Slice of Life – 9/16/14 – Root Cause

Have I shared with you before about “catastrophic thinking”? It’s when things seem bad, but in an Asperger’s mind, they seem to be the worst ever.

Remembering that things are going very well in middle school, I returned home from work last night to find my husband in my son’s room, my son having a literal meltdown. What was going on? He was completely behind in his work and would be getting detentions and everything was horrible, is what I was told. Wow!

Papers were strewn across the bedroom floor. The pillow was tear-soaked. First line of defense: are you hungry (low blood sugar can often cause these meltdowns) or tired (obvious cause)? A little of both.

After a quick snack, we lay down to relax. What’s really going on? His response: There’s so much homework to do that I’m not having fun anymore. Are you sad that you cannot play with your brother as much during the week? A little. Are you afraid you are not going to get to play video games. BINGO!

One of my colleagues offered this advice to a new teacher yesterday. Its wisdom resounded in this conversation with my son. Notice the triggers that “set the child” off. Is it a change in routine, an unexpected occurrence, hunger, tiredness? Work to avoid or provide lots of scaffolding when unavoidable. For my son, it was the thought of the loss of his “freedom” – his childhood. He is not actually losing his free time. But the thought of more homework (and there is more, naturally, with each successive grade), caused him to believe that no more fun times were going to be happening in his life.

This solution was rather easy: carve out some specific “online time” so he could have a “break.” Just a thought to share for when you witness a “meltdown” – find out what is at the heart of the matter for that child?

Slice of Life – 8/2/14 – Beginning Middle School

It has been a wonderful start to the school year. My son’s Learning Support teacher held a presentation/talk with his new teachers to share general information about what Asperger’s can look like in the classroom,and about my son’s specific idiosyncrasies and learning style. This is something that I fought to get included in his IEP at the end of his 2nd grade year: some sort of teacher reading or training prior to the start of school. While I got some push-back at first, “Do you mean to tell me you are deciding what training my teachers will have over the summer?”, it is a very important part of the process of “teaching” my son. I’ve gotten only positive feedback from teachers, thankful they got a heads up about how to understand a new student to them. Every teacher has used this information to connect to “what works” in the classroom for this specific child on the spectrum, to make both his/her and my son’s life a little easier.

This past week (first week of school), I’ve gotten an email or a call from a number of his teachers. They have shared many positives and then added in a question or comment. Please send in a water bottle. He is getting along well with others. He shut down for this writing assignment – just wanted you to know and offer any support you can at home. Extremely helpful communication. These wonderful educators have helped to quell my fears of the transition to middle school. They seem to “see” my son for his abilities and look past the quirks of his behavior as a result. It’s early on, to be sure, but it is such an encouraging start.

I learned something new this week about my son as well. The middle school offers many electives that were never options in elementary school. Luckily, the Family and Consumer Science teacher emailed after her meeting with the Learning Support teacher to share that he would be scheduled for “cooking” this semester. While I am unreasonably addicted to anything Food Network, my son has had a history of aversion to foods. He is no longer on the “white” or starch diet, like he was when he was younger. To be honest, his eating, compared to what many parents face, is a non-issue. But, we cannot just go to a family BBQ without bringing along something that he will eat. He only orders mac and cheese when we go out. One time, he went to dinner with a friend and his family. He got the adult mac and cheese with bread crumbs on top. Back into the kitchen it went.

He struggles to sit near anyone who is eating slimy foods: bananas, yogurt, etc. He cannot eat real ice cream (too cold). It needs to be soft serve. So, when I started reading the email about the class, I started to have a mini-panic attack. In addition to his aversion to many new foods, he is also taking the class with students a year older (so he can take a more advanced math afterward). I started to worry about the older kids not tolerating this behavior. But, thankfully, in communicating early, we were able to brainstorm some solutions. First, since my son is an avid math student, the teacher plans to build to his strengths as she discusses measurements, which are vital in making recipes. He is so intrigued by the numbers and tools associated with cooking, that he pointed out a number of things to us in Target yesterday. Then, she spoke with him about wanting, but not making him, try new foods. He was put at ease to know that it’s his decision entirely, and his grade will not reflect poorly if he says no. Without that heads up for the teacher (about my son), neither of us would have realized that he was headed into a potentially difficult situation, that he would not have been able to show flexibility for, due to not being prepared for what he was to face in the classroom.

I wanted to share that, even after eleven years, there are still new things for me to learn about my son. I also am very grateful for a school system that works for my child.

Have a wonderful school year!