Moving on up

We have what might be one of the most important IEP meetings of Little Miss’s life coming up the first week of March: transition into junior high school. She’ll be moving from the school with the autism support center in it to a larger school combining four elementary schools.

Our district has a good number of autistic children who attend, on all sides of the spectrum. As I’ve said before, they are a victim of their own success–people move here on purpose to take advantage of the thoughtful program. We haven’t had a worry with Little Miss since her first day of  kindergarten. The school has always been willing to provide whatever supports she could use, whatever we suggested. The last two years, she’s been in the self0contained autism support class about 40 percent of the time, for reading/spelling and math, core skills. She has all the specials with her peers, along with social studies and science, which she has been interested in and over the time period she’s even gotten brave enough to raise her hand to answer questions in class. The AS class has several aides, and Little Miss has a mutual admiration society with all of them, as well as the teacher she’s been with since second grade.

Over the last six months, her love of school has started to fade. If she has work she can bring home and think out, she does very well; if she has a test where she must process the language quickly, and ESPECIALLY if she has to theorize or analyze something, forget it. Questions like: Explain why the aftermath of the Civil War contributed to the growth of industry in the States, blah blah blah are just beyond her. Give her a map and ask her to find a place? Done. Ask her to look up words in the glossary? Done. Ask her why or how something happens? No way.

So here we are at junior high. I’m remembering from my other children that the slope continues upward, what is expected of the kids. Analysis and intuition are very important. Math goes beyond what someone needs for everyday living into equations and problem-solving in the higher ranges. Simple book reports change over to in-depth essays about literary themes in our world. If she hasn’t acquired that skill, then every day in a class like that could be hell. Why would I put her through that?

On the other hand, I could stipulate that she spends her academic subject time in the self-contained class. We could try to design a practical curriculum based on an ‘everyday needs’ thought. Do most of us need higher math functions in life?  Even with a graduate degree, my math needs aren’t much beyond simple multiplication and division . Granted, algebra probably helps my problem-solving ability, but complex polynomials really don’t matter much.

For Little Miss, who’ll likely work through vocational school in horticulture or child care (which she’s very good at), I’m sure they can provide her with a meaningful solid base of information.  She can still take cooking, art, even wood shop–she’s amazing at figuring out how things work. Without words.

Will the shock of moving to a school where you change classes every periods and the incipient noise (horrid for a sensory-overload child) be too much? Better to stay one place for many periods of the day? In the self-contained class, she’ll avoid some of the worst of the junior high school bullying, I think. She’ll be surrounded all day by people looking out for her. She’s also made friends with many children at the previous school who would help look out for her too.

But at the same time, I regret the things she’ll miss. Should we push her into the social studies and science, just for the opportunity of absorbing what she can auditorily, and hoping we can adapt the work into something she can do without rejecting it altogether?

Too many questions, not enough answers. We’ll be able, of course, to change the program as the year progresses and we see how it develops. But for all of you who’ve been through this, any suggestions you have would be invaluable. Thanks so much!

Progress? Maybe

As Little Miss headed back to school this morning for the last year of her elementary education experience, I had to admit some trepidation on my part. She’s grown this summer, in a number of ways that I expect will impact her school year.

Physically, of course, about five inches. At 11 years old, she’s approximately 5’3″. A big change. We snuggle on the couch now side by side, definitely not with her in my lap any more.

Hormonally, as I posted earlier, as she has entered womanhood. The actual details of the “what you do when” have been incredibly smooth, thanks to her usual linear thinking; i.e., once she learns this is the process for handling something, it will always be the process, and she will follow it every time. That will work great until the day she uses all the supplies and forgets to tell me and then the world will end. But I digress…  The moody end of the hormonal thing, though, is somewhat difficult in a child who isn’t particularly aware of or interested in social “coolness.” When she feels crappy, so can everyone else. her teacher, Mrs. L. will be so pleased.  (NOT.)

Over the summer, her speech has expanded quite a bit in terms of words she will understand and use, but she has regressed into mumbling or whispery talk that makes her hard to understand. Considering how often we prompt her to have conversation, this gets frustrating for both sides on a regular basis.

On the other hand, she’s become very proficient in just handling things without words. She marked time this summer until the fair, so she could enter her bell peppers therein. If she sees a mess, she cleans it up, unlike the men of the houshold, who will gladly walk through any puddle for hours before grabbing a paper towel.  She has learned to cook some minor things, so she doesn’t have to depend on an adult. I’ve even found her trying to make coffee on several occasions, so I’ve taught her how to brew a pot correctly, before she sets herself on fire or something.

