This post originally appeared in December 2009.
Thank God for tomorrow. Finals for collegeman will be over. He had had the best semester I could ever remember. He became social, appropriate in classes (most of the time) and even managed to navigate the campus alone. He managed his assignments getting amazing grades and has even figured out a major and minor. His independence grew by leaps and bounds as well as his desire to reach out to his peers. All in all it was good. Then came last Monday.
I wrote in the past about the game of mother-may-I that persons with autism seem to constantly play with the world. Unfortunately for collegeman that was this week. He was very well prepared for exams, raring to go to continue that upward trajectory towards Deans List. Not that the list is so important to him. He doesn’t even know about it. We never talk to him about honors or even tell him the grade point average he has to maintain for his scholarship. The boy puts enough pressure on himself as it is. I just knew that he missed Dean’s List by 4-100ths of a point last semester. So as he continued to do so well this semester I thought that it would be a nice end to a great job. Something more than just a feeling of pride; an actual tangible event –something tactile.
Unfortunately collegeman had a panic attack in his first final. He had studied very hard and knew everything. He even did over research through websites and nonassigned readings. When collegeman gets into a subject this is what happens. Of course the subject was the Holocaust. So on top of the history collegeman also took this subject very personally. I think what happened is that he just didn’t know where to begin. There was so much information stored in his head he was afraid to leave anything out. He spent so much time answering each question that he ran short. Luckily he gets extended time because of his disability (language processing and anxiety) and the professor being a real mensch (human being) allowed collegeman to finish the exam the next day. But collegeman had the same reaction the next day. . He wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. They had to call time. It was over. He called me very upset. He then put the proctor on the phone. She had to stop the test. It was done. He didn’t even answer one of the essays because he ran out of time. “If the point of the test is to see if he knows the subject, “she said, “then that is most definitely what he did. I don’t think he could write anymore.” I agreed. There comes a time you have to call it quits. It’s not a failure; you just have to know when enough is enough.
So home he came. Still panicked and still overwhelmed. I put him in a bath right away. He had to calm down he had a test today he had to study for. I made him eat, didn’t have him wait for hubby and the rest of the family. Then when hubby came home he helped collegeman organize for the next exam. Hubby made sure that collegeman had only what the professor assigned and made sure that he understood what to study. He went over the process of studying with him and gave him a time schedule to help him out. That way collegeman wouldn’t have the extra time to over study either.
So today he went to the exam. I held my breath. Hubby in the middle of his crazy busy day called several times to see if everything went ok. Finally I got that call from collegeman. He was done. Yes it went good. (Thank you God) Collegman was back. The panic attack was over. It lasted several days but it had finally ebbed. Now only one more exam to go. He will exercise to reduce stress, eat right and study just the notes from class and the book.
It is a hard road to deal with when they take that giant step backwards. But as I said before, they can regroup and start again. Just like collegeman has already done. Yes it took a couple of days. But he did it. Whatever grade he gets in the Holocaust it will be. Dean’s List or no Dean’s List it didn’t really matter before and it doesn’t matter now. The lesson learned is a better one. Collegeman learned that he can regroup and then proceed to success in a very short span of time. And as he makes strides the turnaround will also come easier in the future.
But I also learned something too. Just because collegeman was having a great semester and progressing amazingly, does not mean the support should be ended. Collegeman wanted to make certain decisions for himself. Like whether to see the therapist or not. I had felt that he was doing so well that he could decide to not go every week and to cut back on the aide like he wanted. Unfortunately for collegeman that decision is now out of his hands. I told collegeman that he needs to see the therapist every week and over break to try to figure out what happened and discuss it and what he could have done differently. Support in the guise of an aide, he is also going to continue to have. The disability office emailed me and said they feel he needs it especially for the transition into the new semester. The aide he has now is leaving, but she also recommended we hire someone new. He has made a lot of progress, and she thinks an aide to reinforce that and help him continue on would be better for him than going on his own. Hubby agrees: As long as the school lets us, then take advantage of the at-the-moment social support. I had been cool to the idea until this past Monday.
Does collegeman feel like he failed in some way? I don’t think so. I asked him about an aide. He said it gave him comfort, made things easier to figure out. I know he was talking about the social situations. He will happily tell you that he has trouble with social situations and social cues. So help to learn the social norms will continue. Of course, he will have to leave his comfort bubble one day, but as long as he can have the support, and maybe forestall another giant step backward, it will have to continue despite his age. Mother-may-I was a lot more fun when I was a child. Today I think it sucks.
Until next time,
Hopefully a little wiser-