The Last Exam

The last few weeks have been a bit of a crunch for E.  He only has one exam, but it is in a subject area where he has a great deal of difficulty understanding the abstract concepts.  Of course, the concept of ‘failing’ a course is still abstract to him, but might be more concrete in a few weeks. 

I compiled study notes from his notebook, and made a variety of worksheets and exercises from them as well.  For the last several weeks, he has finished several worksheets a day (with the help of his notes).  I am hoping that the repetition involved in all of these exercises helps at least some of the information stick.  At some point, its up to him, not me, though, and that’s what I am struggling with the most.

Without this one credit, he cannot graduate from high school with a diploma.  But frankly, I’m not sure that passing this class is realistic.  And if he can’t master at least parts of the material, should he really get a diploma?  I would think that any employment options that were available with a diploma would require skills he just wouldn’t have if classes such as this one were unattainable.

As usual though, I am thinking too much, and trying to plan too far into the future.  Who’s to say that he wouldn’t understand the subject better a second time around?  Maybe he doesn’t just need weeks of review and endless exercises, but to repeat the whole class. 

One good thing has come out of this exam time though – E has watched how much his sister has studied, and how hard she worked, so he didn’t give me a hard time at all about it, which is incredible.  In the past he has always balked at a lot of work, but after seeing A, he has clearly come to terms with the fact that this is just part of the deal, and it doesn’t last forever.  He’s worked very hard, and regardless of the outcome, I will be extremely proud of him for that.  

I’m hoping that E’s anxiety levels, which are always high at this time of year, ease off a bit after tomorrow when we can start getting into ‘summer’ mode. 



Striving for Acceptance

This past school year has brought a lot of things into the forefront with E – I had been harbouring the hope that he would eventually be able to catch up to his peers at a very basic level.  Maybe not in the social sense, as I think he will forever be operating at a disadvantage there, but academically.  And I had no expectation that he would be a physicist, although had that been his passion, I would have supported it!  Many, many years ago I had said to myself that if he got to a 4th grade reading level, I would be happy. I had read that many people in the general population are at that comprehension level, and they get along alright in life, so I thought that would be a good goal.

Strictly speaking, E has achieved that goal. He does read at a fourth grade level. And his arithmetic is at that level too. But anything else that has any level of abstract thought in it is a mystery to him, including word problems, most areas of science, geography, etc. Even with streaming at the high school level and accommodations, his comprehension isn’t adequate for many credit courses. It would seem that after many years of working with him, researching and overseeing his program, we may have hit the wall. I have no doubt that E will continue to grow and develop. But it might be time for me to come to terms with the fact that he does have cognitive limitations.

When we first received E’s diagnosis I was convinced that if I worked hard enough, we could improve things enough for E to be able to eventually have a fulfilling, independent life. I’m not saying his life won’t be fulfilling; I will do everything I can to make sure that happens. And I know all my early efforts weren’t all for naught; he has made a huge amount of progress in the last ten years. But I guess a small part of me was hoping that he would be able to do some of the ‘typical’ things in life, albeit probably with some help. Move into an apartment eventually. Be able to form meaningful friendships. Be able to attend some form of post-secondary education. Be able to advocate for himself. Possibly even a part time job.

Right now these things seem further away than ever. E is still incredibly young for his age. Every day when he gets home from school he tells me, with astounding accuracy, of every incident of foul language he heard at school that day. As you can imagine at a high school, the number is considerable. He giggles incredulously at each and every one, and talks about how inappropriate that behaviour is. However, if I try to get him to talk about what happened in a class that he has some difficulty in, it is clear that a good deal of the material went straight over his head. And when we review the material, using different approaches to help him understand the subject matter better, we don’t seem to be any further ahead. I know he is trying. And I know everyone at school is trying.

I’m very glad that E is having a comparatively good year in terms of behaviour. For the first time in ages I’m not in constant crisis mode, so now I have a chance to catch up to reality and come to terms with it.

Of course, the reality is that E is a wonderful, challenging, loving boy who I am so blessed to have as a son.

Springtime Blues

As the school year winds down, I am looking forward, with some trepidation, to summer.  No more waking everyone up first thing (except when we have to go somewhere, which is almost everyday)!  No more making lunches, tracking homework assignments, filling out endless school-related forms.  But then there is the alternative.