She continues to be empathetic and looks out especially well for children younger than she is. Which is good. She also doesn’t always stop and think about rules, as she showed when she decorated my other daughter’s new swingset with indelible marker last month. Oy.

Has she come a long way from “your child has permanent brain damage and won’t be able to accomplish much”? You bet. That’s exciting as heck. The rest, as with all children, I suppose, is a work in progress.

Oh THAT kind of Friday the 13th…

Yesterday was a wild day.

I had no clients, no court scheduled, and planned to spend the time working on my crazy November goals. 2,000 words at least. Maybe 3,000. Move the girl right through the funeral home scene where she discovers the truth behind–

Then I got the call about 9 a.m. that the Captain was suspended for three days. Come pick him up. Now.

My jaw fell far enough that it was a good thing it took me awhile to get to the school, trying to figure out why on Earth the Captain would believe it proper to email his (female) AS teacher a whole page of sexual limericks. I mean, really? What?

But I guess that was the final straw for the junior high. He’d been getting confrontational in classes all week, had made several pretty aggressive statements to said AS teacher as well, and to start the whole week’s events off, he’d thought his health teacher didn’t have enough materials for their talk about the differences between men and women, and had taken his study guide from his Our Whole Lives class along to share.

The Unitarians teach this wonderful class, at age appropriate levels, but there is an acceptance of healthy sex among adults of various genders and a graphic openness in the cause of providing true and correct information that in all likelihood doesn’t comport with a small-town white-bread mental set in junior high. In any case, he’s now known as “the Boy with the Sex Book.” *sigh*

Setting aside the fact that the team’s policy is that the Captain is not allowed to take any books to school because he won’t do his work if he has other materials available, or the fact that we’ve had long talks every day for two weeks that the arguing with the teachers has to stop, or the fact that when he gets in trouble it is not his AS teacher’s fault for telling us, it’s his own behavior that he should blame…well no, we can’t really set those facts aside.

On top of that, between the time they called and the time I got there, the Captain also commented to the principal that he thought he’d like to hurt someone.  This is the second time he’s made such a comment in two weeks. Of course they shared this with me, and when pressed, he identified who he’d hurt. (Funny how all his acting out is at school, but the people he wants to hurt are at home…)

So I left the school and went straight to the counselor’s office, who of course didn’t have time to see him, but they did send the mobile crisis team to the house. They spoke with him, at which time he was sweet and charming and they determined that he was not a candidate for inpatient evaluation. They did get him to sign a contract saying he wouldn’t hurt himself or anyone else, and said it would be a good idea for us to lock away all the firearms and pointy objects.

Really? Ya think?

The saddest part about all this, is that early in the week his dad and I were talking about how he had been making steady progress and he should get some of his privileges back (lost in September) and perhaps move into a more normal teen status with electronics access, etc. But here’s proof why he needs to be restricted from the Internet (and he’s lost his school computer privileges now too) and just can’t be trusted.

So an unlucky day for us all. But hopefully, hitting bottom starts another upswing. I’m always open to suggestions–got any?

Whatever works; or the nature of possessions

What difference does it make how much you have? What you do not have amounts to much more. — Seneca

The battle of the wills continues with some improvements.

The Captain has duly been given the prescription flavor of the week for ADD. The doctor didn’t even bother to look at all the other possible diagnoses; no pills will fix those. So be it.

The  last time he took ADD meds he developed a series of tics that still surface from time to time today. The doctor said that this new medicine might cause tics as well. Sure enough. Every 15-30 seconds, little vocal tics that sound like he’s gasping for air. This after two days of taking the pills. Is it because the doctor told him he would have tics?  The Cabana Boy and I disagree. I just hope the teachers and students find this distraction an improvement over the previous distraction. This was their call.

After multiple meetings with the school officials about the Captain’s antics, his behavior has improved about 85%. The school absolutely took credit, saying it was because they devised a cool check off chart for his teachers and gave him an aide. Contrarily we took credit for this, since we had come down hard on him by taking away his privileges (i.e., no books, no movies, no tv, no dessert, etc.) and had lectured him at length about proper behavior.

