dear team brooke – the fourth grade version

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Ed note: When I mentioned this weekend that I was working on Brooke’s Back to School transition letter, many of you asked me to share it with you when it was completed. And I aim to please, so here it is.

More on why we do this HERE. 

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Team Brooke,

Welcome back everyone! Where did the time go??

We are thrilled that Brooke will be in the classroom with K and S this year. With J‘s support, along with this fabulous team, we believe that it will be a wonderful place for her to learn and grow both academically and socially.

What follows are a few (hopefully helpful) notes for the team on where Brooke is now, some things we are currently working on at home and some relatively easily avoidable pitfalls.

We are eager to help ensure a smooth transition and a successful fourth grade year. As always, we view Brooke’s education as a team effort and as such, are always available to talk or help in any way that we can.  Please don’t ever hesitate – we are firm believers that communication is the key to success. To that end, nothing is ever too small, too big or too awkward. Actually, with us, nothing’s ever awkward at all. We don’t do awkward. 🙂

So here goes.

But before you hear from us, here are a few thoughts from the young lady herself, in her own words. She typed them herself, by the way. (She does much better expressing herself with a keyboard than a pencil.)

“I would like to learn more about doing hard work. I like to have snack, recess, lunch, and quiet time. I like to go to room 642 with Sra. N. I don’t like doing work. I feel proud when everyone claps and says “Yay Brooke!” My favorite specials are art and PE. I feel happy when I take a break.”

 

And now, some thoughts from Mom and Dad. 🙂

 

Where we are currently:

Brooke has made significant progress recently in a number of areas. With her ever-increasing ability to express herself and identify and share her emotions, she has been able to more deftly manage her day-to-day challenges. It’s wondrous to hear her use words to tell us what she needs in situations where they would previously have failed her.

Beginning with the degradation of structure at the end of the school year and then again at the end of ESY, Brooke has been scripting and stimming INTENSIVELY. This is a yearly phenomenon. In fact this paragraph is copied almost verbatim from last year’s letter. The transition time and lack of predictability / structure take their toll on her. As her anxiety goes up, so does her need to create sameness in her world. She is therefore scripting extensively – a lot of Blue’s Clues, Dora the Explorer, Sesame Street, books and made up scripts. Those of you who have not worked with her in the past will likely begin to recognize her scripts as such fairly quickly. It’s important to note that the scripts CAN sometimes serve as functional communication. For example, after a long ride in the car she often asks, “How did Elmo feel in the song ‘Are We There Yet?” That one doesn’t take a detective to put together. 🙂

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*Please note: There are some very positive aspects of scripting* 

She has taken to watching her Nick Jr shows (most notably Dora and Blue’s Clues) in French and Spanish. She loves to tell people that she speaks Spanish, and well, she kinda does. We look forward to encouraging her emerging love of languages. She has picked up a startling amount of Spanish from Dora.  

One positive re her love of characters – they can be used to teach her. Please don’t shy away from the things that she’s interested in – they can be extremely useful as learning tools.  

One other positive re her love of scripts – she began writing and performing scripted ‘plays’ with her sister this summer. Although they were relatively rote stories (like The Three Little Pigs), they wrote out what characters would say. She loves to dress up and play a role!

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The stimming manifests itself in a number of ways. The two most notable are vocalization (a sort of throaty, squealy hum that I’ve never really been able to accurately describe) and, unfortunately, picking at her skin. You will notice that she has a number of scabs all over her body – particularly on her face, her hairline and on her head right now – and you will likely find her bleeding from one of more of them at any given time. In her backpack you will find a zip-loc full of band-aids for these incidences. The actual picking can be hard to catch. She knows well that picking is not expected and has gotten pretty sneaky. For this reason, it’s important to keep her hands pre-emptively busy. Also in her backpack, please find a fidget and scraps of fabric. Letting her pull the threads from the fabric can sometimes do the trick when all else fails.

 

Things we are working on / areas of focus

Above and beyond all else, we continue to focus on Social Pragamatics. As most of you know, Brooke has been in some version of a Social Prags Group for five years now and responds extremely well to the language of Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking. She is very familiar with terms like expected vs. unexpected behavior, whopping topic changes, glitches vs. catastrophes, friend files, etc. (If it’s possible to get B into the classroom for full class lessons it would be wonderful. The more people in the room who speak the language the better, and heaven knows it’s beneficial to the neurotypical kids as well!)

Brooke is a social creature. She adores the company of other people, is eager to make connections and really wants to be a part of the action – especially group play. It’s therefore heartbreaking to see her stumble through play bids or lose steam after a two-sentence volley. This is probably the biggest focus for us at home.

One specific area of challenge remains approaching kids at play and asking to join in. The language that has been used with some success is ‘Hi. What are you (or you guys) doing? Can I play too?’

Emotional identification (both self and others) and expression. Brooke has been working on this for years now. As mentioned above, this has been a HUGE part of unlocking her ability to communicate, understanding social construct and both building and comprehending narrative. She has continued to build on last year’s successes and has made incredible progress! She still has a fairly limited repertoire from which to choose – ie she still uses ‘mad’ as a catch-all for any and all frustration, but her progress in this area is undeniable. We can very often be heard saying some version of, “Hmm, you look a bit (xxx), is that how you’re feeling?”

