Monday, April 13, 2015

A New Chapter?

My son has been part of a Pragmatic Skills group through the University of Virginia Speech and Language Center on and off since he was seven or eight.  There were two years (6th and 7th grade) when they didn't offer services because he'd aged out, but this year a new program started and he was happy to return.  He's pretty sociable and gets a lot of feelings from success from that group so I was happy to see him return.  Two weeks ago the director called and told me that he'd completed everything they had to offer him so last week he said farewell.  I had mixed feelings.  Success and completion are wonderful, but I didn't know of any other services available for him, so I was concerned.  Lucky for me the director knew of a local counselor who's doing a group called "8-9th grade social skills and emotional awareness and regulation group", in which the counselor plays games with the kids to help them work through social situations.  I talked to him today and we're going to meet him tomorrow!  I'm so excited!  It may not be a good fit, but I'm hopeful considering that my son loves to play games and it sounds like the others in the group function much like he does.

Also, the mother of a friend my son met through the classes he does on Fridays mentioned that her son is struggling with the same feelings of alienation and loneliness so we're in the beginning phases of possibly starting some kind of social group for kids on the Spectrum in Meetup-style.  I think that's sorely needed but I worry that I won't be qualified to deal with the situations that arise.  I figure we'll give it a try in the hopes that our kids will make some friends and feel less alone, and if it doesn't work out then we can at least say we tried.  I know there are other kids like ours in the area, the question is will getting them together lead to them forming bonds of friendship?  There's only one way to find out.

After attending the VAHomeschoolers Conference & Resource Fair I've changed tactics with our homeschooling.  It's time for him to take more responsibility so I'm gently reminding him what he should be doing, but I'm no longer in the role of headmistress.  I remind him that if he doesn't complete the necessary work he'll be put on homeschooling probation and I lay out where he needs to be with his work, but beyond that it's up to him.  It's really difficult, I worry that he won't do the work and the worst will happen, but I can't continue to argue and fight with him every day.  I told him that I'm no longer the bad guy and he's no longer able to blame me for how hard his life is. :)  I wouldn't say he's fully on board, but it's made life much more pleasant day-to-day and I see him thinking about the future in a much longer time frame than he was before, when it was easy for him to focus on one day, one lesson, one hour, and how I was the focal point of his misery.

The lull in drama with the group of mostly girls ended, sadly.  It turns out one of the girls wasn't able to attend at the beginning of the year and she was the source of a lot of the bossy behavior, but she's now returned so things are back to being difficult.  I talked my son into calling the lady who leads that group and they discussed options, which was wonderful, she's a caring and supportive person who puts a lot of heart into giving the kids opportunities for growth and curiosity.  Last week he didn't have to deal with the issue because of our astronomy field trip to the McCormick Observatory, which was a huge hit (Professor Ed Murphy is a veritable font of information and the kids loved him!), and this week there's a field trip to the Nanostar Lab, so we have a couple of weeks to do some research on group dynamics so he can discuss the issue of not feeling heard with everyone and offer suggestions on how to improve the situation.  He's reluctant to tackle the issue, but I'm hopeful that he'll learn an important lesson about working within group dynamics.

We fell off the wagon with the workbook, but I'm hopeful that we'll get back to it.  There's been a lot of change in our lives in the last few months, to both my job and my husband's, not to mention trying to see my granddaughter every other weekend, so I'm trying to be gentle with myself about the things that fall through the cracks.  I know that I'm doing the best that I can and keep trying to improve and get more organized, which is a HUGE challenge for me!  My natural inclination is much more toward chaos, which is exactly the opposite of what a young man on the Autism Spectrum needs.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Teen Angst

I think about posting to this blog often, but as you can tell by how rarely I post it doesn't exactly lead to me sitting down and doing so.  Stealing time is a challenge, but equally limiting my post rate is my uncertainty about what to post.  I don't want to be negative, but I'm not a mindless cheerleader and my inclination is to share it all, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Trouble is, where's the boundary?  I haven't exactly sorted that out yet, but I'm going to post and write what feels appropriate and see where it leads!

