Next week Mr.GS begins his journey into graduate school. But first we signed him up for a social skills class. The University where he is going has a wonderful aspergers support program and the disability director recommend that we send him to the program. She thought it might help with transitions. After speaking to the people who run the program I agreed. He starts next week. But we first we had a few chores we had to accomplish.
The first step was to send all of Mr.GS' medical information to the disability office. (That medical file I tell you to keep, you will always need that and it should be updated regularly. When they are in k-12 it is important to keep their IEPs in there as well.) That included the psycho-ed testing we did a few years ago, a letter from the neurologist about his seizures and even a letter from the undergraduate college detailing what accommodations he received, especially the para information. I spoke with new director on several occasions and after reviewing the documentation she assured me that sending someone with MR. GS would not be a problem.
Hugh sigh of relief. Mr. GS could need the support, but there is really no law or regulation that require a post-secondary facility to allow you to send someone with your child. She did at first want to emphasize that they don't pay for something like that. I had to assure her I know that we pay for this on our own. I asked if she need his resume. She said no, that the University trusted us. Nice to know. But I explained who the para is and his background anyway. It's important to know that we hire only qualified and very professional people to work with Mr. GS. Its about respect from us to them, that they also know we care about what happens with our son and that we require quality people (including professors) in our son's life.
The next step was to actually go in with Mr. GS to meet the disability director, sign some papers and take a look at the school. Yes, hubby and Mr. GS had taken a tour of the University, however, it seems that the computer science program for graduate students is only at the campus in the City so the trip to the campus near us was a huge huge huge waste of time.
Well..now it gets interesting. We had alot of things to think about when it came to the best way t transition Mr.GS, but most importantly was Mr. GS' safety in New York City. The first thing hubby found was actually something you generally buy for your elderly parents.
(1) We purchased Great Call. A locating and emergency device that Mr. GS could attach to his keys. If Mr. GS loses his phone (or if someone lifts it off him) he still has a way to contact someone for help by pushing the button on the device. By carrying the device there is also a way for someone to figure out where he might be. Of course we always tell him if you get lost or have a problem, find a police officer. Let them know you are in trouble and that you have autism. They will help you. The disability director also suggested that we contact the school's security office to let them know about Mr. GS, his autism and seizures as well.
(2) So to practice, last week I took Mr. GS on the commuter train. Our behavioralist had already taken him a few times back and forth between towns in our area, so he did know how to buy a train ticket. He did that really well. Better than me actually. We went to the platform and waited. I tried to give him instruction about where to stand and the safety of staying back from the yellow line. This made him very cranky. I know he was just nervous. The more anxious he gets the crankier he gets. At this moment he was very very very cranky. I let it go. Shortly after he did apologize. He does know when he isn't being pleasant. It's just in the moment he has trouble controlling his anxiety.
We did find empty seats on the train and actually had a pleasant ride into the City. I offered him the window seat so he could look out. I figured it would keep him calm. He was very quiet and very subdued during the ride.
Once in the City, hubby and I decided it would be best to take a cab to the University. I had thought about the subway, but with all the new stimuli, that crowded and sensory overloading place would just add to Mr. GS' anxiety. The subway is an area of transition that is far in the future. Very very very far.
The cab ride was fine. Mr. GS even tried to tell the driver where we were headed. There was traffic and it took a little bit of time. Because of a street closing near the school, the taxi driver let us off around the corner, telling us that the street we wanted was just a few blocks up. Well it wasn't. We did get a little confused and asked two police officers for directions. We did find it in plenty of time. Mr. GS was not smiling and was very very quiet.
It turns out the office we had to go to for the disability accommodations is right across the street from where all his classes will be held. even the social skills course. I made sure to point this out to Mr. GS. He didn't really seem to care very much at that point. The streets were crowded and the entire area was very new. I had never even been to this part of the City myself so I too was unsure of myself.
Meanwhile his school is only a few blocks from the new Freedom Tower. Mr. GS started worrying about terror attacks on the school. I had to tell him that an attack like that won't happen again. That America, and especially NYC is ready for anything right now. But I see a possible obsession that we will need to nip in the bud with this one.
