Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Round 3. . .

I've been blogging of late about my younger son, E. (Rounds one and two, here and here. If our family lives on the spectrum with P and I on the Aspie side of the ledger, and my husband on the (possibly) ADD side, than E is somewhere in the middle. In the alphabet soup of "diagnoses", he has NLD. What I know is that he's a bright, articulate, motivated kid who struggles with organization and output.

Yesterday, he came home with his interim progress report (midway through term 2) for his 4 core classes, Language Arts, Social Studies, Math, and Science. He is currently failing Language Arts, Math, and Science.

Looking at the components of those failing grades, I am struck by a pattern. Work that he had handed in: A's and high B's. F's (automatic zeros) for missing assignments. If it were not for the missing work, he would be doing extremely well in all subjects. (Well, except Math, but that's another conversation for another time.)

So, one could look at that pattern and name it laziness. I can almost hear the conversation: "E. has so much potential. If he would just apply himself. . . "

Let me tell you something about my younger son. He isn't lazy. What he is, is hampered by a brain that doesn't multi-task and doesn't shift attention (transition) rapidly. What limits E the most is his impaired executive functioning. He has little ability to employ systematic strategies, so whatever he does, it's like he must start from scratch each time. That's evident whether he's looking for something in his room, searching for a homework assignment in his backpack, or organizing for homework assignments.

Penalizing him for his lack of organization and his poor executive function will only drive a dangerous cycle that will ensure continued failure for this child who has enormous potential.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Success builds on success

I had a parent/teacher meeting this morning with my older son's special ed resource teacher. P is now a 9th grader at our (large) public high school. The building itself is overwhelming. To an outsider looking in, it looks a bit like the Escher painting . Then, it's enormous--2,000+ students. I had all sorts of worries even before thinking about the curriculum and the challenge that might provide.

The things we worry about are almost never the things that actually happen.

P. came home with a first term report card with mostly A's and a few high B's. This with a demanding schedule, including 2 languages (French and Chinese). His teachers uniformly consider him a delight in class and his math teacher has recommended that P move into honors math. (We're still considering that.) To top it all off, P was nominated and accepted for a peer mentor program where students are called to orient transfer students to the high school.

I was floored. Not because I didn't think P capable. He is and I know that he is.

It's because the early years were such a struggle. He was in such distress all the time and as a parent, I felt helpless in the face of his depression and anxiety.

Teachers complement me all the time on what a wonderful job I've done in parenting my AS kid. I'm uncomfortable with that kind of praise. I parented my *child* in a way that respected him and responded to where he was. Not because he is an 'Aspie', but because that's what I needed to do as a parent of any child. P has had one huge advantage: I lived through the anxiety and the stress, the sheer confusion of feeling out of phase in the world. And all without the benefit of recognition and assistance.

Early on, my husband and I made a decision to make home a safe haven. There was enough stress in his daily life, at school, with peers, that he needed a place to simply *be*. That was home.

I keep harping on this, but managing anxiety was the single biggest factor in P's success. Anxiety is the terrible background noise that interferes with every aspect of an Aspie's life. It is a set of blinders. Full arm and leg shackles. A prison cell. As long as his anxiety level stays under control, P can be his happy, goofy, gentle-giant self.

I hope and pray that P continues to feel safe, loved, and supported; that he has the grounding he needs to keep moving forward in his life.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Round 2. . .

In my last post a little over one month ago, I talked about my younger son's difficulties in middle school. We are now one marking period into 6th grade and week by week, the picture is becoming clearer to me.

His report card was all over the map--a mixture of A's and C's. On the face of it, that's not such a bad thing--a "C" is, after all, considered a passing grade. However, it's the pattern of the component scores leading to his quarterly grade that is one of the issues.

My son struggles most with organization. Both personal organization (aka--his backpack is a rat's nest) and cognitive organization. In assignments that have a high degree of structure, he does well. *Even if the work itself is fairly abstract.*

If the assignment is highly unstructured, than he will struggle with it. It's often not the content. Most often it's that he doesn't understand what is being asked of him. If I can get to him and look over his assignment before he's used up his reserves, I can often rephrase the question and the lightbulb clicks on.

When I see how like swiss cheese his individual marks are, then I understand there is a problem. For example, in Math class, he received A's and B's on his homework assignments, but did extremely poorly on quizzes. That brought his term grade down to a C. He didn't understand *how* to study for the quizzes, though he seems to understand the content when I ask him to show me his work at home.

The same thing occurred in Social Studies. (I discussed the geography problem in the last post.) In addition, students receive a 'O' on homework assignments that are not turned in on time. My son constantly misfiles assignments in the wrong binders and then can't find them to turn them in. One or two zeros can torpedo even an otherwise perfect term.

Understand, it's not the grade I care about. What I care about is that the stresses of this year have turned my eager, school-loving son into an emotional wreck. He's anxious and depressed and often explodes at home into anger.

This is what I need the school to help ameliorate.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

How do we learn how to learn?

How do we learn how to learn? It seems like an odd question to ask. But it's one that I've been mulling over in the context with my younger son. With a learning profile similar to his brother's (and mine, for that matter), he struggles with organizing and consolidating what he knows.