It's been a challenging year.  Not only has my son reached the height of his father, six feet tall, he's also just as immersed in pubescent hormones as he was a year ago.  Frankly, it's wearing me down.  My older, neurotypical son was certainly a challenge, but he was much more sullen and silent in his angst, while my younger son is loud, overblown, and sometimes physical.  He's not abusive, but he can be explosive, and that triggers some things from my past that I thought I'd overcome.  I've built a life that doesn't involve violence so when I'm confronted with violent behavior, I'm also confronted with the knee jerk reaction it elicits in me.

My son argues about doing any kind of work pretty much every day, although occasionally he'll have wonderful, positive moments that give me hope for the future.  Right now his immediate response to just about everything is, "It's too hard!", "I can't get it!", or "I'm never going to get this!", and it doesn't seem like any response on anyone's part will break him out of his spiral around the drain of self pity and negativity.  We have a great family counselor and he works with my son weekly, which I really appreciate, but I find myself running low on resources a fair amount of the time.  I wonder if part of it isn't the unusually snowy winter leaving us housebound more often than we're used to.  I love snow, don't get me wrong, but I very much prefer it when living in a state that's equipped to deal with it.

On a positive note, my son seems to have found his sea legs as far as the homeschool group he attends that's mostly teen girls (there's only one other boy and he's a couple of years younger and has a sister).  I also switched up one of our days so that we're doing field trips almost weekly and that seems to bring some much needed positivity to homeschooling.  This week we went the Science Museum in Richmond and we were there until they closed!  My son also mentioned going back twice on the way home, which was a wonderful surprise.  He was engaged in and excited by all of the hands-on exhibits, and he even enjoyed the movie, Violent Universe.  He's really into astronomy so I've contacted the Astronomy department at the University of Virginia about the group mentioned above going to the McCormick Observatory on a field trip.  We'll probably do that in a couple of weeks and he's so excited about it.  I'm always thrilled to find something that leads to him smiling and showing enthusiasm!

Math continues to be a struggle, to the point that my husband considered changing programs again, but after talking about it at length I think he's going to stick with Thinkwell.  I don't think it's the program causing the problem, I think my son will resist any program and find flaws no matter how the information is presented.  I find myself wondering if he needs tough love or an immersion into nothing but things that are big challenges for him, but right now we're staying the course and insisting that he complete a page of copywork a day and otherwise letting him do his own scheduling.

We're going to start reading a book about executive function for teens and I hope to gain a lot of insight into coping mechanisms for him.  Reading the introduction, I found it hard to believe my son's picture wasn't on the cover!

How do you engage your child with ASD?  It's a constant challenge for us, overcoming his pessimism and negativity.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Struggles of Being 13 and Having ASD

It seems that my son is in a phase of self-doubt, which is typical for his age but very much amplified by his Autism Spectrum Disorder.  I was talking to my 24-year-old son about it and he said that he wouldn't go back to that age for anything.  I told him that it didn't seem so intense with him and he said that he just kept it inside.  That seems to be the crux of the matter, my younger son says his feelings are 'on the outside' and he feels helpless to them.  As normal as that is for his age, when you throw in the fact that his executive function pretty much shuts down when he's stressed beyond a certain point, that helplessness can be crippling.

The fact that he cycles so strongly through feelings of doubt and negativity and back again is really affecting our homeschooling.  Sometimes he gets so upset and hopeless that he just gives up without even trying and it's really hard to keep coming up with new ways to encourage and support him.  We've been going to counseling as a family and talking about why he's so resistant and what strategies could help him and it's been quite illuminating.  For example, this week he told our therapist that he knows that if he pushes back hard enough he won't have to do as much work and I'll relent and give him his privileges.  He didn't say it smugly, he actually said it with some shame.  Many of the discussions we have in that office show me just how noisy and confusing it can be in his mind and it's also become much clearer that my husband's mind works much the same way.  I don't blame my husband in any way for my son's autism, I mention that they think alike because that realization has helped me to be more understanding toward my husband.

My son has become very resistant to doing any kind of writing and I'm trying multiple strategies to help him through that struggle.  I have him doing copywork and I'm going to narrate a game on Storium, a role-playing website, for him and three of his friends from the Javascript programming class my husband has been teaching.  He's excited about it and I'm going to combine him dictating to me with him typing some himself, in the hopes that it will help him to express his creativity and realize just how much he has to offer if he can overcome his fear of writing.

