Friday, July 10, 2009

The Boy's New School

Welcome to the fourth installment of The Boy's story. If you need to catch up, just look at the previous three Friday posts. I will continue the story each Friday until you are caught up to the present. Once his story is complete, maybe I will start a whole new story about my life and how I got where I am today.

Which new school did I choose? I chose the one that I am currently employed with. Actually, that doesn't help you at all since I am actually the lead nurse for two districts! Ok...I chose for him to attend the same school that I attended as a child.

Why? Several reasons. First off was that it had small classroom sizes. (His class currently has 25 kids.) Secondly, choosing this school meant that when he had a day off, I also had a day off. He could either ride the bus or ride with me. I knew all of the teachers and those that would be dealing with him on a daily basis. I could send him home on the bus to my parents' house if I had to be at a meeting or out of town. I would be available should there be a problem. And, he would not have to change schools again once he got into the 9th grade.

Don't get me wrong. There were good reasons for him to go to the other schools too, but for whatever reason, this one made the most sense and that is the one I chose.

He began the fourth grade with an IEP. For those out there who don't know what this means, it means that he had an Individual Educational Plan. This lays out a list of items that would change the way he is taught.

For instance--instead of having the full 20 word spelling list that his classmates had, he only took a test on 10 of them and as time moved on, he would increase the number of words on his list. He would be allowed to leave the room for any and all tests. He would be given extra time to complete tests and assignments. If notes were to be taken, he had to write them, but then a set of notes from the teacher would be photocopied and sent home so that I could read them and help him to study. The teachers were to try to decrease the amount of paper/pencil tasks required of him. Some of his tests/assignments would be read to him. Unless it was a spelling test, spelling would not be counted off. His handwriting would not be held against him. If the teacher could not read something, she was to ask him what it said and take his oral response as the answer to the question.

All of those things were accommodations that were required to be given to him so that he could continue with his education with his classmates.

Everything went fairly well. All things considered of course! I mean, he still was biting himself and banging his head and pushing on his eyes when he was frustrated. He still was having all of the normal difficulties and unfortunately, he began to have problems with some of the kids in his class. Two in particular. They discovered which buttons to push to set him off, and they pushed them every chance they got. Every single night, he would come home with a complaint about one or the both of them.

It was also really hard when he would come home saying that the whole class received a punishment when there were just a few who were causing the problems. How do you explain to a kid that the world was like this??

As time went on, we both adjusted and settled in. Don't get me wrong...this was not easy. We had teachers in the fifth and sixth grades that felt they didn't have to follow his IEP because "he is too smart to have an IEP and if you were a better mother he wouldn't be having any problems at all." (Made me wonder if she had been talking to his father!) We seemed to find ways around all sorts of obstacles.

By the end of sixth grade, he was still considered to be a 'loner', but he was also noted to be exceptionally smart. Matter of fact, he was one of the top two in his class. And it wasn't because of any special treatment he received. He continued to work just as hard as the other kids.

Long before, I had told him that grades did not matter. Maybe not something that I should have said, but oh well! I told him that the actual grade he received was not as big a deal as the effort he put towards receiving that grade. I told him that if he put forth 100% effort and did the very best he could do on any given task and still received an "F", then I didn't care. As long as he tried his hardest, I would be proud of him. I know that it may not work well for all kids, but it definitely has worked well for The Boy.

When he was younger, he would come home upset because in the column under 'handwriting' on his report card, it would be marked as 'unsatisfactory'. I told him that I knew a man that was loved by many and who was terribly smart and exceptionally good at his job who most people had difficulty reading his writing. And that man was a doctor. So having good handwriting does not make a man good or better than anyone else. After that, The Boy became unconcerned when his handwriting consistently received unsatisfactory marks. It isn't that he didn't try to make it better, it is just that it isn't as big of an issue anymore.

During The Boy's fifth grade year, we began seeing a counselor on a weekly basis. She has helped him a great deal in being able to decrease the head banging and the biting. She continues to work with him to this day. He knows that he can tell her anything and everything without me knowing unless he has given permission for me to be told. (Unless of course he is hurting himself or others.)

There have been several times that he has had a major meltdown in her office and she has not been able to calm him. That is where I come in. I am able to calm him at least enough to get him out the door and home where he can curl up in his own bed and then be able to talk about it a couple hours later. There have also been several times in which he will refuse to talk to her. Those times have been getting fewer and fewer. We have discovered that if he has something to keep his hands busy (legos, computer) then he talks more.

When he began the 7th grade, there were nerves all around. Our school has two buildings. An Elementary and a High School. The High School has grades 7-12 and the Elementary is K-6. That meant that he would be going to a new building with all new teachers and expectations. We ended up talking to the counselor (who works in both buildings, just like I do) and coming home with his schedule over the summer. This way we were able to go on different days when the school was empty to each of his classrooms. This let him know where he was going and how long it would take for him to get there.