If you want to put a label on his profile, the alphabet soup that the psychologist came up with is "NLD", or non-verbal learning disability.

In practice, what this means is he has trouble when:
  • the work moves from the concrete to the abstract,
  • an assignment is ambiguous,
  • he is given a complex project that must be broken into component parts,
  • he must organize and synthesize information
In elementary school, he did well academically because the learning was almost always more concrete than abstract, the assignments specific (easier when the only demands come from a single teacher), the projects organized for him, and models of finished work provided. This year, he started middle school and moved into a larger building with 4 times the number of students and moved from 1 main teacher to 6 teachers.

He is a bright young man, articulate, eager to learn, and with an enormous memory. To any teacher, he looks the model of a successful student.

His social studies teacher contacted me last week because he had received two consecutive 0% on geography quizzes. The teacher asked my son why he thought he had done so poorly and my son's answer was that he didn't have time to study.

That's not really the problem. The problem is he doesn't understand what studying is, nor does he know how to do it. It took me a little bit to figure this out. I watched him attempt to study his geography. What he would do was stare at maps for a good half hour to forty five minutes and declare himself done.

Today, I hit on a metaphor that I hope was helpful to him. If you are target shooting and want to hit a bull's eye, you would want to use a pistol versus a shotgun. The pistol is more accurate. With the shotgun, you could pepper the target with shot and hope that maybe one of them would hit the bull's eye. That's how he was studying. Look at everything, but without having the context, and hope that he would answer the test question right.

I taught him a 3 step process to studying today:

1--Define the target
Find out what material you are responsible for learning for the next test. Be specific. "I need to identify all the major rivers in western Europe" is more specific than "I have to know the geography of Europe."

Practice, staying focused on the specifics that you'll need to know. Study actively, not passively, ie, *do* something rather than just read. Answer practice test questions or use a sample map, for example, to fill in the blanks.

3--Assess Look at the how much of the material you got right. For example, returning to your atlas, look at the number of Rivers you answered correctly and those you answered incorrectly. Highlight your wrong answers and go back to step one. These are your new targets.

This is probably obvious to many, many children. It's just not to my child. His mind hopscotches all over the place, following thoughts that interest him. This, to my thinking, is a good thing. He is highly creative and takes imaginative leaps. However, he needs to learn how to do the more systematic thinking or risk failing in school.

I wish someone had taken the time to teach me study and learning skills. It would have saved a lot of heartbreak in college and graduate school.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Danger of Anecdotal Experience

Last night, I happened to be awake late enough to watch the news show, Nightline. One segment of the program highlighted a program that takes autistic individuals, primarily children, surfing.

What I found bizarre, is that this surfing program, no matter how well intentioned, was developed after one father (a professional surfer) found that taking his autistic son surfing, helped calm the boy down. Now this man and his wife have devoted their lives to running an all-volunteer assisted surfing program. All on the strength of his belief and personal experience.

In the segment, Nightline showed screaming children in life jackets being carried out into the waves by volunteers. The parents stood on the shore and watched through binoculars. Although they reported the children involved were all happy and relaxed after their surfing experiences, the one child they did follow closely through the segment, when asked if he would go out surfing again, threw himself in his mother's arms and begged to be taken back to their hotel.

The program director appears to believe passionately in the power of the surf to calm autistic children. I can't fault his intentions. Finding activities that help regulate anxiety and increase calm is a good thing. Is surfing the answer? A more fair question might be: is surfing *an* answer? Probably for *some* individuals. What I fault is that this is another example of the 'it worked for my child, lets do it with everyone' mentality.

Anecdotal experience is not scientific evidence.

And I worry about a belief that the outcome justifies the process.

From an autistic child's perspective, I could imagine how frightening the morning must have been. A crowded, unfamiliar environment, an uncomfortable life vest, the potential sensory assault of beach sand, the sound of the waves, physical contact by strangers, forced separation from parents/caregivers, immersion in roiling water.

Does the fact that some of the children were calm and relaxed when it was over mean it was the right thing to do?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Looking forward to Autreat

I've blogged about Autreat before. A retreat, once a year, a week free from the endless pressures to conform in the neurotypical world. I was worried that we might not be able to attend this year, as the school year ends quite close to the dates of Autreat. If we'd had more than 1 or 2 snowdays, the Autreat dates would have been while school was still in session.

(There weren't snow days, and thus no overlap)

The other issue was a possible move.

Now that it's not going to happen, I can talk about it and process how it affected me. My husband has been having a difficult time of it in his job and was offered a position that would have entailed a relocation for the family.

In terms of sheer miles, it wasn't that far. Just a few hours from where we live now, but in terms of life change, a huge rift.

Maybe that sort of change is hard for everyone. Certainly neurotypical teenagers resent having to move in their high school years and it is difficult to get used to new neighborhoods, schools, routines. For me, it would have been hard on many levels at once.

I would leave behind comfort with geographic place. I know my way around here. That might not seem like a big deal, but it took me years to feel secure driving in my town, and navigating the highways here. My sense of direction is very poor and I used to get panic attacks when I didn't know where I was.

