Riley has been having a very rough year. She is with two “new to her” teachers, both are kind, and doing their best, but it does not seem to be working. When it isn’t working, there is an unsaid disapproval Riley feels. From others. From herself. No one has done anything grevious, or wrong, but she takes in the message and believes, she is “the problem.”  Disapproval of yourself, for who you are, for something you can’t change; there is nothing worse. 

In prep for the service dog going to school I asked for and received a list of the meltdowns, triggers, duration, time of day, etc. It was way more than I expected. Not a week has gone by this school year where she hasn’t had at least two meltdowns, often more, and some of them are going on for two hours. There are also big meltdowns every single night during homework. The kid is stressed, and school is the issue. There are a bunch of social issues too. She is ruminating on “I’m a baby. I’m the youngest. I hate being the youngest girl.” She is chronically worked up over this, fighting daily about going to school. 

But you know what? She is a baby. Socially, she is so confused. Her peers have been good to her, but she’s different. She does not understand 4th grade banter,flirting, any meanness, even in jest. She feels like a baby because she’s innocent. But she is so aware of being different. To her, at this point, it just means she is fundamentally wrong. She compares herself constantly to her peers and in her eyes she never quite measures up.     

You don’t have to be a genious to know prolonged negative stress breaks down the immune system and leads to disease. Physiologically, what is happening to this girl? Two days ago I was combing her hair, getting ready to put it in the bopsy little pony tail on the side,  just how she likes it, and I found a grey hair. A grey hair on my nine year old.

There has not been a lot of support for the service dog among the staff at school. The teacher who would be handling it is supportive, but mostly there is a tentative vibe, or worse, an eye-rolling type of energy. The once friendly principal now basically avoids us. The special ed higher-up claims to want to do a home visit, to learn more about Jingle but doesn’t call back.

I believe if we wanted to, we could shove this dog down the school district’s throat. Legally we could get our way. And how much of our life energy(and money),otherwise devoted to our kids, would be lost? How awful for our “attention shy” Riley to be the center of a legal battle. And even if we get the dog in the door, we can’t force it to work. Jingle is very helpful at home, at martial arts and at cello lessons, but if the school isn’t fully supportive, I am never going to be able to relax. Jingle will have to be perfect every second she’s there, and since she’s a living breathing creature and not a robot, that won’t happen. It all seems so upstream.

Riley is a very sensitive person. So sensitive she can’t tolerate perfectly intolerable things most of us have desensitized ourselves too.  I don’t think that is a bad thing.

Over the summer we went to a baseball game. You have to pass by a movie theater to get inside the stadium. Under the marquee, there was a poster for a horror movie. On it, a woman was covered in blood. A jagged shard of glass poked through one of her eyes. Hundreds of people passed it on the way out of the baseball game. None blinked. Riley wept.

Why the hell aren’t we all weeping? What is wrong with the world? Riley is not the problem. She points out the problem.

This girl experiences her feelings, ALL of them. When she is lined up with Who She Is, (and it is often) her joy is palpable. When she isn’t, it is intolerable to her. She does not walk around with negativity or sarcasm. No low grade misery like the rest of us. In my soul I know this child did not come here to conform. She is not a square peg needing to be contorted into a round hole. She is brilliant, but will likely never be a nine to fiver. She’ll likely not go to college in the traditional way. Why are we attempting to prepare her for that? How many people who take that route are actually happy anyway? This girl is a creative force, with no time or energy left to create after putting her all into maintaining at school, and often failing miserably.

Who says she has to do everything like everyone else? What an impossible thing to ask of her.

We’re seriously considering homeschooling Riley. 

Do stay tuned.

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29 Responses to Decisions

  1. Niksmom says:

    Makes total sense to me. It’s why we pulled Nik from school when we did; we decided his needs were more important than the time, energy and resources it would take for us to fight it out with the school district.

    Do you read Kyra Anderson’s blog, If not, check it out…she homeschools her son “Fluffy.” It’s amazing what they do and the journey and lessons they teach each other. You and she remind me a bit of each other. That’s a compliment, btw. 🙂

  2. Public school is not for everyone. I know this from experience. Maybe homeschooling is the right path for Riley and You. Or there might be an online school that works for kids her age. I did cyber school for three years and loved most of the first two then acording to all the grown ups hit my educational platue. Theres something right out there for Riley and I know in my heart you’ll find it.
    Sending hugs and Indy Kisses

  3. Susan Hendrickson says:

    I think it sounds like the right thing to do. She could still do her running club and martial arts, friendship circle, etc. Why put her through the bs at school if you don’t have to. Hugs!

  4. goodfountain says:

    I can understand why you are considering homeschooling?

