A few years ago, we started S in the local public school for Kindergarten. He was so very excited! He couldn't wait to go to school and ride the bus and learn all sorts of things :) We did the orientation and the bus tour and met his teacher and got a tour of the school and all those new-to-school things one does and his excitement just grew and grew and grew. It was adorable!
That excitement was short lived. To this day, I still do not know exactly what happened at that school--they circled the wagons and just would not talk to me. I would get calls about behavior that was completely out of character for S and when I tried to find out what had happened, the principal would say they had nothing to do with it, S just acted that way. According to him, there was never any provocation, no one was ever involved, it just happened. I never tried to deny he had done something, even when it seemed highly unlikely (such as the time the principal said he beat up a group of third graders), I just wanted to understand the circumstances leading up to whatever they said he did. I couldn't work with him on proper behavior and responses if I didn't know what happened, you know?
On the day we pulled S out of that school, he came home in tears. He had a "talk" with an adult at the school and she told him that his brain was bad and so he was bad and since it was his brain that was bad, there was nothing he could do about it and he would always be bad. When I called the principal, I told him that I was giving his staff the benefit of the doubt because surely no adult would say such things to a child. However, it is important that you verify the kid understands what you are trying to say because what a child hears is often NOT what you are trying to say. S was so upset over this and all I wanted was for him to have another "talk" with whoever it was so she could clarify what she meant and help him. No matter how many times I tried to tell him he was not bad and not doomed to be bad forever, it still came down to the fact that someone in authority, that he trusted, that was at his school where he knows he goes to learn, made him feel worthless and he needed to hear from her that he was not. The principal's immediate response? No one ever talked to him. No investigating, no conferring with the teacher and aides, nothing. Just an immediate, no one talked to him. How the heck would he know that? How can he with confidence say no one spoke to my son at all the entire day?
It was the last straw. We pulled him and within a few days he was enrolled at a charter school in the small city about ten miles or so away. There is no bus service so I drive him there and pick him up--it is a bit of a strain budgetwise because of the gas but it is such a better place for him. If there is a problem, or even a potential problem, they talk to us. We work together to come up with solutions. They even helped him mostly get over the "talk" he had at his former school. He still occasionally brings it up but he recognizes that while sometimes his behavior is bad, he himself is not--he is learning and trying and working at it. But the fact that he still brings it up is heartbreaking :( He still has that fear that maybe it is true and he is bad.
Last month during one of our family movie nights, the kids wanted to see Wreck-It Ralph. I did not realize when we got it from redbox that it would become so important to S and would provide such an awesome platform to help him continue to work through the lingering issues he has from his first Kindergarten experience as well as issues with his ADHD & SPD. S knows he is different from the other kids. He has trouble sitting still, things are harder for him to learn, he has impulses other kids do not. We talk about what ADHD and SPD are, try to show him he is not alone and many other people have it, too. Try to show him that everyone has strengths and weaknesses and that even though he may be teased for being "different", he is still awesome. Sometimes, though, it is rough because he is at the age where he just wants to fit in and doesn't realize that everyone has something different about them, everyone has struggles, everyone has things they need to work through.
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Enter Wreck-It Ralph :) S really identified with Ralph. Ralph was a bad guy. He did bad guy things. The other characters of the game treated him differently. The Bad Guy support group reinforced the idea that a bad guy is a bad guy and there isn't much you can do about it. And yet Ralph is not a bad guy. He doesn't want to be a bad guy. He wants more. And then there's Vanellope--she, too, is different and gets teased and picked on because of it. S thought her "glitches" were kinda like him--she had some control over it but not enough to make it stop, it sometimes interfered with what she wanted/needed to do, and the other kids were mean to her about it.
And yet, those things did not define them. Ralph's job may have been a bad guy, but he himself was more. He was kind and smart and brave. Vanellope wasn't just a glitch--she had dreams and talent and determination. The characters get a happy ending and I think S really needed to see that. It helped him articulate some of his fears about being different but also gave him hope. Other people saw Ralph as bad but in the end, he showed them he wasn't. Like S, Ralph believed them for a long time but when he decided he was more than a bad guy, he worked hard until he was at a place he was happy with. People saw Vanellope as just a glitch but she showed them she was so much more. Vanellope always had confidence in herself--she always knew that she was special and could do much more than people thought. I have been working with S since the day he had that "talk" at school on having more confidence in himself and seeing all the things that are special about him. While we have made tons of progress, seeing Ralph and Vanellope really hit home with him. I wonder if there will come a time years down the road where this movie will be in his "defining moments" category? It may fade away in memory for him but I think it will always have a special little spot in my heart for the many many teachable moments and conversations it gave us.