Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Revelation

I had my mind blown today, and not in a good way. Because of all the school days that were canceled because of the recent snow here, both Sam and Jack's Valentine's Day parties were held today.

I went to both of them, Quinn and a half gallon of chocolate ice cream in hand. The effect that two separate Valentine's Day parties and their assorted sugary treats had on Quinn is an entirely different post. One that ends with him lying on the rug in the second grade classroom making shrill whistling noises at the top of his lungs. But that's not what this is about.

What it is about is Jack and his near complete isolation at school.

I started to be suspicious when Jack couldn't deliver his valentines based on who was sitting at each desk, but could only do it by looking at the names written on the bags being used to collect the cards. This sick feeling I had was confirmed at home when I tried to use his valentines as a social thinking exercise. For each valentine I tried to get Jack to think about the child who gave it to him. He didn't know any of them.

He could correct my pronunciation of the names, so he knows the names, but he can't connect that information to a person in the class.

I am horrified. Absolutely horrified.

He has been in a classroom with these kids for nearly six months. Many of them he spent a year with in kindergarten. Sam knows the names of kids in Jack's class. Sam knows which name attaches to which kid. But unless it is a child who he knows for another reason—I've set up playdates, they live near him, or maybe, maybe, if they are in a small reading group with him (but even then I'm not convinced he would know them)—Jack doesn't know their names.

He knows his teacher's names and he knows his aide's names. I understand that he isn't seeking out other kids to learn about them, but his classroom environment has to be bigger than just his desk, the aide sitting next to him, and the teacher.

I have a lot more thoughts and feelings about this, but what it all boils down to is a total failure to engage Jack with the class. I don't see how the school can say he has made progress on any of his IEP goals if he hasn't learned the most basic social information about any of the children he spends six hours a day with.

I don't know how they could have missed this for so long. I don't know how I could have missed it for so long.


  1. My heart hurts for you. I have tried several times to write several different things and they all felt very trite and "oh well, just think of the positives" and that is so not what I want to say or what I want you to feel. So I wont, I'll just send hugs.

  2. Oh, man. I'm so sorry this news came upon you so suddenly and was totally overlooked in importance by those who saw the lack of reciprocal communication day in and day out. You guys will find a way through this. In other news, I swear I have a Q-ball in training on my hands w/ my H. **hugs**

  3. Oh my goodness. My heart breaks reading this and knowing how the system has failed Jack. As a teacher in the "system," I have to wonder if social goals such as this have been overlooked because it isn't something that is tested through state and county mandated tests. I think I know the answer and I don't like it. There are more to kids than their test scores. *sending hugs*

  4. Hey Jean,

    I am in no way minimizing this AT ALL but I did want to share this with you.

    My 14.5 year old "typically developing" teen did not know the names of her classmates in kindergarten and first grade. It freaked me out so bad. I could not understand how she could have a class picture and not know their names.

    For whatever reason, a silly thing like a name was kind of irrelevant for her. ;-)

    I'm not suggesting that changes don't need to be made, and fast. But I guess I am saying that some kids put less emphasis on that kind of thing than others.


  5. Shit. I'm sorry for this. I guess the next question is what to do about it? Does he have goals in his IEP specifically about any of the social aspects, developing relationships, etc.?

    I'll be interested to hear how things play out; I imagine many of us will.

  6. Is social skills a goal on his IEP? Can you request a re-work of his IEP?

  7. Oh. Damn it. I'm sorry. And you feel like you've not done something as his advocate. Shit.

    I'm sorry, Jean.

    (it's manic mommy. I'm not logged in correctly.)

  8. We went through something very similar -- but I'm happy to say that my son now knows (and talks about) the kids in his class, and on the playground (his grade level and other grade levels.) It used to be that he didn't know the name of his "5th Grade Buddy" or other names of kids that *I* thought would be important.


    He DID know other information about them. He knew his buddy plays soccer. He knew that "the girl with the pink shirt" is good at math, and so forth.

    He stored the information a different way. He loves soccer. He loves math. So he knew that his buddy plays soccer. He knew who is also good at math. I could hear his head saying, "Names? Aw, what's the point!"

    An interesting bit from John Elder Robinson's biography is how he created (seemingly random) nicknames for the people close to him. I do the same, as does my son. (And, given your nickname, I think you appreciate fun alternative names, too.)If WE label someone, it becomes more meaningful to us than whatever label a classmate's parents chose to bestow on them...