I would leave behind several really supportive friends. Friends who understand my oddities and appreciate me for them. Friends who only ask for what I can readily give and who have found that without pressure, I can give quite a lot.

I would leave behind a private practice in physical therapy that I have taken years to build, knowing that I would not have the time or personal resources to start all over again.

I would leave behind the familiarity of a school district, that, for the most part, has served my boys well.

I would have to deal with managing my own depression and stress while being the conduit for my boys to manage theirs.

I would have to learn a new school system without the support and advocacy of others I know who have worked with that system before.

I would have to learn how to navigate, both in the literal sense and in the metaphorical sense, a new place, with new people, and new expectations.

All while my husband was settling in to a new work community in a demanding job, that no matter what the employer assured us, was going to entail long hours away from home.

We have lived in the same place for nearly 15 years. That *is* my children's lifetime. A long time, even for a grown up.

I can't say I'm sorry my husband turned down this opportunity. Even though it would have entailed more money and (perhaps) less work stress for him. I still worry about his physical and emotional health, working the way he does, and I hope that he is able to find a way to manage it. But I think even her realized that the net result of this move would have been much more stress, rather than less.

So we stay.

In our lovely home.

In this familiar neighborhood.

And we will be at Autreat this year, enjoying the familiar comfort of its support.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Today's Post: Part 2--IEP redux

This morning was my 8th grader's IEP meeting/3 year review. As part of that process, I requested that his psychological testing be repeated. There were no surprises. A 65 point discrepancy between his verbal comprehension and his processing speed subscores. (>99th percental vs 16th percentile).

It's no wonder that he excels at tasks in which he can use his verbal/language abilities and struggles with more abstract tasks (like math tests) that are timed or induce stress to the mix.

The split amongst his subscores is even more pronounced than it was in his prior testing of 5th grade. So as his peers have matured and improved in their processing speed, he has not.

I think the test results and they way they were explained by the psychologist even startled some of my son's current teachers. P is so good at covering for his difficulties, that it's sometimes hard for me to see his performance accurately.

I am quite concerned about the math. Currently, he has provisions in his IEP to take untimed standardized tests, but there isn't any accommodation for his class-based math exams. And he's failed 2 exams. Amazing to realize he's still pulling a solid B average in this accelerated math class. When he has time to process, he seems to be able to understand and demonstrate his knowledge. But he is not successful with the same kinds of tasks on tests.

I can help him organize and plan for all of his other subjects. The math is beyond me. And it's not an issue a basic tutor is likely to be able to help him with. It seems to me that in a typical testing situation, he is unable to call on his own resources to overcome his cognitive/learning deficits. It's not exactly a math problem, nor is it a study habit's problem, but a problem of matching the testing to his cognitive abilities.

I think I will be meeting with the school and his math teacher to discuss testing accommodations.

Today's post, part 1: Thank you

I appreciate those of you who commented on the blog or via email about my last post. I am less stressed a week later, having had some process time.

Am I any more disposed to move? No. But my fight or flight response has damped down and I can work through the process without the sense of impending panic I felt in the past few weeks.

One of the reasons this problem has been so difficult to work through is that it concerns the future/wellbeing/success of the person I generally problem-solve with. Normally, my husband is the impartial and reasoned sounding board. This time, he's drowning in the same fears and anxieties as I am.

To his credit, he knows how difficult even the idea of moving is for me and he's arranged for me to spend a day in this town to get a sense of what I think of it before we talk further. I'm a kinesthetic processor--being there will do what internet research and brochures cannot.

I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

My long absence

I'm sorry for my long absence from blogging here. First an update: my father's health is stabilized currently. I appreciate the notes and emails of support I received. The news is mixed--he won't need dialysis emergently, but he will likely need to start with it within a year. His kidneys have been slowly failing for many years (undiagnosed hypertension) and there's little they can do to halt the process. He is on a kidney sparing diet and off some medications that actively harm the kidney. And he's determined to stay as healthy as he can. In fact, he's doing better than the rest of us in adjusting.

I honestly thought I was holding it together--I even managed to juggle my work around my parents' medical needs and seemed to be doing fine. Then my husband got offered a job out of state. A terrific job. One that pays more money and will probably mean less work stress for him. It should be a no brainer, but I'm a wreck.

I've been in this house for 14 years. I feel safe here--physically and emotionally. I'm connected to the schools and they have been (for the most part) amazingly responsive to my childrens' needs. My boys are happy. They have friends and interests here. *There* is a big unknown. *There* is finding a new neighborhood, new schools, new friends. *There* is leaving the safety of *here.*

*Here* is everything I've ever wanted.

Except for the fact that my husband works close to 80 hours a week, with little control and little support. He cannot continue at this pace--it isn't healthy for him.

If we must move, my children have me to support them in the dislocation. But there's no one to support me in that way. I am anxious and frightened and my emotional first response is an automatic 'no'. I am working hard to stay in the moment and not give in to this blind panic about anything different.

It is so very hard.