Party House
Hacking Dinnertime

A True Original

In Noah's Social Studies class yesterday, the kids were divided into two teams for a mock debate. Team assignments were random; no one got to choose their side. 

The two teams? Patriots vs. Loyalists, set to debate the pros and cons of the American Revolution. 

Guess which team Noah was on. Or more accurately, he was supposed to be on, until he freaked out, melted down, and refused to participate. 

We got an email from his teacher afterwards explaining what happened, and two sentences in I knew exactly what was coming. WHY OH WHY DID YOU NOT SEE THAT COMING? 

He couldn't be a Loyalist. Loyalists were the ENEMY. Loyalists were the Bad Guys. Even just pretending to be a Bad Guy makes you a Bad Guy, at least while you're doing the pretending. 

His teacher called it a temper tantrum, but really, it was probably more along the lines of a panic attack. 

It's interesting that this happened so close to Halloween, given all those years Noah refused to wear a costume for similar anxiety-tinged reasons: Pretending to be someone or something else means you must not be yourself anymore. Putting on a costume represented a fundamental change in who he was, and he was not okay with that, even if it was just for a few hours and meant free candy. He wanted to stay Regular Noah. Original Noah. 

It's a rigidity that's stuck with him -- he wants everything be the "original" or "regular" version of itself. He'll accept a modification so long as it can either be undone, or if he has a crystal clear mental image of what the "before" was. He's actually gotten a lot more flexible in this area, and developed some good coping tricks. (I do a lot random Google image searches for him: what did a real Delorean look like, pre-restoration photos of Mount Vernon, and countless tiny costume/set details from movies that might have changed in sequels or remakes, or just are slightly different in "real life.")

But Noah as a Loyalist? On the wrong side of history, the enemy of George Washington? No. No thank you very much, he'll just go sit in a corner and be Original Noah. 

And that's exactly what he did, unfortunately. He was given multiple chances to cool off, calm down and rejoin the class, but he remained adamant in his refusal. He will not receive any credit for the debate project.

While I feel like it was a completely avoidable situation (you know how his brain works! you know the Founding Fathers are his jam! just "randomly assign" him to the Patriots and watch the debate rap battle get LIT!), I understand why the teachers couldn't just cave in and switch his team assignment in the face of an inappropriate, disruptive tantrum. Not the best optics there. I tried to talk to him about it after school, raising the idea that not all Loyalists were "bad guys," they just had different opinions. Maybe some of them just didn't want people to die in a war! That's not a bad opinion to have! Right?

(I think I started to break his brain with that trail of thought, so ultimately I just reminded him about the importance of keeping himself calm and flexible at school and dropped the whole thing.) 

The good news, though, is that Noah has never been so excited about his Halloween costume. He's going to be Marty McFly, in dress and in spirit. Mostly Regular Marty McFly, from the first movie (red vest, jean jacketcalculator watch), but he added a Hoverboard from the second movie. It might not be completely completely authentic, but Noah's super happy with it. He's an Original, after all. 





OK, I haven't even met your child. I'm just a blog reader, and even I knew that wasn't going to go well. C'mon! I am not trying to pile on the teacher. I get that it's a hard job, truly, and I get that each kid is unique and all that, but if some random blog reader from Iowa can anticipate this...
I think, though, that what made me feel really defensive for Noah when I read your post was that the teacher called it a temper tantrum. It just seems like a condescending term to apply to anyone but a toddler, I don't know. I'm probably overly sensitive about that stuff. (My high sensitivity is kind of a big deal at my house, not bragging. #totallybragging)
Hang in there all of you, and keep rocking Halloween! And some year, maybe he'll choose to dress up as something super scary like a Loyalist!

Ann Coleman

There are teachers that are sensitive to children, -and then there are teachers that think all children need to be treated exactly the same. The first kind of teachers may work much harder but they are good teachers.


Ditto what Jen said! Get with the program Teacher! I know, I know, some will say this is real life, blah blah, etc., but...
As a mom, my heart aches for Noah.


My heart breaks for Noah too (and you). Especially because of how good, how absolutely fabulous he would have been if he had drawn patriot.

I can't believe the teacher called it a temper tantrum, and I would need some help calming myself before I responded to *that.* Dang.

