You’re On Notice

Life with autism is often described as a roller coaster — long, slow steady uphill followed by precipitous drops. Lately, ours has resembled more of a fever chart, as Ryan’s moods spike wildly between happiness and explosive anger, with very little in between.

Fever Chart
Life has looked like this lately …
Curve Chart
… instead of like this, which is more typical.

Whenever there is a sudden change in behavior, we go searching for the cause. Often, there is a trigger that can be pinpointed. Ryan and I had a perfectly wonderful weekend in Washington with almost zero issues. He and Riley got into a screaming match within five minutes of our return, and by Monday morning our house was a disaster area. Ryan got himself worked into such a state while waiting for our old friend the school bus that Veronica could do nothing to comfort him.

He was angry — even before getting to the bus stop — over his bus driver’s various rules. She has assigned seats and the children are not allowed to open the windows, and according to Ryan everyone he has to sit near is a “stupid girl.” That was all before the bus showed up late, with a substitute driver, because of course it did.

His temper continued all afternoon and again at bed time, where I tried mostly in vain to talk him down for about 20 minutes before he asked me to leave. He fell asleep quickly out of sheer exhaustion. The poor child is suffering from allergies. He has dark circles around his eyes. He looks like hell. Oh, and just for fun, his facial tic is back after mostly disappearing the last few weeks.

We didn’t have to hunt far to settle on the likely cause of this sudden onset of extreme anxiety: standardized testing.

Our state’s No Child Left Behind Act mandated standardized tests began this week. I’ll be perfectly honest — I don’t give a flying &$@# how Ryan does on the test. (OK, that’s a lie. We were thrilled when he scored at least proficient in all areas last year.) What I hate about the test is the pressure the teachers and administrators put on the kids. A few years ago, I was visiting their elementary school for career day when I spied a “XX days until the test” calendar in the front of a classroom. I was horrified.

Look, I get it. I know the schools are under immense pressure to score well on the tests.

But honestly, that’s their problem. Don’t pass it on to the kids. Both Ryan and Riley are showing the strain. When I asked Ryan if he knew why his tic was back, he told me he was trying to get it out of his system before testing began on Monday so it wouldn’t distract him. He wants to go to bed extra early because he has been told he needs a good night’s sleep. He reminded us he needs to eat a nutritious breakfast each morning.

Riley said the principal announced over the PA that the kids needed to “write until their hands fell off.” For the past week she has come home daily with a different story of a different teacher applying pressure to perform on the test. She has been near tears complaining about the stress she feels because of it. She is an honor student. She will pass with flying colors. But no amount of soothing from us can ease her worries.

With Ryan, his anxiety is reflected elsewhere and it’s taking a toll on all of us.

It is simply unfair to place the burden of the schools’ reputation on the backs of the children. Teach them, encourage them to do their best, emphasize that it matters … fine. But do not hold this test out like some horrible monster that threatens to ruin the school if they don’t ace it. I would hate this approach even if both my children were neurotypical. But with a special needs child that struggles daily with anxiety, I just wish the teachers and administrators could see the destruction this approach leaves in its wake.

A day like Monday not only takes the wind out of your sails, it leaves us all saddened and defeated. Our weekend road trip highs were but a forgotten memory by the time we got Ryan to bed. Look, if not for the standardized testing, there may well have been some other cause that produced the same result. But that doesn’t mean I’m happy about any of this.

Standardized testing, you’re officially On Notice.

You're on noitce
Standardized Tests, you’re on notice!
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8 thoughts on “You’re On Notice

  1. Jake had tics and severely increased anxiety before his first foray into state testing this year. I hated every moment. I’ll be thinking of you guys. State testing is the worst!!

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    1. Hearing that from a lot of people. Thankfully, Ryan finished yesterday and it looks like we will get through the week without further incident.

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  2. Finding triggers is important, but can be difficult. I have OCD and a lot of times it appears to others that I get mad “out of nowhere,” and I’ve heard the same thing said about my mom (that she got mad “for no reason”). But no one gets mad “for no reason” — it’s a silly accusation. Anyway, I’m sorry to hear about you and your kids having to go through all this. 😦 Tests should be given in a relaxing environment — the results will be more accurate that way!!

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    1. Thanks for this reply. It sounds simple, but I think we all often overlook that of course nobody gets mad for “no reason.” There’s always a reason. Autism has forced us to spend a lot of time thinking about triggers and really trying to understand what drives certain behaviors. Sometimes the best you can manage is an educated guess. I’m thrilled that my son’s expanding communication skills mean that, more often than in the past, he is able to tell us what the triggers are.

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  3. Amen to the relaxing atmosphere idea. I totally agree with you. Wish that there was something that I could do.

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    1. We’re pretty confident Ryan has all the accommodations he needs to take the test in the proper atmosphere — it’s the anticipation and the elevation of its importance that does him in. Thankfully it’s now behind us for another year.

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  4. Ugh – I don’t remember pressure like that when I was a kid for standardized testing. Not at all. I mean, I test well & maybe that’s because of it. I enjoyed standardized test days – we usually got out early, we didn’t have to do some of the regular classroom activities that may have bored or irritated me – and again, because I did well on tests, it seemed kind of enjoyable, filling in those little circles & such. But I do know that there were no countdowns to test day, there were no daily announcements to encourage us to do this or that because there were tests coming. They’d just remind us some short time in advance that our schedule would be different because of testing & that was it.
    So ridiculous. Ugh & Argh.

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