* *Lightbulb!*

Boy, what a week. It was a tough one for me and Hercules, but we learned some valuable lessons and I think things will improve again. He’s been backsliding at school ever since Christmas break – getting sent to the principal’s office almost daily. Here’s how it worked out:

Tuesday was the worst, when he had a total meltdown at school and they had to call me in to subdue him and ultimately remove him completely. Again, it was an ugly scene but once it was over Rio was transformed into a pleasant, remorseful, cooperative little boy, accepting his punishment with quiet resignation.

The next two days were only slightly better. No more meltdowns, but he was still being sent to the office and/or the Buddy Room (timeout in another classroom) twice a day. His teacher was clearly at a loss. His primary offense on these occasions was an absolute refusal to do his assigned work or to participate in the group activity.

As I was looking over his chart after Day 2 of this behavior, something clicked. There was a pattern! His refusals occurred during the Reading and/or Listening blocks. In addition, Rio gave me another clue – he had informed me that during rest time they were no longer allowed to simply rest on their mats, it was now mandatory for them to read a book during this time. He complained of missing his rest and of feeling too tired to do his work. And lately he had been asking to go to bed around 6 PM, something that was unheard of from Hercules prior to Kindergarten. I’ve mentioned his sleep issues before, so this was significant.

So I pieced this information together and came up with two theories. First, Rio was clearly stressed out by the change in his routine, besides missing that important time to rest and recharge. Second, Rio was stressed out about reading with his teacher and his peers. I had a few clues to help me figure this out, but the clincher was the pattern of recurring defiance during Reading blocks at school. In addition, I have observed him reading to me at home, and I know how devastated he becomes over simple mistakes, mistakes that every child learning to read will make, but for Rio they cause undue angst and frustration. He’s improving all the time, and as he does his confidence increases, but he still struggles when he comes to a word he doesn’t know. He doesn’t like to take the time to sound things out, he would much rather just guess. He looks at the pictures and he repeats the words that come before that one and fills in the blank with a logical guess. And he’s a good guesser, too, which is unfortunate when he’s supposed to be learning to read.

Which is actually pretty damn clever, when you think about it.

But that’s just the trouble with my little Hercules. He’s so clever that he’s accustomed to picking things up very quickly, so when he can’t do something perfectly and immediately, he decides he’s a stupid failure and he crumples.

Sound familiar? It was just the same when he was learning to ride a bike.

I keep referencing that occasion because it really helped me to understand how Rio learns and how learning can be a very frustrating process to him, not because he isn’t capable but because he’s impatient. It also has a lot to do with his perfectionist streak, which I recognize because he got it from me.

My point is that Rio’s lack of confidence at this stage of his learning to read translates into embarrassment in the classroom. I’m sure he sees other children who can already read better and faster than he can, and he sees them getting praise, and when his turn comes and he can’t figure out a word and his teacher corrects him, he feels stupid.

It gives me a heart ache to imagine him there, with all his fears and shame, and all he knows how to say is,

“NO! I DON’T WANT TO AND I WON’T DO IT!”

And to his teacher he’s just being defiant and combative and he gets ushered out of the class and off to the principal’s office (where, incidentally, he is quite willing to read to her, alone) because he absolutely refuses to cooperate.

Dear, dear Hercules!

So, to make a long story longer, on Friday morning I sat down and wrote Rio’s teacher a 2-page letter detailing all of my theories. And lo and behold, that was the best day of the whole week! I wasn’t able to speak to his teacher that day, but Rio told me that she let him lie down at rest time instead of reading, and he was clearly grateful for that. I’ve asked to meet with her and the principal this week so we can discuss some strategies to address this issue, and I feel confident now that there is a solution.

In spite of the trials of the past week, in the end it has given me a much-needed boost of confidence and hope. I tend to feel helpless to influence Rio’s behavior at school because I can’t be there. But by paying attention to his signals and looking for patterns in his behavior report, I can find reasons for his behavior, and by sharing that with his teacher I can make a difference.

And really, that’s my job. I can’t ever control Rio’s behavior, at home or elsewhere. Control is an illusion. All I can do is try to understand him, and help others do the same. He is often misunderstood, even by me, because in spite of his brilliant little mind he is emotionally immature and often overwhelmed by his own intensity. Being misunderstood only compounds his frustration, so the poor kid feels like the whole world is against him sometimes.

This is why I feel so protective of Hercules. He’s just a square peg in a world of round holes, and his corners are getting bruised. My job is to widen those round holes to accommodate him. Because his corners are what makes him special, and I don’t want to take them away.

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