Liz Carter

Having a 10 year old boy with a sensory processing disorder, ADD, and who is also very smart, flexibility and cooperation are his two biggest difficulties in school. Honestly, I want my son's teachers to sometimes push him to the zone where he IS uncomfortable, and I have him seen grow by leaps from the teachers that expect more from him rather than those that ignore him or give him an out. If I kept him as comfortable as possible, he'd never be swimming on a swim team or approaching a counter to buy anything alone or even wearing jeans. Now more things have become his choice as he prefers jeans over sweatpants (he gets past that initial irritating feeling and feels like he fits in more) and opts to swim the extra 30 minutes with the team during practice rather than leave early (and the post swimming high he gets is something he loves). As he works through the many things that cause him anxiety, he feels more and more proud to face the challenges that dominated so many parts of his life. Perhaps temper tantrum wasn't the right word to use but I've honestly used the same two words myself a couple times to describe my son to my husband late at night when asked about my day. I like to think of these times as more teaching moments ... how to improve his (and sometimes my!) behavior and also to discuss what he thought the teacher should have done differently. It's hard for teachers - classes are big and time is limited.


I do admire his principles about the whole thing. Something to be said for that!!!


I didn't read the previous comments so I might be repeating something someone else said....but, I'm a teacher and if this had happened in my class, 1) I wouldn't have let it get so far, and 2) ask the group he wants to be in if someone would like to switch with him. Chances are, someone has a friend on the other team and would be happy to switch. Win win. The teacher just made it more difficult for all. Sorry that had to happen for Noah—I bet he was listening to their debate...if he's up for it, I'd have him write down his ideas if he'd been on the team of his choice and submit to the teacher (maybe she has a heart and would give him some credit...but if nothing else, she'd see how smart and passionate he is and maybe tap into that in the future. He's an asset in her classroom and she's missing out big time.).


Here's the thing. Ain't nobody getting into Harvard based on their 5th grade debate projects. It seems, in the interest of fairness and maybe-the-teacher-didn't-handle-that- as - well- as-they-might-have, that there should be some alternative that Noah could do - an essay outlining the Loyalist point of view, something. I mean, I think I might have him do something along those lines just to emphasize the academic nature of these kinds of things. Taking someone else's viewpoint is an incredibly useful skill to have. But I also think it's incredibly wrong to academically penalize Noah for what seems like a very autistic stress reaction, that he had very little control over.
So I would want to talk to the teacher and point out the BIG FLAMING BUTTON that she just pushed on Noah, and describe it as a panic attack, just so they can tell the difference next time. Hello, that's what special needs means. ( And hey, Amy, I absolutely know you got this and don't need the assvice. But as my highly volatile little one wends her way through the system, this counts as future practice for me.)


Perhaps Noah's teacher, the school counselor, and the special education coordinator, and mom and dad need to have a nice little sit down? (I'm so not tell you how to handle this because I know you got this). Because um? This. Not ok.


I'm a teacher too, and I have taught plenty of upper elementary and middle school kids on the spectrum who have had panic-like episodes, and I would never in a million years call it a temper tantrum. I agree with Jen - that marginalizes what is really happening here. This is not a maturity issue. We're not talking about people losing their temper in anger. This is a whole other situation, and yes, sometimes you do need to be flexible and let a kid change groups, especially when you know the kid is incapable of being flexible enough to comply with a seemingly impossible assignment.


While I agree with the sentiments of the comments above, and as a fellow mom who has battled in her child's behalf when necessary, I also think there is value to letting this go if that feels right to you. One of the toughest lessons for any child of this age is that life is not fair, that there is not always a person who gets you, and that you need to be able to deal with that a bit. That resilience that comes from deciding that you are stronger than this moment, and you are ok even if this day was a mess is a true life skill. I also get it if you walk into a 504 meeting and shoot the teacher with a dart gun, because that was a stupid thing for her to do. I am team Amalah either way.


Agree with "Amy" last commenter. Hard to swallow the "temper tantrum" snide remark but also, this could be (was?) helpful to Noah that not everything can be moved around to accommodate your preference , and it sucks, but you just have to power through those times. I'm sure you handled it great and Noah is "wiser" where it matters, because you are a fab mom!


And yeah, I'd probably say something to the teacher about her choice of words. "Special needs" or not, she needs to check herself. That kind of attitude isn't good for a teacher.


Out of curiosity, since school seems challenging for him, are people with Noah's issues and aversions able to hold jobs? What is the future like for him? I can't imagine an employer being very impressed with an employee who "throws a tantrum" because things aren't exactly the way he wants them to be. I guess this is why Noah has different treatments and therapies, to help him prepare for adulthood?


so not a temper tantrum! Very unprofessional and inaccurate to categorize it that way, and, you know, federal law protects Noah and his right to learn in a way that accommodates his special needs.

