“He’s a BAD boy” the little girl in Johnny’s class says very loudly while we are all sitting around the lunch tables at the Pumpkin Patch farm. Silence. Who is she talking about? I look over at Johnny who is happily sitting at the lunch table surrounded by his classmates. Of course she is talking about Johnny who is very excited making lots of sounds and doing lots of babble. Silence.
I turn to the little girl and take a deep breathe and try to add a smile to my face and say ” He is not a BAD boy.” Ah but the little girl is undeterred and says Johnny interrupts class by making sounds and not doing what he’s suppose to so he’s a BAD boy. The ECE teacher is at that table and tells the little girl that what she is saying is not very nice and that everyone makes BAD mistakes, even teachers. That was not the answer or help that I was looking for. “Johnny is not a bad boy. He is a boy who cannot speak and who makes sounds and does things when he’s trying to communicate.”
“Why can’t he speak?” Sigh how many times have I asked myself that question? “Well we all have things that we find easier to learn and things that are really hard to learn. Johnny finds learning to talk to be very hard but learning to play the piano easy.”
Another little girl asks “When is he going to learn to speak?” How many times have I asked myself that in the wee hours of the morning. “He’s learning right now and in fact you are all his little teachers. He listens to you and learns how to say words.” The next 10 minutes of small talk at the lunch table felt almost like torture to me as I tried to keep my happy face on while inside I was crumbling. They are only four I know but it doesn’t make it any easier. I wonder what is going through his mind hearing what some of his classmates are thinking about him. Does he hear this a lot?
Earlier in the morning when we were all waiting in the classroom some little girls decided to sit around Johnny and introduce themselves to me as his friends. They were very sweet and friendly and seemed to like Johnny a lot. They wanted me to know that they know he’s still learning to talk and they are helping but he gets into trouble a lot. “What???” I know he’s been dumping bins of toys but he does this with one bin repetitively over and over again when he has lots of anxiety. He also taps someone on the leg or arm when he wants to get their attention but the little ones might think he’s hitting. The teachers keep telling me that he’s a sweet boy who follows all their directions fine and handles transitions easily. “He needs time outs” “he gets time outs” What!!!?
I think its time to clarify with the teachers what is going on in the classroom. Are the children confusing the verbal prompting or reminders that the teachers have to give Johnny for being BAD? Are the teachers handling Johnny’s behavior in such a way that they are treating it as BAD behavior and not just doing something to communicate or get attention?
I’ve had to take a lot of courses on Applied Behavior Analysis and the one thing that I keep getting told is never name a behavior as being BAD. That’s just your perception and one person’s “BAD” is fine with someone else. The behavior is “dumping bins” “tapping” or “making sounds” and then you try and figure out what happened just before the behavior and why is he doing that? Johnny is not doing these things just to be BAD. He is trying to communicate, get attention and sometimes he is stimming. It is time to get answers and to bring awareness when needed.
Update: Johnny had a bad night last night. He woke up with a nightmare at 12:30am and then he came into our room at 2am for the first time ever and woke us up. He was very restless and full of anxiety. In the morning he seemed very sad and started tossing some toys. I asked him to come over and try and tell Mommy what was wrong. His lower lip started to quiver and tears started falling. I held him and just said the first thing that came to my mind “Johnny you are my GOOD boy sweetie”. Suddenly I got a fierce hug and he put his hands on my cheeks looking me in the eye and I said it again. “Johnny you are my GOOD boy” and he showered my face with kisses over and over again. I don’t think this was a coincidence and he understood what the other children were saying and was effected by it.