Posted by: autismland | January 12, 2007

Mock Lockdown But No Full Meltdown (#570)

Today I spent ten minutes in a slightly larger than a broom closet sized school bathroom with six autistic children (one my own), six aides, one teacher, and one speech therapist.
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I had gone to observe Charlie in his classroom and, in the midst of chatting with his teacher about how his writing and number programs (Charlie is stuck on identifying the number “20” correctly—-he keeps saying “twenty-two” or “twenty-zero” and we talked about having him work on “20” in a field with other numbers from 22-29), there was a buzz and a voice over the intercom.

“Lockdown, lockdown,” said Charlie’s teacher and aides as they quickly and calmly each ushered a child towards the bathroom. They looked at me: “You have to go in too.” Charlie’s teacher locked the door and we all stood together in the dark bathroom (with the door open—-I am guessing it would have had to be shut if this were for real).

As I leaned against the wall by the door, I made a list in my head of why this might be an interesting ten minutes. Charlie is not so good at being quiet when required to for a long time; it was standing room only, while the wide open space of the empty classroom beckoned. Each student had an aide right next to them; Charlie was with the speech therapist. Everybody stayed in their place and was quiet minus a few giggles and peeps. I have certainly never talked to Charlie about “lockdown” or why, sadly, this has become a “drill” kids in America have to be prepared for. If you judged Charlie’s semantic knowledge based on what he says, “lockdown” is not a term that would be on the list. The students had had lockdown drills before, Charlie’s teacher told me, and knew what to do: Stand still, keep quiet.

They were the model of patience and tolerance for waiting it out, a skill that we have worked specifically with Charlie on not so much for things like waiting in line at a store, as in waiting for me to cook something for him or for Jim to get everything ready for a bike ride.

Maybe Charlie’s fund of waiting-patience got used up in lockdown drill: Later on, we almost had an in-transit meltdown.

“Let’s go to Jersey City!” I said to Charlie after he had eaten his afternoon snack. “We have to go to Mom’s office.” Charlie sat up straight and looked out of the windows with approval as we went east past Newark and onto Routes 1 & 9 which airplanes fly close over and thence onto the Pulaski Skyway. Charlie lay down as much as he could in the faded blue armchair by the window while I discovered that my phone did not work, an important document I need to mail off for a student by tomorrow was missing—-time to get back to work, indeed.

“Squishy ball!” said Charlie as we got into the car. “Gramma Grappa!” I explained that we needed to go to the store first, and to a certain store because Charlie’s teacher had told me that they were running very low on his absolute favorite crackers. He carried the shopping basket around the store as I (and he) put things in it and his cheeks glowed with a smile as we got back into the car.

“Squishy ball.” “We’re going home, that’s where it is.”

“Squishy ball.” “It’s waiting for you at home.”

“Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “We’re going home.”

“Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” (Learning forward and tapping my arm.) “Squishy ball.” “The squishy ball’s at home.”

Drive in silence with a large truck coming up on the left side.

“Squishy ball!” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball!” “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh……”

That was about the worst of it on the highway which was good, as it was rush hour. And as it was rush hour, there was a long line of cars waiting to make the left turn we also needed to make. Charlie, not used to going from Jersey City to the grocery store, did not know where we were, when this trip would end, and when he was going to feel the squishy ball in his hands again, and into a litany of one phrase he went:

“Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “We’ll be home soon.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.” “Squishy ball.”

Etc.

Charlie was crying loudly by the time we pulled up in front of our house. He ran for the ball and wanted to eat dinner but I recommended calming down for fear of flying food and otherwise. I suggested piano and, still crying, he came right over and played extremely well, each note clear under his fingertip.

Leaving the ball behind downstairs, up he ran to eat.

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Responses

  1. Happy Friday! I can imagine how Charlie must have felt not knowing where in the world he was and when he would get that squishy ball that he so very much needed. Poor guy, but it sounds like you guys, as always, got things together.

    I wanted to tell you, I was reading in “George & Sam” and there was a part that reminded me so very much of Charlie. The author is speaking about how Sam was in a state of obsession with washing machines and all of the accessories that go hand in hand with laundry, and had begun identifying loved ones by what color ironing board they had:

    “‘G’anny Ann got red ironing board. Black G’anma [Grandma Hilary, who often wore black] got gray ironing board. Delia got blue ironing board.’ By their ironing boards shall ye know them.”

    Reminded me of Charlie and his identification of his favorite people by the color of their car.

  2. Wow, been there with a train or car in place of squishy ball.

    I was so worried about Patrick when I heard they were practicing lockdown. But from all reports it went fine. I have no idea how I’d ever explain to him why he has to “lockdown”.

  3. Okay, I might just be slightly stupid today, but can someone tell me what lockdown is for?

    I’m glad Charlie was ok when he got home- I get very disorientated if we don’t go the way I’m expecting (when the bus changes its route or whoever is driving takes a detour for some reason). I keep one of my squishy balls in my coat pocket so it’s always available.

  4. I don’t know what “lockdown” is either….

  5. I didn’t really know what it was until yesterday—it means the school practices what to do if there is a situation like that which happened with the two students at Columbine High who killed a number of students and teachers. I’m assuming’s that’s why the teacher locked the door and we all had to go into the bathroom and be quiet with the lights off—–“this is school means today,” one of the aides said to me with a large grain of salt.

  6. I participated in a lockdown drill with our local police a few summers ago. The part that struck me: it could take two hours to “sweep” and evacuate our school. During that time there would be no information to the kids and teacher huddling on the floor or crowded in the bathroom. The evacuation itself was intense, even though we knew it was a drill.
    But all in all, I understand the procedure now and I have developed a strong level of trust in our local officers.


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