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.

High School Bumps, Bruises and IEP Short Comings

Well, Noah is entering 12th grade now.  He is almost 18 years old.  Time sure passes much too quickly.  Since moving to Pali High in 9th grade Noah’s self-esteem continues to improve.  He has found a core group of friends within the music program and even outside of the music program. The only thing he still struggles with is obtaining phone numbers and emails in order to hang-out outside of school.

The 9th and 10th grades seemed to help Noah gain confidence in his academic abilities.  He realized that he is intelligent and with the help of the accommodations, he can be successful.  He realized he will go to college.  Once Noah realized his potential, he began to use the extended time for exams along with the extend time on homework without any arguments.  Similarly, Noah only used  the extended time for homework when everything seemed due on the same day or when there was a huge exam Noah needed to study for first.

So what about 11th grade?  Last school year challenged him with content and workload.  Let’s not forget, Noah needed to prep for the ACT in the spring.  The ACT in itself was stressful.  Beware! The extended time isn’t automatically carried over from the IEP.  NOPE!  You need to apply for the extended time for both the SAT and The ACT.  At first, the SAT denied Noah extended time.  Their explanation stated we needed more proof of his disability.  So, we had to send them letters from a psychiatrist in addition to the amended IEP.  Finally, they accepted the proof and granted the extended time.  We then sent all the same information to the ACT with the approval letter from SAT.  The ACT granted us approval without hesitation.

So, why did we choose the ACT?  Well, at first Noah’s dad and I weren’t sure what to choose.  So we had Noah take the PSAT.  He took it twice.  Once without extended time and once with extended time. After taking the PSAT, we knew Noah needed to have either small group study sessions or one on one sessions in order to be successful.   I looked around our area and found a study center.  We decided to have Noah take a practice ACT exam and compare the results. The owner of the study center reviewed all the practice exams and said the format f the ACT would most likely be better for Noah.  So, that is how we chose the ACT exam for Noah.

Kids like Noah can’t just study from a book or website on their own.  We knew our child.  We knew he needed the small group or one on one attention.  This study sessions happened twice a week for one hour per subject.  This was expensive but worth it for the great outcome it produced.  Even though, Noah took the ACT twice with several practice exams in between, he rocked it!  In addition, Noah came out with better test taking skills.  He learned how to dissect the question and understand what the question is asking.  Yes, it was pricey.  No, the IEP doesn’t cover these sessions, although, it should.  But, wouldn’t it be great for schools with these amazing Aspie teens really took the time and money to prepare them for college and not just get them through high school.  These kids are able to go above and beyond a high school diploma.  It is time for schools to start working towards providing more support in order to make college accessible.  These study support classes should be provided.  It should be a class with more structure and clear learning goals rather than a class that is just a holding cell until the student’s next class. Moreover, where some of these students sit there and chat with their friends.

So let’s continue with 11th grade.  In addition to the ACT lingering over his head, Noah had two honors classes, English and History.  He wanted to continue with Algebra 2 while adding chemistry to the list of classes.   OYE!  MATH and CHEM.  Big mistake for a kid who struggles in Math.  But, he wanted to take chemistry.  If a students take chemistry, then the student needs to have taken or take Algebra 2.  Here we go, more money needed for the Math tutor.  No, the IEP doesn’t cover that either.  So, who pays for Noah’s tutor?  Ah, yes you are correct, we do!  Noah sat and worked with the tutor for 90 minutes or more once a week.  He past the first semester with a “C”.  However, the Noah wasn’t so lucky in the second semester.  He worked so hard.  He went to the math lab, he met with the teacher during office hours.  He just couldn’t get past a “D”.  So now, Nico needs to retake semester 2 of Algebra 2.  The school says he past and will get the credits.  However, he wants to attend college and the colleges don’t consider this passing.  This is why he needs to retake the second semester.
Where I work, if a special needs student receives a “D”, then the teacher isn’t working hard enough to help the student access the curriculum.  This is not the case at LAUSD.  They don’t have any such rule.  They will fail the kids with or without an IEP.  This part of their system needs to be modified as far as I am concerned.  If the student is failing something needs to be done.  In regards to Math, if students fail an exam, they should be able to review the exam and discuss the mistakes that were made.  These students should be allowed to retake the exams.  In addition if needed, these students should be allowed to have few questions on the exams.  At Pali, Noah never received any of his Math tests back.  So, he never really analyzed his errors.  He was allowed to retake standards tests but only at the end of the year.  The standard test consisted of two questions.  So, if you missed one question, well you failed.  What made no sense, is when Noah passed a standard.  Then, on his final he had a similar standard question and missed it.  Now, he failed it after passing it just days before.  Algebra 2 was such an emotional roller coaster for Noah.  The Special Ed department said their hands were tied because it was up to the teacher in regards to retaking the exams.  The teacher said her hands were tied as far as the standards exam and procedures.  The teacher stated it was up to the Math Department to make any changes to the procedures.  Special Ed. students need more support and possibly some modifications in the work load.  Educators need to start looking at what is best for the student in order to ensure learning.  Oh here is the best part of this final, if the student earns an “A’, the student’s grade only increases 3%.  If the student fails, then the student’s grade decreases by 10%. Fair?  Not in the least bit.  Can we say Math Department needs an overhaul!?

That is our year in a nutshell.  Now on to summer and camp.  More to come soon.

Thanks for reading.