Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Pencils, Intestines, and Testicles, Oh My

We knew as we watched him get off the bus that his day was already on that slippery downhill slope; his body was in constant motion, feet moonwalking, arms gyrating, lips moving as he belted out the words to Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Mania had a firm grip on his shirt collar and we were all in for a good shaking that day.

In my life skills classroom, Fridays were meant to be that day when we unwound from the rigors of the week. We spent the first hour of the day wrapping up unfinished business -- quick assessments of progress towards meeting IEP goals. That particular morning the students were expected to complete independent work at their workstations while awaiting their turn for spelling and dictation assessments at the computer. He balanced his chair on two legs, occasionally only one, complaining loudly, "Why do I have to do this stupid work?"  When it was his turn to work at the computer, he came bouncing over, sat down a moment then jumped up and spat something into a nearby wastebasket. I'd remember that event several hours later. Of the four students taking spelling tests that morning, he was the only one to spell each of his words correctly (hurray!) and the only one to type his dictation sentences with all the words run together iamafraidofthedark, iputmytoysaway, mydadsaidno, icancatchtheball, westandforthepledge, ialwaystrytodomybest, didyouaskforacookie, iateallmydinnerlastnight -- his mind was racing as fast as his body. I went to his desk to check the status of his independent work; and it was there I discovered THE PENCIL, gnawed into 2 pieces with the pink eraser scattered in crumbs across the floor. Aha, I thought; he was chewing a bit of eraser and spit it out, knowing that he would be in trouble. Destruction of work materials was one of the behaviors which earned him a ticket to the PASS room, a very structured, more restrictive environment than the life skills classroom; so, off he went.

It was about 2 hours later, as we sat in the cafeteria eating lunch, that a scary thought crossed my mind -- where was the silvery band that cupped the pink eraser to the end of the yellow pencil? I returned to the classroom and began to sift through the several wastebaskets scattered around the room. No, not in the basket by his desk, but YES, nestled in the wads of discarded tissue in the wastebasket near the computer was a small piece of crushed metal, molar stamped and crumbling. It was the band of metal that held that pink eraser to the yellow pencil. I carried the evidence to the PASS teacher and discussed with him my concerns that perhaps he had cut his mouth or swallowed some of the metal that would later irritate his intestines. The nurse came and examined his mouth and tongue; she collected the remnants of the chewed pencil and metal band, placing them in a small plastic bag and then left to call his mother. In the midst of singing, "So, You've Had a Bad Day," he stopped. A look of panic crossed his face and he whispered, "Can I go to the nurse? I have to know, did I break my testicles?"

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