Tuesday, December 2, 2008

School Update: AS, Academics, and Advocacy

I can't believe that the Boychick's first semester in high school is almost over!
When did December sneak up on us?

Since we are almost to the halfway point of the Boychick's freshman year at EMHS, I think it's a good time to post a school update. (I meant to do so at the quarter, but we were in the middle of the High Holy Days).

This semester has been one of adjustments, testing, social triumphs and tragedies, and learning.
It has been a good semester!

That the Boychick is an Aspie has definitely had an impact, more so now that he is in school.
Although I did a lot of teaching of strategies to compensate academically during our homeschooling days, some of the sensory and social issues were more easily dealt with at home, and some did not rear their pointy little heads.

Now that he is in school, the Boychick has had to deal with being overwhelmed by sensory stimuli and emotional drama--his own and that of others. In some cases he has shut down, and in others, he has become hyperkinetic and contributed to the overall problem in the classroom. He has a skilled special education teacher to whom he can go when he needs help coping. Just today, for example, he left his Humanities homework on his desk in his room. He had worked on it with a friend last night, as was proud that he had completed it without Mom's help or reminding. But then he forgot to put it into his backpack.
So he called, sounding wrung-out and near tears to tell me to bring it with me when I came over to the school. I teach on Tuesday afternoon there.
He told me exactly what to bring and where to find it on his desk.
Bless his pointy little Aspie head! His visual memory is very exact!

When I arrived at school for my weekly volunteer duty (I teach a writing workshop for 6 special education students), the Boychick was in the Resource room. I was surprised to see him, since he is not in the group I teach. I said: "You are the luckiest boy in the world! You forgot your homework for the first time on a Tuesday."
He seemed better then, and took it immediately to his Humanities teacher.
Later, Ms. R., the special education teacher told me that the Humanities teacher did not believe that he had done it. This upset the Boychick, and he shut down and had to go sit in the Resource room to clear his head.

The case of his math class was more difficult. There, he was placed in a class composed of boys with a new albeit very enthusiastic teacher. In the first weeks of school, this group developed a synergy that made them one of those proverbial classes from hell. The problem for the Boychick is that he is very distractible and has great difficulty focusing on his work in a relatively quiet classroom; the drama of this class meant he was not learning.
But the Boychick is perseverative, and easily influenced by others. So he would pick up the pencil tapping or whatever and then continue it long after the others had gotten tired of it.

We have been working with the Boychick on understanding this about himself and developing strategies to cope and prevent the perseverations.

Finally, the day one of the other boys spilled iced tea all over the Boychick's homework, the Boychick had enough.
He got up. He wrung his papers out in the sink.
He put them on the corner of the teacher's desk.
And he left the room.
He told the Educational Assistant that he was not going back there.
The math teacher invited him for a conference, and the Boychick stuck to his decision.
But he also explained to her why he could not learn in that environment.
They switched his schedule and moved him to another group for math.
Problem solved.
The Engineering Geek and I, Ms. R., the EA, the social worker and the dean of freshman, were all overjoyed at his self-advocacy! This is a giant step towards self-understanding and independence.

There have been other social challenges: dealing with bullies, other freshman boys, upper-classmen. And girls. Oy! But he is finding his way and even met a girl at the Homecoming dance.

Academically, there have been challenges as well.
We told the Boychick that we were not concerned about grade percentages this year, as long as he is passing his courses. He needs to maintain at least a 70% in each class to pass. Otherwise . . . Dum, da dum dah! . . . it's credit recovery a.k.a summer school.
There is also homework every night, major projects and high expectations for performance.

This has been difficult for the Boychick.
This fall, he was re-evaluated for Special Education, and the testing shows why he has difficulty. Once again, no valid IQ score could be calculated.
He had the classic Asperger pattern: very high verbal comprehension (does not require language pragmatics), very high perceptual organization (requires good visual-spatial skills); very low working memory (requires auditory input), very low processing speed.
In the academic testing, he shows large discrepancies between his potential and performance in math calculation (it's the working memory and processing speed), as well as in writing organization and mechanics. He has auditory processing deficits, and considerable visual strengths.

I do expect that we can improve working memory, but only marginally, if we have passed the known critical period of development. We will need to work with him on organizational skills, as well as on compensatory strategies for his deficits.
He also needs to be challenged in his areas of considerable strength.
Like reading: I am so glad that he is a reader!
The IEP will have social and transition (to adulthood) goals as well.

Sigh. I had really thought that we might not need the IEP given the great progress the Boychick made while homeschooling. But because of his social deficits and mind-blindness, as well as his considerable difficulties with auditory processing, he needs interventions to even out his skills and succeed academically in the school setting. He also needs accommodations such as extra time on written assignments, small-group testing, written instructions, and the use of a calculator for speed work in math.

Overall, though, I appreciate that the Boychick's considerable intelligence makes it much easier to compensate for and circumvent his considerable learning disabilities.
The same is true for the social-communication disability which is at the heart of AS.
Cognitive methods can be used to teach social skills and language pragmatics because the Boychick is smart enough to use them.

The Boychick can have a good and productive life.
His considerable intellectual skills may even make it a spectacularly successful life.
But he (and we) will have to work much harder to make it so.

Fortunately, I think we up to the challenge.


Frankie said...

I believe your son will go far in this world. He has loving, supportive parents who advocate for him, who guide him. How loved he is!

