Friday, January 25, 2008
Unschooling Anxiety and Adjusting Our Routine
One of the more frustrating aspects of educating a child with Asperger's Syndrome (AS),
is his antipathy towards change.
N. wakes up with a plan in his mind.
It seems to be based on the day of week, his routine, and his mood for the day.
And like most people with AS, N. is very resistant to any change in his plans.
Normally, I handle this problem by adhering to routine and discussing any changes ahead of time. But sometimes changes in routines, illness and weather considerations make this very challenging. This week we have had a confluence of all three, and N. and I had a rocky week with respect to our learning schedule as we both had to make adjustments: N. to his schedule and me to my expectations.
This week, we had originally planned to have our usual beginning of the week routine on Monday, and work on some math, even though it was MLK day. But our plans were changed on Sunday afternoon, when A.'s mom called and told us that they had a household emergency due to frozen pipes. "Would it be alright if A. stayed overnight on Sunday night, and spend the day on Monday, when he would not have school. Of course I said that would be fine. It is really important for N. to develop a few close friendships, and this is the first one of his adolescence. I know that such friendships are likely to continue over a lifetime, too. It is also important for N. to learn to make adjustments to his routine in order to help out friends and neighbors. He needs to know that stuff happens and inevitably will change that rigid schedule he has in his mind. So, of course, we did not do math on Monday, which has been our routine. I told N. that we would do it on Tuesday (when he does Kamana and reading) instead.
On Tuesday morning, though, N. woke up with a sore throat, cough and general malaise. He had that virus that has been going around. So he slept all morning, then lounged around, reading, while I pushed lots of fluids all afternoon. He did not even feel like going to Taekwondo that evening, a sure sign that he was sick. He was feeling a little better by Wednesday afternoon, so he did go to Taekwondo and Machon that evening. And here is where we ran into our next schedule challenge.
Wednesday evening, I had my first university class, Special Education 615: Trends and Issues in Special Education, a doctoral seminar that goes from 4 - 6:30 PM. This changed how we deal with the Machon carpool. Last fall, I would take N. into Taekwondo, and then whoever was driving would pick him up and take him to Machon. If I was driving, I would pick up the other boys early, and they would wait and do homework during Taekwondo. Now we had an added complication. I explained it ahead of time to N. I would drop him off at a branch library in town. He could get his books for the week and read, and then Bruce would pick him up an hour later and take him to Taekwondo. Then the carpool parent would pick him up and take him to Machon. Since this was worked out pretty well ahead of time, after his initial anxiety about the change, N. handled it fine. But his usual routine at Machon was broken because they had decided to hold an all-school Tu B'Shevat Seder. This put N. out and he came home rather grumpy and silent because I had not prepared him for that. I wasn't informed myself, so I couldn't tell him ahead of time. I have tried to get the powers-that-be at the synagogue to inform me of such changes, but despite my best efforts, they really don't 'grok' the importance of it.
On Thursday, we had the confluence of two things that changed our whole routine. One was the first meeting of my Child Psychopathology class, from 7 - 9:30 PM. This conflicts with N.'s Thursday evening Taekwondo class, which runs from 6:45 - 7:45 PM. I did make plans to deal with this, but then we had warnings of incoming weather, so I decided that this would be a good day to take N. to the noon Taekwondo class. So after breakfast, I explained the change to N. He was quiet on the ride into town, and while we were waiting for the class to begin, I had to deal with silence punctuated by sighs, and general attitude. Even the Taekwondo Master noticed. However, after he got into class, and had stretched out, he seemed to adjust. In our conversation on the way home, N. told me that he needed more time to adjust to fact that he would not be working out with his usual group, and that my prodding him to talk was interfering with that adjustment. In other words, he was telling me to leave him alone while he adjusts instead of trying to pull him out of the attitude.
Of course, he's right. So often, as a parent, I feel that I must try to make him behave as if he is happy about something, rather than just letting him have his mood.
The more I meddle, the more morose he gets, and the longer it takes for him to adjust.
Sometimes, the least said, the soonest mended.
Today (Friday), though, I became anxious about the math.
It seems that if we don't adhere to our Monday routine, the rest of the week gets out of whack as well. We normally do math together on Mondays and Wednesdays, and on the Fridays that Bruce works. So I decided that since we had not done it on Monday or Wednesday, that we would do it today. To make matters worse, I now have the cold, so I decided to just have N. work independently. I determined that he should learn to use his new Math Explorer calculator--especially the fractions function.
I became anxious.
Notice who was doing all the action here.
What was really happening was that I was unilaterally moving from being N.'s unschooling guide on the side, to the sage on the stage. It was all because I sometimes get nervous about whether we are making any educational progress. This happens when my routine is changing.
N. is not the only person who has to adjust.
Naturally, when I informed N. of my decision, there was a problem. It was manifested by silent resistance to my plans, and then the adolescent signs of moodiness: slammed objects, big sighs, and rolling eyes. It was clear that even though N. had the calculator in hand, and the instruction manual open before him, he was not going to learn to do the operations.
We had the following conversation:
Me: "So, I see that you are not going to learn this today."
Me: "I am worried that we might be getting behind in Math. If you want to take classes in a few years, you'll have to learn this now."
Me: "I see that I am messing with the schedule in your mind."
Me: "Could we plan to do this later today?"
N: "Actually, I had a plan for today. Today is Friday and Bruce is home. So I was going to go out and swing for a while (he still needs this to calm his sensory sensitivities) and then I was going to do some tracking and work on Kamana. Then I was going to practice archery. I was planning to learn the calculator on Monday and then do the next lesson, too."
Me: "I see."
I really did. I had not only unilaterally made plans without him, but I had completely disregarded his expectations of following our usual routine, which had been messed with for the entire week. We had unexpected changes at the same time that we were making planned adjustments. He had dealt with it pretty well, but now he had reached his limit.
It was my turn to adjust.
Me: "Okay, I think your plan is reasonable. I see that you have thought about the math, and that you have a plan for it. I'm sorry that I did not consult you before making plans. You see, sometimes I get anxious when a lot of my routines are upset, too."
N: "I know, Mom! Believe me, I know!"
Another episode in the annals of unschooling myself!