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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A New Path

Change can be an intimidating, freaky thing for many people, myself included.  Fear of the unknown, driving without a map or a navigation system makes one wonder how and if you will ever get where you are supposed to be going.  A few days ago I wrote about Aspergers and    change...how anxious it can make you...and can lead to negative behaviors and even explosions.  Well...I put it in writing and  then God went and proved me wrong.  We have had a major change here in this house that Aspergers built.  The ARD/IEP recommendation was to change Red to his home high school campus.  When the possibility was put on the table he was adamant there was no freakin' way he would be changing schools again!

"That school is ghetto!" he actually says in the ARD meeting.  My husband just about dives underneath his chair of shear embarrassment.  He was pissed all at the same time,  knowing that those were not his words...but words he had heard somewhere else.  Yet, here he was saying them in a room full of teachers and administrators with out the least bit of decorum.  I mean...what is that anyway?  Of course, he has never even seen a real ghetto school live and in person in his entire, suburban, over-protected, spoiled little life!  

There is a rivalry between the crosstown school that he has been going to for the past year and his homeschool.  The kids at his homeschool are not as spoiled and preppy as the kids where he has been attending.  At this crosstown school ethnic diversity is sparse at best.  In other words...if you're a big, black kid who goes around not smiling most of the time, looking angry, you definitely stand out in the crowd of marshmallowy faces.  The home school has a much larger ethnic presence.  The kids are all colors and all variations of Austin weirdness.  He will not stand out quite as awkwardly in the crowd.  He will blend end not perfectly...but much easier.  He will know more kids from his elementary and first year of middle school days.

After meeting the staff and hearing about exactly what the program could offer him...I decided to call a few friends of mine within the district to get their opinion of the program.  In particularly, I call a teacher friend of mine who has a son who is very much like Red, with Aspergers.  Her son is actually in this program.  When I say very much like Red, I mean very stubborn, smart but a little on the lazy side...wants to do what he wants to do, no more, no less.   Although she is a teacher, she had very little luck in getting her child to perform in a typical school setting, until now.  When I call her, she has nothing but glowing things to say about the program and his reaction to it.  And just because she works in the district doesn't mean she's a push-over for what they have offered her child in the past.  The young man that she is describing to me, sounds nothing like the child I have known him to be.  He sounds like he is heading in the direction where I need Red to go. 

I decide to try to cautiously to sell it to him.  Hoping that he may buy some parts of it.  That he might take a sample and then love it so much, that he will actually buy the whole thing.  I want it to ultimately feel like his decision so that he can take ownership of it. 

"You've been telling me that you work better in a smaller classroom.  They have multiple small classroom's with certified, generalist teachers who are qualified to teach each subject.  There are more peers there who carry the same or similar diagnosis that you do.  They have an actual social skills group where you can connect with peers who have similar issues and you all can help support each other.  They have a place where you can hang out during lunch, you can play pool and other games  if you don't want to be in the big, loud cafeteria. One of the classrooms is set up like a living room, with comfortable chairs and couches."  (Imagine that for the kid who loves to slouch! Hopefully, he won't end up napping there.)

Can you believe that for over a year I have not known that social skills for him meant working one on one with a teacher...and no peers with Aspergers?  He would say to me..."We aren't doing any social skills."  And his teacher would assure me that they were.  She just never told me that it wasn't with a group of kids.  I find out now that supposedly there are no kids receiving services through that program who have high-functioning autism.  No wonder Red seemed like such an enigma to them.  This program was not even the beginning of the kind of support that he needs.  Is there any wonder that he was not successful there?  I feel like I put him through a year of torture while I was being sold a bag of goods about what kind of support he was actually getting.

To my surprise, he agrees with me so quickly I almost get whiplash! 
Red says to me, "Fine...if you think it's going to be better for my education...let's do it!" 
I am flabbergasted...floored, but I show very little emotion.  I am so ready for a fight and if I am lucky, a slow, arduous transition.  
"Do I even have to go back?  I don't want to go back there," he says.   
The following day there is an awesome field trip planned and it is the last day of the 6 week grading period.  He needs to compete assignments and tests.  I send him to back to school, telling him that on Monday, we will "Check out the new program."  

He has a great time on the field trip.  He returns to school and mentally checks out... "You people are not doing anything to help me! I'm done with this school," is his basic sentiment during a small tirade.  He refuses to do any work.  They call me.  I inform them that he has pretty much made the decision to make the change.  He is somewhat anxious about it and though he loves the staff there, but he is feeling some mixed emotions right now.  I talk to him on the phone and encourage him to finish his work and so that when he says his good-byes that he  will be remembered fondly.  He agrees.  At this point, I know there is no transition.  This is it!

I am with him on the mixed emotions.  I feel like I've been duped.  This was never the place that he needed to be.  He should have gone to his home school directly from middle school since they have such an intensive program.  He demonstrated a need based on his behaviors in middle school.  I have no idea why it was suggested that he be transferred in the first place.  I am sure that everyone there did their best to help him with the resources they had available...but they NEVER had the resources that he needs.  If I had not told them that this is not working, and I am ready to pull him out and put him in private school, would I have ever found out about the program available at his homeschool?

Fortunately, they have new blood on campus as their Special Education Lead and once I made this call,  she called the staff on the carpet and basically said...THIS IS NOT WORKING.  The really nice guy who was in her place last year was apparently just riding things out at the end of his career and definitely not thinking out of the box as to how to best serve my child.  There are plenty of places I could look in order to lay blame, or with whom I should be disappointed and upset.  I don't know how productive that would be.

The point is that God is in the works.  He helped me make that sales pitch and he helped Red to buy it.  He helped us to move forward.   We are on a new path.  I believe it will be one that will help him to achieve some successes and to feel more confident as a student, and as a person.  It will not be simple. There will be curves, bumps and rocks along the path, but at least we are heading in the right direction.    

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