Along those lines how can she justify denying him credit for the activity?


Let me play devil's advocate for a minute. Did the teacher know how strongly know Noah felt about George Washington before this? I mean, we've all been watching on your blog as you go to Colonial Williamsburg and enjoying the pictures of him engaging in living history, but your worries about Noah seeing different reenactors portraying George Washington were over a year ago, certainly in a different school year with a different teacher. Noah is doing so well, so this may have been the first real anxiety-related meltdown she's seen from him. She might know that he struggles with rigidity, sees things in black-and-white, and has trouble with transitions – that's all in the IEP – but he might be doing so well that he is passing for neurotypical much of the time. My sister's Aspergers went undiagnosed for far too long, because she was dismissed as a "drama queen" from about fourth grade onward. She passes extremely well and has worked very hard to present as typical.... right up until the moment she is triggered and has a total meltdown over an extension cord. I mean, it was not really about an extension cord at all, But rather the fact that it was day five of a family vacation and a beach house with 12 relatives in close quarters, in a crowded boardwalk beach town with a lot of sensory stimulation and additional sensory irritants like sand and sunscreen and missing the cord for her oscillating fan to keep the flies away from our crab feast was the last straw. Even relatives who know that she now sits on the board of an autism advocacy network as an adult were shocked by her extension cord-related freak out. It's not really about extension cords or Loyalists, but for an observer who is used to a super smart person on the spectrum coping well and passing as NT, the meltdowns can be surprising. Maybe the teacher was just thrown for a loop? Hopefully this will be a learning experience for her if you can give her some context. It's still early in the year.


@Amy (commenting above) shoot the teacher with a dart gun? I understand the raised emotions but somehow it's difficult for me to take this sort of comment lightheartedly :-(((


My daughter is a therapist in an autism clinic. And until I read your post, I never really understood why they do some of the things they do to their kids. Triggering them on purpose. (Desensitizing them, I now understand.) They start very very very tiny and work up to more flexibility and tolerance. I guess a zillion different things, a few at a time, they will encounter in the big world. I am pretty sensative to a lot of different stimuli. Some big, some very tiny. So I get it on a lot of different levels from the kids' point of view.

I know she would have had him ask if anyone would switch with him. (She believes in having the kids learn what to say themselves.) So she would have had him sit down until he got it under control and then use his words. And if someone was willing to switch, that is what would have happened. But if no one volunteered, she would have proceeded without him.

And I think the term is "had a behavior".

Snarl Furillo

Oh, man. As a kid, I genuinely believed my teachers when they said, like, "I'm going to draw names out of a hat- it's random!" Even when, flying in the face of probability, the teams were perfectly balanced. (I also believed them when they said they had rearranged the desks over the weekend "because I like to try new things!" or "because I always rearrange the room in November!") I think in a well-managed classroom, nothing is random. So odd that this teacher hasn't figured out that SAYING random to the kids doesn't mean it WILL ACTUALLY BE random.

To the person wondering if Noah will ever be able to work: Yes, totally. One of my closest friends is a grown-up Noah. She;s a behavioral therapist for kids. It's kind of hilariously perfect for her because she is in complete control at all times. She sometimes has Loyalist issues with bosses or coworkers, but she asks other people for advice before doing anything about it. There is a perfectly bright, normal future ahead for Noah.

Fraulein N

Oh god, I feel so bad for him. I understand why the teacher couldn't really do anything about it after the fact, but come on, doesn't she know this kid at all? I remember being a kid and teachers trying to do stuff that was "creative" and it just ending up BADLY. This might be a good learning opportunity for this teacher.


That poor kid. It would be hard for any kid to argue against his hero. I get the point of the exercise, but come on! How is ANYone supposed to be adverse to George Washington?


Two things: it makes me profoundly uncomfortable seeing anyone making any joke about shooting a teacher. Even in jest, and even "just" a dart gun. Second: when I was a teacher, I was discouraged from using language that was "diagnostic" in nature when I was describing student behavior. I am not/was not a clinician; I don't have the training to identify a "panic attack." Temper tantrum isn't the most sensitive choice of words, and I would've opted for describing the behavior (I noticed Noah doing x and y) rather than labeling it. But I can see why she may have wanted to avoid "panic attack" or "meltdown."


I ditto the idea of asking the teacher (with the support of Noah's counselor) to come up with make-up work that Noah can do, because this episode is really on her.


