ballerina and her twin brother, Music Man, once you establish something once, that is the way it must be. Because they are so routine-driven, they take each individual action and make it their “routine”. So, when Ballerina was taken to the end of the line, in her mind, that’s where she belonged. When I dropped her off the next day, she went to the back of the line, and would continue moving back as other students arrived. After a little while, she distanced herself from her classmates so that they would know to sit in front of her, guaranteeing she would be the last person in line. When I noticed this, I became slightly concerned, but I assumed that she needed that moment to get used to be in the crowd. I consoled myself by thinking she just needed a slightly larger “personal space” with such a large number of children around her. I allowed myself to think it would resolve itself once she became more comfortable.
At the end of the second week, however, I realized the error in that assumption. A classmate decided that, for a change, HE wanted to be the line’s “caboose”. He ignored the space left by my daughter and sat behind Ballerina. To say Ballerina was unhappy about this would be an understatement. She tried to get behind him, and he leapfrogged her. After about 20 seconds, she was placing him in a mild choke-hold making sure that SHE was in the back of the line. I knew I had made a mistake. I was able to stand back and allow the school’s staff to handle the immediate situation, but I knew I needed to come up with a way to fix this. Quickly.
So, for the last two days, I have been addressing the issue. Ballerina and I walk together into the All-Purpose Room, and I sit with her. We sit behind the child last in line when we arrive. Ballerina must stay with me. I keep her on my lap, restraining her (as gently as possible, without allowing her to harm another student [she's a very strong kicker]). On the first day, she screamed from the moment we started until she left holding her teacher’s hand to walk to class (which involved a great deal of body dropping at least for the first portion of the walk [I wasn't able to see once they left the room]). But she did stay in the middle of the line and her teacher reported to me that she voluntarily went to the middle of the line later in the day (didn’t want to walk there, but at least we made that positive step). The second day started very similarly to the first. But this time, I got smarter and realized that she was used to ABA, with the regular rewards that come with success and compliance. I pulled out my iPhone. I told Ballerina if she could sit quietly, she could play with my phone for 1 minute. When that minute was over, I asked if she wanted another turn. When she told me she did, I reminded her to sit quietly for one minute and she would get the phone back. After about 45 seconds of her playing with the phone, she put it away when I told her it was time. She sat quietly for about 2 minutes. I gave her the phone again, but only for about 30 seconds. She handed it back to me and sat quietly, not asking for it again in the 4 minutes before her teacher came to escort her to class. She walked to class, in the middle of the line, quietly and behaving like a little lady.
It was my expectation going into this change in routine that it would take 3 days. I am prepared to jump right in tomorrow using my iPhone incentive. But perhaps it won’t be necessary. Like I said, for her Once Makes A Pattern. Now that we’ve succeeded in having her sit and walk in the middle of the line, perhaps we have achieved that “once”.
Sometimes it’s good to change the way you see those little things.