Growing, Not Dying

Welcome to my insights, ponderings, and experiences. Hopefully they will enrich you in some small way, or at least make you laugh.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

My Aspie Son- My Challenge, My Gift

Recent educational concerns and inquieries from friends have led to me posting about my son with Aspergers. He's a different duck so socialization and formal education are difficult for him in many ways. They just aren't intuitive to his nature. He has been in public school. Though his teachers and supporting staff have been very understanding and great about including him, it has been no picnic nor the ideal solution. We continued to look for better answers.

In the school district we are in now, 6th grade is part of middle school. By the end of last year it was clear to me there was no way my son was going to be ready for middle school in another year of the same system. However, pulling him out of it would only make the shock worse when he started again. We decided the best solution at this time, his 5th grade year, for us was dual enrollment. He goes to "regular school" for a few subjects and learns the rest with "at home schooling." As you can imagine this has created interesting challanges all around. The schedule has His teacher is great though, doing her best to include him and be thoughtful of my running back and forth.

Though he has shown marked progress in many areas, even our schooling at home provides many problems. Distractibility and frustration continue to be obstacles. I posted about my frustration on Facebook. A dear friend replied they experienced similar problems until they found their unique groove. In her comment she said the one thing they found that did not work was "public school at home." I realised that was exactly what we are doing. I had no concept there was another way, so I began researching things like deschooling, unschooling, project-based learning and inquiry directed learning. I am intruiged by all the new possibilities out there.

in my quest I ran across this article :

Overcoming Autism: Public Schools Deal with a Growing Problem

As the number of special needs students soar, public schools grapple with ways to offer quality education without going broke.
by Fran Smith

All this reading I have been doing, searching for answers, for the right way. The comments that followed the article, even more than the article itself, reminded me that I am not the only one in this struggle. In fact, it's a struggle for more than just the parents of all the special kids. It is a struggle for the underpaid, overworked, unappreciated educaters, administartos and staff as well. It is a struggle for the other parents and other children in these schools who are trying to learn to be accepting, socially responsible, kind and just plain get their education too. It is a struggle for all the people who don't teach or have kids in school but still pay the taxes to fund the programs. It's a real challange for the legislators who see education needs more money, want to give it more money, but have nothing more to give becasue they are alreay paying for other needed programs too- like roads to drive all those kids to school, security so they have the freedom to go to school, and health care so those kids' parents incomes won't have to have more taken out to care for the wonderful people who raised them.

All this thinking caused me to post a comment to that story, a comment that is part of my own private story. I choose to share it here as well that perhaps someone searching for help, answers and hope might find some caring and light in it. Perhaps someone might feel a little less alone and a little more like everything can work out.

This article and thread are old, but perhaps my comments may still help others. For years I thought as many other parents without special kids, that these kids should be in other programs - not distracting my kids, or that they could be disciplined out of it. I continued to live in this denial even after my first son was obviously not the same as other kids. I kept thinking I could teach him to fit, force him to 'get it.'

After dozens of phone calls, over a year and a half, about behavioral concerns at school we had to go in for "another meeting." Going in I was ready to fight for him. Feeling the people in the room cared, I listened. That was the first time I got a clear picture of what life was like for my son. The educators around him did care, but had no training and many other kids to think of as well. My son's desk was back in a corner with tape on the floor marking off the area where he had to stay and the other kids had to stay out. He was treated as a leper of old. He had no friends at all, was teased, hurt and made fun of and didn't know why. Though his IQ was higher than any other kid in his grade, he was made to feel stupid because he couldn't clearly write out his thoughts. With the help of the school we learned about Aspergers and were put in touch with resources to help us. I was grateful for the school's help, and understood their limited resources. Together we worked to try to make things better with "simple solutions." He was allowed 'busy toys' at his desk to occupy his hands, permission to go to the office if became too emotionally overwhelmed, and other simple things that did not require extra effort on the teacher's part.

Over the years we have found taking an understanding proactive role with his teachers to be very helpful. Go in assuming they want to give your child the best education they can. They are probably untrained and each kid is unique in how their behavior manifests their quirks anyway. The teachers, staff, and administration would probably LOVE to give your kid every program, resource and advantage under the sun. However, they are underpaid, underfunded and usually getting abused both by the parents they serve and the district above them.

Meet with the teacher, counselor and principal, before school even starts if you can. Let them know you understand their burden and you want to work with them, not make their job harder. Present strategies that have worked with your kid before and display your willingness to work with them. Be very open and active in your communication, but in a way that is considerate of the teacher's time. Ask your teacher to be willing to try things, "as long as it doesn't disturb the other childrens' learning environment." Thank your teacher and staff often for caring about your child, even for minor concessions.

We are fortunate enough this year to have a very innovative teacher. Sitting still and listening for long periods is really hard for our son. His teacher had the class draw up agreements which include such things like it's okay to take your shoes off in class if they are slip ons, water bottles at desks, moving about the classroom during seat work time and standing during instruction- all with the condition that it respects the learning environment of the class. The goal was to include our son and allow him his uniquness. The side effect was a classroom of young people who felt empowered and have displayed increased sense of responsibility over the course of the school year. Everyone benefited. My experience has been when we open our hearts and are willing to expand our thinking to work together for the benefit of all involved, the special kid, the teacher, parents, staff, and the other children in the class, everyone truly does benefit.

Would I change my son? There was a time I would have said 'yes.' I would have paid any price if someone could "cure him." Now I understand he doesn't have an illness or a mental disability. he isn't broken in any fashion. He is wired to see the world differntly, that's all. Having understanding adults in his life and meeting other kids "like him" has helped him to cope and grow tremendously. Still, I have learned it is not my son that needs to change. Rather these kids are coming into the world at this time in increasing numbers because the world needs to change. It will take the best in each of us to understand them and support them. That alone will make us better people, which growth is a gift to prepare us for the better world they are here to create.

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Blogger Amy said...

Dawn, your letter made me cry. Morgan struggles with a lot of the same struggles J does. I too have been very fortunate to have amazing educators helping her and especially, my mother there at school to help keep a handle on things. So I have the perspective of having a special needs child and family in public education. You're advice on dealing with educators, PERFECT! Seriously. You get it! You are so wise and I'm so proud you are my friend so I can learn from you.

Morgan is in that gray area where she's in the Autism spectrum and has Aspburger characteristics, but also symptoms of ADHD, which overlap as I'm sure you know. Sometimes I've just wanted a definitive answer so I'd have definitive sources to go to, which would give me definitive things to do to make a definitive change for her... but what you said about accepting your child for the special person they are, again, exactly right. Thanks for reminding me. The pre-teen emotion has set in and it's been difficult for me to stay on an even keel, so thank you.

I love you buddy! You're seriously amazing! *hug*

Thu Jan 22, 06:09:00 PM MST  

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