So into the right building we went.
The next step was meeting with the disability director. What a lovely young woman.
(3) But first Mr. GS had to answer some questions about his disability through a computer to in put into the system. I accompanied him into the room and let him answer the questions. Those that he didn't know the answer to he asked me for help. My title by the way is "Supervisor." He would say..."Supervisor, help here." Not certain when I went from "mom" to "supervisor" but it worked out well.
Then we had the meeting. We got every accommodation we wanted. The director explained the procedures to us for the extra time and how to set up the testing. Basically the same as it was in undergraduate. Just different people to deal with that is all. She also was very happy to have the para on board. I told her he is getting a masters in special ed and could help out the professors if they have a hard time explaining some of the curriculum to Mr. GS. He doesn't have a technology background but there are methodologies that a teacher can employ to teach any subject. Well did her face light up with that. She said the professors are going to be very happy to hear this. Also the classes are very small, maybe 20 students in a class. Very very nice.
She did ask if when we tell the professors that Mr. GS receives XYZ accommodations do we want his disabilities disclosed to the professors. We said of course. First of all, what good is it if the professor doesn't understand what the student is dealing with as far as a learning issue. Also with the seizures and the para accompanying Mr. GS it is better they know its for a physical reason and some social facilitation issues and that is all. I did tell her I was concerned that because of all the ignorant news stories about aspergers that people had the wrong impression about autism. She said they have never had an issue at the college, but that if Mr. GS ever did, he was to march right over to her office and she would take care of it.
Meanwhile Mr. GS had not said one word through the entire conversation. We kept asking him questions and he answered in one word or a little bit of a head shake. He did question his need for the social skills class. But I assured him it would help him get used to the school and it was a good thing. I think his anxiety was ratcheting itself up. I may be wrong but I think I saw one of his little seizures. He said he didn't have one, but I think differently. The doctor is convinced that these micro-seizures are so common for Mr. GS at times he doesn't even recognize them as a "seizure." And so far...no smile.
Not one person in that office, even questioned what I was doing there with Mr. GS. Nor did they have a problem with me being the advocate, facilitator or helicopter parent. This I liked. When school personnel understands how involved parents are in raising a special needs child (even when that child is no longer a child) you have people you can deal with. In fact Mr. GS' adviser told us to make sure that he inputs the information necessary along with the proper permissions so that there will not be any issues of "privacy" when we call the school or help advocate for him.
From there we went to get Mr. GS his college ID card.
(4) We followed the directions we were given to find the ID office. We walked into the main building and asked the security guard where to go. It was easy and simple. But still the area is confusing and we were very unsure of ourselves. (I know at this point I was even a little anxious from the day) Mr. GS handed the necessary documents to the youngman behind the ID counter. Sat in the right place and had his picture taken. Mr. GS was handed his ID, with a lanyard so he could wear it around his neck. I asked if he had to wear it that way and the answer of course was no. He just had to take it out to show security everytime he went into a college building but he could keep it in his wallet.
Mr. GS took the ID with the lanyard and put it around his neck. He then smiled a huge smile. Finally. Suddenly he started talking and laughing and enjoying the trip. The only thing I could figure is that with the ID the transition into his graduate program became a reality for him. He felt like he belonged at the school and was part of something again.
We hailed a cab to return to the train station. I asked Mr. GS if he wanted to shop for father' s day presents before we went home, but he said I should go without him another time. I think he had had enough of the day.
I figured out what train we should catch to go home and Mr. GS remembered that there is a terrific food court at the station. So he ordered some Chinese take-out and I bought a salad. We found the train. Sat down and he proceeded to eat his late lunch. (He had been so nervous I couldn't get him to eat before we left the house.)
Hubby and I decided that Mr. GS needs one or two more practice trips into the City before his class begins in two weeks. He should feel assured with the schedule of how things are going to proceed. I know it will take time for him to feel completely comfortable with all the new sensory input. That is going to be the big challenge for him. But that too will happen in time. All he needs to learn is that he can do this and do it successfully. Patience. Comfort. Caring. That is the important things going forward that he will need. Not any different than ever before.