Keeping the scripting to a minimum. (See above) – She is receptive to ‘No more scripting for now, we’re going to …. as long as there is redirection. If we shut her down without giving her an alternative, or ignore her attempts to interact through the scripts, she’s lost. More on this below.

Transitions. While she usually does fairly well with transitions, they have been particularly tough for her lately (again we assume this is attributable to the anxiety around the recent lack of structure). Advance warning of a transition and a short countdown tend to help mitigate her difficulty moving from one activity to the next.

 

Things to look out for:

As many of you know, Brooke tends to fall into patterns with people immediately. She will expect the same greeting day-to-day or seek the same dialogue or conversation she’d had with someone before. While there’s comfort in the routines, they tend to be a barrier to forming real relationships, particularly with her peers. They tend to be confused / put off by her expectations that they will play along. It’s important to pre-prompt her to greet people differently. We sometimes ‘practice’ what we will say when we see someone in order to avoid the ruts. Note: M came up with a fabulous solution to this last year. She would greet him every morning with the same knock-knock joke. He told her that she could tell him a knock-knock joke every morning, but it had to be a different one. We found a couple of joke books and she was on her way to expanding her repertoire while connecting with him in a way that was still comfortable for her.

She has developed a new habit of bending over as if in a bow and putting her head down (like way, way down) when meeting new people. She seems to view it as a game. She will do it and then say, “What do we not do when we meet people?”. We’ve been trying to work our way out of it, but so far we’ve been unsuccessful. If this carries over to school, it’s going to be problematic, especially with new kids. Ideas welcome.

Picking at skin. See above.

Privacy / understanding personal boundaries / circles of intimacy. B began taking the lead on this at the end of last year. We look forward to working together on it as we move forward.

Acknowledging requests. When she makes requests (bids to script included) at inappropriate times, it’s vital to acknowledge it (not fulfill it if it’s not appropriate, just acknowledge it.) She will be fine if she knows that at some point in the future she can (fill in the blank – go to the bathroom, take a break, go to the exercise room, script etc), but if she’s ignored completely, she will persist in asking, assuming that she hasn’t been heard. We very often say, “It’s not time for that now, we’re doing (math, reading, etc) right now. We can do that later.” That reassurance is huge.

Blood sugar drops. If she gets particularly irritable, the answer is often hunger. We’ll send extra snacks just in case. (Overheating can have the same effect, but she is better at recognizing it. She will say, “I need to cool down.”)

Raised voices. She tends to short-circuit when people around her, particularly adults, yell. She has a LOT of trouble processing big emotions from others and her reactions are very often unexpected. For example, if a teacher shouts at the class – or at another student, she may yelp sharply in return. If a child is hurt, she may laugh awkwardly. This is not taunting. It’s what I think of as a processing traffic jam.

Fire Alarms. Last year, M, N and J did a great job of ensuring that Brooke was prepped for the fire drills and that her team had plenty of warning to help her prepare. Thanks to the prep and fabulous team work, she got through them without a single meltdown. This was HUGE as the fire alarm had been a TREMENDOUS source of anxiety for over two years now. It’s vital that she have some warning when possible. When we went to visit the middle school for Katie’s open house, Brooke was so afraid that there would be a fire drill that we finally had to leave.

Medications: Brooke takes small doses of Celexa and Prozac for anxiety. She no longer takes Metadate for attention as we found that it was more agitating than helpful.

 

Above all:

Above all, we’re incredibly proud of our daughter and so grateful that you will be working with her this year. She’s an incredible kid who teaches us something every day. She works harder than anyone we know and continues to make great strides. Despite the seasonal regression, we have no doubt that those of you who have worked with her before will see how many of the pieces of your and her collective hard work over the years have begun to come together.

We are thrilled to have this incredible team working with our girl.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this! Looking forward to a great year.

Warmly,

Jess and Luau

PS If you haven’t yet read her IEP, please do. We worked very hard as a team to come up with a plan that we believe is truly reflective of who she is, the kind of support she needs and what she can do with that support. It’s chock full of details, any of which – like anything else – we’d be happy to discuss any time. Thank you!!

PPS Please pass this on to anyone else whom I may have forgotten, with apologies for unintentional omission.

***

So there you have it. It looks a lot like last year’s note, even if my kid doesn’t. But even among all of the nuanced differences, there is one big one: Brooke contributed to it.

And I think that’s huge. And I think it’s not just huge in terms of the team, I think it’s a small step on the way to a giant leap toward self-sufficiency and self-advocacy.

She is participating.

And the best part?

The very, very, very best part?

What showed up in my inbox last night.

This. (Emphasis mine.)

Hi Jess and Luau,
Thank you so much for composing such a thoughtful email about Brooke’s recent successes and areas that need continued attention. J has also done a fabulous job of sharing classroom strategies that have been helpful in the past as well as details about Brooke’s sweet disposition.  We’re greatly looking forward to working with her and your family this year.
To Brooke: I’m happy to hear you’re excited to learn more about doing hard work! There is a lot of that in 4th grade, but there is also lots of fun! My favorite special in school is art, too 🙂
See you on Tuesday!
~ Ms H

This might just be a very, very good year.