Before he started his 7th grade year, I went to each of his teachers and talked to them about my son. I told them things that they needed to be on the look-out for that showed that he had hit his stress level. We discussed his IEP and how that would affect the classes those teachers had him for. Every time he has a new teacher, we have to have this type of discussion.

The transition to seventh grade was not too bad. He continued to have some difficulty with a couple of the kids in his class, but overall, it wasn't a bad year.

During his eighth grade year, he had a somewhat easier time. He kept most of the same teachers as the previous year, so they all knew each other. He still had issues with some of the kids in his class, but he made a couple of new friends too. He rarely came home with homework because he was able to get it done in class. Most of the time we had good days. But on the days we had bad days, we had really bad days!

On the last day of eighth grade, there was an awards assembly held. I was called the night before by one of the teachers to attend. I was told that he would be receiving an award, but that he didn't know about it and I was not to tell him. No problem. I show up and he is given the American Legion Award. They choose two kids out of the 6th and 8th grade that show good citizenship and good grades. I was very proud!

Then, near the end of the assembly, his name was called again because he had written an essay for a contest by the Missouri Peace Officers. It was titled 'Why You Should Say No to Alcohol, Tobacco, and Drugs. He won first place in the Eastern part of the state and a check for $300! Talked about proud!! I cried! He couldn't stop grinning. (And that is saying something since he doesn't do that very often!) He put it in a savings account until they come out with the newest version of some type of computer program and he can buy a new laptop. Not bad for someone who struggles with written expression, huh?!

We attempted to get him into a program for those with autism. I filled out all the paperwork and he was taken in for several sit down sessions where they talked about things he liked and didn't like. We went back a few times for him to build a robot while being videotaped. That has been quite a while back and I have yet to hear what they thought of the video. He did have a couple of breakdowns on the video, so they could see that what I described was accurate. Unfortunately, every time I have asked about what we do next, I am told that they are still waiting to analyze the video. I guess we will continue to do this on our own, learning as we go.

The Boy did get braces put on during 7th grade. THAT was an ordeal! He is dealing with them quite well now. I take him to an orthodontist who has a child with autism. That child is in his 20s now, so I kind of figure that the man knows how to deal with my boy. Matter of fact, he was my orthodontist when I was younger! We have also been given one person that works with him everytime he comes in. We sit in the same chair and have Shannon every single time. They know that if we are scheduled and our person is not there, then we will have to reschedule because The Boy will not let anyone else deal with him.

I have taken great pains in hand picking the docs that deal with The Boy. I have had docs be rough or gruff and upset both me and The Boy and I will just not deal with it.

We had an episode of the orthodontist ask me, loudly, in front of other patients and parents, "what is your kid's problem? Did he have a bad experience with a dentist because I am not going to have him crying and carrying on all the time." I looked at him and said "I would think that you of all people would know how to deal with an autistic child's fears and needs. Maybe if people would explain what they are doing and how it is going to be done before they start shoving things in his mouth, we wouldn't have this problem." The man immediately apologized and said that I was right. He then began assigning people to work with him each time we came in.

I have picked an eye doctor who also has a son diagnosed with autism. He works very well with The Boy and we have had no difficulty with him.

His pediatrician is a very calm man who pays attention to what I tell him. He doesn't touch him unnecessarily and explains everything he is going to do to him.

We started to see a new dentist in the past couple of years. The old one refused to allow me to come back with him. When I was called back after the appointment, the man looked at me and said, "I have told him and told him how to brush his teeth. Everytime I see him I tell him. He must be stupid or something because even little kids can figure it out." That, needless to say, was the last time we went back. Of course that was after I gave him a piece of my mind! The new dentist had an assistant that was extremely short on patience and very rough with both me and The Boy. I called the dentist and he called back after hours. I told him that we would not be returning due to the way we were treated. He asked what happened and asked if we would come back at least once more so he could prove he could make it right. We went back and so far, have had no more issues.

This post has caught you up with The Boy's story. He has some friends, (mostly girls!) but would still rather be alone. He still struggles with some simple things like understanding sacasm, understanding teasing, and gets frustrated easily. He has trouble describing emotions and things that are going on around him. But, he is a beautiful boy with love to spare. He has started to hug his grandmas and his greatgrandma. He has to be reminded to take his medicine and brush his teeth, but really, what teenager doesn't?! He is smarter than I will ever be. And he knows things that I can only dream of knowing.

I tell him that he should never let anyone tell him that he is stupid or that he has a disablilty. He has different abilities and if he were just like everyone else, how would he be as special as he is. I tell him that his mind works differently than other peoples and that I don't understand how or why, but I do know that because it works, he is not stupid.

And I wouldn't change one single thing about The Boy.

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