Saturday, July 31, 2010

Back to School: Transition and Perspective

August has commenced and it is time for the annual return to school  marathon and triathlon. For some of us school is but a few weeks away while others of us have until after Labor Day to send our children back to the wonderful world of academia. But either way we need to begin to prepare our children and ourselves for the transition back into the fold of reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. By the way, this counts if you homeschool as well. It is always about schedule and change.

So let’s talk about transitioning your child from the calm and stressless time of summer to the world of academic performance and social pragmatic functioning. I have to be honest even the idea of transitioning HSB right now sends chills down my spine. He had had such a horrendous year last year that I am really worried about how he will do this fall. He has been very happy just helping out around the house, volunteering at ECAD, the dog service training organization and going to the tutor to work on writing and his college application essay. The one thing HSB did not have this summer was peer group interaction. I know this was not a good thing. I know that he needed to work on his social skills but HSB just flatly refused to want to go and do anything. Truth be told, I couldn’t really find anything that was good for him.

Yes, the problem that I am faced with is that for HSB there are no art classes, computer classes and sports classes that he could join. He is flatly just too old. Most of his peers either had jobs as camp counselors or in reality since those jobs were taken by college students and even out of work teachers, his peers took college courses to prepare for school or to put down on their college applications that they had tried out the college experience. HSB could not do that. HSB still needs the support and while I don’t think that the local college would have objected to me sending someone for HSB, I am not sure that more academics would have been a positive thing for him this summer. He had had enough work and needed time to just do nothing. Another thing that a lot of HSB”s peers do over the summer is go on those trips either biking across Europe or the USA or going down to some underdeveloped nation and helping build homes and schools for 6 weeks.

Could you just see HSB doing that? Apart from the fact that we would have had to send someone with him for support (financially terribly prohibitive) the entire episode would have been a transitional nightmare. Heck the boy is still mad at me for going gluten free even though he says he likes the Quinoa based pasta that I found to eat. Can you imagine if I took him out of his comfort zone, his computer, his video games and his routine and told him now go and have a good time? Yeah that would have gone really well.

So here we are stuck in adolescent aspie world, with not much for him to do. I think this is when you really see the difference at times with his neurotypical peers. When the school district had had the summer school program it wasn’t really a glaring issue. Collegeman and HSB had taken advantage of it every summer and it went well (except for the year we had to threaten to sue the art teacher who tried to use HSB as a weapon in union negotiations with the school district. That was a fun summer-oh boy oh boy). Yes, I tried to sign HSB up for driving lessons through the school but ended up withdrawing him because the teacher was nasty, mean, and quite frankly a bully towards HSB in front of over 40 of his peers. He had not wanted to learn to drive anyway and still has not taken his learner’s permit test so driving really isn’t something he is dying to do. I think his interest in driving lessons was the very pretty voluptuous girl who sat across from him during the first class who didn’t bother to wear a bra. But being that this was an unnecessary class there was no reason to subject HSB to that moron of an old asshole.

So as we get closer to the beginning of the school year, we are starting to plan what to do over the next few weeks. Hubby has blocked off the week before collegeman goes back to school so we can all have another staycation like last year. I think camps are ending now here in the Northeast and everyone has basically cleared out of town. Again we are the few that are left. Everyone here goes to Martha’s Vineyard or the Jersey Shore. Some even go up to Lake George to the resorts up north and many go to their home in the Hamptons. It’s a tough life for some, but they just have to live it. We stay put. It is something we have done for years and truthfully we really like it.

We are in our old familiar haunts and are planning a few side trips for the days. We are going to try to go to a water park again. Last year we ended up going just when everyone else on the East coast decided to go and it didn’t work out so well, except for the fact that the boys rolled with the punches and took everything in stride. I guess that in and of itself was worth the aggravation. Then there were the trips into the museums which we will not do again (in fact I am not sure the boys will ever go to a museum ever again, including the planetarium. It is definitely not their thing.), and the skeet shooting trip that collegeman and hubby took. We just heard about a State park that allows for skeet, trap and pistol, it’s nearby and we are going to look into that.

So we are planning a staycation and will use that as a countdown until the beginning of the school year. It seems that collegeman will not have as many issues this fall as HSB, but you never know so we are going to take each day as it comes. There is a new Director of Disabilities at collegeman’s school and we will see if she will give us a hard time about how we support collegeman. I can’t even get a hold of her until the middle of August. But I am going to plan for his fall with the support we know he needs and then if she decides she knows better than everyone else, denying him the accommodations he has always had, we will have to call in the big legal guns. We will also have to see if she is the type to decide that parents are obsolete in raising their children once the child is of legal age. We may have to set her straight with that too. You know my old motto, plan for the worse and hope for the best. Get your ducks in a row and have your lawyer on speed dial.

