Silver Linings

Silver Lining
Every cloud has a silver lining (image from constructionweekonline.in)

In a continued effort to weigh the benefits vs. side effects of Ryan’s medication, we have altered his dose this week. We’ve done this in concert with his doctor, of course.

The doctor is just one part of the team. Before we sent Ryan to school on Monday we needed to ask the help of the rest of the team: his teachers, therapists, and aide. A lengthy email went out Sunday night, explaining the change and our reasons for it, and asking for feedback.

Monday came and went with no feedback. Ryan was in a good mood when he got off the school bus. His facial tic, the main reason for changing his medication, was reduced but not gone. We didn’t notice any major changes in his behavior, positive or negative. His appetite — another reason for the change — was much greater.

Tuesday came the first feedback from one of Ryan’s teachers. In a long, detailed email, she described how she found Ryan crying in her classroom immediately after lunch. He calmed down, but didn’t appear to be his usual self — distracted, regularly dropping his pencil, disorganized. She provided plenty of clues to his behavior. She apologized for writing so much. She told us how her heart broke for him.

Veronica forwarded the email to me, adding one word:

Crap!

We were really hoping his teachers would tell us everything was the same, there was no discernible difference. Deep down, we both want him not to need medication, especially since we hate the side effects and are dreading the thought of trying something different.

But as we discussed it, we quickly came to a few conclusions. We were amazed by the time, effort and caring his teacher had shown in giving us such detailed feedback. When you ship your kid off to school each morning, and all you get out of the question, “how was your day?” is a grunted “fine,” you hope that the team members will be your eyes and ears during the day. To see such tangible evidence of that is very reassuring.

Second, we needed to talk to Ryan to see if we could figure out what had upset him. There were a couple of clues in the email. This class was right after lunch, and the teacher told us Ryan said he needed to come into her room so he could forget something that happened during lunch.

Lunch is not an easy time for Ryan. He rarely eats anything, a combination of appetite suppression and an extreme sensory reaction to the food smells in the cafeteria. Of course we feared that he had been picked on or bullied. We needed to talk to him to find out.

Third, as much as it wasn’t the feedback we were hoping for, hearing a teacher clearly describe a different, more distracted, more anxiety-prone Ryan makes the decision to continue medication, or to steel ourselves to find a different one that works better, easier.

Veronica called me as soon as Ryan got off the bus. She expected to find him in a bad way, perhaps sobbing over the incident at lunch. He has a very hard time processing his emotions and doesn’t have levels of being upset. He’s either fine, or completely distraught.

A few minutes later, she forwarded me her reply to the teacher, which contained details of her conversation with Ryan. There was an incident at lunch that upset him, but it wasn’t a case of being picked on. There was a “silent lunch,” meaning no one was allowed to talk. (We don’t know why, and suffice it to say we’re not thrilled with this method of disciplining the entire school for what we suspect is unruly behavior by a segment of the class). Ryan was very angry about not being able to talk during lunch, and I can’t really blame him. It takes so much effort for him to suppress his urge to blurt things out — things not always related to the subject matter — in class. Lunch is a time when he can let things out a bit, and I can imagine how much it upset him to be told he couldn’t talk. Ryan went on tell Veronica that he cried in that particular class because he feels so comfortable with that teacher. He said when he saw her he knew that he could be upset and she “would still like him.”

The words stung. I felt for my boy, torn up inside for a reason that would be difficult for most to understand. I worried about him getting ostracized for crying in school.

But there was hope in those words as well. I have never heard Ryan so clearly express his emotions. I have never heard such self-advocacy. I’m not sure I knew he was capable of either. Both the psychologist and psychiatrist he works with struggle to get him to describe his feelings to them. It’s hard not to see this as a real breakthrough.

Since I’m looking for silver linings, I nee to add how wonderful it is that Ryan has found such comfort level in his new school and with his new teachers. That he specifically sought out this teacher’s classroom as a place he could comfort himself again gives me reassurance that he is being properly looked after and supported at school.

We don’t know if medication had anything to do with this incident, which we have seen in different forms many, many times at home. But as we search for answers and the path that will give our son the best chance at happiness and success, it’s awful nice to know how many people are invested in that same search.

Best of all is the knowledge of Ryan’s growing self-awareness and self-expression, both of which will be critical as he finds his place in a world that doesn’t quite conform to the way he would like it to be.

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5 thoughts on “Silver Linings

  1. What a breakthrough! Sorry to hear that he had such a rough time in class that afternoon, but his ability to explain “the why” behind it is amazing! I hope to hear “the why” some day…thinking of you all as you work through the medication dosage change.

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  2. I have heard of Silent Lunch and other such group punishment methods that educators and other youth related groups use. The general idea is of course is that peer pressure will influence the “bad kids” to behave. I know I always approched the kids that were “bad” and suggested they stop their “bad” behavior. (Yeah right!) It really only makes the “good kids” feel deprived and helpless as they see the so called Leader(s) unwilling to stop the behavior. Do they think this really worsk. I wonder how many others this silent lunch affected in a negative manner. Maybe the kid that needed to talk to their friend about a crisis in their life? Someone asking for an explination on an assignment? Hundreds of simple things. Dumb educating to allow a group to rule the entire social dynamics of a school.

    On the upshot…yeah on the emotions, recognizing issues and seeking help in a safe haven. That is very positive growth which we will celebrate. And high-fives to the teacher! I wish they all were that aware.

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  3. I loved this: “When you ship your kid off to school each morning, and all you get out of the question, ‘how was your day?’ is a grunted ‘fine,’ you hope that the team members will be your eyes and ears during the day.” — So true!

    I will say, as a teacher, that when schools and teachers use that “punish the whole group” thing, it’s because there are so many kids participating in the negative behavior that they can not possibly approach all of the individuals. It’s unfortunate that this is the case, and I don’t necessarily agree with a silent lunch, but there is very little follow through with discipline at home these days, and educators are just trying to do what they can in the time and space they have.
    My son often eats in his ASD room to avoid the sheer noise of the lunch room. I’m thankful his teacher allows him to do this.

    In any case, so glad to hear he was able to advocate for himself — that’s HUGE! : )

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