Lucky Mom!

I am a lucky mom.  I have a son who is growing up to be an incredible young man.  Yes, he says and does awkward things at times, but he is learning and growing.  I see it more in the last year.  Noah thanks us, his parents, for always supporting him, even when he drove us crazy.

This year he realized and understood the importance of asking for help, going for help, and organizing his time.  Noah was on academic probation in the beginning of his sophomore year of college.  The probation was due to one bad grade in French.  It still baffles my family because he speaks French with my husband.  It was the grammar that threw him a curve ball and lack of organization when it came time to study.  We suggested tutoring, which is provided for free at Whittier College.  He said he would go, but never did.  He let his pride get in the way of his success.  We had many discussions about asking for help.  We talked about working in the real world and CEO and CFO’s all need a strong support and help from team members to make a company successful.  We would tell him repeatedly, the wisest people in the world are the people who are not afraid to ask for help.   Noah and I had this conversation several times over many months.

Once he read the probation letter and we discussed his options, he realized he needed to make a change.  For us, his options were to ask for help and work with an academic counselor or go to our local city college.  He made the decision to work hard and stay at Whittier.  He turned his attitude around.  Noah would meet with his academic counselor weekly, he would talk more with his professors, and even stay on campus over the weekend to study.

Now, Noah works for the summer.  It is his second summer as a courtesy clerk for Vons.  They rehired him this summer.  He works long hours cleaning the store, bagging groceries and retrieving carts.  He loves Thursdays because that is when he gets paid.

Now that Noah makes his own money, he offers to treat me to lunch or ice cream.  During our outings he always says, “I love you mom.  You’re the best.  Thank you for everything you have done for me.”  I am a very lucky mom.

Finding the Right College

High Function Asperger’s will be successful in college.  It doesn’t matter if it is a city college, a state college, or a university, there is a college that is the right fit for your child.  However, in order to find it, you will need to reach out to parents that have children on the spectrum or children with similar issues.

My luck came when some friends of our from temple began speaking to us about their son.  They shared some of the same issues my husband and I went through with Noah.  They shared their story about this little college 30 miles from Los Angeles and how this college and it’s staff supported their son.

Noah didn’t want to discuss college.  However, on the side, we did research into small colleges that had services for kids like Noah.  We bought books such as Colleges that Change Lives  and  The K & W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities …We marked pages and looked at locations.  Once Noah started talking about college, we asked him if he wanted to stay in state or out-of-state.  He thought about this and decided he wanted to stay in state because he wanted to be able to one home on weekends.  Then we began to search both private and public college in the state that were no more than a 3 hour car ride.

Don’t shrug off those private colleges.  Most of them will give scholarships that will compare the cost to a public university.  In addition, most private colleges are small, they provide support for all students such as, free tutoring and academic coaching.   Furthermore, the professors teach the class and not a teacher’s assistant. Most private classes have less than 20 students in a class.  Some classes can be as large as 40 students but at least it is not 500 students in a lecture hall.

Not matter if your child’s choice is public or private, make sure you take the tour.  Most colleges offer an overnight experience for the student.  The overnight experience consists of sleeping in a dorm with a student volunteer, eating all meals with other students, and attending a few classes.  Noah participated in this overnight in two different schools that he wasn’t sure about attending.  It really helped him envision himself in the school environment.

When we set up these tours, we also set up appointments at the Disabled Student Services for each school, even in the schools he didn’t attend an overnight.  Noah talked to the advisors about support.  He was able to discuss where he needs the most help (this took some pre-coaching before the meeting).  The schools discussed what they could offer him as accommodations.

Living in a single dorm instead of sharing is an accommodation recommended to us by the Disabled Student Services.  We pay for a double room and the Disabled Student Services pays for the difference in price.  The school states that students on the spectrum should ease their way into the environment in order to perform better and be more relaxed. By having  his/her own private space at the end of each day helps him/her rejuvenate for the next day.

Noah experiences positives and negatives with the concept of having a private dorm room. The positive is that Noah does relax once he is in his own space.  It does reduce his anxiety because he doesn’t have to worry about another body in the room.  The negative about this concept is that most Aspie’s avoid social settings.  So, Noah becomes a hermit and makes excuses as to why he can’t go to a social function like a club event.  Or, what drives me crazy is that sometimes he eats alone.  We have already prepped Noah for next year.  He will have a roommate.  Furthermore, we require Noah to participate in one activity per week.  Noah has found a group that meets on certain Friday afternoons to practice French and every other week, he participates in the chess club.  I hope this continues.

College is possible.  It takes time to research and most importantly visit.  research on the supports each school provides for all its students and then contact the Disabled Student Services for a meeting.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if there are bumps in the road along the way.