On a whim last week, I congratulated the Captain for his better effort and asked him what he thought had helped him see the light.  His reply? “You took all my stuff away.”

So all these high-priced resources (figure in the hourly rates of one psychiatrist, half a dozen teachers, a psychologist, a principal and a lawyer) were a waste of time, according to his elaboration on the above statement. All he cares about are things.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised. We’ve always known he doesn’t relate socially, and his visit out of town this summer proved his lack of connection to anyone, even family he’s lived with his whole life. (I’ve even wondered if he’s got some bit of reactive attachment disorder, based on his  interaction with people and his history prior to my involvement.) So things it is, as long as that works.

As for myself, however, I find I’m less attached to things as I’ve moved past the half-century mark. I know it alarms my children when I pass on family heirlooms or offer them other household items. No, I’m not dying. I’m just building good feng shui and clearing clutter.

Living with a chronic pain situation, too, creates necessity for new focus, shorter attention spans to fit day by day living. I find that I am much more appreciative of a tasty and creative meal or reviewing a memory book of a favorite family trip than I am of redecorating or moving furniture around (something I used to do constantly).  I’d rather work on writing than waste time on clients with no motivation to change. I’d rather travel and see new places than buy new cars or appliances.

I realize how fortunate I am to have what I need, and to be able to recognize that definition. Sure, there are many opportunities I still dream of, like overseas vacations and maybe even real health care someday. But for now, I’m glad that I can mark my most important possessions as those of intangible proportions like family and love. I hope someday the Captain can get there, too.

Back off track..as usual

I spent some time reviewing this blog the other day, and it reminded me that we started out talking about autism. A couple of years ago, the topic was a huge part of our daily lives, with all the therapies and educational issues and…so much. So many questions. So many answers, not many of which were applicable.

We’d discontinued our last services back in April, and even that had only been for a couple of hours of behavioral consultant a week, just someone keeping us abreast of new exercises to spur Little Miss on in her language development. Her ADD meds have both helped her conversation, her involvement in class, and we’re even starting to see flashes of intuitive and logical deduction. Hurrah.

Ditto Boy has grown away from his brother, so the name may no longer be appropriate; more likely would be Dr. Doo-Be-Do, because his ADD drives him to be constantly singing half under his breath “doo-doo-doo-doo0-doo-doo…” and so on for 20 minutes at a time. Drives me nuts. Keeps him calm. So be it. He’s pursuing some auditory processing therapy at the hospital, but that’s about it. The girls still fight over him. It’s all good.

The first two weeks of school seemed to go swimmingly. Everyone had what they needed to start, new shoes, new teachers, and smiles all around. We should have known doom was about to descend.

A week ago Friday we finally get a call from the new eighth-grade autistic itinerant support teacher. The Captain is totally acting out. Meltdowns. Disgusting body odor. Disgusting body noises and hygiene. Eating boogers, for heaven’s sake. Not doing his class work. Not doing his homework. Disturbing the conduct of every single class. Not only are they posting him the aide we specifically denied in his IEP, now they want us to get him a TSS full time AND take him for a psych eval. They’re throwing around dozens of acronyms–ADD, HD, ODD, you name it.

What?

Every day he’s come home telling us he had a great day.

Man.

Of course, the first thing we did was address it with him and go back to the same routine that we’ve done since third grade: the natural consequences of your behavior are since you are distracted from what’s required of you by tv, movies, books, Wii, etc., then you will not have these things. You can earn them back into your life by controlling your behavior. Because we’ve seen you do it. We know you can. You are a big boy and you do not need a babysitter within smacking distance all day during your school day. (And you sure won’t have one, when you graduate and have to get a job in 4 years). All the time, it feels like we’re the ones being punished.

So back to the autism/Asperger’s grind.  Managed to get him the psych eval and they’re starting him on ADD meds too (hopefully without the head-jerking tics this time) hoping to get him back on task. So I’m the only one not on speed. At my age, I’m slowing down enough that hopefully we’ll all meet in the middle.

Let’s hope that quick action has derailed the misbehavior train and we can move ahead. But there were several months where, besides a few usual adjustments for sensory issues, etc., we didn’t even have to think about the word autism. Not a cure, mind you, but an adjustment to accept the children as they are, which on the whole, isn’t thoroughly different from the variations of the neurotypical child population. There are many shades in a rainbow, and aquamarine and cranberry aren’t any less valuable than blue and red–and might just be more interesting in the long run.