    Anyway - sorry to completely hijack your comments, but you've got me brainstorming!

    Like your situation - my *other* son can name virtually everyone in the school (and could name the kids in his older brother's class even when the younger was in preschool!)

    I think it boils down to both what is most important to Jack and what is being expected of him. If he needs to concentrate on other things, the names of his classmates is "useless" information from his perspective - and if he is being taught to "focus on X" then his classmates' actions/features/whereabouts might be seen as a "distraction."

    At any rate, this might be a temporary thing. While that doesn't mean you shouldn't bring it up to the IEP team, I want to give encouragement that it might just change on Jack's terms, as it did with my son (who is in 3rd grade.)


  9. Man, that's a tough thing for a mom to swallow. I think the other ladies suggested great things in their comments so I won't repeat. The only thing ill add is that you shouldn't beat yourself up; the school definitely dropped the ball on this one.


  10. Jack is lucky to have a mom who picked up on this. Let us know what steps you take.

    Switching gears -- I'm envisioning Q having a "Cornholio" moment.

  11. I grew up as an undiagnosed aspie. I never knew the kids' names in my classes, either. In fact, I was completely unable to interact with them.

    I was beat up once in first grade. I can't remember the beating, or the aftermath, or even the school. In fact, I only know about it because I found some pictures and an apology note from some kids whose names I don't recognize. I do know I became paranoid - I believed that other children only sought me out to interact with when they wanted to injure me; mentally or physically. I deliberately avoided the other kids, even the ones who were just trying to be nice, even at two more elementary schools. I obviously am not Jack, and I hope this NEVER happens to him.

    Even without the paranoia, I wouldn't have been able to interact with the kids. I didn't see them as people. I never looked them in the face; I mostly didn't look above their feet when forced to talk to them. My memory of the children in my class was limited to a blur in the facial area and a vague idea of their height.

    Here's something that might help Jack. Sometime around fourth or fifth grade, one of my teachers caught on to my problems with knowing kids' names and faces. She made a set of flash cards with their faces on one side and names on the other. Rote memorization is my strong point; I soon knew the face of every child in my class, the same ones I had been in school with for 3 years. Very quickly I could name every child in my class - I could even point them out to you on the playground, had you asked.

    Knowing their names certainly made a huge difference. I was invited to birthday parties and even managed a big sleepover party with 7(!) guests for my tenth birthday. I still didn't look them in the face very often and certainly didn't trust them, but at least I recognized the faces when I did look at them!

    The good news is, I eventually worked through both the paranoia and the idea of other children as people on my own, around seventh or eighth grade. The other kids cut me a lot of slack; I even managed to join a clique in high school. (Everyone hates the cliques, but not being in one is worse!) I even had a boyfriend, who eventually became my husband.

    Don't feel bad that you didn't notice this for 6 months. My mother and teachers didn't notice for more than 5 years, total. Jack has a very hopeful future, with you pulling for him as early as you are.

  12. What a bad way to "see" this, through his Valentine's party. I hope you can address this with his school and they can work to engage him with his peers more.

  13. This is heartbreaking and infuriating. You should not have had to be the person who recognized this as an issue. Someone's not paying attention. And it's not you.

    That being said, two concrete suggestions that are working well for us:

    1. As someone else suggested, Bud has a book that has a picture of each of his classmates and their names. (He is exceptionally good with names, but this still helps.)

    2. Bud's teacher & aide have created a program called "Bud's Buddies." One child gets to be his "buddy" each week. They go with his aide to meet Bud at the door (we always arrive after the big crowds) and walk him out to the door at the end of the day (we dismiss early to avoid the big crowds). They partner with him (with the para's support) on reading or math or whatever activity is going on. It's not an all-day thing, but it's throughout the day, over the course of the week. According to Bud's teachers, this is optional for his classmates, but none of them has opted out. In fact, they look forward to it.

    My thought is that structured one-on-one time may help Jack get to know the other kids as individuals instead of just a scary hoard.

  14. I'm sorry. This is so sadly familiar. Our little boy's teachers don't know anything about autism and don't care. Aide that we provide is only in class part-time. It kills me that my little guy is seldom invited to NT classmates' birthday parties and isn't part of their outside-of-school soccer team. No reindeer games for him.

    We will be homeschooling full-time as of April.

