When birthdays are bad

L. is a much-beloved student in my class. She is one of my special needs children, without one single unifying diagnosis that would help the adults in her life understand her better. She is bright, cute, and makes adults all over the school fall in love with her, but at the same time, each day is a struggle.

The last week or two have been difficult for her. Nancy, my special education assistant teacher, told me the other day that she thinks she figured out what is going on. The two of them were “taking a break” from music class, when L. announced, “It’s my birthday in 20 days. And then I have to go to kindergarten.”

Nancy realized that L. thought that once she turned five, she would immediately have to leave my classroom and start kindergarten at a new school.

I have been talking about birthdays with her since then, saying, “L., next week when you have your birthday, you will turn five, and then you will still be in this class. The next day, you will come back here. And the day after that. And the day after that.”

I also asked C. (the lego robber), “How old are you?” in front of L. C. said, “five.” I asked, “When you turned five, did you have to leave?” C. shook his head no, clearly being still a member of our class.

L. just looks at me with infinite patience, and says, resignedly, “No, when I turn five I have to go to kindergarten.” She doesn’t believe me.

And when she’s having a hard time with it, she is hiding behind the writing shelf, or trying to run away when we are outside on a walk, or punching the girl in front of her.

In preschool, having a birthday can be a matter of high drama.

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