Growing up I held the same belief, that the Loyalists were the bad guys. I also heard about various ancestors who gloriously served the Patriot cause. When I decided I actually wanted to research these people, I was surprised to learn that for all the Patriots, I had just as many Loyalists in my family tree. And you know what they all had in common? They were average people who decided to stand up for a cause they believed in. My ancestors, like many Loyalists, were so ostracized after the war that they decided to leave. They went to Ontario and helped to form a town that still exists to this day. I'm proud of my Loyalists, they weren't "bad guys," they just picked the losing side. In Canada, these Loyalists are highly regarded for their stance, perseverance and eventual numerous contributions to Canada. Perception is everything.


It would be awesome if Noah could do George Washington's part of "Right Hand Man" instead. Brook - you might not have meant it that way but your comment was harsh. We've all matured and changed a lot since fifth grade, Noah still has a lot of years to go, and it's a process for everyone to learn how to deal with various situations. Modern employers utilize the strengths of their employees, and Noah has a LOT to offer. He can see things from a different perspective and stays true to himself. People like that change the world.


Wait, this post has been up for 5 hours and there's not a single Cabinet Battle reference from Hamilton? Amazon Prime has the soundtrack for free. And the words scroll live along with the music (as a line is being sung, those words get highlighted). My 6-year old has insisted we listen to it in the car so often that it taught her how to read. And curse! If Noah loves American history that much, you HAVE to listen to it with him.


My takeaway... my kid is not even formally Dx with anything but bland anxiety. But this post exhausts me. And you, so much, each time. Ideally, teacher knows he has to be pushed some, but not so much that you get dragged into it, because if you are, you are exhausted and anxious and it rubs off and spirals. It is not exhausting for them, they are not as invested. If they are pushing him so hard that you have to pick up pieces (or he gets a zero); then obviously that's too much. My son doesn't act this way unless he has some trust though. He saved his tantrums for us, then for the gifted teacher who tried to be understanding; generally: so he tried to control that (your situation sounds like it may be quite different). Same except he isn't Dx with anything but gifted, and it was a 3 month project where he didn't get group assignment he wanted and then tried to control whole situation, and she HAD to shut him down. Some hard lessons. Again don't know if this is what is going on with you; as much as the risk that comes with pushing for typical. But they aren't typical. Seriously is it moon? Facebook and the blogs I read and all of it; everyone has had a rough week. Also I talked to the bus driver for 15 minutes yesterday because she won't write up my 6th graders but he feels me is being mistreated because the high schoolers weren't getting in trouble and OMG. You are not alone. HUGS.


(But seriously the bus driver (who made him give her my #) understood- she knew- something other than misbehavior was behind my kid's meltdown. I explained- he can't deal with being called our just yet. If you get him in trouble in front of everyone, if you publicly back him to a wall, only worse will result (thank God our stop happened when it did). She didn't manage it well in the time, maybe (but she was driving a bus), but when I said- he can't deal with being called out like that, and that is not good, but that is that, she got it. (Of course my kid is still like- justice for ADHD I was NOT in the aisle!) maybe the social studies teacher was just caught up in, ugh now all of them will want to switch and I'm trying to teach and maybe desperate decisions, but she will get it, once she understands, assuming she didn't have info on which to do so already)


(Noah will always be my Most Favorite Internet Kid. I <3 him.)

Yeah, so, okay...for Halloween: Now I'mma need Ike to go as Dr. Emmett Brown again, and Ezra as, perhaps, Biff Tannen. Therefore, hence, ergo: you and Jason would naturally go as Lorraine and George McFly. Photos, kplsthx.


Not totally surprising....but at least he's feeling good about Halloween. That's way more fun than a classroom debate!

Maybe Noah can talk to his teacher so she can change her perspective a little bit and not view it as a "temper tantrum"...a conversation or a note from him could go a long way towards helping her understand. Of course you can talk to her, but he's getting older, and he's going to be expected to learn history (especially) in a much less black and white way. While he isn't ready to include role-playing in that in all ways, or might need a lot of help to do so, his teacher is responsible for making sure he understands multiple perspectives in some way, not just the ones he agrees with. So for the sake of his future assignments and comfort in class, maybe he can find an alternate way to show his knowledge. I've helped a lot of kids talk to their general education teachers about a variety of issues, and it is usually much more productive and beneficial when they are involved.


My heart aches for him in this situation. We always tell our kids that if something feels wrong, not to do it, and this was something that just felt WRONG to him, and honestly I'm proud of him for sticking to his guns. Even if to us it was only an academic exercise, he followed his (strong, visceral) instincts. I feel like the teacher may have really misplayed this one. I wasn't there, obviously, but it makes me feel icky.

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