23 thoughts on “dear team brooke – the fourth grade version

  1. Perfect! Last year, I think I stole an idea from you and created The User’s Guide to Bella. I had the opportunity to go over all the details with Kate’s teachers on Friday and everything was received very well! We have a social story for “privacy” and one that was created last your for….(drum roll)…Menstruation!!! WOOT WOOT! Her MALE teacher helped make the menstruation story which was quite funny. Good luck you Brooke and YOU!

  2. That is an awesome letter! I will have to do the same thing. One great thing too, is I visited with the (new)principal at my son’s school the other day. He seems very perceptive to all the ideas and concerns I had. My backbone has been getting stronger, and I think I have you in part to thank for that!!

  3. You are truly blessed to have such a wonderful team! They are also lucky to have such dedicated parents to work with! Good luck to Brooke for an awesome 4th grade year!!

  4. You did, as usual, an incredible job and so did Brooke. I was delighted to read Ms H’s reply. It sounds like we should be looking forward to a great year!

    Love you,
    Mom

  5. What a well-crafted letter, Jess (& Brooke)!! It is so important for us as parents to ensure our children are successful in school and this is such a great way to help those who are charged with educating our precious ones! Communication like this is so very helpful for me as I’m a special education teacher of students with ASD, in addition to being mom to 2 with ASD. It’s SO helpful to have this kind of background info (especially if there’s been down time; aka a break between services) because it helps me prepare for my students and I’m able to get a better handle on areas I need to focus on more and where to begin as the school year starts.
    I also provide my daughter’s team with this type of information prior to the school year–especially since ESY has decreased tremendously each year (she is 14 years old TODAY by the way!). So there has been a lot of “down time” since her 2 hours/day for 2 days/week for 5 weeks ESY ended this summer and she has demonstrated some similar kinds of behaviors/emotions with the increased unstructured time this summer! I like the idea of having Brooke be involved in your communication to her team—it not only gives her team valuable information directly from the source, you’ve also given her the opportunity to participate in the dialog which is about her! By including her in this process is helping her to learn self-advocacy skills!!
    Thanks for sharing everything with us all! I am going to have Katherine contribute to my communication to her team—as soon as she opens up her birthday presents!!!
    Best wishes to Brooke, Katie, Luau, and you Jess, for a successful year!!

  6. Sounds like you are off to a great start. Molly was also a picker and after trying everything possible to make her stop, it turned out to be caused by zoloft. One we weaned her off zoloft, the picking totally stopped. We also had to get a list of fire drill dates in the begining of the year so that she was prepared that morning. When Molly was Brooke’s age she used to say that she couldn’t tolerate the commotion. The school assigned her a fire drill buddy from her classroom. This person would tell her that he would keep her safe and would tell her how brave she was. Many years later, Molly (no longer afraid of fire drills) will tell me how it helped her face her fears. Maybe there is a child in her class that is a sibling of a child with special needs. Those kids tend to have more compassion and might be willing to help Brooke with fire drills and with making friends. Hope the year is a wonderful one for Brooke and your family!

  7. Just as I w as about to composed my letter, I read this. Thank you for sharing it, it gave me so many ideas and will make it so much easier for me! You are a gem Jess, as is Brooke. Can’t wait to hear great things about her school year!

  8. I gave my son’s teacher a cheat sheet on his first day. This weekend I’ve been writing the unabridged version. I used your letter from 3rd grade as a guide. Thank you!!

    P. S. We just started using the Social Thinking and love it. My son really responds to it!

  9. As the mother of 3 on the spectrum these letters are often written by me, but I never know know just what to say. You wording was perfect. I wrote my 8 year old sons teacher a letter a few weeks ago that might have been a bit overwhelming. She rudely replied “thank you for your enlightening letter, but I AM A TEACHER WITH MY MASTERS”. May I use your letter as a template in the future? It is not overwhelming and jamming info down the throats of the team members. You cover all the bases, nothing is forgotten, well done!

  10. Thank you for sharing this! Your insights and ability to express your girl’s strengths and challenges so clearly is so impressive and inspiring. And it sounds like you have such a wonderful team at her school. I hope she has a wonderful 4th grade year!

  11. Great letter that I hope sets everything up for a great year! But I always look at the time that you post. Do you ever sleep? Positive thoughts and best wishes go out to you, Brooke and her team.

  12. The reciprocity of information / communication between you and the district sounds like a Utopia! Is your district well known for being a good special needs district? I envy what you have! I am sure I don’t have to tell you how lucky you are!

  13. Gosh – it could be a great year! 🙂 And thank you for sharing, it could very useful for our communications with our team.

  14. Thank you so much for sharing! I have a little one going into first grade and I am super encouraged by his teacher. This type of letter will really help his teacher, his aide, and the rest of his team understand him a little better. I used your format and some of your verbiage. You are so eloquent!

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