My son struggles with sensory issues and anxiety, whereas his twin sister is the very definition of a social butterfly. I hate to admit it, but sometimes it’s hard to enjoy time spent with family when my son’s anxiety or sensory issues become triggered.
A simple trip to the grocery store could cause a fuss and result in a full-blown catastrophe. I know all kids can cause a ruckus at times, but this is different. I don’t hold any expectations for family plans anymore, because I can never predict the outcome. If I’m being honest, some days I’m embarrassed when he behaves the way he does and I’m mortified to even admit feeling that way because I know he literally can’t help it.
If there are too many people around, my son tends to curl into a ball because he feels so overwhelmed. If he is caught off guard or experiencing too much stimuli all at once, it’s typical for him to close his eyes and cover his ears while whining a soft, high-pitched squeal.
Whatever is going on in that little body of his, I can tell it’s too much, and I completely respect the valid emotions he cannot express in words. In those moments, I feel so deeply for my sweet boy. He is internally teetering on some massive emotions that seem beyond his control. And he is somewhat helpless in those moments until someone can help calm him down or remove him from the situation.
So when it came time for him and his twin sister to start preschool, I was worried sick thinking about what he might feel while he was away. What might be a fun day to one kid is absolute hell to my son. The school they attended doubled as a church and (for whatever reason) that made me feel better. Well, that and the curb-side drop off, which really sealed the deal.
A few months went by and other than the typical, occasional crying when he was dropped off, he always seemed to enjoy school and his teachers seemed to enjoy having him at school. But as we neared my kids’ holiday party, I seemed to be getting more and more calls from the teacher.
She was telling me that (out of the blue) my son wasn’t wanting to participate in anything. In retrospect, the way she voiced this concern made it sound minor and like she was just taking an extra precaution by letting me know. But when it came time for the holiday party, my son had a sensory meltdown, just like I thought he might.
I was in attendance that day. About five minutes or so into an ocean of my son’s tears and soft sobs, I attempted to soothe his restless heart by taking him and his twin sister to the auditorium where festival-type games were soon to be played. He was anxious and, as always, it is my job to let him know that his feelings are valid. We’ve got this together, and I wasn’t fazed by the minor freak-out he was experiencing.
My attempts, as I figured they would, were working. He was calming down and his face was lighting up once he could sort through and acknowledge his full range of emotions. As I was crouched down beside both of my kids, the director interrupted my our conversation with words that were just about as useless as she seemed to be that day: “We’ve set up something in another room for him today, actually.”
I stood up and glared at her, dumb-founded and incredibly confused, before she continued along with a banter she should’ve just brought to a halting stop. She could tell she’d hit a nerve as she explained in her customer-service type voice, “We just want all of the parents and children to be able to enjoy these activities and games today, so how about we take him in the other room?”
HOLD THE PHONE, LADY.
You’re telling me that because of my ONE overwhelmed child (a then three-year-old), 60 other children and their parents can’t have fun during this time today? You’re telling me he’s the first kid to have a meltdown at this school, or during a hyped up special occasion? You’re a director for a pre-school and you want to isolate a child who poses no danger to himself or others in a feeble attempt to maximize enjoyment for others?
I was floored.
Standing in a church, I’ve never wanted to scream “FUCK YOU!” to anyone so loudly before in my life. I stood there, enraged and physically shaking, before stating, “We are just going to leave right now.”
I noticed her hand was still in my son’s as, just one sentence ago, she thought I’d be fine and dandy with him being secluded in such a manner. If you don’t know me, I’m not a huge fan of people just grabbing my kids… no matter who you are. My words were sharp and my face was stern as I demanded, “Let go of his hand now.”
I pulled my twins out of preschool right then and there, and I’m happy that I did. I feel like it was the right choice, then and now.
My son never gave me any indications that he was treated poorly or having a rough time in the beginning. But as time went on, we were experiencing many incidents of him wetting himself for no reason when he’s been fully potty-trained for almost two years. He started to regress in his speech and was exhausted right after he came home from school — a main indicator for him that he is stressed out. My daughter began hitting me and her siblings, and began to tell me “Bubba scream at preschool” nearly everyday for the last week they attended.
In the weeks leading up to their holiday event, I had a gut feeling that something wasn’t right, but I just could not put my finger on it. I blame myself for not trusting my own intuition just a little bit more fiercely, because I came to find out that the teachers were not encouraging my son to participate in any school activities.
From day one, if he threw a fit, they let him roam the classroom while the rest of the students were made to finish their work. Now, I’m no master in child development, but how can you expect any different from him halfway through the year when you’ve let him do this every day so far?
I don’t know the full extent of everything that happened or the way he was made to feel during this time, but it doesn’t sit right with me that we were made to feel like we’d done something wrong. Or that when the issue was presented to me, it was presented as something new and minor.
There were a few conversations between his teacher and I about his anxious state of being, and I gave suggestions on how to handle it. But for some reason, these suggestions weren’t implemented. He went against the grain, and it was just too much work for them to figure out his individual way to learn.
If they are going to segregate a toddler for feeling emotions they are unable to express, then that’s not a school I want my children to attend. Since my kids left preschool, they have truly begun to blossom. Their vocabulary and brains are expanding, and it feels good knowing that their growth is fed by me for now.
That doesn’t mean that we’ve written off early education completely. We know the value of a good preschool program. My husband and I are now diligently looking into preschools for our twins for next year, and I’m going to pick one that meets my kids’ individual needs, even if it doesn’t have curb-side pickup.