Before Christmas, on G's birthday, actually, which is one week before Christmas, Alex and I had a major realization. As Georgia sat with Alex, Rainer, and I opening her gifts we were able to visibly watch her hit a wall.
It was a preferred activity (opening presents!), with a small group of people in a calm environment with the exception of Rainer, who couldn't understand why G wouldn't want to open every single present immediately and kept thrusting gift after gift at Georgia. He had picked out LOTS of little things for her and insisted that we wrap them all. G is much more into presents this year than ever before so I went with it. But as Rainer thrust them at her we watched Georgia go from REALLY EXCITED AND HAPPY AND VIBRATING WAY UP HERE to crashing and burning and draining her battery as though she were a cell phone way down here. She walked away from the gifts so she could walk in circles around the living room for awhile, listen to music, and dangle a necklace. (We'll get back to the necklace dangling sometime.)
While I have seen G "hit walls" before. This was the first time I feel like I *really* saw it in slow motion. And it was revelatory. How in the world, I wondered, could she cope in a classroom with near-constant stimulation, with many non-preferred activities, and demands placed on her, if she had this much trouble in a small envirionment doing a preferred activity with almost no demands placed on her at all?
The truth is. She wasn't. She couldn't.
The notes that came home from school read like a scorecard at a boxing match. Well, I assume. I don't know how they keep scorecards at boxing matches, but I hope you catch my meaning. Things were not good. G was "aggressive" towards friends and teachers (meaning, she would hit, poke, pull hair, kick), and refusing to do work much of the time. She was hitting her own head against the wall and on the floor. She was dropping to the floor and refusing to walk. She was "noncompliant" (and yes, I take issue with that word) often.
She was also, participating with many things, answering many questions, finally working more on art projects, walking down the hall to class on her own much of the time, and getting much better at saying hello and goodbye to friends and administrators (a goal due to her social difficulties), as well as proving she knows her stuff academically. All great things!
However, things were and have been extremely hard for her. The hard stuff was outshining the great stuff.
It was sitting there at her 6th birthday party with our little family that I realized something needed to be done. If Georgia was operating on a low battery because of sensory overload 95% of the time, she wasn't able to experience success in the classroom in which we had her. Though it was opposite all my grand notions of inclusive education, I knew she needed to be in a smaller setting, with fewer peers, and MUCH MUCH more structure, guidance, routine, and modification.
It's been a long road since December 18th. While it'll only be two months (to the day!!) between that realization and the day she starts in her new school (next week), I feel like I have traversed mountains to "get" here.
Today was her second visit to the new school. It went really well. She met the speech therapist (who has a puppet named Grandpa who looks surprisingly like G's own Grampie), and her teacher was back from maternity leave. She seems WONDERFUL. Everyone was flabbergasted that we receive virtually ZERO communication from the teachers and therapists at the old school, and showed me examples of the charts and daily logs that will come home with Georgia now. They talked about modifications, they talked about flexibility, they talked about structure and routine and letting Georgia show them where she is--rather than just reading the IEP. The teacher told me she's a big emailer (**swoooooon**) and I should expect to hear from her regularly.
For the first time since Georgia started school nearly four years ago, I feel like she is heading to the right place for her. Because I finally--finally--listened to her.
Don't get me wrong, I don't think I could feel right about this placement if we hadn't traveled the road we have traveled to get her here. I don't think I ever would have been able to take her out of a fully inclusive environment FIRST without giving her a chance. I think I always would have doubted myself, questioned myself, worried, wondered if she was going to mature out of some of her behaviors and difficulties (and she still may, but we need to operate from where we are, not where we wish to be).
But now she's here. Or she will be, next week. In a self-contained classroom. Her only opportunities for inclusion will be in the cafeteria, on the playground, and during specials. But there are opportunities. On the weekends she will play, again, on the adaptive baseball team (we're marching in the Little League parade at Camden Yards in April with the Orioles!), and she may take another special needs swim class. But she'll continue to go to church and participate in Religious Education with her typical peers. We'll continue to go to the pool and swim with everyone else. We'll go to the park and the grocery store, and she'll go to the inclusive summer camp she went to last year again. Georgia will always be included because, you know...we're a family and we do things!
And ya' know? It's alright. I wonder sometimes if all this fighting for inclusion, in a way, has been me fighting against the fact that Georgia has a disability. Not intentionally, but I guess in a way, I have been fighting this notion that perhaps she is different.
Ha! "Perhaps," I say...as if perhaps she is the same as every other kid.
The fact is, she's not. Not entirely.
And the truth is, that's okay. It's pretty freaking amazing actually. She's baffling and she can test me like no other, but she's really really cool. And people see it. The people who give her the time see how interesting she is.
Who gives a shit about different?? I should be more worried that she's just the same as anyone else.
She's unique in her way, like we all are.
I think the American educational system has a long way to go and there SHOULD ABSOLUTELY be inclusive opoirtunities for any kid who needs/wants it. I also feel like there should be some option between what we left and where we are going, but right now, here, there's not.
So. We're gonna try this new route for awhile. I don't know exactly what to expect, but I am hopeful.
Today G said goodbye to the friends and teachers in the old school. Because she was in the class for her second year, several of the teachers have gotten to know her really well. A couple of them really mean well and tried hard. Her aide, was awesome, and we will all miss her a lot (but not too much, because we're basically neighbors and will see her again really soon). All the kids hugged her goodbye and Georgia smilled and hugged her favorites back (she doesn't deign to love on anyone she doesn't actually love, that girl--honest to a fault), and they sent her on her way with two bags full of belongings and gifts of musical instrument-themed things, whistles, and necklaces. We gave the teachers tulips for their gardens.
This weekend I will gather school supplies, pack her backpack with a snack AND lunch, I'll put the finishing touches on an updated version of her All About Me book for her teachers and therapists. And next week, at an odd time of year, I'm going to send my big girl to Kindergarten!
She's on her way!