  15. Wow. I can't believe his teacher wouldn't have noticed and brought this to your attention by now. But no matter, you did. Time to bring it to her attention - and if she already knows, then time to let her know you notice. It's either a problem with how the classroom is run or something that needs to be addressed for him specifically - or both. Or maybe, it's as one commenter noted, a confusion with the ways he's keeping the information stored in his head. Personally, I think I might make a nuisance of myself at that school and observe him from afar to try and figure out which it is - see if he's playing with others at recess, interacting with peers in class, etc. Just be a fly on the wall for a couple of days until you have a good grasp of what you think is going on.

    ::sigh:: This parenting stuff is hard, huh?

  16. What a heartbreak. Hugs, to you Mom.

  17. God, I'm so mad to hear this. I can well imagine how you're feeling. This was definitely not yours to miss, they should be on top of this at school, especially if he has any IEP goals around social skills. You've received so many great suggestions from other commenters... I really hope you can work with his IEP team to address it. In the meantime, sending you hugs.

  18. As an 18 year old Aspie not diagnosed until a year ago, I first want to tell you how much I enjoy your blog, this may be the first time I've commented. I know this must seem like he is isolated, but I am hoping it is one of two other things.

    My first thought is that I'm pretty bad at names, and even now I don't bother trying to learn all the names of kids in my class, though I do know the names of the ones I talk to on a regular basis. Maybe you could try asking him if there are any kids in particular he plays with at recess. At his age I always played with the same couple of kids, and I don't think any of them were in my class.

    I also think of the facial blindness I've read about. I've read that kids with facial blindness hate being asked to pass back papers because matching a name to a face is a struggle, which sounds a lot like Jack with his Valentines. And if that is a problem it might be harder for him to pick out his friends in a crowd, and could be causing any isolation to be worse.

    My best advice would be to worry more about outside of school than in, as an aspie myself I went into high school with two close friends, one of which went to a different school, and that was fine with me, so long as I had somebody to hang out with when I was bored on the weekends I really didn't need many friends in my classes. As long as I had one friend or at least an aquaintance to sit with at lunch I was more than happy.


  19. I forgot I also wanted to mention that red food dye can cause some kids to act out, as with one of my younger siblings. Just something to consider, as we encourage him to avoid red, pink, purple, etc and try to instead eat candy that is blue or green or yellow, but Valentines day is definitely the worst. I know for Quinn it was probably just a sugar overload, but just wanted to bring that up in case Valentines Day meltdowns become a reoccuring theme lol.

  20. I know that sinking feeling, especially when things seemed to be going so well. I have no doubt you'll address it with Jack's teacher and you'll find a plan of attack for this issue. Really interested in what the teacher says, but truly - I think it's one of Jack's bumps in the road and may not be a big one at all. Hoping.
    And totally - don't blame yourself for not noticing. You had to be in a specific situation for it to become clear.

  21. I don't know if this is helpful at all, but the kid around corner here for years did not recognize his classmates as people. They were, to him, coatimundis. (I think in preschool, they were all cats). Unless you spoke about them as coatimundis, he did not connect the idea that these names went with these people (because those names belonged to coatimundis, not people). He's now in fourth grade, and his peers finally are recognized as other people.

    Jack strikes me as someone who doesn't find large groups of others as particularly interesting. INdividuals, OK; large groups, I don't think so. The buddy system someone else suggested might be a good idea, because it breaks down the group into individuals; but don't expect him to know everyone. I can tell you a lot about a few people I had in first grade, but not everyone. Not everybody is that interested to know the whole class, which can be a large group- 18? 20? 32? (My first grade class was 22). For a child, that's a lot of people to keep track of, especially if you aren't particularly interested in doing it, or have trouble with dealing with breaking down larger groups.


  22. Ouch. I hope his teachers listen to you and do something to fix the situation. It seems so obvious to the rest of us that social skills are as important as academics, so why hasn't the school figured that out?

  23. All last summer, it seemed like wherever we met, friendly children would greet Bub by name and he would look at them in astonishment saying, "How do you know my name?" He would have no consciousness of having ever seen these kids before - but at least they knew him, and were friendly. The name-learning and face-recognition issues don't always tell the whole story - there was a girl last May who looked at me in astonishment on day on the playground and said, "That's the first time Bub has ever said my name!" (after being in the same class together since September) - but she liked Bub and was genuinely pleased that he had taken that extra step.

