Let the Research Begin

Little Man is rumored to have done well on the high school tours field trip yesterday. I’ve had two good reports, and he was all smiles and conversation when I picked him up from school. So, yay for that. And now, the research begins.

He did like the Math & Science high school. He would like to put his name in the lottery for admission. I’ve reviewed their website and the paperwork they sent home. One thing caught my eye – Special Education support programs will be limited. I’m not exactly sure what that means. Do they not take IEP kids? How would my kid navigate their campus and curriculum if they don’t have the supports he needs? They have a few informational meeting dates coming up, so we’ll go to one of those and get some answers. While the school sounds fairly similar to where he is for middle school, I won’t give up the supports he needs. That one little line on the informational packet makes me say, “Hmmmmmm.” He also liked the school down the street that his siblings attend. He said they had the best presentation, and he got a flower from the agricultural department during their tour, which he was super happy about and proud of.

We do have a lot of options available in town. I just really haven’t wanted to think about this process. I’d love to stay in denial-land just a little bit longer. Unfortunately for me, the application periods are opening, and we don’t have forever. So let the research begin. Sigh…..

His Perception

I had an impromptu meeting with Little Man’s principal yesterday afternoon during after-school pickup. It was positive – I know they have LM’s best interests at heart. As the principal put it, they’re “all hands on deck” for him, particularly now, given what’s gone on the last few weeks.

Little Man hasn’t been going to class. Lord knows what he has been doing, but he hasn’t been in his classrooms. We’re working to fix that. The problem is he’s sure anytime anyone laughs when he’s nearby, they’re laughing at him, making fun of him. His teachers, SAI, and the principal are trying to catch it in the moment so they can help him see it is his perception, not reality.

Little Man has always had this thing….if one “bad” thing happens during the day, then the entire day is the worst day ever. If something bad happens during a certain activity, then he’s sure it’s going to happen every single time he does that activity. If someone laughs at him once, then every time that person laughs, he’s laughing at him. That’s his perception, skewed as it may be. Our job is to help him see that’s not the case. It’s tough work.

We have to help him overcome his fears and worries. We have to help him understand his perception isn’t always the way it really is. We have to move him past this hurdle. But this is part of his autism. his reality. He perseverates, gets beyond anxious, then does everything he can to avoid whatever situation he’s worried about. In the meantime, his grades fall and he loses friends. It sucks.

He has to be ready for high school….moving between classes, staying in class the entire period, managing social situations that are unavoidable. We have to help get him ready for that, so we’re all utilizing some tough love to get him past this current hurdle. We’re back in a phase of being on high alert nearly every minute of every day.

As for Halloween, he had probably his best yet. He went out with his friend across the street. I was not with him. Normally, he taps out after about the fifth house. This year, he was out for over an hour, and made it all the way around the loop. Then he sat in the kitchen with Big Man and a bunch of high school boys, interacting and talking. At one point, he did get a bit overwhelmed. He just looked at me and said, “I’m getting anxious…it’s too much.” I got him to a quiet space for a few minutes, but he recovered quickly and then was right back, re-engaging, laughing and talking. Huge wins, all night long, for him.

“Empties”

I started watching the Netflix series, “Atypical” last week. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out. It’s really good. It’s about a family with two teens, one of whom is high-functioning autistic. Sounds dark, but it gives a great perspective on the reality of life with a high-functioning ASD kid.  It is actually funny, while at the same time, it can be gut-wrenching, particularly as the mom of a high-functioning, ASD teen. It gives me hope for his future as well as makes me aware how long and difficult his struggles will be.

Episode 5 about killed me the other day.  I had to stop it at one point – the neuro-typical daughter was talking about what life was like as the sister to an autistic person. She explained that when she was younger, she would hear her mom talking about her as her “NT” kid (neuro-typical)….She thought her mom was calling her an “Empty” and it made sense to her, because she felt she had to empty herself out in order to make space in their life for her autistic brother, the brother who took up so much space in their family.  I immediately started crying.

Little Man was diagnosed relatively late, at eight years old, but I still feel his diagnosis and subsequent therapies, etc took over our lives to a certain extent. We didn’t stop living, didn’t stop activities for the other two, but Little Man’s autism consumed me, especially emotionally.  One of my biggest fears has been how his autism affects them, what it does to them, how they feel about it.

Big Man and the Princess have not been at the same school with Little Man for years. It’s been five years for Big Man, and four for P since they shared a campus with him. That may change next year, as one of the options on the table for high school for Little Man is their school…..the public, traditional high school just down the street.  We’ve talked extensively about the possibility of him going there…..the worries of him being able to navigate the campus, deal with the number of students, handle the homework load, much less the possibility of being bullied, his differences so obvious. They’ve said they would help him, that they and their friends would look out for him. But what level of that is appropriate to expect of them? At what point do they feel they have to become “empties” so that he might be safe and successful? What is too much to expect?