    Can I ask? Did Riley always have anxiety even when she was young? or was that something that developed later? I’m just curious.

    It seems like anxiety is common with Asperger’s, I’ve not seen a high level of that with Charlotte -so I’m just thinking about the future.

  5. Michelle O'Neil says:

    Nik’s Mom: I do know and love Kyra. What a wonderful compliment!

    Chloe: Thank you for your input and support!

    Susan:Thanks for the support!

    GF: She’s always had anxiety. God bless your little one and may she never experience it.

  6. pixiemama says:

    Your Riley, my Reilly. Stuff GETS to them. I totally understand where you are coming from.

    Can you do it? I mean, HT works long hours. I know you want what’s best for Riley, of course you do, but home school scares the crap out of me. So much commitment.

    Behind you, beside you 110% whatever you decide.

    And, as always, you amaze.


  7. GoMama says:

    If there’s anyone who can take that on, it’s you. Seems like the natural conclusion for you two. I, on the other hand, am a lesser woman and know my own limitations.

    Do search out online supports, or possibly even local homeschooling “circles” where there may be some occasional group interaction. Good luck with this. Keep us posted.

  8. Amanda says:

    Riley is a wonderful person to be celebrated and accepted as she is. Being different is a good thing, it’s other people’s perception that’s the issue. What are all your options for education with Riley? Is it just her school or home school or is there something else?

    Attitudes like your eye rolling school staff just wind me up instantly. They wouldn’t eye roll at a kid needing a wheel chair, or would they? Yes I know wheel chairs don’t jump up or bark or need to pee and poo but the need is just the same. If it was a blind kid would they refuse a guide dog? Can they not see Jingle could make their lives so much easier? Less meltdowns means less class disruption and EVERYONE gets more achieved. Just how short sighted can they be? I’m off to walk the dog, this is SO FRUSTRATING!!!

    Love and hugs to you all


  9. *m* says:

    I think homeschooling makes a lot of sense if you can take it on.

    Part of me hates to see the school let off the hook, though. After all the time you have waited for Jingle, and considering the help she is in calming Riley’s anxieties at home, it would be nice to see how Riley and Jingle would do in the school setting. Nothing shuts people up faster than success.

    Then again, I think there are many, many benefits to homeschooling — and plenty of downsides to public school. (Don’t get me started on that one.) Kudos to you for, as usual, being so tuned into your girl and working so hard to find the right answers for your entire family.

  10. Anne Dwyer says:

    I homeschooled my son for about 6 weeks in the first grade….long story. And, fourth grade was incredibly difficult for him. The teacher described him as having the ‘deer in the headlights’ look.

    About homeschooling: there are many people who are doing it in your area. You can find them and join in some activities, even before you begin homeschooling. Our local homeschool group met in a local library. So Daniel and I attended these meetings. You get a chance to meet the parents and see what they do. In the end, though, he missed being with kids every day and he hated the fact that everyone went off to school and he didn’t.

    As to the wonderful service dog, Jingle: why don’t you approach her teacher and ask whether Riley can bring Jingle in and introduce him (her?) to the class and explain what Jingle does. Once you make the teacher your advocate with the principal, things will go much smoother. Then you can propose that Jingle join Riley once a week in class. Since you already have data on her meltdowns before the service dog, the teachers can now take data with Jingle there. Emphasize to the teachers that this is a trial and if they have any problems, they can come to you to talk about them.

    You should also research other schools in your area. Maybe one of the other elementary schools handles these things better. Or there may be a private school that would work better for her. Even if you can’t afford to send her to a private school, if you find something really good, you can pick the brains of those school administrators to see how much you can adapt into Riley’s school.

    Research is the key. Then sit down with a trusted, knowledgeable person before you make any decisions. This will ensure that you are looking at all of the data and not just the data that supports what you want to do. (That’s what I did.)

    Remember also that the public school system is an institution that resists change and anything that they think will throw a wrench in an already almost chaotic environment that is elementary school. And they have much bigger guns than you. You do not want to get into a pissing match with them. But the people in the buildings want to be helpful, so use that to your advantage.

    Email me if you want to talk about this more.

    Anne Dwyer

  11. Jerri says:

    Let me start by saying I have no idea what you should do, and I’m not asking to point you in one direction or the other.

    A minimum of two meltdowns a week at school; one every night with homework. The lack of total perfection is intolerable to Riley. How will home schooling solve that problem?

    From here in the very, very cheap seats, the main problem–the heartbreaking problem–is Riley’s feeling that she is fundamentally wrong. Will taking her out of school enhance or minimize that feeling?

    Like Riley, I can’t tolerate those movie posters. (Don’t get me started on some of the movie trailers.) I agree–everyone should weep, but sadly, the world is not going to gentle itself for us.

