Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Review and Reset

It is very essential that you take the time to review your child’s goals and their progress, irrespective of when the school or therapist does it, and make sure that everything is on track the way it should be. It is something I just concluded. It is past the New Year, which would seem like a good beginning point. It is not the end of the year or the time for an IEP meeting. There isn’t any real on-going issue with either boy at the moment. HSB was accepted into college weeks ago and collegeman ended his fall semester the middle of December. The question is, how do I decide when to sit and review what is going on? Why now?

I tend to divide our lives up into segments. The segments revolve around school. The end of this week is the end of the second marking period for the school year and the beginning of the spring semester for collegeman. It in all actuality is the start of something new for both boys. So it becomes time to sit down and reflect upon just what goals we have for them and how they are gong to be implemented.

In that vein, we, collegeman and I, met with the disability director at his college in order to figure out what his goal for the semester should be. Grades and academics is not really an issue for him, there are some executive functioning problems, but they I think will always be there, so we need to teach him to stay on top of those. What she wanted, was for collegeman to work on his independence.

As I mentioned before, when you have a para, or classroom coach it is a double-edged sword. These people are truly needed to synthesize the social arena that your child lives in and teach them how to “of the moment” deal with the situation that they are surrounded by. However, the child can become too dependent on their support and miss out on developing those independent coping skills. In collegeman’s case, I think he relies on his coaches for several reasons:

1)   The professors do talk rather quickly and collegeman being afraid to miss a word has to write absolutely everything down. So the coach also becomes a note taker. Our college does not have a note taker program per se, even though it is generally a basic accommodation at most colleges, for a variety of reasons. They are a small college and there is a limited budget, and limited access to students who may want to participate. While there are those on community service scholarships, it does not mean that they would be available to support collegeman and honestly, we never even asked since the coaches were there anyway.

The truth of the matter is that collegeman needs to learn to be able to parcel out what is being said, to figure out what is and is not important on his own. Honestly it is a skill he should have learned in high school, but there too he had note takers and became dependent. We have given him study skills lessons, executive functioning lessons and note taking lessons. There are many new gadgets on the market that may be of assistance, but right now there seems to be too many steps involved in order to use them and the need to remember every step would just add to collegeman’s anxiety. What he needs is something that you turn on and does the work for you in a sense. We have bought him tape recorders in the past that he has yet to truly use; so maybe this semester we can talk him into it.

2)   The coaches also help collegeman remember his assignments and help him organize his world. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but to reiterate he needs to learn to employ his executive functioning skills on his own. It should not be hard for him to take his notes and put them in binders by class, by test and by assignment. The question I have is, if these people were not there for him, would he step up to the plate? He has done that for everything he has faced, so I do believe that he would be able to eventually organize himself as well. It will undoubtedly take time and a lot of effort to get him to rely only on himself for this but it is something he is going to have to do, especially since he wants to go onto graduate school.

3)   Being able to understand the flow of a classroom. Now here is the interesting conundrum. Transitions are still difficult in some respects. New things and being able to read new situations are very hard for collegeman. The reality is that they probably will always be difficult. But he needs to figure out for himself how to handle these situations. Remember you can always teach them the tools for self-reliance but they are the ones who have to figure out how best to use it for themselves. This coming semester he will have several professors who are familiar with him already and one who has substituted in classes he has taken before.

We did discuss how after collegeman transitions into the semester though, that there is at least one class (we will see how the other go), which the coach could pull back from. Probably sit in the hall just in case. Collegeman had actually attended this professor’s class on his own before and it wasn’t really a big deal. The professor was very nice and understanding.  So we will have to review probably around midterms and see when the pull back could take place.

Honestly our goal for collegeman is simple. It is to become more independent. This concept also truly freaked him out. For not only does he rely on the coaches for support, but they are also the only human interaction that he generally has in the college. He actually considers them his friends. He really doesn’t have peers as friends. However, he is finally open to that idea, but is rather unsure about how to proceed. He asked, “How do you know if someone is right for you as a friend?” We talked about interests and pursuits, as a way of gauging whether someone is friend material. We also told him that they don’t have to have your interests or agree with you, but they definitely have to be nice and supportive of what you want to do and who you are. Yeah, this one is definitely a work in progress. So another issue that we have to deal with is how to get the coaches to help him make friends or have them help him identify who can be a friend. That has been happening somewhat with collegeman helping out on the track team, but since track was really quiet this semester nothing much was done with the team. Hopefully spring will be more fruitful for him.