    But. Since grade one started I've felt like the dynamic has shifted. Bub does know the names of the kids in his class this year, but when I'm able to pull stories out of him about recess, they're usually about how he followed some kids around but they wouldn't tell him what game they were playing, or he didn't know how to play it. His E.A. insists that he does play with the other children at recess, but I wonder how closely she's looking at their interaction. It might well look, to a not-very-observant adult, as if he's playing when in fact what he's doing is shadowing a group of kids who are doing their best to get away from him.

    It seems to me that it's nobody's job to watch out for these things. The E.A. is there to make sure that he's physically safe and doing what he's meant to be doing, and the teacher is there to measure his learning, but no one is really trying to measure his social learning. And for Bub, math and reading come pretty easily - he can pick up those things mostly on his own, and it's the social stuff that he needs to be taught explicitly. I do that as much as I can but I don't have that many opportunities to do so, and nobody else seems to be trying.

  24. :-( (((HUGS)))

    I wanted to add (and it's already been sort of touched on) a mention of face blindness. I'm not sure if that is ever found in autism, but it is common in what my child has (to varying degrees).

    Does Jack normally recognize people he has met by seeing them, or does he need prompting?

    Obviously his social skill delays (and the failure of the school to address them) play a big part, but if he has any difficulty recognizing faces, that would make it even harder.

    Also, it seems like this could be easily addressed in the classroom with some one-on-one pairing. Small groups are probably overwhelming, but duos seem like they would help him connect.

    (((couple more)))

  25. But now you know, so you can work on it. BTW, Evan didn't get this skill till he was in 3rd grade, but when it was meaningful for him boy did it click.

  26. Oh dear. My firstborn has been the same way: at the END of the year he knows only a few names, and the next year he has a lot of trouble remembering if he's been in class with any of the kids before. His kindergarten teachers noticed it and were very concerned---but only because that's one of the skills they test. None of his other teachers has ever noticed (or if they've noticed, they haven't said/done anything about it).

  27. I am back again to comment on this (sorry). But I feel absolutely indignant -- your son's teachers should have noticed and it is inexcusable that they may not have. If they did and they did nothing, that is inexcusable. If they did notice, did nothing, AND did not raise their concerns with you that is unbelievable, inexcusable and just...just... just so wrong. This really made me furious. Your little guy probably has difficulty with names, may have difficulty with faces, and yes has an IEP flagging that he has difficulties. Part of the explanation for his trouble knowing the kids and their names clearly is that he has "difficulties". And that is not his fault. The teachers should be there to look out for him, and to help him overcome his difficulties, and be in communication with his parents about the difficulties he is having. The fact that they obviously do not comprehend the issues your son faces or worse, the fact that they don't seem to understand that your son won't come home on any given day and say, "hey Mom, I don't know any kids' names, can you help me with that?", that they do not care enough to do anything about it, is the stuff that I have bad dreams about. And again, that's why I want to try homeschooling. Go kick their asses.

  28. That left me speechless... and really wanting to hug your kid. To think he isn't being encouraged to do the very thing that doesn't come natural is insane. Let's just let all the kids who favor math skip out on english.... that's jackassery! They should be working on all areas. I know, preaching to the choir. So sorry and I hope it gets resolved real soon!

  29. Oh, no. The things is, though, how does *he* feel about that? Is he upset, or does he not care? Regardless, this is an important issue, but how sad-sad it makes me (versus just concerned-sad) depends on how he thinks of it. Do the other children isolate him on purpose, or at least not include him in play on purpose, or is it something that has happened kind of on its own? Could it be possible that he does interact with these children regularly, and simply hasn't been concerned to learn names? Maybe his brain just doesn't find names important as identifiers, versus something more descriptive, like Brown Jacket or Pink Sneakers? It's still important, but if that's the case it's a whole different thing than if he's lonely and isolated.

    Don't be so hard on yourself. You are one of the best parent-advocates I have ever met, and while this seems big, it obviously hasn't been making a huge, miserable imprint on him or you *would* have noticed before this. If it makes you feel any better at all, my Josie in particular has gone at least this long without knowing the names of some of the kids in her class. I think if they don't sit together, and aren't in the same reading/math groups, they don't hear the kids' names and don't have a reason to know. It used to shock me that there would be kids in her class that she didn't know the names of, but over the years I've come to think that maybe that's how things are now. Weird, but true. So, while Jack's situation is extreme, I think you would be surprised if you really asked around to find that there are other children with similiar situations.