What grade is he in again? Our high school starts at the 7th grade where we live, and I can't remember if he's one or two years older than my DS.

Susan said...

You're definitely up to the challenge! I'm glad you gave an update as it's always interesting when homeschoolers start up in traditional schools. Our public high school adventures with our 2 older kids were unfortunate enough that they do not want their 2 younger brothers any where near that particular school.
It sounds like he is doing well. I love the self-advocacy fortitude.
He loves to learn and knows what's screwed up. He's already doing wonderfully.

Anonymous said...

I have been hoping for a post like this, especially since my Aspergian teen is about the embark on the high school adventure. I am hopeful that we can avoid the testing/IEP route -- time will tell. Some of her strengths and weaknesses are similar to Boychick's. I would love to hear about how you work on his working memory and organizational skills, if you're up for a post on that. :-)

Kudos to Boychick for advocating for himself! And kudos to you for raising a child who isn't afraid to do that and knows he'll me supported.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Frankie, our high school starts in 9th grade, and the boychick is going to be 15 this month. (I can't believe it, but there it is).

Susan, I remember you telling my about "that particular school!" We chose the Boychick's school very carefully. If he had not got in there, we'd have continued homechooling. The other options were all very large public high schools, and he would have got lost at them.

Mama Monkey, as we develop the IEP and make interventions, I will share them here. I have been reading your blog and a few others as well, to get wisdom from other Aspie/Aspergians and their kids!

Anonymous said...

"When we teach kids grammar, we take what they know unconsciously, through years of communicating with other members of their species, and make is conscious. The child has always known that “He are going to trade YuGiOh! cards with me” doesn’t make sense, but now he will learn formally about subject/verb agreement. He’ll take what he knows to a deliberate, conscious level, and he’ll learn the rules. This helps with the fine points of writing mechanics."

Elisheva, I do thank you for sharing your experience.
And MamaMonkey, too, and I did quote you.
I see many of the traits you discuss in myself, and my older daughter.

Right now I just want you to know that I am reading, and have questions.

The question of grammar. Both my daughters are learning to read. Seven and five. And I am learning much with them.
Should I even worry over teaching "grammar" at this point, or simply enjoy the recognition of the symbols to the sounds?
I will check back in....
PS.....Elisheva, have you ever heard of the HIPPY program? It was developed in Israel, and I have it here....a search should find it, or I will send a link.
thank you,

Anonymous said...

What professionals do the testing? My own boychick shows many similar tendencies and I think it might be useful to have an evaluation in case he should need or want to attend school. Navigating this outside the system is full of fits and starts.


Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Hi, Lisa,

I am one of those contrarian people that just loves grammar.

On the other hand, I was a good reader before I was taught grammar, and I made sure of the same with my own children. The Chem Geek Princess took to grammar like a duck to water, but the Boychick was/is a different story. For him, I got the Remedia Press books on diagramming sentences. The diagrams really helped him because he loves any kind of visual puzzle.

I have heard of the HIPY program, but I have never looked into it. I will google the term and see what's out there! Thanks.

About testing: this time we used the educational diagnostician who is contracted by the school; it is not a traditional public school, so they contract out. Since we wanted to know how the Boychick was functioning academically, this seemed wise and the state will refund the school for the costs.
When he was younger, we had him tested privately (this is very expensive, though) because we were concerned about how the school district we were in would interpret such disparate subtest scores. (When he was very small, the school people told us that the Boychick was borderline retarded, but in reality, there were very significant differences between the various subtest scores, so that any calculation of the full scale IQ was invalid).

If you do consider cognitive testing, then your school district must provide it, even if your children are not in school. However, be careful about this option because it is likely that you will not get to choose the diagnostician, and most school people have a very jaundiced view of homeschooling.

Finally, the testing is for educational purpose. The Asperger diagnosis was given by the Boychick's Pediatric Psychiatrist.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Oops, Karen, I left out greeting you before I answered your question!

Greetings and salutations!
Thanks for stopping by. Do you have a blog I might visit to learn from you?

Karen said...

NP Elisheva,

I don't have a blog at the moment. I ended up chiming in as anon. as I couldn't remember my log in to show up with my name in the header. :)

There's no way I'd go through the schools, which is why I was wondering about what sorts of professionals might be in order. I'm largely comfortable where we are. Getting the diagnosis if any would be serve to help him in getting help should our situation change. My guess is that the schools would look differently on a kid coming in with it than with a high schooler coming in with the deficits and no "official" reason.

I suspect that they would blame it on homeschooling and not want to go further. Our insurance might cover it - we've got full coverage on visual therapy. Some of that visual therapy work is working on memory, FWIW. The therapist likens it to diverting resources - if you're struggling with the visual issues, you don't have the attention to the details like spelling.

Our behavioral optometrist has been surprised by several of the homeschoolers she sees. Their visual problems would suggest poor reading, yet they're reasonably fast to fast, avid readers.

Now to work on the organizational skills. -sigh- It's not my forte either.

On the issue of grammar - I can't remember where, but very recently I saw writing that suggested that 9th grade was really early enough. That's a point where it makes more sense cognitively and that little formal grammar sticks before that. Reading well written work teaches by example. Learning to "hear" when it's wrong is ultimately more useful than diagramming (nothing against those of you who love it.)

I did very well in school by all measures (we will not compare blogging comments! ;) ) My method then as now was to listen to the written word, either in my head or out loud.