Dealing with his feelings of being an outcast is another ongoing struggle, and it's become clear that that's a big part of his resistance to dance classes this year.  The last couple of weeks he's come out of class quiet and sullen and has broken down within minutes of us leaving the dance studio, heartbroken because the girls in his class either ignore him or snark at him.  I'm hoping that lots of gentle reminders that girls don't know what to do with boys his age, let alone boys who are emotional and caring like he is, will help him to come to terms with the difficulties of social interaction with his peers.

I'd love to hear how others deal with the rocky terrain of a teenager with ASD!

It's Been a Month?!

My, how time flies!  It doesn't feel like it's been a month since I last posted, but I often find myself forgetting what day of the week it is here lately because they're either flying by or crawling at the speed of tectonic plate shifts, so that's not surprising.

My son is settling into his schedule.  The only day he doesn't have an activity is Wednesday and I think he really enjoys not having to leave the house that day, even if he complains about having online work to do.  I'm happy with the variety of activities I found for him to do, there's been very little one-on-one tension between him and I so it's much easier for him to approach me for help and for me to give work the energy it needs.  I'm not quite there, but it's getting a little better every week and that's the best I can hope for.

He's happy with his karate class, a dojo closed in our sleepy rural town so the man who teaches the class in a space above a racquetball court has gained some new students.  Before this year there's only been one boy older than my son and he quit three years ago, so it's been more of a mentoring situation where my son's helping the younger kids.  He loves doing that, but I think it's good that there's an influx of older kids making things a bit more challenging.

Dance class hasn't gone so smoothly.  He pushed back very hard about being embarrassed by dance class, at which point I asked him if he'd stopped enjoying dance and he said no, so we've had more than one interesting conversation about how much he's willing to let other people's opinions decide what he is and isn't going to engage in.  It's interesting to watch him think about all of the ways people let others make their decisions for them.

Note:  I really need to remember to post things, this one's been sitting in 'draft' mode for quite a while.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Year has Begun

Clearly I'm going to have to work on scheduling time for this blog. :)

We didn't officially start 'schooling' until this week.  Like last year it's going to be a fair bit of driving around, but I think we have a wonderful schedule in place and that will be a great opportunity to listen to podcasts.  We got a wonderful surprise when the family that hosted the singing group my son really enjoyed last year decided to do a homeschool group at the library in Charlottesville.  There are three sessions, writing, geography/history, and math, as well as an opportunity for him to go to lunch with the other kids without me there.  I asked him if he wanted me to go and he said no, so I stayed behind and amused myself while he went on his first 'lunch on the mall' excursion.

The mother of the family offering the group is a published author as well as a warm, caring person and is teaching writing, although what she's really doing is trying to see what the kids are interested in and going along with that.  Her partner is a clever, witty guy who owns his own business and is a history buff, so he's going to teach the geography/history session.  For math they're having a math tutor come in and for $5/week the kids can bring their work and get some coaching.  The focus is on the kids figuring out what they want to learn, as opposed to having to follow some kind of structure or curriculum.  My son is pretty intimidated by the idea of directing his own education after being pretty thoroughly indoctrinated to follow what others tell him he should learn, so I don't know how this is going to work for him, but I'm really happy that he's getting exposure to child-led learning.  He's pretty resistant and anxious when it comes to things that he could possibly fail at, even with constant assurance that there isn't really any failure in homeschooling because we can do whatever he needs to do to learn.  I sat in with him at his request and I got to help by going down and getting pages for the kids to do blackout poetry.  The library has a desk set up with loose book pages and a black sharpie and the librarian I spoke with was happy to go find six sharpies for me to bring back up to our little room along with a handful of loose pages from The Minotaur Garden, which I've never heard of.  What fun!  I did some blackout poetry with my son last year on Poetry Day so he knew what it was, but he was too anxious to participate, so I brought up a blackout poetry website and he read some and enjoyed himself.  At times like that my heart aches as I watch him struggle to do what the others do, to engage in things he's intimidated by, and it takes a LOT of effort to be quiet and present but not try to save him.  The kids shared their poems at the end and the lady leading the class is so wonderfully supportive and gentle, it feels really good to know that my son would be alright in that session about something that he's so anxious about and I'd have no worry at all about how she would handle him.

I'll talk more about the math and geography/history sessions in future posts.

