Colouring outside the lines

20 01 2009

I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t this. I was caught off guard. And I despise being caught off guard.

We’ve been anxiously waiting for over a year for Roo’s cognitive assessment, and finally got word that it is to happen at the end of this month. This assessment will yield a pile of doctor-generated paperwork that will result in an even bigger pile of school-generated paperwork, all so that Roo can have appropriate access to what is rightfully hers: a chance to learn and grow in an educational environment that takes into account her strengths and weaknesses.  But before all of that happens, the doctor wants to know more about Roo, socially, emotionally and intellectually. And how is that to be accomplished? Why, with more paperwork, of course. And that is where I was caught off guard. I didn’t expect the answering of questions and the checking of boxes to be so frustrating. So dehumanizing.

First, there were the forms to be filled out by  Roo’s “team” at the school. Now to be fair, the form does ask that they attempt to highlight her weaknesses rather than strengths, as those are the areas where the main recommendations will be made. And boy oh boy, did the “team” take that to heart. The form is littered with  failure to do this and inappropriate that. They note that she does not like to colour. Or stay seated. Or take part in gym class. That she is stubborn. That she displays inappropriate classroom behaviours and anxiety management skills. That she has a tendency to ignore people. That dressing herself in her outdoor winter clothes is problematic. That she is prone to screaming and meltdowns when forced to comply. And that she refuses to print, preferring instead to scribble what she approximates to cursive writing. Which is all pretty much true. Except for the last one. Yes, she refuses to print. But that is probably because she learned how to print two years ago. And those so-called scribbles that she approximates to cursive writing are, in fact, actual cursive writing and it is damn near legible. And no, she is not a co-operative colourer. She doesn’t see the point of colouring in someone else’s drawings when she could be making her own. So, she tends to colour outside of the lines. She doodles, and adds her own details to pictures she is supposed to just colour, like a good little student. Apparently, that is a problem.

As for the rest of  what they filled in on that form – ignorant, insensitive, and overly judgmental language aside – the “team” pretty much got it right. All the things they noted are part and parcel to being an autistic 5 year old with cerebral palsy. So I can’t really blame them for callin’ ’em like they see ’em. What I can blame them for is, after coldly chronicling every issue that Roo has in school, they didn’t give us a little ray of light when they had the chance. Buried in the messy details of her lackings, her shortcomings, her problems, there was one question on that form that asked explicitly about the good stuff: Does this child have any special abilities? And they answered it with one stark word: No. This is a child who has been reading with startling comprehension and fluidity since she was two years old. A child who can spell almost any word she has ever laid eyes on, and even some she has not. A child who correctly identifies notes on a piano by ear, and has taught herself to play several songs. A five year old child who draws things like this…

…has no special skills? Really? The “team” revealed, with a single word on a single question, that they are clearly not paying any attention to who my daughter actually is, and what she is capable of doing. But they sure as hell have been paying attention to who she is not and what she can’t do, as is evidenced by everything else written on that form. Sorry “team”, my confidence in you is pretty much shot. Think Roo is stubborn and problematic? Wait til I march into that school with a knot in my face and a list of demands.

Then, there are the forms I am filling out, many of which amount to ‘Is your child bad? Circle yes or no.’ They ask if my child is defiant, disobedient, immature, impatient, angry, violent. No, I want to holler. None of those words describe my sweet, smart, smiling little girl! But she has trouble following instructions, and she doesn’t always respond to what people say to her. She does things that other kids her age have long since outgrown, and she can’t always control her impulses. And sometimes she screams, and spits, and breaks things, and says she hates everything, and tries to hit and bite and scratch herself and others. So I’m supposed to circle yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. But I don’t. I leave some lines blank. Or I circle yes and no. Or I write sometimes where no sometimes exists. I use the margins of the form to make notes, write explanations, put my child and her life in context. I refuse to squeeze the entirety of Roo’s complex world into a one-word answer, or a check-marked box. Which, I guess, makes me defiant. Disobedient. Non-compliant. Mother fails to follow simple instructions on questionaire, and displays inappropriate form-filling-out skills. Yeah. I never liked colouring inside the lines either.

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5 responses

20 01 2009
nanny

Little boxes ,on the hillside. Little boxes made of ticky tacky.and they all live in little boxes and they all look just the same! There must be some way we can let our little children say,”there are so many flowers in a rainbow, so many colours in the morning sun, so many colours in the flowers, and I see every one. Go armed. Go confident! BELIEVE! Go Roo go!

20 01 2009
Jody

God you are awesome. Amazing mother…brilliant writer…and a best friend. xo

21 01 2009
Lisa

Argh. How frustrating. It sucks when you (or others!) have to list your child’s inadequesies. (Okay, I know that’s spelled wrong but I’m tired.) You go, grrl.

24 01 2009
Anjali

I think this is probably my most favorite blog entry ever. I’m at a loss for what else to say. Keep up the fight, buy another pack of markers and keep drawing.

25 01 2009
Miranda

Why not send a hard copy of this in with their inadequate form!

I remember them both writing as VERY little girls. It was/is amazing. They are amazing!
Hugh’s 4.5, and he’s only now spelling his name. And It’s no where near as neat or perfectly written as Roo’s was at 2.

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