IEPs for U and ME

Is it spring again already?! Man.  Either someone’s speeding up the clock or I’m getting old WAY too fast…

We got the call for Little Miss’s Individual Education Program (IEP) meeting, and had that meeting this past week. No big surprises academically, as we have slowly seen that her fourth-grade work is falling farther and farther behind because of the wiring of her brain.

Actually the school psychologist we’ve been working with for six years (who knows Little Miss very well) came up with a very apt description of how that brain works:  when Little Miss is asked a question, the results are like a Google search. She comes up with everything she knows about that subject, all facts of equal weight, and she has to tell you all of them, and may actually get to the one that answers your question–with the level of language that she has, which is at a very practical, concrete second grade level. Not much there for analysis or conceptualizing yet. (Working on that.)

But the team brainstormed nicely, and we set up some possibilities for pre-teaching information, since her long term memory seems better than the short-term. We talked about doing extra work on the computer, especially in science, looking up images and reinforcing information visually.

The most ironic part–and we had to laugh, or else we would have had to hurt someone– was that the teacher sent as a representative of the fifth grade staff had also taught the Captain. We tried to point out that Little Miss and the Captain are very different in just about every way.

Two years ago, we wanted the Captain to do sixth grade in his home school instead of at the school with the autistic support program, hoping it would urge him to curb some of his odd behaviors before transitioning to junior high.  We had a meeting with the home school (which had originally asked the Captain to be removed TO the autistic support school mid-first grade), explaining that we thought it would be a good idea to let him experience the “general population,” if you would, in a smaller environment.

This particular fifth-grade teacher had come to that meeting with a written agenda and scared HELL out of the home school, talking about how hard the boy was to control and his outbursts and his meltdowns and on and on and on…. we were denied.

But at Little Miss’s IEP meeting, she smiled and reminisced about how much she’d liked the Captain, asked how he was doing, and said, “Oh, I’ll never forget him.”

After she left, I turned to the psychologist and said “Did we all go to the same  meeting?”  She kind of made a face and shook her head and we both laughed. In that poking a stick in your eye way.  Maybe the kids aren’t the only ones with issues.

Can’t WAIT till next year.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Friday morning, we set off bright and early to take Ditto Boy to his Y summer day camp, and when we get to the end of the street, we see this:
The Old School

This is his school. Or…was. He’ll be in fifth grade in the fall. The fifth-grade rooms are that front pile of rubble on the left.

I was shocked. I’d complained bitterly over the past week as they’d taken down all the 100-year old trees that sat along the front and sides of the school yard, but I assumed that perhaps the roots were getting into the sewers, or the branches in the lines. (I never like to see trees cut down, particularly that old, unless they’re damaged.) But this?

Fortunately I was dealing with Ditto Boy. He hardly noticed, his attention flitting from object to object like a starving butterfly. The other two don’t go to this school; they’re bused to the school with autistic support.

But coming home from camp, Little Miss takes one look and yells, “They’re destroying W’s school!” (Yes, she used the word ‘destroying.’ I didn’t even think she knew it, considering she doesn’t talk half the time. Weird. But hilarious.)

Captain Oblivious then started on a diatribe about why they must be doing it that no one paid attention to after the first couple sentences. We were still overwhelmed by the debris.

I was just really grateful that neither of my kiddos who can’t deal with change attend that school. It would have been the subject of obsession the rest of the summer, even through the new construction that I’m sure is a planned follow-up to the disaster.

Change is just not something we do. Even the impending two weeks with the Cabana Boy’s mother is already a source of stress for Captain O, not because of the visit, but because his grandmother will not let him watch Lost in Space on Thursday nights as we do here. Last summer when they went, she was pretty stirred up when he wouldn’t go to sleep at night because he obsessed about not being able to watch television in the morning (which she doesn’t do–they’re not big on television there, even less so than we are. But if it gets me 20 min more sleep in the morning, I’m all for Spiderman.)

This, of course, gives me some concerns for the upcoming switch to middle school, as well. So far he’s seemed to be pretty low-key about it. The sixth-graders all had a tour of the middle school, saw the 7th and 8th grade classrooms, lockers, etc. The autism support teacher invited us to come the week before school and stay as long as we like, getting familiar with the schedules, the lockers, the changing classes–just the sheer numbers are going to throw him, I’m afraid. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.

At least his school is still there. So far.