To review for HSB, was something totally different. He is beginning his second semester senior year and senioritis set in sometime in October. Honestly, he has been having such a good year, that there truly wasn’t very much to review. We did tweak his new meds somewhat and things do seem to be getting even better. I am not one to rely solely on medication, but holy moly there is such a difference in him you can’t even believe it’s the same child. As I said in an earlier post, medicine is a god-send to our children, but you MUST MUST MUST pay very careful attention to what is going on, and if they are not getting better then you need different meds, or quite frankly a different doctor.

It took me a while to come to the reality that the meds were being a hindrance and not a help, and for what he went through, yes I blame myself. Honestly I should. I was afraid to change doctors and afraid to start anew. I guess at times, we need to review our own failings when it comes to our children as well. It doesn’t hurt and it doesn’t take away from all that you do, but a little introspection (that seems to be my word of the month) is good for everyone once in awhile.

I also spoke with the disability director at the college and made her aware of my second offspring and his needs. We agreed that he requires a classroom coach and then will review what will happen once he gets to school. I know for a fact that he will probably need the support for at least the first if not second years, unless there is a miraculous maturing that occurs. He is doing so much better after the meds change up that you truly can’t believe that it is the same child, but college is a very unstructured environment that is so tremendously fluid. He could get overwhelmed or he could not get overwhelmed. He may actually come into his own, when not inundated with superfluous sensory issues. He may just thrive and find himself and his rate of speed…or not…we will have to wait to see. (A lot of ifs, ands or perhapses along the way, I know.)

Also even though she said I could hand in the old school based testing for HSB from two years ago we are going to have them redone privately. Since he is such a different child we want a more up to date evaluation of him and quite frankly one that shows how calm and even keeled he is. One thing that I think about as a parent of two young men with aspergers is the notion that not too many people in society, surprisingly on college campuses as well, understand or know about autism. With the recent trauma surrounding violent mental illness and classmates being afraid of those that "act strange," I want it on record that his idiosyncrasies are just about his autism and nothing threatening at all. No reason to wait and see if someone says something because they think there is an issue. Right from the beginning just show there is no threatening issues so the college can get on with the business of educating your child. Truth be told, I think it was a good thing that we had done those tests for collegeman before he entered college. He had such a rocky anxiety filled start, when I met with the Vice-President of the college there was no question that all he needed was transition support and nothing else. Sometimes it does pay to be proactive and think about the worst scenarios, just so it never gets to that point.

(HSB likes to tease collegeman about his idiosyncrasies, which invariably leads to the "Sheldon retort" from collegeman, along with a huge chuckle. You bet, he just thinks Sheldon is awesome, and yes we have the saying on a t-shirt as well. Now,of course,  after HSB is tested they can both claim that line for their very own. Can't wait for that tete-a-tete.)

Honestly the same issues that we are facing with collegeman are the same potential issues that we will face with HSB if we do not stay on top of things. The boys are also so very different and manifest their autism in so very different ways that I am also sure that a brand new, as yet unthought of issue will probably arise and cause us to say, why the hell did we not prepare for that?

But for right now, HSB is heading into midterm week, with no midterms. He will hand in a few papers and spend the week playing video games and sleeping. He will be a teenage boy, happy in his world of no responsibility and adolescence. It won’t last for long. So I am planning to allow him to enjoy it…but if he wants some more video games, he is still going to have to do chores and especially clean the bathroom. Interestingly, he cleans the bathrooms quite fastidiously. Considering how his office is a germ cesspool inundated with every microbe from flu virus to e-coli at the moment, who would have thunk it possible that he was so good at cleaning? (Been at him to clean that room almost every day. Guess what he will do first thing next week, will have hubby, aka Wise Old Sage make sure he does it.) So it only proves my theory, that HSB when he wants to do something, he can do it quite well. Now if only we can get him to think that school is another thing at which he can persevere, not just his video games….

Until next time,