Thursday, May 6, 2010

Homework Hydra Strikes Again

This post originally appeared in March 2010.

So once again the homework battle has reared its ugly head and is threatening to engulf the entire family like the hydra that never dies. I really don’t know what it is about homework that upsets Highschoolboy so much. It’s not like he doesn’t understand that he is supposed to do his work. That work does come before play and that play is part of life not life itself. Understandably he wants to do what he wants to do when he wants to do it, but that is not how the world works and he is no longer a young child, but a teen on the verge of young adulthood replete with all the rules, regulations, obligations and freedoms that come along with growing up. So I ask myself just what is going on with HSB. It’s also not because HSB doesn’t like school. He loves school. He loves going to school and being around his peers. He loves interacting and talking and joshing. He loves learning and creating. He does enjoy human contact and the world around him. So it is definitely something else.

We know that by the time the spring comes, HSB has been in school since September with minimal breaks and short vacations. We know that this being his junior year in highschool all his classmates are truly on edge about the upcoming college boards and college application season to come. And come it will, quicker than anyone thinks. We know that he is reviewing on the weekends for the ACT ,which he studied for last summer, on top of his regular school work. We also know that the fun he was having in bowling has stopped, because the season has ended, and that he misses it. We know that we have just passed a stressful period of the snowicane and several days without heat and electricity, but we have moved on. Yes there are many factors here to consider but it is really hard in the middle of a fight to consider why he is being so resistant to doing what he knows he is supposed to do.

But let’s think about it for a moment. Being”on,” as I call it, is very stressful for most aspies. They have to negotiate a world that is social, academic and confusing on a daily constant basis. They need to figure out how to deal with multiple groups of people and multiple teachers and multiple types of peers. They need to know how to ask the right questions, deal with the frustration of not understanding the assignments, and even process the noise level in the cafeteria. For someone like HSB who has a tremendous sensitivity to noise, the sheer act of going to the lunchroom to buy a sandwich is a challenge. He does prefer to bring lunch and I don’t mind sending him with his requisite pb&j. It gives him comfort and allows him to eat when he wants, but this past week everything has been topsy -turvy and I just now got back to preparing his natural peanut butter. (You have to mix everything together and while it doesn’t take that long in a food processor I had other priorities and thought it not so terrible that he try to negotiate the cafeteria for a few days) Perhaps it was just too much for him.

The stress at the highschool is also palpable among his peers. The February and April breaks will be spent on college visits and study dates for the upcoming boards. The students talk about it on a daily basis and it is even emphasized by the latest meeting with the guidance counselors. Letters are sent home telling students how to prepare their college resume and how to access the on-line system to keep the information all in one spot. He actually refused to go the college prep meeting with his guidance counselor and myself. We talked about his senior classes and what he still needed to graduate and where he would be applying to college. HSB didn’t want to come and I didn’t force the issue. I did ask him what he wanted for class choices. He gets to pick electives for English and social studies. He told me his choices and I relayed the information and we talked about his college choices. It wasn’t a difficult discussion we had been through this with collegeman so we (the guidance counselor and I) knew the post-secondary choices already. But I think in many respects thinking about other classes and the academic year to come added once again to HSB’s anxiety.

As far as the bowling is concerned there is nothing I can do about that, but the guidance counselor did come up with an idea and I think it’s great. There is an afterschool class called stagecraft which builds sets for upcoming stage productions. The teacher is very familiar with HSB since he has taken acting for three years and is now in the public speaking class. The guidance counselor asked if HSB can come on the “bowling” day to help out with the building of the sets. This would give him something to do after school that is social and structured at the same time. Of course, the drama teacher said no problem. We had HSB send an email to the drama teacher and everything is set. He is happy about the prospect, albeit a little nervous as it is something a little new and strange. But HSB seems generally excited.

So where does that leave us as far as the homework is concerned. We know what the issues are for HSB and why he won’t do the homework. His stress level is very high. He prefers to ensconce himself in his own little world, where he controls the outcomes and where he has no stress. But that does not mean he does not have to do what he has to do. It does not mean that he doesn’t need to learn to deal with the stress he is under, because as we all know, as you get older and as the adult world comes crashing into your purview, the stress does not go away.

So what do we do? HSB goes back to scheduling his time, very strictly. We go over the agenda and make sure that everything is being done. We do not leave him on his own to decide what is or is not necessary or what does or does not need to be accomplished. We sit with him if necessary. When he is writing a paper- oh heavens talk about stressful- he needs help. He still has that glitch that prevents those brilliant ideas in his head from appearing properly on his papers, so hubby will sit with him and help him think through the process of writing. (Yes, hubby, HSB wants hubby and that’s fine with me. I remember years ago when asked at Thanksgiving what they were thankful for, my children wrote their father. My sister-in-law tried to make me feel better that the boys did love me. You know I really didn’t care that they were truly thankful for their father over me. Honestly I am truly thankful for him too. I also don’t think parenting is a contest between spouses. You do what you do to make sure your child is successful in life. Sometimes it is a thankless job, but when you see them independent and happy you know you have done your job and done it well. That will be thanks enough for me.) Hubby will also sit and help HSB organize his desk and his papers so that he can find everything he needs to study. That is another avenue of trauma here in this house-studying. But we have found somewhat of a solution and yes, it involves hubby. HSB will study for a test with all his test prep papers. The he will sit with hubby and talk through all the information. Whatever he can’t explain hubby will send him back to the internet or his papers to find the answer. It has worked well since freshman year and HSB truly enjoys his time with the dad.

There is also one last thing and I think it is very important. You need to establish strict guidelines for what their obsession is. HSB’s obsession as I stated many times before is the typical aspie obsession of video game play. Whether it’s on the computer, Xbox, Nintendo Wii, Playstation 3, any one of his handhelds (yes we have them all) these need to be strictly curtailed. While when he is in nonstress mode he can determine his length of play, in stress mode he cannot. He skirts the reality of the clock and cannot be left alone to self-stop, even with a timer and an alarm. So we have a new rule in the house: until the homework is done, no games of any sort. That is all homework for the day. No exceptions. Let me tell you it did not go over well. To say there was rancor at the new rule is to clearly under describe the hullabaloo that occurred in this house. There was yelling, screaming and crying. But guess what. When he saw we were not going to give in, he sat down and scheduled his homework and proceeded to do his work.

OK, how long will this last? Answer: as long as necessary and as long as we, the parents stay strong. It is early on a Sunday morning (before the sunrise) and he is up and playing his computer game. I think he wants to get in some game time before the “day” officially begins, meaning that everyone else is awake. I already made him breakfast and gave him a time for when he has to write his schedule, organize his weekly pill box and then basically get his day started.

Oh yeah, forgot to tell you that HSB has been waking up at 4:30 or 5am several times a week for a few weeks now. I know its stress induced. I know that he is worried about what is happening in his life. I know he is living through a lot of angst. But if we organize him, Schedule him. Straighten out his life. It may reduce his stress and he may get some sleep.

Did you notice that I was awake along with him? What is the old saying, as a parent you are only as happy as your most unhappy child. I have a new twist on it, as a parent you are only as unstressed as your most stressed child. I hope this stricter regime will help him. I hope that stagecraft will give him some fun. I hope that being sent with lunch again will calm him. If not, then I will have to think of something else. We always do, don’t we?

By the way, just checked on HSB to start the schedule and he has fallen asleep in his comfy desk chair. So I covered him and left him to his dreams. Dreams, I am also sure, include a world without homework.

Until next time,