Tuesday, April 29, 2014

CONFERENCE II: FOURS AND TWOS

Whereas Z’s report card consisted almost entirely of threes (“meets grade level expectations”), G’s report card was pretty evenly split between twos (“making progress toward meeting grade level expectations”) and fours (“exceeds grade level expectations”).

Always with the Full Spectrum, eh?

But this was a familiar report card: G is excelling in certain areas, and struggling in others.  Although my report cards tended more toward fours because of my strengths in executive function, I knew G was doing his best and I celebrated the quantified results of that effort.

G’s conference wasn’t spent talking about ways to get him to work harder. His teacher and I both know he is working his fanny off. Even for those twos, he is working. His conference was spent on other concerns. Conferring about how he’s mostly with adults on the playground – and how he says, “Thank you for hanging out with me” to them. How he sits with his teachers on the bus – and thanks them for letting him sit next to them. How, during winter sports, he, again, stayed back with the grownups and told them, always, “Thank you for playing with me.” [I’m thinking, please, no, I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR THIS YOU ARE KILLING ME! I thought he was playing with other kids! He said he was!]  That combination of pathetic and clueless and kind and grateful and well-mannered is also very familiar.….

What do you say to your child about this sort of news? “G, you need to be less thankful and also not go near adults?” Clearly, he’s making these choices for reasons that make sense to him. For one thing, according to his teacher the preteen girl posse he’d been rolling with since the start of school was still somewhat friendly and protective, but now they were more teens than pre- -- with the attendant changes and concerns that come with that shift. For another thing: sixth grade/sixth graders. Blech – who can understand it/them?

Then his teacher explained how he has a hard time working with groups: first, he gets very upset if people don’t do exactly what they are assigned to do in the group or what they say they are going to do; second, others try to do his work for him to “help” him because of his slow processing, which is insulting. Group work is big these days – so it’s a big issue for kids for whom it’s not a natural fit.

Feeling a wave of despair at this point, I wondered if this was all just too much for G, and if he would be better off in a different setting, perhaps a specialized classroom. His teacher replied – quite vehemently – that he would not. She admitted that he does struggle in the mainstream classroom setting, but that she is certain that it’s the best environment for him, just as I have always believed.

There’s a child in G’s class who is more obviously “autistic” than G. This child receives a lot of attention and is doted on by many of the girls in the class. I’ve already had to explain to G that the reason all the girls “like” this other boy is because they want to help him and take care of him. I asked him if he wants people to “feel sorry for him” in that way and he replied with a very strong “No!” In his teacher’s words, G “is not quite different enough to be a mascot and don’t want him to be!” Yet he’s still “different” in ways that set him apart, for example: “He still hugs me – sixth graders do NOT hug teachers!” Well, his teacher is pretty durn wonderful…

Again, what does one say in this situation, as a parent? “No hugging!”????

G is trying to integrate sixth grade social rules…at his own pace! For one thing, as I mentioned at the end of the conference, he studiously and elaborately avoids me at All School Sings. Except – one time, when we were singing “You are my Sunshine,” he looked over at me (because he knows he is my sunshine) and I was **sobbing** and that was the end of even looking at Mom during such events.  

And rightly so! I am so embarrassing. No, I am. Thank you, dear reader, for reading this, for playing with me, for sitting with us on the Full Spectrum bus.

Love,
Full Spectrum Mama


Monday, April 14, 2014

CONFERENCE I: THREES

If you’ve been following this blog at ALL, you know that Z is a superhero-genius, with a conservatively-estimated IQ of 923. All parents are soooo objective, but most especially parents of children who were adopted, because that latter event basically frees us up to brag in an unfettered way by virtue of not sharing genetics. Naturally, Z being the next Curie/Vos Savant/Sandberg, I was expecting a pre-tty fabulous report card this spring.

Alas.

She received threes, meaning “Meets grade level expectations,” across the board. Several pages of threes. Out of  **50** possible grades, only three were not threes! She got a two, or “making progress toward meeting grade level expectations,” in the area of “demonstrates self control.” The ONLY fours she received were both on reading speed, during timed tests.

Z’s teacher is one of the best in the state, so I knew these grades were more related to Z than a failing on her teacher’s part. Still, I hoped her teacher could help with ideas about improving both her work and her grades.

