Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Sovereign Child and The Change of Plans

Joey was awesome last week in his Production Camp with Stage Door Stars. He rocked it, they rocked it, the week was awesome and the play was fabulous. He was Baloo the Bear in the Jungle Book. You know he rocked it.

So he was totally excited this week to be in Dance Camp. After all, Joey loves to dance.

No, wait, let me type that properly: Joey LURVS to dance.

Get him up on stage and let him dance? Oh, yeah, he was all about it. The theater productions are so inclusive, and wonderful, and fun, we were very, very excited to be doing a dance routine. Joey was all grins.

Better yet, we got the awesome young man who was Joey's assigned aide last year as his dance camp aide. Huzzah! Mr. Dan rocks the house! I watched him beam all the way to the auditorium, and then dutifully left to let Joey do his Joey thing.

Needless to say, I was confounded and saddened to be met at the door at five o'clock by the camp director and a person I believe was the special ed person for the camp, telling me Joey had refused to dance. He had been upset, refused to do anything, and finally they let him do some painting with his buddy in a break room. In fact, he had painted for a good half and hour. Did I mention that Joey isn't much into art projects?

We talked about making schedules and breaks and other stuff, and decided to just try again the next day. Today. I found out from another parent who had seen the initial issue that he seemed to think he had been teased, and that's where it all started. And I noticed as we were leaving that there was a little girl in the dance camp with whom Joey does not particularly get along. Hmm.

I should be more specific about that. I noticed the little girl's mother. (And I should also note that these are very nice people, and the little girl is just fine, she and Joey just don't mix well).

He wasn't so happy about it when I dropped him off, but I sent him in reinforced with a checkers set and a extra bottle of water.

The call came just before 3. Could I come get Joey? He was not participating and was being "defiant." Cussing under my breath that people who work with special needs kids don't know the difference between a defiant child and a stressed out over-anxious child trying to communicate, I left Andy with Grandma and headed over to camp to see what the flying flip was going on.

They were awaiting me at the front desk, confused. They know Joey loves to dance. The dance teacher came over, and insisted Joey could do all these things, he was just refusing to, and there was just something about her attitude that made my ears prick and set off me "doesn't get it" radar. One thing we have learned is that people who work with special needs kids often don't really understand autism. They can work with a lot of other kinds of disabilities, and completely miss how to work with an autistic child.The very wordiness of her manner put me on guard. When I asked if we could teach him his routine for the show one-on-one, she said something about not being fair to the other students. Something was not right here. I decided it was time to ask Joey what was going on, and I wanted to do it while we were still in the building, to see if we could fix the breach.

He was in an art room, pretending to drive a car and making rings out of pipecleaners "to pay for treasure!" He seemed actually pretty content, with his buddy, making stuff. I made some inquiries. They showed me a dance move- a Travolta-esque point, where he had to cross his body with his arm. Joey started getting upset when he saw it. I tried to get him to show it to me, but the cross-the-midline move was not helping whatever was wrong. Then the young lady from the dance class (not the dance teacher, but a helper-teacher) said something about "popping" her knee- ie, to bend it out in a quick motion. The word bothered Joey, and honestly I think it confused him. But I did get him to make the move, and asked if we could now learn the next one- perhaps I could help break it down and teach him. The dance teacher was called.

She came in, and said the next thing to do was a pliƩ. Now, if you have never had a dance class in your life like me, this is what that is. Actually, if you go to that page, note that what they wanted was technically a "demi-pliƩ." Anyhow, after the young lady explained it to me, and the teacher fussed about how she had told Joey what it was yesterday, and how awkward it was for me to do, I can understand why Joey might not be happy about this. What happened to fun stage-dancing and learning a little routine to enjoy being on the stage? Joey squealed that he would fall over, and the teacher said they had done it with a bar yesterday, and he could do it with a chair. Only she used a lot more words than that. I couldn't get her to be quiet while I tried to delve the mystery and perhaps give this a try.

Then the next bomb dropped: Joey was going to be the star of the show, because he was the only boy, and the next dance move was going to be with a girl!

Ok, seriously? He's an eleven-year-old boy who has never had a lick of formal dance training in his life. So they sent him into a room full of girls, and then wanted him to dance with one, right away? But wait- it gets better. Because the class trooped in to do an art project for the stage set... almost a dozen young ladies, ranging from about eight to about fourteen, and all wearing adorable little dance leotards and stockings.

And they thought Joey would not feel something was amiss here?

Nobody mentioned to me that he should have special dance clothes. I am sure he was not expecting to walk into what, to him, looked like a ballerina school; and it is likely that those young ladies did find him amusing.

Naturally, Joey fled to the hall, and we had a chat. We talked about not having people laughing at you stop you from doing something you love. Then, we talked about being the only boy in the room, and that made him uncomfortable. Finally, we talked about art camp- perhaps he could do dance next year, and do art camp this year?

Because you know what? I wasn't going to force Joey to go back into a room full of giggling girls and try to learn to dance in front of them, when he was telling me he didn't like them watching him learn to dance. Especially when he was telling me so. As in, with words. He was pulling together the words to express what he had been telling us for almost two days. I am so, so proud of him for being able to do that, and work it out between us and find those words: I'm uncomfortable. They are laughing at me. I don't want girls watching me learn to dance.

The art class was working on Matisse collages- cutting out shapes and pasting them to paper. It was much more relaxed. We got Joey some orange paper (he's very into orange right now), scissors, and there was a box of markers. Cutting out the shapes directly made him anxious, so we let him draw some. I showed him how a random cut could look like something, like looking at clouds. Dan showed him that after you cut out a shape you've drawn, when you turn it over, its just a shape. We ended up with a masterwork: a bear with fruit, which Joey is calling "The Bare Necessities."