The abyss of summer.

Right now E is going through his springtime blues. He is the only person I know who has a hard time in the spring, although I don’t think he can be the only one! Many days at school this time of year are different, with assemblies, early dismissals, and of course, exams looming, which doesn’t help. I was wondering if we would see the same thing this year and while, thankfully, this moodiness is dampened from last year, its definitely still there. But while school days are different, its the huge change from spring to summer that I think has E worked up. I’m hoping I can help him through this so he can actually look forward to summer, and maybe relax a bit.

E likes the summer, in theory.  He enjoys not going to school.  He enjoys not having homework. But he misses the routine, the predictability.  And, whether he realizes it or not, he misses the social contact, however slight it may be at school.  He doesn’t really have friends, so social contact is something I try to work into our summer, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much.  I try to make a routine at home, with work in the morning and frequent outings in the afternoons.  We’ll have to work in some more life skills as well.  I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to help me with laundry and cooking, but if it helps him, I’m happy.   And since A has a summer job, I suspect we will be doing quite a bit of driving her there and back as there’s no public transportation where she works.  That’s alright though, it breaks up E’s day. 

Another problem with summer for E is he doesn’t like to try anything new. If it was up to him, he would never exit the house for just about any reason. And while school isn’t his favourite thing, it generally means there aren’t many other excursions, which can be a joy for everyone, or time to try a different activity. But summer is a minefield of potentially new experiences. It’s good for him though, and helps him deal with his anxiety, so I try to do something new every week, even for a very short period of time.

With any luck this summer will be even better than the last, which I think was E’s best. I’ll try to find activities that he might like, and that his sisters will like too. And hopefully they’ll all get along, at least until August.

Silver Lining

Today I am grateful. 

While autism has undoubtedly given us some challenges and kept us on our toes for years, we seem to be in a bit of a lull now in terms of behaviours,  which has taken a lot of hard work on E’s part (and ours!), but I am enjoying every moment.  He is still very frustrated, regularly, but the extreme reactions have gone from mountains of rage to rather large hills.  I can talk him down from hills, but he couldn’t hear me from the top of the mountain. 

I am at the point where most boys E’s age would be distancing themselves from their parents.  Indeed, A and M have both hit that stage to varying degrees.  But E has not.  He is still a six-year-old boy in the body of a fourteen-year-old.  That being the case, he has not hit the stage where he is too cool for his parents, or embarrassed by them.  On the contrary, I am the person closest to him in the world.  When he wants company, its me he seeks out.  When he’s upset, its me he calls. And I don’t know any other fourteen-year-old boy who still asks for a hug when he’s anxious or upset.

I know that this phase will not last;  he is progressing, just much, much slower than other kids.  But at a time when some parents are missing the days when their kids wanted to be with them, I am definitely still there, and will be for the foreseeable future.  In time, and with a lot of hard work, hopefully we will be able to give him the tools to form other close relationships, just as we’ve been attempting to do for years. Maybe he wasn’t ready yet, until we’d managed to somewhat calm the beast of his temper. But if and when he is ready, I will have to let go, like I will have to do much sooner for my girls. It is not a day I am particularly looking forward to with any of my kids, although I know its just a part of them growing up. Autism will delay that day quite a bit for my son though, so for now, I am glad for this silver lining of my son’s autism.

There’s Always Something

Recently E has been dealing better with the frustrations in life, and hasn’t had a full-on meltdown in a couple of months;  the most he tends to resort to is arguing (constantly, angrily), and occasionally a “You can’t tell me what to do!”or other teenage attitude. He has also mastered the hypothetical threat (“What if I don’t get off the computer?” or “What if I swore?”). I’ve decided this is actually good news, as he understands the difference between an actual threat and a discussion. Of course, we’ll have to work on that as well, as he almost always knows the answer before he asks the question, and it’s usually an attempt to bait me into an argument. We’ll get there though!

The last month or two our concerns have actually been with E’s siblings, who have had their own challenges. M is concerned about the social hierarchy in middle school, where she fits in, and the fact that she doesn’t have any extremely close friends. She is prone to anxiety, which sometimes results in some illnesses; while the symptoms feel quite real, after having had her checked out a few times, there aren’t any physical reasons for them. She is also extremely hard on herself academically.

