Monday, January 5, 2009

Aspie Spring Term: A Proactive Stance

Today is my birthday.

As usual, my birthday is on one side or the other of the line between break and a return to reality. For the Engineering Geek, it was a return to reality, and he went off down the snowy road to work today. For the Boychick, today is the absolutely last day to sleep until noon. He still hasn't gotten dressed, but he did get clothes into the washer.

For me, today is both . . . and . . .
I am at home today, and although I considered going into town, since the Boychick wanted to sleep late, I decided against it. But, there was work for me to do to get us ready for the spring term. The fun part was a good e-mail from my neuropsychology mentor. I have several new assignments that ought to carry me to the end of January, all related to getting a paper published.

Another part is for me to begin preparing for the Boychick's IEP--which is going to be collaborative between me, his special education teacher, and the Boychick himself. The eligibility will be Autism (it has taken years to get to this for various reasons) and I want the goals to broadly address his social and educational needs, so that we can work on skills that transcend any particular subject matter. For example, I want us to address the issue of working memory. Although there are those who say that WM cannot be improved much past the age of 13, new studies about the brain development of children with AD/HD, ASD and other developmental problems, as well as for gifted children, show that peak cortical thickness and the subsequent thinning that marks the maturing brain come later in all of these groups. So it is possible that working on working memory (sorry, couldn't resist!) could spark some improvement.

As I was dredging my virtual files (all stored on thumbdrives) for papers about this, I got sidetracked by another start-of-term chore: dealing with Machon (Jewish Education). As I wrote towards the end of last term, there were problems (again) for the Boychick at Machon. The problems could have been nipped in the bud had the Education Director done the following:
  • read the material I sent along about AS and passed it on to the teachers
  • read the information about the Boychick and AS and passed it on to the teachers
  • read the e-mail I sent her that informed her that I would be sitting in the lounge and available to help should there be any problem with the Boychick whatsoever.

I got sidetracked because I found the information I had sent out last September, along with my e-mails dealing with the problem, in my files on AS, ASD, and the Boychick.

So I edited my The Boychick and AS Information for Machon file and sent that (again) to the synagogue Director of Jewish Ed (DJE), along with a note that included the following:

"I would like the opportunity to meet with the Boychick's teachers to make sure that they understand his AS symptoms and I would also like your assurance that I will be notified immediately when classroom problems occur. . . Once again, I will be in the lounge by 7 PM each evening that the Boychick is present. . . This coming Wednesday, we will be there early in order to be introduced to the Boychick's teachers. . . it would also be really helpful to me if I could sit down with him before Wednesday evening and present him with his schedule. I would like to be able to tell him what to expect: the courses, the teacher’s names, and a general outline of what he will be learning in each class. Getting the “set” for each class will help the Boychick be ready to participate in the class. This is an absolute necessity for the Boychick to get the most he can out of the classes, and for the teachers to see the best in the Boychick . . . "

Given that I was never allowed to speak to the teacher last semester, even when the problems had been exacerbated by lack of timely communication, I was decidedly more pushy in this e-mail than I was in the one I sent last fall. I did not request that a meeting with the teachers be set up, rather, I simply told the DE that we (the Engineering Geek's quietly imposing six feet plus is more helpful in getting taken seriously than is my title, sad to say!) would be there early to meet the teachers.

On this e-mail I attached only the aforementioned information sheet. It includes a description of the Boychick's diagnoses, what they mean, his strengths and weaknesses, and a detailed list of suggested classroom interventions. I will include here just the first two parts:

Diagnoses: The Boychick is a gifted child with Asperger Syndrome (AS) with co-morbidities of Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), and Attention Deficit and Generalized Anxiety Disorder as the result of the AS. Asperger Syndrome is an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) characterized by at least normal intelligence, normal speech, a tendency to perseveration, and profound difficulties with social communication. Auditory processing deficits affect auditory working memory and accurate understanding of verbal/auditory based instructional methods. It also affects reading and writing, which are primarily verbal skills. The Boychick currently qualifies for special education services as a child with Autism under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The Boychick's strengths:
*excellent visual memory

*focuses strongly on details
*passion for nature, natural philosophy, and science
*high level of curiosity about and awareness of the physical world
*excellent large muscle coordination and timing
*passion for the visual arts

*well developed vocabulary

The Boychick's weaknesses:
*difficulty reading body language and social cues
*difficulty with metaphors, symbolic language, sophisticated verbal humor, and sarcasm
*difficulty processing complex verbal instructions
*difficulty processing auditory input in a noisy environment (low signal to noise filtering ratio)
*dysfunction of sensory integration
*high need for structure and environmental predictability
*tendency toward pessimistic world view (the glass is not only half-empty, but dingy and cracked as well)
*short attention span/limited cognitive endurance

In a different e-mail (so as not to confuse the issue), I also sent along two short articles that will be very helpful to the Boychick's teachers, should they be given the opportunity to read them:

1) Blinded By Their Strengths: The Topsy-Turvey World of Asperger's Syndrome This paper discusses the problems that teachers encounter because an Aspie student's strengths raise expectations that he will be entirely normal and successful in the classroom. It also includes five areas that direct teaching strategies ought to address for these kids: perspective taking, sociocommunicative expression and understanding, reading/language comprehension, executive dysfunction (i.e. problems with planning and organization), and problem solving.

2) Overcoming Inertia: Five Survival Strategies for Children with AS

This paper discusses the profound apraxia in cognitive, affective, and behavioral tasks often seen in AS that leads to great difficulty in initiating action. (Apraxia leads to shut-downs, which are often interpreted by neurotypicals [NT] as oppositional behavior, because NT's in authority tend to think that a child's behavior is a reaction to them. They rarely consider that it may be internal to the student). The problems are described, giving examples, and then five strategies are suggested: consult with the AS student to reduce stress, use a pre-arranged touch-prompt to signal the beginning of a new step in a sequence of actions, lead from behind, teach paced breathing as a calming technique, and teach binary decision making.

And just in case these attachments do not get passed along, I have printed them out to give to the teachers.

I had already made another proactive arrangement to reduce our stress in the coming term. I have reduced by GA hours to ten per week, so that I will have more time for my own schoolwork and for managing the Boychick's school issues, Machon issues and whatever else comes up.

And what is so cool about getting sidetracked today, is that as I re-read and edited The Boychick and AS for Machon file, and read the short papers again, I realized that all of this concise information will be valuable for the upcoming IEP. The five categories of intervention listed in the first paper described above will be useful categories for IEP goals. The five survival strategies in the second paper are useful reminders for me to give teachers about how to keep the Boychick on task in his regular school classrooms, and will help them key in to what the apraxia is (internal) and what it is not (oppositionality).

A good day's work. I think I deserve to go listen to the radio and relax for a while!

Humming: "When I'm old and wise . . . bitter words mean little to me, like autumn winds, they'll blow right through me . . ."

I can hardly wait until next year.

1 comment:

Mama Monkey said...

This post brings back memories! I used to go through a similar process of working to educate teachers when Marie was a full-time public school student in elementary school. I may be revisiting that. Where could I read the 2 papers you listed?