On the curriculum front, decisions were finally made!  For language arts he'll use Time4Learning, for science he'll use Uzinggo, for math my husband went with Thinkwell math and my son seems to really enjoy it's format, and for history we're going to wait and see what the library group does and then I'll put something additional together if necessary.  My son loves history and has a lot of natural curiosity about it so I'm not concerned about him not having a curriculum to follow.  Looking at the syllabus for the public school this year it looks like eighth grade is mostly about test preparation, so we have an opportunity to let him test his child-led learning sea legs.  He's also doing karate, tap and modern dance classes, and my husband is leading a Programming in Minecraft with Javascript class, not to mention the pragmatic skills class my son has done for four years, including summer programs.  There's also a homeschool group that I've become the leader of all of a sudden and another group where he's taking two classes that started last week.  He was happy and tired when I picked him up, which is the best I could have hoped for!  It's a packed schedule to be sure, but I have high hopes for it being engaging and really good for my son.  I really want to see his desire to learn and his confidence in his ability to do so rekindled.

On the anxiety front things have been pretty intense.  I've talked to him a great deal about getting to the cause of his anxiety and beginning to think about managing his reactions instead of feeling like a victim of them.  He frequently says that he wishes his feelings weren't on the outside and I do my best to validate his feelings and reassure him that there are worse ways to be and there are plenty of kids who are in the same boat.  I squeezed a visit to an observatory late one night for their public night and that turned out to be an excellent investment of time and well worth him being up until almost midnight.  He was so excited about looking at the moon through a 129 year old telescope and I have to say that I was just as excited as he was!  There were also two smaller telescopes set up, pointed at the Ring Nebula and a set of stars, one blue and one yellow, that appear to be one star to the naked eye observer but are actually two stars that orbit each other.  I've emailed someone at the Observatory to see if I can find out the name, I can't remember it and didn't write it down.  I hope to get to the public nights as often as I can, we had a great time!

That's all for now, I hope everyone's school year is off to a great start!

Article about Blackout Poetry - The article that introduced me to blackout poetry. - Blackout Poetry website.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Math Curriculum, Meltdown, and Our NOI

After much consideration, the choices were made for history and language arts (Time4Learning), science (Uzinggo), and vocabulary enhancement (Words and Their Stories), but my husband was waffling on math.  He's going to be doing a very focused program with our son because he's so convinced that he's terrible at math, so he's making the final decision about the math curriculum.  We know what doesn't work, Time4Learning and Uzinggo, not because they're bad but because they only offer one way to solve problems.  Little things like insisting that he use subtraction instead of adding a negative number really get under my son's skin and it isn't long before that frustration escalates to refusal and self-doubt, which then leads down the rabbit hole of anxiety.  In an effort to avoid that path, my husband is going to do math with my son on Sunday afternoons when they can sit down and do all of it together and frustrations can be nipped in the bud before they blossom into anything further.  He's going to try out the free trial of ThinkWell in the hopes that it will work for us.

An important lesson from last year is that we need to focus more on setting time aside to sit with my son while he works, at least until he gets into the swing of things, and probably afterward as well.  Last night he had a meltdown because he was worrying about homeschooling and in complete despair that he doesn't know what he's going to do with his life.  He remembers the days of his youth when he thought anything was possible and says that he realizes now that the world is just too big and scary.  When he spirals into such hopelessness and despair it's really hard for me to commiserate instead of telling him he's wrong, but we got through that meltdown and came out the other side with minimal after-effects.  Sometimes he can be off for a day or two after a big meltdown and falls back into that state much easier if we aren't careful.  Today he woke up unhappy that we had to leave the house, he really wanted to stay home, but he pulled it together and we did what we needed to do with minimal fussing.  It helps that he's totally immersed in listening to the audiobook of Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett, one of our family's very favorite authors.

Wee Free Men is not only hilarious, it handles issues that are pretty mature for a teen reader, and we've listened to it before in the car but it's been long enough that it's like new.  There are actually four books in the series that begins with Wee Free Men, the next of which is Hat Full of Sky, then Wintersmith, and finally I Shall Wear Midnight.  In getting the link for this post I discovered that there will be a fifth book in the series!  Terry Pratchett has been a prolific writer and I could go on and on about how much I love his work and which are my favorites, but I'll spare you (unless you'd like to know, if anyone asks I'll do so in the comments).  Listening to a great book seemed to be just what he needed to pick up his mood and we had a really good day.  This evening I told him how much he's maturing and that I noticed that he did what he needed to do to pull himself out of his funk and he smiled and thanked me for noticing.