A is having her own struggles, mostly deer-in-the-headlights fear about the future. She is at that stage of high school where every course she takes, and every course she doesn’t take, means she is making a choice about her future. And that is stressing her out quite a bit. She can get stuck making day-to-day decisions, so choices on this scale are weighing on her a lot, as is achieving academic success. We’re trying to support her, and help her with strategies, but so far no luck. Of course, she’s 16 so there’s quite a bit of the teenage attitude at play with her as well. So the girls are at a very dramatic stage of their lives, and their brother is absolutely bewildered. While he has his 14-year-old issues as well, he is in a very fundamental way still about 6 or 7, so the change in his sisters’ demeanor is a mystery to him. He asks questions, which is good, but he usually asks while they’re there, which makes them more angry/upset. He is a very rule-based thinker (as are his sisters for that matter), which isn’t really a surprise, but whenever someone says something remotely inappropriate or simply dripping with attitude, he reacts with dramatic flourish almost every time (“I can’t believe she said that! How rude!”). Of course when he misbehaves, the girls make sure I hear about that as well, but they tend to notice who their audience is. I’m hoping that they will all have a greater understanding not only of each other, but of human behaviour after everyone is through their current phases. Oh well, we’ll have lots of teachable moments in our house for everyone for the next little while.

The Joys of Public Education

Where I live, right now there is a huge controversy over the largest school board in the country using millions of dollars supposedly earmarked for programs (literacy, after-school help) for underprivileged children.  The money is instead going to fund general education.  Obviously this is a sign that the current funding formula is unworkable, with chronic shortages across the board.  It is abhorrent that kids that need programs most aren’t getting them.

This has been happening for years in special education. 

E has generated a lot of funding for the school board.  But that didn’t necessarily mean that he would get the help he needed;  E has many issues, severe anxiety, behavioural challenges and acute deficits in language, cognition and social skills.  He desperately needed help to navigate his day.  But when cuts are made, in our experience, special education is one of the first casualties.  His aide was cut way back last year, which gave rise to some of the most severe behaviours we had ever encountered.  Looking back, it was little wonder.  He was incredibly anxious, and did not have the emotional tools to get through his day without a meltdown.  It was only when I volunteered to fill in as his aide at school instead of picking him up when behaviours occurred (which there is no way the unions would have stood for), that the principal went to bat with the superintendent to get E’s full-time aide back.  How can this be though?  The amount of money he generated is considerable.  And I have no problem with him sharing an aide, he just needs an extra set of eyes on him instead of leaving that to an over-worked teacher.  Those funds should not have be channeled into the general education area.  In the end we changed school boards and have not looked back.

This ‘scandal’ has taken me right back to last year;  if there is not enough money to keep the schools open, that is another conversation that we need to have.  But please don’t take funding away from children who need it most, whether they are at-risk youth or special education students.


Onward and Upward

I’m feeling pretty hopeful today – E is going to see an age-appropriate movie with his dad, I am absolutely thrilled!  Hopefully it will translate into some positive interactions with his peers at school.  Trying to introduce fare that will give E some common ground with kids at school is a challenge;  at 14, he still loves Blue’s Clues, Arthur and all the ‘little kids shows’.  He adores Pixar movies, both with the abandon of a small child and with the technical interest of someone who loves animation.  It’s where his special interest and skills actually align.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the movie goes well – his dad is really looking forward to it, and his sisters would go too (as would I), but one of them is sick. I coaxed E into watching a few similar movies at home over his school break a few months ago, so there was minimal resistance to seeing the movie now – when I asked him if he wanted to go, his exact words were “I guess”, which for him is extremely enthusiastic. His knee-jerk reaction to anything new tends to be negative, so I’ll take it. It doesn’t hurt that the offer of a movie comes with yummy snacks.

One of the other reasons this outing fills me with optimism is that it represents a significant departure in E’s evening routine. E can be very rigid when it comes to what he does in the evenings – he really likes to keep things predictable at all times. Going to a movie in the early evening is very different, and the rest of his routine will be thrown off completely. We went over what the evening would look like before school, and so far so good. I guess the key is lots of advance planning. With any luck this newfound flexibility with lots of notice will eventually translate into a bit more flexibility when there is very little notice, like emergencies. One step at a time!