Thank you all for your comments and ideas on my last post!
I met with R's teacher again yesterday afternoon because I had volunteered in the classroom in the morning, and he lost it during Writing Workshop. His teacher wasn't in the classroom at the time, just me and the assistant teacher. I was assigned to work with kids at another table, and within a few minutes, R was at my side, completely engulfed by anger and frustration. His face was red, he was clenching his teeth, and shaking with emotion. All because he had started working on his picture first (to go with his story), and he had messed up. His friends were looking at him because he was so upset, so he kept yelling at them, "Stop staring at me!!!"
I should have just walked him back to his seat, but I was trying to calm him down and tend to the kids at my table at the same time. Eventually, the assistant teacher came over and helped him. And, then he was fine. He did great work, and he got a big thumbs-up from his teacher when she came back in at the end.
It was so upsetting to me to see this, though. I really don't think I've ever seen him so frustrated. And, I was worried that this was the behavior that R's teacher was seeing and referring to, but that she had kind of hid from us how bad it was.
Well, it turns out (if you saw in my Twitter feed), R saved that freak-out session just for me. (Thanks, buddy!) His teacher said she's never seen anything like that when I'm not there. She's sure that he did that because I was there, because he felt safe expressing himself that way with me in the room. She assured me that he's a really great kid, that he's not a burden to her or a distraction to the class, that he just has trouble finishing tasks and that he doesn't like to do writing and drawing because it's hard for him. And, when he complains to her about writing, he pretty much just sighs and shrugs his shoulders and asks her to sit with him and help him. He knows he has to do it anyway.
She also told me that he's been working really hard this week and doing a lot better. He's been using a timer to keep him focused and to know when he needs to finish something and move on to the next task. For one writing session, he didn't want to do it, and she told him that he could either do it then or do it during recess when the other kids would be going outside. Ding! That worked. He buckled down without another word.
I've been talking to him a lot this week about how important learning to write is. We talked about how scientists need to write down everything they do and learn in their experiments so they can share it with others. (Aunt Ericka was a big example there.) And, it suddenly dawned on him that someone has to write the books he loves to read.
I was reconsidering the use of rewards, too (thanks, Bob and Ericka!). But I was thinking of letting it be less formal for now - maybe taking him out to dinner/ice cream at Friendly's, which he's been asking for, because he's worked hard this week and done better. When we offer him rewards up front as incentive, he becomes a negotiator. I lay out the ground rules, and he responds with, "Well, here's the deal. How about..." So I'd rather reward him afterwards for his efforts but without using it as a carrot up front. I've also found that unless the reward is pretty big, it doesn't motivate him. Small rewards work once or twice, but then he doesn't care about them. Although he was crazy for the stickers that came with his beginning reader sets, so who knows?
Anyway, all of this was good news. And, his teacher and I talked a lot more about R's sensory issues, and I am very motivated now to have him evaluated. His doctor gave me a referral to a great occupational therapy practice, and R's teacher said that it's a fantastic place. (She used to teach preschool, and several of the parents from the preschool raved about this practice.) We're also having the school's OT observe R, but apparently, the school can't really give him help unless he's having trouble academically, which he's not. But R's teacher and I are worried about next year when he'll have less one-on-one help, have to focus more, and when he could possibly fall behind if he doesn't complete things. So, we'll see where the evaluation takes us. I don't think R has severe sensory issues. It doesn't affect his ability to function every day. (Although it does seem to explain a lot of what we thought were just quirks.) It's just that it could be more difficult for him in school moving forward, so I want to make sure he has tools and coping mechanisms at his disposal if needs them.
What's been interesting about this week is that at the same time that I'm learning about these challenges for R, I've also been seeing some really cool stuff that he's doing. He reads a lot faster now. He's all of a sudden open to trying new foods and has been eating basically the same things as A and me. He can cut up his own food. (I may be late on allowing him to do that - it just dawned on me this week that I could probably give him a knife during dinner.) I gave him money yesterday, and he ran over to the ice cream truck and ordered his Italian ice, got his change, etc. all by himself. He told me how swimming in the deep end is much easier than swimming in the shallow end. He beat a teacher and two of the older kids in his after-school program at Connect 4 (and I'm 99.9% sure they weren't letting him win because he beat me three times this morning). He taught one of his classmates to ride a two-wheel bike!
The other thing is that he seems to be a huge influence on his friends and classmates. Last week on the way home from school, he found a rock in the street that he was sure was a meteorite. (As much as A and I scoffed, we actually think it might be - it's magnetic, it looks like our other meteorites, and with all of the rain we've had, it could have been washed onto the street from somewhere.) Because his class was doing a segment on magnets, his teacher let him bring the rock/meteorite into class to show. R presented it as a meteorite and explained why he thought that. Yesterday, when I was helping the kids with their writing, at least two other boys wrote about how they also found a meteorite, and I overheard two other boys talking about how they found ones, too. :-)
And, remember how R was sort of getting in trouble when school first started for picking up little rocks and pebbles from the floor of the classroom (instead of listening during circle time)? Well, yesterday, one of his friends showed me this nearly microscopic bit of quartz she had found on the rug during circle, and she wrote about it. She and R usually sit together during circle time.
So that made me smile. It makes me so happy to see him making so many friends and sharing the things he loves with them. Yesterday on the playground after school, I watched kids of all ages come up and say, "Hi, R!" And he plays with older kids, his classmates, kindergarteners from other classes, kids of all races and ethnicities (which he has exposure to because of his school's diversity - wonderful!), everyone. That makes me one proud mommy.