Friday, November 4, 2011

Ask yourself is the battle worth it?

A comment from my son's teacher made me think. Apparently there was a situation that occurred in the beginning of the year (I suspect math calculations were involved or perhaps journal writing two of my son's largest source of frustration and meltdown; though she never did specify the precipitating factor) where she and my son got into a battle of wits.  He shut down, nearly curled into his "turtle" position. Grunting in response (if he even acknowledge her presence), turning his back to her, hiding his face, pretty much wanting to shut out the universe.  She took him to task and ended up in a battle of stubborn.  But she caught herself, pushing him was just making things worse. She stopped. It took a few but he recovered.  She apologized to me (him) for getting into a battle. She stated how bad she felt when she caught herself in the battle of wills, it's easy to fight him but it's hard to know when the battle is worth it.

Certain things in (our) life are not up for discussion or optional.  Such as wearing a helmet when biking, skateboarding, or scootering; wearing a seatbelt in a moving vehicle; being polite at least with please and thank you; respect.

Other things are optional--there is more than one way to complete a math problem or construct a sentence. Art has so many variables it's hard to make an incorrect choice.

Homework is necessary but it's not worth the battle of wits...sometimes.  As my child's mother I've gotten better at finding the source of the stubborn. Once we were both overtired, and nearly in tears over homework; just shy of blowing my top I didn't know what else to do to get through to my child.  I caught myself and did the first thing that popped into my mind. (No, I didn't beat the peanuts out of him) I hugged him and told him I loved him. While hugging him he let out a big sigh, then passed out.  Turns out the battle was not over homework but a battle fighting the inner demon of pure exhaustion. He was so tired he couldn't funciton. So tired he couldn't communicate except to pretend to do his homework and argue with me.  For a second there I was worried that my son was developing some type of bizarre behavior problem but alas, it was just a difficult night of insufficient sleep (much to my relief).

My son has two scenarios that can make him pretty bizarre and odd, and if I'm not intuned to the situation I (and others) can cause an escalation of bad "behavior".  For one: lack of sleep, lack of restful sleep, or exhaustion from a busy day. When he's overtired he can be pretty odd, making rather bizarre requests (such as asking for purple spaghetti with peanut butter for dinner) or actions (licking his pencil if trying to avoid homework). 
The other: prodromal illness.  Before spiking a fever he's pretty bizarre, he'll be very cool with cold hands. He won't talk, he'll actually look like he is in sensory overload without any obvious overstimulation.  Then about an hour or so later he'll spike a temp of at least 102F.  (It also happens when he's ill between doses of Tylenol or Motrin, just as the medication is starting to wear off the temp hasn't gone up but he starts acting wierd.)
This happened recently. My aunt went bonkers when he wouldn't respond to her (not that he spontaneously talks to anyone unless he has something "important" to say), he didn't turn his back but was hyperfocused on his Legos.  We had already planned an early exit as it was a long day. My aunt was pretty upset, made several snide almost hurtful remarks. Fortunately my son totally tuned her out.   Later when we got home his hands were freezing and he started to feel warm. Low and behold 101.5F at the first temp.

Other times I need to be aware of simple stubborness and avoidance. Not exactly atypical for a 9 year old child. But sometimes he just doesn't feel like to doing something (like math homework) and knows just what to say to make me cuckoo.  Sometimes being a single mother definitely has disadvantages such as stubborn homework refusal nights.  I have resorted to what some consider "bribes" but I consider negotiation or positive reinfocement with tangible results.  I have to determine if the issue is frustration (not comprehending the assignment or an assignment that is beyond his cognitive capabilities), if my son has psyched himself out (thinks it's going to be difficult so he avoids the work to avoid frustration), or if he's just being a pain in the heiny 9 year old.  But battle isn't always necessary in these scenarios. I knew full well that my son had the capabilities to work on his multiplication, he just thought he couldn't do the work. 

So I challenged him. I found similar worksheets to the one he was assigned. we had 60 seconds to complete as many as possible. (Apparently I can complete 100 multiplication problems in less than a minute. GO ME!) First he watched me and how I analyzed the page for patterns in the problems to quickly solve the equations. Then we battled.  He got his 25 problems done in 60 second to see if he could finish his work before I finished mine. We laughed. We worked. He got to check my answers while I checked his. Work done, crisis averted.

