Back to School: Asperger Style
preparing our family for a full year
Shopping for clothes, running through this list. Do we have enough notebooks? Do we have the correct calculator, did we get pencil cases, gluesticks, rulers, folders, whoops.. have to get another package of post its because my 12 year old son won't have anything to do with the multipack that contains pink and purple ones...looseleaf, binders, hurry up sharpen all of the pencils...let's see what else? We packed the bags, and sent in the supplies, but this is not the full preparation for houses like ours. We have to prepare almost as if we were settling up our lives for a ten month battle. The 180 day war that is about the begin in our home, with our oldest son, with the Department of Education, with his school and with ourselves.
Most parents know that with the exception of a handfull of sweet little compliant children, very few students look forward to the end of the day as a means of rushing home to complete their homework. My children would much rather go outside and play or veg out in front of the television. However, my two youngest children are now old enough that they are resigned to fact that their will be no fun until that drasted homework is complete, checked by mom, and packed up for tomorrow. That isn't to say they are perfect about it, it is often a struggle and sometimes ends up getting done in the car on the way to somewhere, but it gets done and that's that.
It is my oldest child that is keeping me wide awake at night now that September has arrived. He is beginning his sophmore year of High School. He is an Honor Student who finished the year with a 95 average. He is very bright and school should be a walk in the park for him and for us, but it is not. It is 10 months of misery. He has a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome. He is extremely intelligent and has a photographic memory, but has many limitations. He spends the entire school day pouring all of his energies into making it through those 8 hours so the very last thing he wants to at the end of it all is to spend 2 more hours completing his homework.
He can figure out math problems in his head so he does not understand the phrase "show your work". He cannot, He just looks at the problem and simply knows the answer. It is a gift, but he is not rewarded for this gift, he is penalized by our system. He would get more points on a test if he wrote an incorrect answer and showed the proper method of finding that answer. This line of thinking does not compute in an Asperger mind which thinks in black and white. He loves science, but is often repulsed by some of the tasks he is asked to do, such as dissection due to his sensory issues. He has been accomodated by his school, but at times that doesn't even help. He loves history, however, that is only one period per day and requires a great deal of note taking. He is VERY weak as far as note taking since he has OCD and constantly erases whatever he write because the handwriting isn't "good enough". He has a paraprofessional scribing for him which also leads to trouble because he doesn't always want to read over her notes thus he misses part of the lessons.
He despises physical education, which also comes with accomodations for his muscle weaknesses, however, many a tear is shed in this class. English, surprisingly, since he hates to write, he has enjoyed since entering High School. He is resistant to read books that are not of his choosing but somehow once the complaining is over, the response to the reading is beautifully written using incredibly advanced language. But the struggle to get him to do even the smallest task is exhausting.
The other two children will get their supplies ready and run to school eager to see their friends and learn from their teachers. Our oldest will have to dragged out of bed, talked through every part of getting ready in the morning. Did you brush your teeth? Leave me alone! Did you wash your face? Arrg! Okay! Did you get dressed yet??!!! Don't tell me you lost your socks again? How many pairs of socks will you leave around the house before you actually get a pair on your feet? My shoes feel tight? Help me fix the laces, I can't focus in school if my shoes don't feel right. Mom! Now my waffles are cold. Well, if you ate them when I said, they wouldn't be cold. Did you pack up your laptop? (all other supplies except computer and lunch are already in his bag-I'm not that crazy) Don't forget your lunch. Put your glasses on so you don't leave them home again. On and on and on it goes. This is our usual morning. No matter how hard I try to organize it, it is rarely not a struggle. Heaven forbid one of the other two is having a bad morning, you can't even imagine. They have their bad days too, it happens, only natural.
We finally get everyone out the door. I can breathe, I can go to work. But can I? Maybe, maybe not. My telephone becomes the invisible umbilical cord. I have to carry it everywhere. It rings. It is the school counselor. My son is having an anxiety attack because he didn't know the answer to number 4 on the test and will not go ahead because leaving a blank answer or guessing incorrectly is not in his wiring. Sometimes they can talk him through it, sometimes I have to talk to him. I have to fight each and every year, twice a year, once in the fall and once in the summer for the Department of Education to approve my son's therapies although several specialists with mulitple degrees have agreed that this is what he needs, clerks in the office believe they have the right to question. Last I checked there was no cure for what he had, so why on earth would he no longer need the therapies? It is all tactics. Most parents can't take the pressure and give up. Score the DOE, less money to dish out, budget easier to reconcile. Not us, we fight, often going to court.
So how to prepare? Buying the supplies, that is the easy part. Preparing all of us for the crying, screaming, begging, convincing, tons of phone calls, teachers and paras getting just as frustrated as us and complaining when they reach the end of their ropes, I don't know. We just get through. Don't get me wrong. There ARE good days mixed in there. Days when he just decides that he will get the work done and enjoy his day. It is amazing. It takes him less than an hour to produce beautiful, neat, correct homework assignments with no issues. TO convince him to that everyday would be wonderful, but it doesn't happen. We don't know why.
The students in his class, are very kind and understanding because he is bright and they respect that, they excuse him for the few days that are tough for him because he is normally and asset to the class. We all try. There are days that we throw our hands up in the air and say that we give up. But the next day we are back and working hard. Our family, extended family, friends, his teachers, school staff, therapists, so many people whose lives are affected but what type of day he has. I have a knot in my stomach and a pounding headache thinking about a full year since he still hasn't finished his summer assignment which is due in three days. No matter how much we reason with him and try to encourage him, he just doesn't want to do it, and that is very hard to get around. If he doesn't do it, the school doesn't just fail him like other kids, they call us and hound us to get him to do it. I think they are not certain whether he is full accountable enough to make his own decisions. They are probably right. If left to his own, he would never shower, watch television all of the time, play video games, eat pizza every meal, read only baseball books and never leave our house. Then again, so would alot of people who are not diagnosed with Asperger Sydrome.
So preparing in our house requires alot of deep breathing, alot of relaxation techniques, attitude adjustments and trying very hard to stay in the moment AND to stay optimistic.