 

 

 

How Hard is to Hard to Push Your Aspie To be Social?

Noah continues to struggle at school on a social level.  He walks around depressed about his old friends that graduated or left the school, but refuses to move forward to reach out via Facebook and make new friends at school.  If Noah’s father and I didn’t push Noah, he won’t move forward.

Last week, I sat with him and showed him how to use Facebook to find his friends from last year.  I showed him how easy it was to stay connected.  But, I feel he really doesn’t get it.  Once his friends accepted the friend request, I explained that a good friend asks questions and doesn’t just spew stuff about mangas and anime.  No matter how many years he had in social skills group this part just doesn’t seem to connect always.

Yesterday, Noah had a senior swim party.  He wasn’t going to go at all!  This made my husband and I so sad.  It is his senior year; he should go and hang out, even if it is for a short time.  So, the day before the event, I drove Noah to school.  I had his undivided attention.  We usually have the best talks when it is just the two of us.  Originally, Noah’s plan was to visit the library, check out some books and movies for the weekend and have lunch.  I explained that he should make an appearance at the swim party and he might know some people there.  In fact, I told him he might have fun.  That’s when he told me he just likes to be alone.  That was hard to hear.  I told him lots of people like to be alone.  I have moments where I just need “Me time.”  However, I really want him to understand in the real world, he needs to try and step outside of his comfort zone, even if it just a little bit.  Any movement forward is better than none.

Recently, Noah told us about a class trip during Spring Break.  He really wants to go.  Perfect!  It is the bait we needed.  We told him that we would only agree to pay for this trip if he works hard in school and begins to be more social by making new friends and attending some events.

I just don’t want him to be alone in the world.  This is my biggest fear.  Am I pushing too hard?

Who else does this?

I just sent out my yearly emails to the teachers.  I give them a heads up about Noah.  I also let them know I am here to support them in any way they need it.  Sometimes I hear back from the teachers.  Other times, I don’t hear a word.

I am just curious do any other parents of special needs students do this too?

Working Ahead and Chunking Tasks

As I mentioned before, executive function skills must be explicitly taught.  Don’t leave it up to the school system to do this task.  It needs to be reinforced daily by the parents.  It needs to be modeled by the parents as well.  It can feel like a broken record at times but it is crucial to the Aspie’s development.

Last week, Noah came home from camp.  He would only be home a total of 8 days.  He had many assignments to complete.  It felt overwhelming for me, so I knew it would be mind blowing for him.   He needed to work on his UC essays, his questionnaire for the college center, read his summer book, and start his journal for the summer book.  This can be an overwhelming for anyone.  Honestly, I didn’t expect for the reading and the journal to be completed.  My goal for Noah was to complete the UC essays.

The tool that works best for Noah is to plan together.  So, we sit down with the items and a calendar.  We systematically plan each item some have start and end times, while others have a certain number of items to complete.    In addition, we discuss ample break time limits.  Noah loves to sleep.  So, we plan to start after 9am.  Then, he feels he has a voice.  Once he is awake, I remind him we will start work after 9am.  He sometimes grumbles.  He is a teenager.  But, he does get to work.

The first task began answering the college center questions.  These are three pages of questions that need to be answered in order for the college center to write a letter of recommendation for you.  Chunking the questions into smaller sections over several days seemed more digestible for Noah. Click this link to read an article about what it means to chunk tasks.  Even though this article is based on chunking for adults, the same principle applies to children.  Here is how Noah and I chunked his tasks: each day, he sat and answered 10-12 questions.  I think the entire questionnaire was completed in three days.  The only part he needs to complete is typing the answers.  This can be done when he comes home in August.

The next task was working on the UC essays.  I had prearranged three different sessions with the tutor for Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.   The tutor’s goal was to help Noah brainstorm with an outline for the questions.  Then, Noah would create a draft from the outline the next day.  Noah focused on one essay at a time.  For example, Noah and the tutor created the outline for essay #1 on Sunday.  Noah then wrote the essay on Monday.  On Tuesday, the tutor and Noah edited the essay and began the brainstorming and outline for Essay #2.  On Wednesday, Noah wrote essay #2.  On Thursday, Noah and the tutor would edit the essay #2.  By Thursday, Noah finished both UC essays.