  30. Hi Stimey. I sure don't know much about this topic but I guess I wondered if he remembers all your relatives names. Can he tell you the names of the characters on Micky Mouse or other cartoons? Knowing his classmate's names just might not be interesting to him and he'd be surprised to think you'd care at all. I agree with every one who is saying please don't be so hard on yourself because you think you've failed in some why. Not true. You've observed something and now you are preparing some steps to take. It's good for all your kids to see that I think. Just my two cents. -Monica

  31. Crap.

    Not much to add that hasn't already been said. I will just say that my older (NT) son absolutely SUCKS at classmate names.

    And also that my little spectrum-dweller, who back in kindergarten sat alone at his table writing numbers and letters, just told me yesterday that he is friends with "everyone in my math class," and then proceeded to name six or seven of them.

    He is in seventh grade now. I cannot overemphasize the difference that time has made. Do not despair!!!

    Hugs from Joisey.

  32. hi Stimey
    I'm a lurker.please forgive me I have a child with Autism. Maybe there is a good reason you noticed it now however crappy it may be.

    I am sick to my stomach though thinking about how you probably have already had parent teacher confrences and the teachers did not tell you.

    I can't wait to hear how this shakes out. Your a good parent. Hang in there.

  33. Oh, crap.

    And yet -- look at all the amazing comments and input you got on this. I hope it helps.

    Jack is such a sweet kid; this sucks.

  34. Jack (and Sam and Quinn) are so lucky to have you. You are really the best thing he has going for him. Just as he (and Sam and Quinn) are the best things you have going for you. I'm so sorry that the world is so hard sometimes. - Love, Ann

  35. This post has been sitting open in a tab since last night and I still don't know what to write other than I'm sorry. It is so hard to desperately want your kid to have friends when it's difficult for him/her. I am glad that those who know more about these things are giving you such good ideas. All I can offer is support, but I do! I know that you have said in the past that you really feel that the people at Jack's school care about him, so I am hopeful that you can work this out with them somehow.

  36. Wow...after reading all of the comments before me, I don't have any words of wisdom except that I am so sorry. To read this post as a teacher of young children just hurts my heart.

  37. These Ah-Ha moments are so blech, and I am so sorry you had to experience one.

    One idea someone gave us was to make a picture book of all the children with their name below so E could associate the name with the face. He still has a tough time recognizing faces and thinks that anyone who looks vaguely like someone whose name he knows must be that person. Now we are working on asking him to really look closely at the face to see if it is really the person he knows.

    Hugs! You've got so many good ideas from this group. Thanks for sharing this, though. It has made me think about other things I could do to help E in this area.

  38. I am completely unable to comment as I am not knowledgeable. (Unable isn't the right word - maybe it is unqualified?)
    However, I will ask whether Jack interacts with his classmates.... whether or not he can recall their names. And if so, that is very encouraging. He seems like such a cool kid.
    I sometimes can't remember names and yes, I may be on the spectrum, except they didn't know about that when I was a child, 40 years ago.
    I'm posting this with best wishes for Jack and your family.... I am again completely unqualified to comment.
    Take care.

  39. I can relate to your discovery as a parent with a 7 yo boy with HFA. He's in 1st grade now. In KG, he very rarely remembered his classmates, names. It just wasn't important him. He was much more focused on what they could do for him. And really, his classmates new him, and for the most part, liked him. It was the same outside of school. He'd play with a kid at the park or McDonald's Play Space and have a great time. Then, I'd ask what was that boy's name and he was clueless. But it's improving...he's learned that I will ask and follow-up with this question, so D is beginning to ask. It's not all the school - I would bet this happens inside of school and in many other social situations. If your little guy is like my little guy, I'd venture it happens at play dates and family gatherings with a LOT of family members. You've gotten some great suggestions. Really, I'm envious of the services MOM NOS' sons has. How great for him and her. I'm an educator, in fact, and I just don't see it, especially for kids with HFA. Really, you can help your son with this along with his team!

  40. Jean.
    I always learn so much when I read your blog; it's always an eye-opener for me in so many ways.

    I know that's not helpful to you, but all I can say is that I'm grateful for your frankness, your openness, and your honesty. And I'm sorry that the system has failed Jack--and you.

    Wish I could do more, friend.

  41. I haven't read the other comments.

    I just want you to know that Boo doesn't 'know' all the kids names, but he knows the kids. Names are just not that important to him.

    He plays, interacts, yada yada yada, but knows them by their faces not their names.

    Hell, there are kids that come here that have been friends with his sisters for his whole life and he forgets their name.

  42. Wow.


    I've got nothing else. How are things now? Have you been able to talk to the teachers?


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