I had a surprise visit from some former students after school today! They are 8th graders now (I had them in third grade) and we had a fun chat and catch up. I inquired about one of the girl’s sisters who had been in our LLD program since she had been in preschool. We witnessed “Jeannie” go from non communicative through extremely aggressive to somewhat “compliant” as a learner and member of our school community. She was one of those kids that everyone knew and everyone pulled for. Things got tougher for her in middle school and an out of district placement was eventually deemed the least restrictive environment for her.
“She’s doing ok, it’s hard,” Ella replied about her sister.
“How is her new school working out? Is it a long ride?” I inquired further.
“Yeah, it’s like an hour and a half. Right now Jeannie doesn’t sleep very well so she bangs on the wall at night and keeps me up. I’m so tired in school but the teachers just say, ‘Why are you so tired? Just get more sleep’.”
Her words brought third grade Ella back to my mind’s eye. The quiet little struggler. Never asked for help. Never let on that she was confused. Never demonstrated much emotion. Just a little person in a room, preferring to blend in and fade away.
At the time I was developing a theory of mine (I do this a lot, my family calls it my ‘fuzzy science’) about the siblings of our challenged students. Not just learning challenged but on the spectrum challenged. I was beginning to feel strongly that a lot of the behaviors we saw in them were a defense mechanism they had developed to help them cope. Let’s face it, when you are little attention is attention. And their siblings were getting all of the attention. When they got attention it was most likely for disturbing the calm in the house in one way or another by disturbing their sibling.
I spoke to Ella’s parents about this at the time because I felt Ella had learning needs that were exacerbated by her reluctance to call attention to herself. They were very open to my concerns and I witnessed Ella come out of the ‘shell place’ she had devised for herself and become ‘Ella’.
I shared this with Ella today. I shared my theory with her. It just sounded like she needed to hear it. I could hear in her that ‘slipping away little girl’ who isn’t too young anymore to begin to advocate for herself. Things are tough in her home, there is no doubt about that, but everyone needs to be able to make mistakes like leaving their lunch on the counter (Jeannie got the lunch and ate it; she is on a very strict diet) without feeling like they can’t make mistakes.
So I told Ella about this blog. About how I was writing everyday and it was teaching me to look at my day differently. I told her, for example, that today’s blog would be about her visit. (Her eyes lit up.)
And I told her she should start to write her story. I told her to write the story of her life from her perspective. I even suggested it could be a fictional piece of writing, about a little girl who has a sister…
She looked at me and said,
“That’s a really good idea. I never thought about doing something like that.”
Then we realized she had to go and she said,
“This was really great, I’m going to come back again!”
I can’t wait to read her story!