When he has "super sentences" to write for grammar or spelling he is near ready to melt. I scribe his ideas and then he rewrites the sentences. (it's rather obvious who comes up with the sentences :) )  Sometimes he hits a roadblock and gets I will create the sentences my way for him. (he he he) like "I am getting frustrated with the homework assignment from Mrs. B son instead I've decided to abscond with all the cookies from the kitchen and eat them."  He's too busy laughing at my sentences to be frustrated. He usually rewrites what I created in his own words because mine are too long or too silly/embarassing.  I just remind him that I graduated years ago so I already have proven that I mastered the fourth grade cirriculum.

So the next time your Aspergarian is ready for a battle of wits and you are ready to pull your hair out, think is this battle worth it?  Sometimes it is, but then again sometimes it is not.  Quite often, a little silly is needed to diffuse the situation.

Things are going well...And my son is the "cool" kid...

Being a bit of a nerd/geek myself (high regard for academics, "knowledgable", not exceptionally sociable...) it's not a surprise that my son has a touch of nerd/geek tendencies.  However, my parents afforded each of their children the opportunity to become well rounded--sports, arts, dance, scouts, etc.  I was an all-star softball player. I played volleyball in high school (almost in college). I am an artist of sorts. For sports I don't "play", I do know the basics and the rules.  I wanted to give my child similar opportunities.

I was thrilled the first time I took my son to the American Museum of Natural History in NYC at age 4 and my son was totally mesmirized. He wasn't running around like a raging lunatic hyped up on sugar and excitement.  He was fascinated by the displays of historical magnitude. (Later thrilled watching "A Night at the Museum" and seeing the same sights.) He developed an interest in fine art, "borrowing" my art history books to browse the pages. He decided that one of his favorite artists is Vincent Van Gogh and developed a particular affinity for Sunflowers and Starry Night.

When he was placed out of district it was a blessing in disguise. While last year's class was better than the home school, it wasn't perfect. On the positive side the new school had an art teacher. (Home school pushed the art teacher to retire at the end of the year so last year and this the homeroom teachers are expected to include art within their classroom teachings. Apparently that is not working out too well.)  The art teacher was fascinated by my son's knowledge (of artists, various media and techniques) and skills. She his class to direct their projects, often suggested by my son. She was duly impressed with his ability to focus and function within the art studio.

One of the few times I had to go to school to pick up my ill child, a woman came running up the hall asking if I was my son's mother. I hesitantly said yes, afraid that it was going to be a negative meeting (much like at the home school where usually the negatives were listed the second certain staff members saw me at the door) but surprised when it was nothing but a glowing, proud gushing of my son's most positive traits and behavior and get this how my son was a total "pleasure" to have in class.  I think I nearly fainted as I had been conditioned that teachers & staff seeking me out were often out to criticize my child or my parenting. 

I didn't mind last year's class but it was a BD/ED class that was truly not the best placement for my Aspergarian with a math SLD, expressive communication difficulties, SPD, frustration and the occasional attention or anxiety issue.  The children were more physical, prone to outbursts, and most had older siblings that unfortunately taught them some inappropriate "big kid" stuff.  Plus their emotional development was beginning toward more external outbursts, whereas my son is more internal. More likely to pound his head in frustration or curl up like a turtle if overwhelmed.  With such a diverse mix of students, I must say that Mrs. B & Mrs. J (in additon to the teachers in the room next door) were absolutely awesome and a true asset to their profession. Even the one day where they hit their maximum and the children's busses had all arrived early and they simply let them leave 10 minutes early (of couse with the permssion of the principal and a call to me so I'd be aware of the earlier arrival of the bus), they were totally professional.  Of course it didn't help that the 1st-3rd graders were in a small room in the back of a school full of 5th & 6th graders.  In 4th grade, the students are trial mainstreamed with the 5th graders for homeroom, art, music, etc thereby losing the 4th grade curriculum for art, music, phys ed, world language etc.

After a quick conference in late April, I was called by the child study team case manager asking if I would be willing to consider another change in placement. She had already spoken with the home school case manager and confimed that a self-contained environment was not available in the school (I already knew that had almost no special education services in the home school.) They wanted to have the team from the school next door (a preK-4) come evaluate my son for possible placement in the SLD or autistic class.  When I made the visit and saw the autistic class I said "this is where he belongs, this is my child." (Fortunately everyone else on the team agreed.)

