a completely gratuitous shot of my girl dressed for silly day last week.
just felt right to include it, cause, ya know, it’s kinda awesome
Okay, where were we?
It was two nights before the IEP Team meeting and we were armed and ready to go. When the day finally arrived, it was all I could do not to squeal on the way to school. Brooke, on the other hand, was a little less enthusiastic. After all, Mama being there in the morning is different. Different is challenging. Challenging is hunkering down and refusing to go anywhere.
But with some patience and gentle reassurance, we got through the initial resistance and I ultimately sent her off down the school hallway, carrying a backpack three times the size of her body, and on her merry way to class. I then went back to the car to kill the half hour before the meeting by wrapping scratch tickets in their #26Acts notes so that I’d be ready to hand them out at will once we went into the school.
Luau and I arrived in the meeting room a little early. He arranged the Dunkin Donuts we’d brought and spread the Boxes of Joe around the tables. And then we waited.
When the staff came in, the Inclusion Specialist who acts as our Team Coordinator asked if I would be willing to preview for the rest of the team what we planned to do when Brooke came in at the end of the meeting. I was happy to oblige, but I needed to say something else first.
I trembled as I tried to find the words. My voice shook from the get go, and I told them that as hard as I would try, the likelihood of avoiding tears wasn’t good. The Inclusion Specialist grabbed a box of tissues and stuck them in the middle of the table. After years of meetings together, she knows.
Since I was a little rattled, I can’t promise that this is exactly HOW I said it, but this is WHAT I said …
Before we begin, I need to say something on behalf of both me and Luau. We have always been so grateful for all that you do to support our girl. But this week, that gratitude has taken on an entirely new dimension. After the horrific events in CT, we, like all of you, were rattled to our core. But so too, we were reminded that what you all do every day is so very much more than a job. You take care of our babies.
When we read the heart wrenching story about the little boy who died in the arms of his aide, Luau and I, separately approached Ms J and said the same thing: ‘I know that you would have done that for our girl.’
The bottom line is that we know what ALL of you would have done for her – what you would *do* for her. And there are no words sufficient to convey what that means to us.
By the time I finished, most of the room was in tears, me included. I knew it was heavy, but it had to be said. Once it was out there, it was time to move on to the business at hand.
I explained that Brooke and I had made a recording. I told them that they were about to hear the worst Mae West cum Mary Magdalene impression on the planet, but that, well, it satisfied my kid, so there it was. I told them that I was nearly giddy with anticipation for them to hear the story. That I was thrilled above all that we’d managed to TRULY find a way for Brooke to express herself completely genuinely – with no prompting, no suggestion, no ideas but her own.
And then I asked that they take note of a couple of things while listening to the recording. Firstly, I wanted them to really, truly hear and understand the power of using something that Brooke loves - her ‘autistic special interest’ if you need a name for it – to create a platform for her to share her thoughts with us.
“I know that many people preach the urgent need to pull our kids out of their narrow range of interest,” I said. “But to me, this is proof of the folly of those efforts. Instead, I want us all to search for ways to leverage the things she’s interested in – to use them as a tool for learning. Just as easily as these characters can play roles in a play about school, they can do math, teach reading, illustrate social pragmatics in their interactions with each other. I implore you never to dismiss or discourage her interests but instead to use them as tools for learning.”
There were nods around the table.
“Secondly,” I said, “I want to ask you to take note of the pauses in the tape. You’ll see that there’s a fair amount of silence in the recordings. The waiting periods between the time that I ask Brooke a question or prompt her to take her turn in the story are, well, awkwardly long. But (and here I gave credit to the Social Prags therapist who had pointed this out to all of us last year), it’s vital, if we really want to get inside Brooke’s world, to give her enough time to process what’s being asked, what type of answer is expected, what she’d wants to say in response, and finally, how to access the words she needs to say it. That takes time. More time than we are used to giving to a partner in conversation. And it requires patience. More patience than we usually have. But it matters,” I said. “It matters a lot. Because if we can wait. what we get in response is BROOKE. And I can’t think of anything more worthy of the wait.”