Now, Noah still must complete the summer reading.  I chunked this too.  I asked him for 20 minutes of reading each day.    He actually become engrossed in his book and read for more than 20 minutes each day.  While he read, he needed to highlight 10 quotes throughout the book to discuss in his journal assignment. I explained how much easier it is to highlight as he read instead of going back after the fact.  By Wednesday, he was done with the book and had his 10 quotes.  So, I said let’s put the quotes into the journal outline.  I helped him set up the template in the word document.  He completed 5 quotes on Wednesday and 5 quotes on Thursday.  On his own, Noah wanted to start inputting the literary device the author used.  The next thing I knew, he even inserted the commentary without being asked.  What a proud moment! Now, Noah can revise and edit the journal when he returns in August, but the tough part is over.

The key to working ahead and chunking is to allow your child down time.  This is the “buy-in”.  The child feels the tasks are doable as long as he/she has down time.   Down time is important for the child to reboot the system in order to continue working.  In addition, give your child a “heads up”.  Don’t spring things on the Aspie child.  Aspies do not respond well to surprises.

I love my son.  He has taught me as much, if not more, as I teach him.   Aspie’s Rock!!!

Going Above and Beyond Recource Classes

Since Noah has had an IEP since 3rd grade, I have learned how to help him where the IEP services can’t.  In the real world, people aren’t going to be as forgiving for the Aspie remarks that mostly go unfiltered.  In addition, I will not always be with my child.  I know he needs to learn how to manage without me by his side.

In order to fill in the gaps where resource classes leave off, My husband and I discuss some of the skills he will need in the real world and how do we provide those skills in a safe setting.

One of the skills that all people need to learn is how to work with others.  In order to teach this vital skill we wanted our son Noah to work in a safe environment.  Luckily through our temple, Noah volunteered during his 8th and 9th grade year.  He answered phones, prepared snacks, and helped the janitor clean-up.  Noah had to learn how to answer a phone politely. This was a real challenge.  Normally he would answer, “Yes?”  The temple was very patient and took the time to teach Noah to answer the phone, “Hello, XXXX synagogue, student speaking.”  What an improvement.  He had to learn how to take direction and ask for clarification instead of saying, “I got it.”  When in fact he didn’t understand and needed the directions repeated.  What a great learning experience for Noah.

My husband and I didn’t stop there.  We knew he also needed to continue his learning to work with others but also Noah needed how to learn to be on his own.  So, we sent him to a counselor in leadership training program (KILT).  It wasn’t any program.  We knew about this program and knew the head of the KILT program.  We took the time to talk to other parents whose children attended the program.  When we applied for the program, we made sure the camp and the head of the KILT program were aware for Noah’s issues.  Noah was accepted for the summer of 10th grade!  He went to the KILT program for 3 weeks.   This would be the first time he went away for more than one week.  He would actually be away for 2 weeks without us and one week we would be part of the family camp.  The first year was challenging for Noah and the camp leader.  However, he returned last summer and completed a very successful year.  This summer will be his last summer in the program.  Noah is very excited about going.  Now that he has gone to the camp for 3 summers (one summer as a camper and 2 summers as a KILT) he is more open to participating.  Noah has gained confidence, learned to help others, and take direction.

Now, Noah is heading towards his senior year.  College living and dorm life can be scary for any person.  Noah wanted to go to computer camp during his summer.  So, I found a computer camp on a college campus.  In fact, I found a computer camp on a college campus where he needed to stay in the dorms for 2 weeks.  Noah realized staying n a dorm with other students isn’t as scary as he had once thought.  In his mind, it was doable. He learned how to be responsible for remembering to take his medicine, shower without being reminded, sleep in a room with strangers, and go to camp away from home.  Having conquering his biggest fears helped build his self-esteem as well as erased some of Noah’s fears about college life.

Taking the time to think about the skills needed in order to be a successful adult and finding a safe environment to practice these skills will be so enriching for your Aspie child.

Executive Functioning-Planning tip- Timers and Linear planning

Learning to prioritize is still a challenge but is a necessary skill.  In order to help Noah learn how to organize his time better, as soon as Noah would walk in the door from school, he would take a break, grab a snack, and then call me on the phone.

While on the phone, we would talk about each class, what was due, and if there was a test coming up.  Noah would write out a study schedule that he had built-in breaks of 10-15 min.  Unfortunately, sometimes these breaks would run a bit longer when he forgot to set his timer.  Timers are a useful tool for students with low executive functioning skills. But, once he completed the task, he would check it off the list.   There were always a few mishaps along the way, that is when Noah would use the extra time for homework.  Don’t get me wrong, he isn’t perfect.  He forgets to write down his homework just like every other student.  When this situation occurs, he must email the teacher and attempt to see them the following day.

If all teachers would use and update the schools on-line homework websites this would help students like Noah to organize their assignments better.  It would be a win for everyone.  But, that doesn’t happen in the real world.  So, it is important to teach students how to be responsible for knowing what the assignments will be in each class.