Another event that is important for transition is to make sure that there are supplies in the house and the requisite books have been bought. Collegeman will go on Amazon once again and order his books at least a week before school starts, so he will have an idea of what will be expected this fall from an academic point of view. HSB and collegeman will pick out an agenda and notebooks that they want. Organize their class draws and folders and clean out their backpacks. Truthfully collegeman still has one more week left of his summer course so we are not even thinking of doing any proactive fall transition activities yet, but we will do them when the time comes.

We will hopefully have all the meds worked out for HSB, within the month so that would be a good thing. The psychiatrist said that collegeman’s meds were ok for now unless something changed, so that at least was a bit of a relief. HSB we are working on solving the focusing and sadness issue. (Just as an aside, VERY IMPORTANT- too much adderall, I don’t know if this is the same for every stimulant, can cause depression. The doctor said that that was HSB’s problem not the SSRI. We have cut back on the adderall and are adding in a nonstimulant focusing med, so we will see if it works. But DON’T do this on your own, talk to your doctor and have them monitor what happens with your child.)

One more thing that I do do for HSB is contact his guidance counselor a week before school starts to get an idea of what his first day schedule will look like. We get the room numbers and go on a treasure hunt for the rooms at the high school. Ok you say by now he should know his way around, but it is helpful that he get his bearings and know where he is supposed to go and maybe even run into a teacher or two. Every year is a new year no matter how many years your child has been at the school. Either their classroom is in an unfamiliar area of the school, or their locker is different and the combination changes. Their teacher is always different so you may want to see if you can have your child meet the new teacher, and even find out if they know a child or two in the class to make the transition more comfortable.

If your child is entering middle or highschool it is important that you take them on tours and go on their own classroom treasure hunt. You should meet with the special ed teacher and figure out the best and most productive way for your child to keep their belongings together. Lockers are very important and there are wonderful organizers for lockers that I found helped a great deal. A plan should be in place at the school that would make your child’s transition easier. It should have been discussed before the end of last year and if it wasn’t don’t wait for something to happen, get to the school as soon as the teachers are back and talk to them about what you all can do together to make the transition easier. I have found that most teachers love it when the parents are involved and love the idea that you want to work with them on any issues. Yes I have come across the idiot teacher who wanted the parents out of the way too, and in middle school to boot, but that really was a rare event.

Something that I have found that truly helped my children when they were younger was time spent on the playground at school. Recess can be overwhelming for any child, but for a child on the autism spectrum the unwritten rules and haphazard play is very daunting for them. Go to the playground and let your child get used to what they can do on the playground. Talk to them about the different activities that they can engage in and the different games they can play. Talk to the school about assigning a “lunch and play buddy” for your child so they have someone who will help them, especially if there is no adult assigned to your child as a para during recess. I know this is the time that most of our children need an overwhelming amount of support and the schools don’t assign anyone because there is usually a playground monitor who they say is sufficient. I have news for the schools, the social skills learned on the playground in school has more impact on a person’s ability to function well in their adult world than any amount of math facts and Harry Potter novels read.

Also if your child is just starting school make sure they go on that “yellow school bus” ride that is offered to the kindergarteners. I sent HSB and luckily the PTA mom in charge knew him from swimming lessons, she was his teacher, so it went well. But it can be an overwhelming and scary thing to get on that huge bus with a lot of older children. Heck I remember going on a field trip with HSB when he was in first grade and we went on the yellow school bus. I can’t tell you how my stomach was in knots the entire time. I hated the damn school bus and couldn’t wait for the day I wouldn’t have to ride in one anymore. HSB couldn’t handle the social aspect of neither the bus nor the noise. He had been bullied on the bus to the point that they put a monitor on the bus, (It actually happened only once, I called and the school district complied. I think the bullies were well known already to the district, I am sure it wasn’t just about HSB; maybe what happened with HSB was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. )But thank God for video cameras which showed who the culprits were, however, eventually I came to the conclusion that I had to take him back and forth to school. So I play mommy-taxi everyday, which is fine. Its’ why I do what I do, it’s why we all do what we do, to be there for our children for any and everything they need.

So as we transition into the school year remember, our children need to treasure hunt for their new rooms, be involved in getting their supplies, practice the school bus ride (or mommy-taxi ride), and go on the playground to work through some ideas on what to do during this free time. You need to meet with the teachers, go over the IEP and Behavioral Intervention Plan, make sure they understand that you are there and expect to be part of the process. Explain your child to the teacher and the para to make sure they truly understand who your child is and what they need and what they can do and how bright our children happen to be. Make sure that you show them your child’s strengths, not just their weaknesses.

Now and this is very very important: enjoy those last few weeks of summer vacation as a family. Go on a staycation. Get to a water park, a museum and go have fun. After all, summer is about fun, family, ice cream, beaches, pools and barbecues. But most of all, the summer is the time that great memories are formed and it is these memories that guide us and help shape our children into who they will eventually become.