Excellence in Special Education

A feature of my son’s behavior is disinhibition. In plain language, Liev’s mental brakes have a higher threshold, so he is more likely to flush things down the toilet and shout at the cat.

Curiously, Liev’s threshold varies day by day. Some days a forgotten hair clip rests safely by the sink; on others, the clip would be sent spinning down the pipes. Positive behavioral supports don’t help much. The only wise thing to do is plan ahead. Our house is immaculate and uncluttered.

The Kitty is a different story. She is a living creature deserving peace and respect. A mere glimpse of kitty triggers an automatic howl of “KITTY! MREOW!!!” from Liev. All summer I fought a losing battle to build empathy for kitty.  The more I tried, the worse his compulsion to shout grew.

Now, I enact an intricate plan to keep Kitty away from Liev on shouting days.

Thursday that changed. I gave Kitty a bath and she loitered downstairs when Liev came home. Before I could blink, he saw her and whooped, “KITTYYYYYYYY! MEEEEEYOOOOWRRR!”  The cat fled with cartoonish drama.  If I could produce steam from my ears, this was the moment.

I emphatically told him to stop—gasoline on the fire. He rolled his eyes, jerked his shoulders, and shouted again.

“Listen to me,” I said. “I know you can’t stop, but Kitty had a bath today and she feels very nervous. You may not scare her. If you frighten her, you must go to your room and stay until she is dry. Then she can go outside.”

I expected more Mreows and hysterical protests. Instead he replied, “She’s nervous? Scared? Because you gave her a bath?” The idea intrigued him.

“Yes. You may not frighten her. But you can help her to feel better,” I said.

“How?” he asked.

“You tell me, Liev,” I said

Thus, Liev created the Kitty Care Cycle–a diagram of how to help Kitty recover from her bath.

The next day, as I looked through Liev’s school papers, I found a comic book illustrated by his Special Education Teacher, Crystalyn. Hands down, this was the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen.

Ms. G wrote:

“Liev told me the cutest story about Kitty Pearl and how he used to meow/growl at her but he realized that she was really upset about her bath. He decided to do something nice for her after her bath to calm her down…so cool! We made a book about it during lunch today.”

This is the comic book they made:

Kitty Care Two
Kitty Care Three
Kitty Care Four
Kitty Care Five
Kitty Care Six

In a follow-up email, Crystalyn wrote:

“Today’s lunch conversation made a light bulb in my head go off! It was the perfect window into Liev’s thinking:

1. Cat growls/meows

2. Liev growls/meows

3. Liev’s re-assesses the situation

4. “Kitty isn’t growling at me, he’s scared!”

5. Liev figures out how to make it less scary for kitty.

A metaphor for how he sees the world.

The insight and sensitivity of this young woman astound me. I never considered how universal  Liev’s systematic thinking is, nor did I see that his Kitty Care Cycle reflects his interaction with the world so accurately. In truth, our family of scientists and mathematicians have our own Kitty Care steps and strategies to piece our way through life.

Thank you, Ms. G. Thank you for the dozens of scribbled encouragement notes write to my son. Thank you for reading and working hard to take my son’s perspective. You listen to our family and create the most robust and lively solutions.  We appreciate you.