    The real question–the one I know you are asking yourself–is “What helps Riley most in the long run?”

    No one on earth is better prepared to answer that question than you and HT, Michelle. You know Riley. You know yourselves. Love guides your choices and your actions.

    It might help to realize that no decision is irreversible. What is right for right now may not be right forever.

    When I get home tonight, I will light a candle for you and your family. I will sit in the darkness, surrounded by the glow and warmth of that candle, and chant peace and love and acceptance into the Universe. It’s a date: 9:30 pm CST. Stop if you can, to feel all the love coming to you. Wrap yourself in it and know that your best is good enough, whatever that may mean.

  12. Gail C. says:

    The mom in me loves that you are thinking so flexibly to protect and honor your child. The lawyer in me is frustrated. If she’s having multiple meltdowns a week and over-the-top anxiety the school is not doing their share. It sounds like she may have an inappropriate placement (maybe the teacher is wrong or she needs a different environment at this point or her service dog) and the school district is obligated to fix it. She has an IEP. They must provide her with an appropriate education. There may be other wonderful options that you don’t even know about. Our district has a smaller class for kids who have extremely high IQs and are on the spectrum. If your district does not have an appropriate placement for her they may need to pay for her to go to private school.

    It sounds like they haven’t even come close to their legal obligations with respect to Jingle. Avoiding your calls – that’s outrageous. How dare they make you guys feel like second-class citizens. I’ve read your blog for years. Your family is a big part of the school. You add to that community. Now they won’t even meet a service dog. If Riley were blind this would make the newspapers. In our district when a child rides the school bus with an epi-pen the district provides an aide for them in case they need the epi-pen. If the school is so concerned let them provide a trained aide for a few weeks while Jingle adapts. As for other children being afraid of dogs – well Riley has her fears too. Why are their needs more important than her needs (and my child is terrified of dogs)?

    My rant is finished and I wish you well with what ever you choose. I’m so not zen.

  13. Kim G. says:

    No answers for you dear friend. Prayers for wisdom and discernment as you seek the best for your whole family.

  14. Carrie Link says:

    M O’N,

    I’m here if you want to talk.




  15. Wanda says:

    I don’t know what it is like to be inside Riley’s skin. I do know what it is like to be more sensitive than the average and to compare oneself and to feel bad about oneself. And if mine were exponentiated, I would probably have 2 hour meltdowns daily, too.

    Lately, I have been wondering what is wrong with us…not Riley–us! I go to the video store and pass by 90%+. I can’t watch 99% of TV. I can only read headlines in the paper. I cringe at media advertising–billboards, posters, video ads, radio ads.

    God help us all. I continue to be amazed by the O’Ns. May you continue to be blessed.

  16. Christine says:

    Ditto everything that Niksmom said. You know? School is hard even for a lot of kids who aren’t extra sensitive. In many ways I think our current education system is very un-natural.

    Good luck with whatever you decide to do.

  17. Amanda says:

    Meg and I are back from an hour walking along the shore and I still do not see the sense in not taking Jingle to school. They knew the dog was coming – you talked about it before you started the adventure – I say turn up to school with the dog every time you go. How about ask them to call you every time Riley has a meltdown and you take Jingle in to deal with it, that way they can see she works. Or, look back at the data you have for melt downs and see when they correlate and take Jingle in for the flash points. My walk has cleared my mind to the point of action and compromise but I’m still mad as hell on your behalf.

    I’m not sure about home schooling, I don’t know anything about it but would that not just consolidate Riley as different? It’s a tough one and I really don’t envy you. Our girls school issues seem so trivial in comparison and I will send you all happy thoughts and hugs.

  18. KC says:

    Wowie wow! Don’t envy you at all, and ended up agreeing with every point everyone has made so far, pro and con. For what it’s worth, we yanked my “typical” special ed kid out of high school the second an alternative charter school option opened up. It was just what he needed, and as always, you’ll find just what Riley needs. Maybe a half-day at school compromise for her socialization and your sanity?

  19. Sally says:

    I am glad you are thinking of it, you could do it, you are an amazing mom. And why don’t more people object to all the crap out there in the world? What’s with all these vampires, wizards, etc? Its all too much.

  20. Jenny R says:

    Like Sally, I’m glad you’re thinking of it too. Sounds like a wonderful education (for all involved!)