I can hardly wait for the art show on Friday.


farmwifetwo said...

Glad he was able to tell you what was wrong. Art camp sounds like fun.

Have you ever thought to put him into karate etc?? My kids enjoy(ed) it a lot. On Sun Russ participated in their picnic on his own. Big bro was near him, but I never had to get out of my chair. Was it perfect... nope. Was it awesome... oh yeah!!!! We lasted 2.5hrs of the 4. Through the games and lunch. Then we left while everyone was having a good time but ready to go.

Anonymous said...

This IS rather confusing. Apparently your son didn't want to dance, AND his camp director AND special ed 'person' provided him with another option.
I really don't understand why this would upset you, though it appears that it did.
And, as you've indicated before that your child can be violent, and weighs over 200 pounds, perhaps this was a good outcome.

Anonymous said...

To be more specific, your post seems to indicate that you were not happy with the experience for which you signed up your child.
I completely understand that - not every experience is right for every child.
However, to make this a problem that was inflicted on your child? Not sure why.
Good luck with that.

Anonymous said...

And finally 'Cussing' under your breath won't win you any friends, nor help your child.

Anonymous said...

Your response to your son's situation is so wrong, on so many levels.
Good luck with it. Especially if you would like to excuse your son for being violent.

Inky said...

Hi, I'm a lurker named Jayne. And I really don't know who katelynn lee is, but she should go away. As I've been reading this blog for a while, I have a pretty good sense that Joey's mom knows Joey, that Joey's mom sees her job as trying to make his life as happy and fulfilled as possible, and that she uses this blog as way of documenting the process of loving and living with Joey. I, too, have had the experience of meeting professionals who work with special needs kids yet fail to deal appropriately with my kid (and he's a forty pound five year old), who talk too much at him, and engage him harder and louder instead of backing off. Now, if Joey's mom had taken to Slate, or Huffpo, or the NYT to blow off some steam about her son's camp experience, you could leave all manner of nasty comment for her. But she's processing and writing about her experiences in real time on her personal blog, so you really have no call to be rude and judgmental. In other words: sod off.

Anonymous said...

I understand that Joey has autism. That is the only reason I visited this blog in the first place. I hope that Joey can have a happy life.

I certainly didn't intend to be rude. However, on re-reading my comments, I understand that they didn't appear polite. Of course, I didn't say 'Sod off', or say that you should 'go away'. Good luck with that attitude.

And I don't know who you are, either. 'Sod off?' OK, I shall. I don't plan to read this blog again, as it seems to be a rant about how poorly the world treats her children.

I also don't think that cussing out your caregivers is a good strategy. To each her own.

As to being judgmental, well, I was just noting what Joey's Mom said in her own blog. Like any parent, she wants the best for her child. However, she has also stated that he can be violent, and I hope that his support team - if not his parents - can help to address that. Dance class apparently didn't work out. That's life.

I do hope Joey can continue to grow and have a happy life.

Anonymous said...

OK, I do need to apologize. My earlier comments were truly uncalled for on so many levels.
I think you handled the situation well under the circumstances. otoh, dance camp sounds almost exactly like I would have expected. I would have been TERRIBLE at dance camp, even if I liked to dance.
Not to rant [because I did that already], but I was always the uncoordinated one in school, last chosen for teams [do they still let the kids choose the teams?], etc.
And I'm sure you're doing the very best you can to make a good life for your sons.
Again, I am very sorry.

Joeymom said...

Wow, away for a few days... and wow.

First, I think the director and the special ed person did just fine. Our "problem" was the dance teacher, who simply did not understand autism. We were surprised and saddened by this, as the camp is awesome and they do a lot of work with autistic kids- but this also a common problem with special needs programs. Autistic kids are very different in their experiences and motivations than kids with other disabilities. The problem comes with the resulting attitude, revealed in talking about Joey as "defiant." It is a similar attitude that is revealed in discussing my child as "violent." He is neither.

However imagine you sign up for a camp, where previously you had been singing fun camp songs. You walk into the room, and there is a loud, screeching sound being made on the CD player. You are told you must stay in this room all day and learn to sing opera. In Sanksrit. What might you do?

Probably the first thing you would do is ask for someone to make that noise stop. Perhaps you would start with words. "Please turn that off." "Can we turn the noise down?" "Ouch! That hurts my ears!"

The teacher responds by telling you not to be silly, that this is the music you need to learn to sing to, and music is good for you. They encourage you to sing along.

Next, you might try some body language. Cover your ears. Scrunch your face. You might even try to leave!

In response to this, you are told you are being defiant. The teacher might start talking to you sternly, again saying things like, "sit down!" and "covering your ears in inappropriate!" or "Why are you doing that? Stop it! You're bothering everybody!"

Are you ready to start screaming yet? How about if this has been going on for a couple hours? When do you start trying to get your needs across in a more- um, clear fashion?

Are you defiant and violent? Are those words that are appropriate to apply to you as a person? What is the difference between anxious and frustrated, and defiant and violent?

This is our third year at this camp. What Joey was expecting- from that and from the camp description- was more stage dancing, like they do in the stage productions. We were expecting there to be a better balance between boys and girls- they have several boys who are interested in dancing, just like Joey. So the nature of the camp was a definite surprise.

Fortunately, I can also report the art camp was awesome. Relaxed, accommodating, supportive- and Joey loved it! I will be posting some his awesome work soon!