During our parent-teacher conference, Z’s very kind, very experienced, very gifted teacher admitted she’s not at all sure how to get her to do better. She told me that Z finishes everything ahead of all the other students. Then, rather than polishing her work or doing a little extra, she socializes, which, depending on who is next to her, can often be a problem for that neighboring student. She has been offered the opportunity to work on an optional special project of her own, like other gifted students in her class – something for which her teacher gives up her own limited free time --  but has opted not to do so. Rather than focusing on learning, Z’s focus is often on “side conversations.” Because she is quick, she manages to “meet grade level expectations” – but only in a perfunctory fashion.

It’s the same thing with her homework. She has reading homework every day for twenty minutes? She reads for twenty minutes. She is asked to write a sentence using a vocabulary word? She writes the shortest sentence possible. Not working hard feels so alien to me, the quintessential OVER-tryer, despite having been schooled on this subject by many brilliant friends who were underachievers in school…Something about “If everything is easy for you, why ever make an effort”??

There is also the possibility that I am/we are putting too much pressure on her, that we are having overly high expectations. Perhaps she’s not quite as exceptionally smart as I have always thought. Her teacher and I were obviously on the same page in feeling that Z is not even close to living up to her academic potential, but maybe we were basing our assessment of Z’s potential academic intelligence on her apparently immense emotional intelligence. Or maybe her approach to schoolwork is a survival thing, sort of a “do what you need to do to get by” scenario? Nonetheless, it’s evident that Z needs to up her game a bit; and that we adults need to somehow inculcate an attitude of pleasurable effort to replace the getting-away-with-the-minimum stance she’s exhibited thus far.

The parent-teacher conference was a few weeks ago. The other day, Z and I had mama-daughter time while G was in drama club and as we walked I lectured her extensively (yes! I am fun!) on doing her best, taking initiative, etc. After talking at her for some time, I realized what I was doing and asked her why she is only doing the minimum. She finally confessed she “just want[s] to get it finished!” She is proud to finish before the others in her class, and simply not will to do more, unless it is clearly required.

I asked her if she thinks she’s as smart as other kids in her class, and she said “smarter.” I explained to her that the kids who are really smart are the ones who are learning as much as they possibly can, adding that you can be the smartest person on the planet but if you don’t work hard no one will ever know – and you’ll accomplish little.

I turned at this point to a beloved longtime educator friend, who also happens to be the Dad of many sons, to see if he had any suggestions. He offered the idea of giving Z extra projects. In his family, African history was the subject of choice. I decided to have Z study Chinese history. I had her get all her Chinese history and culture books together. I asked her to begin reading a chapter of the top book in the pile that afternoon. Afterwards, she would be expected to write a report.

I was doing the dishes -- with dinner on the stove – when, a few minutes later, she called out: “Hey, Mom…does this count as doing my reading homework?”

“Sure!” Scrub, scrub scrub...wait a minute! “…NO!!!! Come on, [Z], that’s my WHOLE POINT!”

I don’t have enough brain-space for this malarkey. Available doing-dishes brain-space is utilized pondering the truly important things, such as: do we actually have more nose hair as we get older? If so, is that why boogers seem to hang down in there more? And if both of these are true, is that FAIR? (My vote? No.)

But back to the matter at hand: after this interaction I logically must conclude that Z is a genius after all.

Next: CONFERENCE II: FOURS AND TWOS

Love,
Full Spectrum Mama

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

THE ADDRESSES

The Full Spectrum household is always on the lookout for experiences and resources that are neither inspiration porn nor negative Nellie-ism. We’ve recently had the pleasure of encountering two such items, and wanted to share them with readers:


  1. THE ADDRESS
It looks like this documentary is showing on most PBS stations on or around the 15th of April (I was able to attend the premier here in Vermont). Students, families and educators who experience learning differences such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, executive function challenges and/or ADHD/ADD will see themselves reflected in this documentary in a really beautiful way. So will everybody else! It's just a great piece about persistence and believing in others and ourselves and the amazing results of that magical combination of effort and faith.

The gaze of Burns’ film seems to rest on every individual with equal weight, conferring complete humanity and dignity on each in a way that nicely avoids inspirational clich├ęs. Instead – and  rightly so! – his subject matter is people, learning, together.