  21. Kristen says:

    Why isn’t the school supportive of a service dog? These people seriously need to be trained for kids with those types of needs.
    I may not have what Riley has, but I do know all the stresses of peers, school and life in general. I have pseudoseizures. I have them when I sometimes have a disagreement with Donny, sometimes they happen when I have way too much to do a work, and other times it happens when I can’t get a wrinkle out of shirt (I’m not joking about that). It’s not like epilepsy. The doctors don’t really know how to treat it. But there is cognitive behavioral therapy, but that unfortunately with insurance costs a whopping $180 per hour session! Does it look like I am made of money? Not really. This just makes my pseudoseizures worse.
    Donny has been especially helpful when I have them. He knows to turn me on my side and then let me talk it out, although sometimes I don’t even remember having them.
    I know I may not have kids yet, but I do know plenty of kids who were home schooled and they have no social skills at all. I feel bad for them, because they really don’t know how to talk to people. I knew a girl who was homeschooled preschool- 12th grade and once she got to college she was very awkward- from the social aspect.
    I’d think about those life skills for Riley. They do get a lot of them from being in public/private school, even if they are skills that we may not want them to learn, such as bad language, etc. But those can be turned around through parenting.
    Good luck with your searchings. I know that God will lead you in the right path.

  22. Oh, Michelle, if you can do it, I think it would be great for her (the homeschooling). Even if, like with Nigel, it’s for a certain amount of time, it could really benefit her. I homeschooled Nigel for a year and a half, and it was the best thing for him at the time. With all her other social involvements, I think Riley would do well with it too. Have you talked about it with her? Nigel begged me to homeschool him, which is the main reason why I found a way to do it – because he wanted it so much. I think that’s an important piece of the equation. xoxo

  23. K Fuller Yuba City says:

    First and foremost, it will matter how Riley feels about Home Schooling.
    Start asking in writing for meetings regarding full access for your daughter and her service animal in the Free and Appropriate Public School System that she is entitled to. Start asking for a shadow(not and aide) to be trained to help integrate Riley and her service animal into the school program so that success can be achieved.
    Only you can know and see what she will feel if homeschooling is chosen.
    When we were having so much difficulty with our son’s school program,people kept telling us to pull him and home school him. What next? Home shop him? Home Church him, Home life him?? He needs frequent interaction and experience with peers in order to learn how to act and behave.
    Your daughter lives at a much higher functioning level than my son. No doubt you will research well before a decision is made.

  24. amber says:

    “Why the hell aren’t we all weeping? What is wrong with the world? Riley is not the problem. She points out the problem.”—

    Oh Hell yes!

    Riley is a Mystic. Mystics do not live by this world’s rules– they are here to break rules, in order that we see something deeper. More.

    I would pull her out and homeschool in an INSTANT. I have wondered why you had not made that choice, before. And not only because Riley is different– I have gone back and forth myself with my own kids on this. Because I want them so much to be who they ARE, and not conform or lose the special heart that God gave them…I think “the world” has a way of sucking that out of people. My only reason for not doing this– yet! I still may if I see the need– is MY OWN sanity/balance. Trying to have balance, because I am not “even” enough to subject them to me all the time (lol!) (no. really). But the more I am in the school, the more I KNOW I could do just as good, if not a better, job. I have a teacher archetype…

    Oh, and so do YOU. You have The Teacher, Michelle! You teach me all the time. And maybe what she needs more of, is the more important, deeper, REAL stuff. Public school is just NOT well-rounded for typical kids! Let alone a Mystic kid. She is using all her energy trying to be something she isn’t, when what she IS is so beautiful. And needed here on this earth.

    It is up to you, but I love the idea. I love it, when the parents are not shallow dumbasses, but smart, in-touch teachers…who understand so much more than the mandates of public schools allow for.


  25. Kathryn says:

    I really get it and totally support it. Think you are on the right track for certain.

  26. kyra says:

    you KNOW i’m with you, sister!!!


  27. Heather says:

    Sending positive thoughts and energy your way. You’ll make the right decision. You will. Much love, Michelle.

  28. kario says:

    Oh, Michelle. I am so sorry this is going on for you guys. My oldest (also in 4th grade, also in a completely new situation) is having a horrid time this year, too and we are so frustrated. Instead of grey hair, her adrenal gland has shut down and she hasn’t slept in weeks. We are on a massive campaign of meditation, exercise, diet change and reassurance that we (her father and I) will not let this go on. Next year she will be somewhere else. Exactly where she needs to be.

    I am living this with you guys. Please know that I will pass along any helpful info I find and, in the meantime, my Christmas wish for you is someone to be your advocate. An angel who has experience with the educational system and who can guide you to a spectacular outcome.


  29. It’s a tough decision. I worked with someone who had a son with autism and she said she had worked for many years to try to conform the world to him, and then she realized she needed to conform him to fit into the world. I don’t know which is the right way to go. You do want to minimize her stress. I don’t know if the homeschooling would do that. I do think she will find her own way in the world as she grows. It’s just getting there that’s the challenge.

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