When he melted down he was sobbing about how much he wished he was normal and it was very hard not to burst into tears, at times like that I sometimes struggle to keep my own optimism intact and can easily fall into listing all of the reasons normal doesn't matter, but what he really needed was for me to commiserate about how bad he was feeling and acknowledgement that sometimes things feel really huge and overwhelming and hopeless.  He sobbed for a few minutes and I hugged him, which reminded me how much he's grown because he's taller than I am, and then we were able to have a quiet conversation about the value of people who aren't considered normal and how boring the world would be if everyone was the same.  I'm going to do some work on optimism as part of his curriculum because I think he inherited his father's pragmatism, which can easily slip into pessimism, which my husband labels 'realism'.  A very wise man we know said that while 'realism' can feel safe and true, it doesn't allow room to experience things like joy or beauty, and I do my best to remind my son of that on the other side of times like these.

On another note, I'll be turning in our Notice of Intent (NOI) tomorrow or Wednesday, since it has to be turned in by the 15th.  There's great information about such things at the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers.


Time4Learning - History and Language Arts

Uzinggo - Science

Words and Their Stories - Vocabulary Enhancement

ThinkWell Homeschool - They offer a seven day trial.

Terry Pratchett - A favorite author of our entire family.

Organization of Virginia Homeschooler's Information About NOI

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Wrap Up Report: TACO

TACO camp was a resounding success, which is no surprise to me.  My son LOVES horses and this year they rode bareback with surcingles and saddle pads instead of saddles, which means he was essentially riding bareback.  Due to insurance requirements the kids have side-walkers (someone walking on both sides of them with their hands hooked in the loops of a belt around the rider's waist), but I wondered if my son would find it too challenging and struggle or give up, neither of which would have been outside of the norm for him.  That doesn't mean that I let him stop trying when he has those reactions, just that when he gets overwhelmed or isn't immediately successful he can have a pretty strong negative reaction.  As far as I know that didn't happen, he seemed even more proud of himself for riding without a saddle.

On the last day of camp they have a horse show where the kids get to ride for the parents and my son's obvious joy the entire time he was on Herbie, a sweet Haflinger gelding, almost brought me to tears.  That's not an exaggeration, I had to take a couple of deep breaths and work at not tearing up.  Between the teen angst and the frustration of trying to deal with a world that can overwhelm him, my son doesn't seem to experience outright joy very often.  He got to trot twice and both times he sat straight and proud, his eyes on my husband and I, making sure that we saw his accomplishment.  I saw it alright, I also saw that I need to figure out how to come up with the money to get him on a horse more often.

While we were waiting for the kids to finish posing for the group picture one of the volunteers came over and talked to us, gushing about how sweet and willing my son is and how much he loves horses.  Her husband was one of his side-walkers and she told me that he thinks my son could easily ride without side-walkers.  One of the horse owners told me that last year too and I know it's true.  We had a really bad experience with a horse camp when my son was eight so I'm pretty skittish about trusting others to handle my son's challenges in a caring manner.  That camp included him falling off and getting back on, which is an important part of riding, but it also included the two horse moms who worked with the kids during the camp mocking him and belittling him when he got overwhelmed.  The lady who owns the farm was wonderful and she was sweet to him, but he spent the majority of his time with the two moms who seemed to amuse themselves at his expense.  When things like that happen I get the dreaded 'bad mom' feeling, which includes self recriminations about not protecting him from people who won't preserve his fragile self esteem.  I'm not a fan of the self esteem programs the public school system is rife with, but I now realize how prophetic the first doctor to give the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder's statement was, "He's more than smart enough to handle the academics of school, your challenge will be getting him through childhood emotionally intact."  The reality of that observation is what led me to start homeschooling last year, as a matter of fact, I saw my son slipping further and further away from being 'emotionally intact'.

Oh dear, I'm rambling again, aren't I? :)

At the end of the show I was talking to one of the other moms and she told me about a place about 45 minutes away where her son, who has a diagnosis similar to my son's, takes riding lessons.  As a matter of fact, she likes the lady who gives lessons so much that she signed up for lessons herself, which is a pretty strong endorsement!  I'm going to look into it and do my best to scrape up the necessary funds.