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.

Summer time fun…to be or not to be

Summer is supposed to be fun in the sun with friends. Kids should be hanging out at the beach, eating ice cream everyday, swimming, going to movies, or hanging out on the street shooting the breeze. However for kids with social and emotional issues this type of frolicking in the summer is challenging. These kids prefer to be isolated in his/her room, only to be forced to connect with friends in order to get out of the house. Now take this one step father by sending this child to a sleep away camp for a few weeks. I have sent my child to a leadership training program. He wanted to go. He filled out the application. I just wanted to support him! My husband and i were so proud that our son took the initiative to apply. As his mom, I am nervous about certain things but I am familiar with the camp and I know I sent him to a safe place. He is with nine other boys in a cabin and the camp leader. He is forced to deal with being social at some level.

As a child, my parents always told me that I needed to fall on my face so that I could learn how to help myself work out my problem. This is the same for my child. He needs to work things out for himself without me running interference for him. The most difficult part in parenting is watching this process happen. There is an ongoing conversation happening inside my head, “It is good for him. He will be fine. He needs to go through these issues on his own in order to grow.” Then the reply is “Oh, I hope he can work this out. I don’t want him to be unhappy or feel anxious.” Then, I hear myself saying, “The only reason he is having issues is because he wants to retreat, be alone and play the addictive game boy. So chill out! He will be fine.”

How does a parent work through these types of situations without having a panic attack? I would love to have some helpful tips.

Remember there is always hope…

Last night the family went to the weekly session. We started working on the social deficit component in our son. Through our discussion the therapist presented our son with his perspective. The therapist told our son that he has a blind spot when it comes to connecting socially. In addition because it is a blind spot, requires more effort on our son’s part, that our son doesn’t want to put in that effort because it can be difficult. After our son hemmed, hawed and rebutted, at the end of the session our son finally admitted, the real reason he hasn’t reached out to make friends is he is lazy and it takes work to make new friends.

So, why am I happy about this realization for my son? I am happy because the light is on and now the work can truly begin. He may not be open to all our ideas but we can always bring him back to his words, “I am lazy…” Because these words are his way of realizing his blind spot and needs help!

I will keep you all posted!

Another great session

What luck we have to find this amazing therapist! He is loaded with great and helpful ideas to help our son move forward in his development. The challenge with these new ideas is they need to be rolled out slowly over time. The therapist suggest that we roll out a new expectation each month while continuing with the latest expectations.
So last month our new expectation is that our son reached out to a friend for a social hangout. While the social component continues, we are adding a physical component to his routine this month. We are giving him a choice (sort of) he can choose to run, hike, or walk at least two or three times a week for a minimum for 20 minutes.
Yesterday was the first day of implementing the physical part. How did that work out for our son? Not well in the beginning! He did not want to do any of it at all! I had to stand firm and remind him that not choosing is not a choice. So, we live in an area of hills, so I took him to the top. I pulled the car over and told him to get out of the car and walk home. He was so angry that he said,”Be prepared for me never to talk to you again.” Well,that didn’t last long.
In conjunction with rolling out new expectations, the therapist wants to make sure our son is making a connection to us via projects and not entertainment. The idea is not to just watch to a movie and think that he is connecting. The idea to work together on project type activities that will illicit conversation and team work. I try to have our son help in the kitchen. He is a little foodie and loves to eat good food. The part is do able. The addition to that is to check-in with our son and see if he is connecting to us. Well, this is going to take work put it that way:(. But Rome was not built in a day. When we say, “Hey, I love cooking with you.” His reply,”I love our dog.” Like I said Rome wasn’t built in a day.
The most important part for us as parents is to continue to push him forward in order for him to have a full and prosperous life in the future. In addition, it is important for us as parents to stand firm when he tries to push back.

Our dog…

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