When it was time, Ms J came to get her. She came bouncing in and took a seat next to mine. The energy in the room changed immediately. And dramatically. She does that – she shifts time and space and somehow rides in on a wave of electric joy. It’s a neat trick, that.
We told her that it was time to play our stories for the group. She pushed play on my phone and sat back in her seat with a grin.
As the recording played, I looked around the room. Every single person at the table was taking notes. Every one. They were writing down what Brooke was saying. The literacy specialist was crying. And it hit me. In that moment, the room was filled with the most important thing I could have asked for – RESPECT.
When the videos were finished, everyone thanked Brooke. They all told her that they were so glad that she had shared her thoughts with them. They all looked just as proud as she did.
Since she’d done what she’d come to do, I told her that it was time to get back to class. “No,” she said, “we’ll do more meeting.”
I wasn’t about to say no, and I dare say there wasn’t a soul in the room who would either. Her teacher asked if she’d like to do a celebration before we adjourned. I had no idea what that meant, but Brooke did. She bounced out of her seat, her eyes dancing with joy. “We will do a seal clap!” she yelled. “I will show you how!”
And that is exactly what she did. She crossed her arms across her chest and “clapped” her hands against her arms while doing her best imitation of a seal. And then, as per her request, the entire room followed suit. Yup, a roomful of teachers, therapists, specialists and parents were barking like seals. It was a sight to behold.
She tried to keep going, but once was all we could manage without losing all semblance of dignity, so her teacher suggested that she choose another celebration. “How about Elvis?” she asked. Brooke was all for it. Once again, she demonstrated first and then we all followed along, in unison, saying. “Thank you, thank you very much.” I have to admit that my Elvis sounded eerily similar to my Mae West / Mary Magdalene, but that’s neither here nor there.
Once again, we asked if she was ready to head back to class, but for the love of God, why would anyone want to leave this party? Besides, she had a plan.
Already standing, she bounced over to a nearby shelf and pointed to a box that sat atop it. “I will do a magic trick!” she announced. I will make this box disappear-o!”
And then she launched into Periwinkle’s script from Blue’s Clues:
Everybody say, “Hokus Pocus Brooke-a-cocus!”
Of course we were far too invested to do anything but oblige, so once again, in unison, we responded. “Hokus Pocus Brooke-a-cocus!”
She looked down at the box, which, sadly had failed to magically disappear, and said, “Uh oh, gotta gocus!”
And that was her cue to head back to class.
I snuck in a hug and told her how incredibly proud I was of her. And then she was gone.
I looked around the room. The smiles were too big to contain. But there was still work to do. We began to delve into some of the things that Brooke had said. Type to Learn might be a tool to lean on more often; breaks are important; they may need to look for more ways to help make chapter books more accessible and enjoyable.
Later in the day, I would write to the team.
i don’t know about y’all, but i kinda think that was the best team meeting in the history of the world, or, at the very least, the most unique.
thank you all, so much. the love and RESPECT for our girl in that room was palpable.
have a great day,
So nice to hear Brooke’s voice!
It’s great to be able to listen to what B really thinks about some parts of her day at school. She looked so happy and proud, it made my day. Thank you so much for your beautiful words, my job is really reinforcing and its moments like yesterday that make it all worth it.
Are you kidding? Having families like yours who appreciate and support teaching and learning and who respect human differences is appreciated more than you know!!
Thank you for the gift…I haven’t opened it yet, but it was really not necessary. Having your daughter is the best present ever!
I loved listening to the “interview” yesterday. Have a wonderful Holiday. It is a joy to work with Brooke. Thank you for your support.*Thank YOU for creating an avenue where B could express her feelings about the classroom and how we can help her continue to improve skills which she finds challenges. Your recording was amazing! B’s participation in the meeting was indeed incredible .. I’m glad that we got to end with a “celebration”*