Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tornado Boy Behind The Wheel

"Tornado Boy" copyright 1994 s.weese

As promised I will continue with my golden rules.  From my original blog earlier this month:

2. Families are the bottom line. So don't expect the school district to fix it.
Yesterday our son came over to show us his latest ride.  At 23 he's had at least 6 cars since he started driving at 18.
He wasn't ready at 16 to drive. His hand/eye coordination was not quite there.  I would take him out in my jeep to practice.  I have to say, of all the trials and ordeals we had been through, this was my most difficult.  He got behind the wheel careening for other cars, signs, trees, you name it.  I felt as if I had just completed an intense aerobics class. My heart rate had been way up, my muscles tensed, and my legs exhausted from pushing my imaginary brake petals on the floor.  This took about 9 months. Until I felt he was ready for driving school.

 When we signed him up at the local driving school I admit great relief.  He took the road part of the class twice.
When he got his license at 18 in Santa Fe, I don't think he had to take the road test.  They just give you a license if you can pass the written part.  He had saved money for a truck.  And what a truck it was.  An '83 Dodge: the manly man's truck.  We could hear him coming 3 blocks away.  I was so proud that this kid had earned his own money through his job at the vacuum store, and as a school district IT installer.  I didn't care that it was loud, rusty, and got 4 miles to the gallon.  Every time he left in it, my heart went into my throat with fear. But pride pulled it out again.  And my son, being my son took it apart and put it back together MANY times. 

So back to #2.  The school district can only do so much.  Now there are programs for Autism.  When my son was in school only non verbal, low IQ Autistic kids had a home.  They were in what I call a "warehouse program." These programs just keep kids for the 6 hours a day required.  Few gave any stimulation, and were a mix of Special Ed categories.  Our district offered:  "Inclusion" or residential placement.  Not great options.   So I chose inclusion and forced our school district to give my son a 1:1 aide.  She was the first in our district.  The aide was not trained, and I was called almost daily about one incident or another.  At this point I realized that the school was only going to give him part of what he needed.  It was up to me to provide the rest.  His biological father was in total denial and we got divorced.  He eventually lost all visitation rights, and that started a marked improvement in my son's behavior.  But that's another story.

The physical therapist at school had offered to teach him how to ride a bike.  We bought him a bike with training wheels.  He learned to ride that.  The PT got off the bus there.  On my son's 8th birthday his biological father insisted that he could learn to ride the bike without training wheels. Off they came, and what I believe as abuse started. He pleaded, yelled, threatened. Then physically grabbed him by the back of the neck with one hand on the bicycle seat and pushed him down the driveway. He let go, my son fell, and ran into the house crying.  This happened a few more times.  Then I called a halt to the whole thing.  I couldn't bear to watch this anymore.   I suggested a 3 wheeled bike so that my son could ride independently with us on bike trips.  "Three wheeled bikes are for retards and old people,"  my ex said.   I felt being able to join others riding bikes was more important than the number of wheels it had.  Soon after this I filed for a divorce, with an order of protection.  

The day after my former husband was "extracted" from our house there was a used 3 wheeled bike for sale in the paper.  It was owned by an IBM maintenance engineer to ride with his tools from building to building.  It had a huge metal tool box on the back.  The tires were solid, and that was perfect for our farm gravel, long driveway.  When my son saw it he was beside himself with joy.  He loved "packing a bag."  So he filled it with all his computer parts, tools, tape, and oddities he loved so.  He rode that bike for years up and down the driveway.  Steering, stopping, and judging distance were the first steps for him to learn riding a bike.   Later when he was a bit more coordinated I bought him a green (favorite color) road bike that was a size smaller than the bike shop said he needed.  He could easily put his feet down if he lost his balance.  And within 48 hours he was riding that bike everywhere (new problems arose with that milestone!). He rode his bike to school for 3 years.   My point in telling  you this story is that I taught him, not the school district to ride his bike.  Next, it would be a car!

I knew that he needed socialization, and that was my priority.  Grades 1-3 were a disaster with inclusion in a regular Ed class.  By 4th grade they sent a 1:1 teacher to our home and I designed the program.  We taught to his perseverations (obsessions).   He worked in a TV repair shop, a nursing home running the Bingo games,  went to the rock climbing gym,  and various other off site places he could socialize.  "Chicken Math" was implemented.  After school I had him horseback riding, art therapy class, and various other activities matching his perseverations.  By about 7th grade he was ready to enter the classroom again, with an aide.  We switched school districts and he went to a Magnet school my daughter had attended for 8 years.  His first aide there was this hot babe who was a young Israeli woman. On their first day together she brought a picture of herself with an Uzi strapped to her back when she was in the Army.  The message: don't give me any shit kid, I can take you down.  He got it, and treated her with total respect.  The other 7th and 8th grade boys thought he was the luckiest kid in school to have this beautiful woman with him all day.  

I continued to battle with the district about behavior modification.  They just didn't get it.  And trying to have everyone who came in contact with my son be consistent is an unrealistic expectation.  When they gave him a time out for bad behavior...they were actually giving him exactly what he wanted.  He wanted to be alone, in a quiet place and do something he liked.  He figured out very quickly how to get to that time out place in a busy grade school.  In 2nd grade at the end of the school year he started acting out at about 11am each day.  The teachers, and psychologists, and aide all had these theories as to why.  My son does not like to be hot.  The principal's office and waiting room were the only air conditioned rooms.  One day he told me that "Mr. Cunningham's office is the only "woom" with air conditioning in my whole school."  The light bulb went on.   I called the Principal and told him my idea.  The next day like clockwork, as soon as the building heated up, bam, outburst, off to the Principal. This time the Principal asked my son: "do you know why you are here?"  My son said: "Yes, cause you get all the perks, and have an air conditioner."   The staff began to give my son lots more respect, than they had before! 
In their minds he had been some psychotic kid, and now he was just hot.  :-)

If you wonder why I do not have a photo of my son, or mention his real name-there is a reason.  He does not want his picture anywhere on the internet, and he wants his privacy.  He also doesn't want his biological father finding him or me.  These excerpts are from "Tornado Boy" a book written and based on my daily sketchbook when he was growing up.  I hope one day he will give me permission to publish it.  In the mean time, I respect his wishes and he remains anonymous.  The  drawing above : "Which road to take" is from this book.  (Copyrighted, and may not be used without my permission.)

Thanks for reading.
Each day is a gift. Open now.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this... thank you. One word kept popping into my head.... exceptional..... exceptional mother, exceptional love, exceptional understanding and communicating....