Friday, May 23, 2008

A Haunting Melody

(Some identifiers changed for obvious reasons)

Yesterday was exhausting. I had an IEP meeting to attend with a client in a district over an hour away, and the client has had a brain injury. The subsequent damage has resulted in a number of problems, the most significant and overwhelming aspect being frenetic, excessive verbosity.

This has been tough to deal with because the frantic talking is so severe that meeting with them is like being hit by a tsunami of disjointed phrases and topics so disparate that they simply cannot be connected. In addition, the onslaught is powered by a damage-induced frenzy to produce verbiage at a pace and intensity so consuming to the client that he has to be physically grabbed, redirected and told to stop by his spouse.

The first time I met with the clients, I felt like brick wall had fallen on me. That meeting lasted nearly three hours, and I think I got maybe 50 words in. Nevertheless, after a lot of work, I was successful in getting the child’s IEP revised to the parents’ satisfaction. The school district was thrilled to have someone helping the family create comprehensible requests, which in turn helped defuse a situation that had been becoming increasingly contentious and hostile.

There have been additional meetings since then, and in all instances, I have done what I try to do with every client – work everything out well in advance so that the parents and I present at the meeting as a united front, get whatever hard data we can put together in supportive presentation form, and walk in to the meeting prepared for success in getting necessary services.

However, I got blindsided by my clients yesterday. Dad had decided, while I was driving to the meeting, to utterly revise all our previously mutually agreed upon points, opt out of some services, and pretty much wander off in a whole different direction, much to the surprise of Mom and the student. None of us knew about this before the meeting. I usually meet with my clients in the parking lot before meetings to review our position and any strategy, but the family showed up late, and everyone else was already in the meeting room, so we had to hustle. I got no warning of any kind that any changes were in the works.

I did what I could to recover the situation to the student’s benefit and within my clients’ difficult-to-discern, revised wishes, but I was definitely caught off guard. Mom was staring at me, hands cupped around her face, mouthing, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.” The district was in shock, too. We wound up rescheduling, having used all the allotted time trying to figure out what Dad was trying to say.

I held my clients back after the meeting and tried to get an inkling of what had prompted this abrupt change. It took a while, but I did manage to determine that Dad seemed to be vehemently opposed to one particular service and would do whatever it took to avoid it. It was a service the student wanted, the mother wanted, private service providers have recommended it, the school district was willing and eager to provide it, and it is a service I thought was a spanking good idea.

So, knowing full well what I was in for, I asked “Why?” In rolled the tsunami. I searched for fragments of possibly relevant flotsam, filled up my mental pockets with likely bits, and finally called a halt when there didn’t seem to be any more progress to be made.

I drove home annoyed, venting to the inside of my car. I walked into my house, flopped facedown on the couch, and decided to mentally pull the blanket up over my head and pretend I wasn’t there for an hour or two. After I’d recovered a little, I trundled off to Chix. It was nice to chat with other ladies about a number of things not related to my day.

I awoke this morning with something from the past floating through my head, which for me, is like playing a game of “Connections”. I need to figure out the theme of the memory and look at it from various angles to see why my subconscious thinks it’s relevant today.

BC (before children), I tutored a great deal. One of my clients back then was a girl who had been an above average student who seemed to hit a wall and needed academic assistance. Over a period of a few weeks, she got edgier and more distracted and less able to focus on the tasks. I worried that it was me – that I was not connecting with her, that maybe a different tutor would do a better job. Then I got a call from her mother, asking me if I would be able to continue tutoring, even though the child was now in a locked ward at the hospital as a result of attempting suicide.

I was a little flabbergasted and asked why the school or hospital was not handling that. It turned out that they only provided tutoring up to a certain level, and the subjects I had been covering with the student were not considered necessary and were therefore not included. She didn’t want her daughter to fall behind, and the daughter had specifically asked for me to come and help her stay current. Mom was crying and reaching for a lifeline, so I agreed.

It was creepy getting cleared through security, but the aura inside was mostly sad. My student was watching me as I came in, checking my reactions, possibly to see if I was repulsed or frightened or disoriented. When we sat down together in the study area, we looked at each other for a minute or two. I raised my eyebrows, and she shrugged, rolled her eyes a little and brought her scared gaze back to me. I winked and smiled, pulled the first textbook over in front of us, flipped it open and said, “How about we get started?” (Or something much like that, which is my standard line.) I set paper and pencil out, the same way I usually did.

I will never forget her reaction. I heard a light snort and looked over to see her sitting rigid, with tears sheeting down her face, pouring onto her shirt. She reached over and touched my arm very lightly and said, “Thank you. I didn’t know if I’d see ‘normal’ ever again,” and her face showed relief.

That was extent of the memory I woke up with, but since I don’t like to leave anyone in suspense, dark stuff was stirred up, the family imploded as a result, I lost touch, and a few years later I got a card from the student indicating that life was back on track, that “normal” had returned.

I wondered why my subconscious had chosen to plaster that particular memory on the inside of my forehead this morning, as I drank my first cup of coffee and watched a rainy dawn break. Then things started clicking into place – all the services Dad wanted removed were those which would have marked his child as not “normal”. Dad was proposing replacing in-school services with private pay after school services to accommodate the child’s needs in other ways so that the child would have a normal day. Dad was not proposing removing services, just altering delivery times, venues, and oversight because, for whatever reason, he thought having a normal day should be a priority.

I can understand that and work with it. I can sound out the client to see if that’s the case, and we can reorient as a team. It may not be what I’d have chosen or what I would recommend, but it’s not my child. Besides, feeling “normal” is important, too.


Anonymous said...

Ah, Joan, where do you get the patience and the strength... Thou art Wonder Woman!

It is better to light one candle than to curse the darness. You're a candle lighter if ever there was one.

Your fan,

Amber in Albuquerque said...

Well, I was gonna leave an original comment, but I'll just say "What Randy sed."