Over the summer my son was placed with the SLD/autistic students for ESY which happened to occur at the new school (big help for transition).  Son was afforded the last slot in the autistic class which happened to be high functioning autistics & Aspergerians in 3rd & 4th grade.  Weekly I get calls from his teacher or school staff, the first and last comment from his primary teacher is that my son's smile lights up the room.  His primary autistic teacher works collaboratively with his homeroom teacher. (Three other students from the autistic class happen to be in his homeroom where he goes for art, music, phys ed, health, computers, Spanish, social studies/history, science, lunch & recess.) My son is happy.

I went to his class before Halloween to do a project. It was his teacher's idea so that I can not only see the classroom environment but also meet his classmates (a luxury I've not been afforded living out of district).  A diverse group would be an understatment. Some have to be prompted to use words, others have definitively mastered their linguistic skills and love to show them off. Some are timid, some are more outgoing. Each has their own unique strength that they are genuinely proud of, and it is a beautiful thing.

All of the boys competed for my attention as I was the new person in the room. Proud to tell me that they like my son and play with him during sensory breaks & recess. Happy to inform me of their likes and favorite colors. Thrilled to help.

It seems my son was one of the few that were identified with special needs late. Most of the children had been in the self-contained classroom since early intervention. (We were ignored for early intervention as I worked full time, my then pediatrician didn't want to saddle my young child with a lable early on, the preschool didn't want to lose tuition by referring him to the early intervention preschool paid for by the state/county so they would dismiss my concerns insisting it was just a boy and boys are always slower than girls, the elementary school (specifically the principal) didn't want to provide services in kindergarten and in first grade were were saddled with a crappy IEP that wasn't followed by the 1st grade teacher with an inappropriate ADHD diagnosis, even the learning evaluation was flawed as part of the assessment was skipped due to a broken finger)  Not only had my son been in a regular ed classroom but he is pretty active.

My son is a good sport (a difficult social concept for many children regardless of diagnosis). I think partly because of parenting and partly from having a really good soccer coach at age 4. He's athletic (swims at the Y, plays baseball in the spring, would love to play other sports but it is cost-prohibitive) which is grossly promoted by his Cub Scout leader who believes (and I agree) that 75% of scouting should be outing.  He's been in Cub Scouts since first grade. He's gone to Cub Scout day camp and this past summer to the overnight Webelos Adventure Camp.  He's active at church and CCD. He has a love for art that I try and encourage.  He has a lot of empathy. He loves to help the underdog. (He was thrilled Halloween trick-or-treating this year. We had a visiting friend with a 2yo & 4yo who tired early on as they had a hard time keeping up with the big kids. My son took it up on himself to point the little ones out to the homeowners and get treats for the little guys when they were too tired to make it to the front door.  Interestingly enough his buddy started to take turns at the different houses to get treats for the tired wee ones.)

While he as sensory difficulties, my son is a good eater. (He's actually influenced a few of his Cub Scout buddies to try some new foods.) He is definitely touch seeking, but his buddies in his autistic class are much more tolerant of his sensory needs as they have thier own.

So back to the point of this post...when I arrived at his classroom his teacher and a couple of the students were waiting. Son didn't divulge what we would be doing, so they had practiced saying hello and asking what we would be doing for a project. (We made mini cupcakes with my Babycakes mini Cupcake maker (note no product or stipend received for using this project) which was totally awesome. No oven needed, eight prefect mini cupcakes made right in the classroom in minutes. Minimal waiting for the glorious smell of fresh baked cupcakes much to the delight of the children in the class. They got to see the fruits of their hard work making the batter rather quickly) and handmade Halloween book marks complete with protective plastic sleeve).  The children are working on learning to just "hang out" (a difficult skill to master) so it was pretty awesome when one boy sat on the edge of a table with legs swinging proud to show me that he was "hanging out".   (The teacher said that was the first time this student spontaneously decided to "hang out" at school)

I watched how my son interacted with is classmates. Confident, comfortable. (Though he did have a small melt down at the end of the class that his teacher and I worked together to be consistent with our reaction.)  I watched as the children were excited to show my son their progress on their bookmarks since it was clear that my son was skilled in papercrafting.  The children alternated between stamping, glueing, and snacking on fresh cupcakes.  Then she said it....
"You know (mom), they boys think that (son) is the cool kid. He has a lot of outside experiences (Scouts, sports, camp) and they want to emulate him." he he he, MY kid, the child of an uber nerd-geek, with social struggles is considered the "cool kid".