Banned from regular school life, boy with autism asks: 'When am I going to see kids?'
Mother waits outside while 9-year-old son attends school by himself for 1 hour
Melissa Jones says her nine-year-old son Brayden is "totally excluded from everything" at Sunbury West School in Fredericton Junction since behavioural issues first got him suspended in March 2016.
"He begs me, 'When am I going to see kids, mom? How come I go to school and get locked up in a classroom all by myself?'" said Jones, a 35-year-old single, full-time mother.
Jones says her son must arrive no sooner than nine o'clock in the morning and be gone after 10 a.m.
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He's not allowed to ride the school bus and he can't attend sporting events.
She said he's banned from the playground and the gym as well as all school concerts and assemblies.
"That's not fair," Jones said. "That's not inclusion. That's not what it's supposed to look like."
School officials have been reluctant to speak about individual cases. The Department of Education will not be interviewed but has said schools are following department policy on "inclusion" and a "positive learning and working environment."
Mom can sit in corner or car
Brayden's return to Sunbury West School began Oct. 24 following a suspension that started in November 2016.
As part of the re-entry plan, Brayden is only allowed to attend the school for 60 minutes on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings.
He gets walked into the building by his mother and his one-year-old sister, Autumn.
The school principal then greets him in the lobby and escorts him to his room, where there are no other students.
For the duration of that hour, Jones was given the option of waiting in the parent "corner" inside the school or in her car.
"They want me close by in case something happens," she said.
She usually opts to stay in her vehicle with Autumn strapped in the back.
If she has enough money to pay for the extra gas, Jones says she'll drive around but she won't go far. It helps to keep the car warm.
"I call it the loser lap," she said with a self-deprecating laugh that provides a brief glimpse of how her face appears when it's not drawn down in stress.
Jones said Brayden was diagnosed in 2013 with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, and anxiety.
At the Stan Cassidy Centre in Fredericton, he was also diagnosed on the autism spectrum but only about eight months ago.
Communications to Jones from the school describe Brayden's actions as defiant, disruptive, intolerable and aggressive.
The November 2016 suspension was triggered by complaints that Brayden had threatened to hit other students on the playground with a stick.
The suspension notice said he called the vice-principal a "f--king asshole."
"Violent behaviour has been escalating since last week, running through hallways, swearing, banging lockers, slamming doors, running in the hall, and swore at principal," the notice read.
In another incident report, Brayden is accused of punching the vice-principal in the shoulder, knocking over school furniture, smashing metal garbage cans and calling the police.
Jones believes much of this behaviour could be avoided if Brayden had someone around to redirect him.
She said she'd like to go to school and talk to the staff about Brayden's triggers, as well as the calming strategies that she's used with success.
But according to the re-entry plan, Jones is not allowed to speak directly to school district staff, at least not on school property. All communications must go through email.
Jones said one of her son's triggers is his frustration with reading, which was last assessed at around the Grade 1 level.
She added that educators at the school don't understand how difficult it is for Brayden to regulate his feelings, and she said he doesn't know how to ask for help in controlling his emotions.
"He has a real problem with literacy," said Jones.
"And when he gets frustrated, then he leaves [the class] and that's what gets him in trouble. He's lacking the communication piece that says 'I need to leave.' He's not capable of saying that. When he's frustrated and past that point, he just needs out."
Limited support staff
Jones said one of the reasons Brayden is expected to stay on a 60-minute schedule until January is that his support staff have limited availability.
His team includes a resource teacher, a social intervention worker, and an educational assistant.
Jones said it's clear that Brayden needs more trained behavioural support, especially from someone who can help him with change and transitions.
"This year the entire staff that works with him is brand new," Jones said.
"There's not one familiar face in the room that could say, we've tried that. We've worked with this plan. He's capable of that. They've taken him right back to square one."
Jones said she receives daily reports on what Brayden does with his hour, including the notes on how he conducts himself.
If he speaks too loudly or interrupts or fidgets or fails to follow directions, it's documented.
There's no indication that he's working on regular school lessons.
According to the notes, he plays with wooden blocks and plays games such as Battleship. He also works on puzzles.
Brayden's individualized learning plan lists his goals as "tolerating refusals" and "tolerating three demands in an hour."
When he is asked if he ever gets to read a book or work with any numbers, the answer is no.
But later at home, he demonstrates he is able to read a children's book and with some assistance, he can sound out the bigger words that are less familiar to him.
When asked why he thinks he only goes to school for one hour, Brayden replied: "Because I was bad. That's what they say."
When asked if he remembers doing anything bad, Brayden recalled picking up a stick in the schoolyard because he was pretending to be hiking, he said.
"They told me not to hit anyone with it," he recalled. "I wasn't even swinging it."
Jones said the school district has approved up to 12 hours of tutoring per week for Brayden, but nobody wants the job.
The district has contacted 30 people on the supply teachers' list and none of them is interested, she said.
In the meantime, Brayden spends his hours at home watching YouTube videos on how to fix things.
He also spends time with his neighbour, watching him work as a mechanic.
This week, dressed in a suit jacket over a dress shirt, Brayden tried to help his mother scrape the frost from the windshield.
He's loving and affectionate with his little sister, and Jones is convinced he could be that way more of the time.
But she wants changes in rules that she believes have effectively eliminated Brayden from the classroom.
"I want to see changes to these policies," she said.
"I'm not saying put them in mainstream all the time. But I'm saying these kids, with the right guidance, can be successful."