  1. SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON’S WORLD AUTISM AWARENESS/ACCEPTANCE DAY MESSAGE AT THE UNITED NATIONS
Please take a gander. I’ve read and re-read this simple, magnificent message. The really wonderful thing about Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's approach is his clear recognition that ALL people have inherent value, as well as the capacity to dream and to realize those dreams. While we do need to meet people where they are, there is much to be said for not imposing a priori limits on what people may achieve for ANY reason.

People with disabilities are so often "tolerated," so often expected to have smaller dreams. The Secretary-General explicitly calls the United Nations (and the world in general) to task for just such attitudes and dares to demand more for people with autism (and, by implication, all people with differences from the "norm"). In his vision, “economic constraints” do not trump empowerment – and different abilities do not preclude fulfilling education and gainful employment. Comprehensive inclusion and acceptance are his mighty watchwords.


I see neurodiversity as one of the big civil rights issues of the new millennium. Ken Burns and the Greenwood School students and faculty, along with Ban Ki-moon, are influential and wise agents of progress in this arena.

Love,
Full Spectrum Mama


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

AQUARIUM: FISHY?



At G’s last IEP meeting, someone suggested he join a Social Skills/Pragmatic Language group that was starting nearby. If you are a parent of a child with differences (or a child with interests for that matter), you know how expensive activities (therapeutic and non-) can be. The fact that this group was FREE, because it was somehow part of a graduate program, caught my attention. I signed G up pronto. So far, we have been to three meetings and G has really enjoyed them. The boys (all boys…) play games and build things together and practice learning about each other and asking one another dialog-producing questions. Maybe the best part of all is the lack of eye-rolling: no one in this group has that developmentally-appropriate, neurotypical tendency to roll their eyes when someone acts “different.”






During the last meeting, the director of the program came into the waiting room and informed us that we were welcome to “watch the group” through a one way mirror. Apparently, this had been an ongoing activity for the graduate students and faculty involved, and was now an option for parents. I joined some students (and/or faculty) and other parents behind said mirror as they watched the meeting. It felt a little bit like looking into an aquarium. From time to time, people would comment, stuff like, “Oh, watch him, he’s really communicating,” or “Fascinating: watch how he…!” Several were taking notes.






I felt like the children were specimens in that aquarium. Without being ungrateful for the pleasure and – perhaps – learning that G was gaining from the group, as well as for its being free of charge, for the very reason that it was “educational” for graduate students, I nonetheless felt both creeped-out and horrified.






I didn’t want to undermine the class by making G feel funny about it, and I support the program if the participants find it beneficial. So I sent this email to the director of the program over a week ago:






Dear [program director],


I hope this finds you well.


I was a bit uncomfortable watching the kids in that context and wondering what you tell THEM about the window/mirror? If it's not too much trouble,


Sincerely,


[Full Spectrum Mama] ([G]'s mom)






I haven’t heard back.






I am all for scientific research, whether around health, genetics, disease, sleep, diet…autism…It can be informative, fascinating, and helpful for those who need or want help (this latter is a key distinction). As an academic, I can on some level understand and even accept that we need real live autistic people to learn about autism. Same for “autism awareness” (April is Autism Awareness Month), in that for people to accept autistic people as equal fellow human beings it’s perhaps best to get to know – in a non-awkward or –contrived or -condescending fashion – a real live autistic person or two. Shouldn’t be too hard what with the new statistics, right? …RIGHT?






Let’s also assume that everybody’s heart is in the right place in all of these endeavors from the Social Skills group to the folks who tout “Autism Awareness” to those who are skeptical thereof…






My not wanting G to be a “subject” of study could be NIMBYism, except – I like G just the way he is. In other words, I/we are not looking for scientific findings that will show us how to make G “right” or “better,” he's just practicing hanging out with some kids. His IEP team felt he needed help with social skills, this group came up, G liked it, end of story.






As a mother, and as a person on the spectrum myself, I can’t shake this de-humanizing aquarium image. And I can’t help but feel that if this kind of observation is "normal” there are some other groups I’d rather see put in an aquarium. Politicians, in general, come to mind. Abusers. Bullies. Mean people. What makes them tick and how can we cure them?






To be continued when I hear back from the program director…I hope.






Love,


Full Spectrum Mama