We may not have to face this issue to the extent I worry about it. Time and his needs may find him at a different school entirely. They are still, however, his siblings. The day-to-day reality of that still weighs heavy on my mind. At what point do they feel they have to become “empties”? I hope I never intentionally lay that expectation on them.

The Year of the Choice

I remember this point three years ago, when Little Man had just started his last year of elementary school. I remember the anxiety I was beginning to feel, knowing we would have to make the decision during that year where he was going to go to middle school. He was in a pretty good place that year, but I was terrified of what was coming, terrified of messing up and making the wrong decision, terrified of the new big bad world he would be facing and its potential for total disaster.

Sixth grade was BRUTAL. We knew it would be, no matter where he ended up. The magnitude of change moving to middle school guaranteed stress, anxiety, meltdown, regression.  I don’t doubt the decision we made as far as where he goes to middle school – it is the perfect place for him. We’ve watched him thrive in the last year, and feel confident he will continue on that path this year. That’s not to say he’s without issues.  He’s been pushing back on doing his work, and on doing his work to his full ability (he’s a brilliant boy).  He’s gotten a little lax, a little lazy.  And, I’m not gonna lie, he sometimes uses his ability to manipulate to get out of things, or delay. So we’ve brought the hammer, because we know we have to prepare him for high school and the expectations that come with that level of education.

I’m trying desperately to stay in this moment, to just relax and enjoy the good place he’s in. But I can’t help the thought from hovering…..we will have to make a choice at some point this year where he will be going for high school. Thinking about any of the options brings a rise in anxiety level for me.  The school the older two go to is huge, and it is traditional….moving classes, big campus, PE for Freshmen, homework loads, etc. I fear the potential for bullying is too big. I get palpitations thinking about him going from class to class, much less making it through every class every day (they block, so Tuesday – Friday, classes are 90-ish minutes long). I panic when I think about him even knowing what his homework is, much less getting it done. And don’t get me started on PE – that’s been the bane of his existence since first grade.

The PBL/math and science high school would be a good fit, but it’s different. He wouldn’t be with his siblings.  And its location requires navigating morning rush-hour traffic in addition to the usual drop-off/pick-up mess. Yes, that one is on me – it’s SUPER inconvenient. Then there are the other options – Classical, Charter, home school (which, quite honestly, isn’t really on the table at all). So. Many. Choices. So much pressure and anxiety.

He goes back and forth between wanting to go to the math & science school, and going to the school down the street with his brother and sister. His class will do high school visits around town in October or November. We have his IEP in November, and a representative from his “home school” will be there.

I feel like I need to meet the special ed teams at each school on the table. I need to know we can work together, that they will have his best interests at heart, that they will protect him, that they will help us get him to the goal of a full diploma with as few disasters along the way as possible.  We  need a school he will keep receiving the services he needs, and that will accommodate him in his particular form of special.

See, this is where I spiral. I’m really trying to focus on the fact he’s in a good place right now, and not stress about what’s coming next year. At the same time, I know how quickly time passes, and that we will need to start these discussions with his teams sooner than later. We basically have about two months to live in the now. Then, we will have to face the year of the choice head-on.

I told myself not to get comfortable

If you have any experience with an autistic child, you know it comes with its ups and downs, backwards and forwards, twists and turns. I wrote a couple of weeks ago that we were in, and had been in for awhile, a good place. Well, yeah, I told myself not to get comfortable, and for good reason.

I’ve had two emails from his special ed teacher within the last week. I might be saying some bad words to autism right now. He’s pushing back on work. He doesn’t want to try when it’s hard, or if he thinks he can’t do  it. He’s giving up. Yesterday, he left the classroom for twenty  minutes (we’d had him down to less than five minutes, and usually staying inside the classroom, for months), couldn’t tell the teacher what was wrong nor what he needed. Gah!

Essentially, he’s not using any of the tools he’s been given, and he’s backsliding. It happens, but it’s frustrating and gut-wrenching every single time. I told his spec ed teacher I’m grasping at straws trying to figure out what may be going on. Who knows what’s triggered him this time. It could be he’s had too long without a break from routine (but then we know breaks from routine also set him off). It could be something as simple as his brother getting his driver’s license, thus setting off a change in his “normal”. It could be the cold he’s fighting. It could be the trip we have coming up. Or it could just be a normal autism blip.

I needed him to stay in a groove. I’m dealing with a ton with the other two, and his status quo was helping me stay sane. But such is the way of parenting life. Just when you think you have a handle on one thing, something else comes up. Every week seems to bring something new. difficult, agonizing.

We do have a trip in a few weeks, over Spring Break, and I can’t wait. We need a family huddle break – an insulated, away-from-it-all escape. It will be just the five of us. I’m bummed our friends can’t come with us, but at the same time, I’m looking forward to it just being us, creating new memories, enjoying new experiences, seeing new things, and reconnecting.

We’ll get Little Man back into his happy place. This too shall pass. The sunshine will return, and the rainy day will be a memory again – one more blip, one more hurdle overcome.

Transitions

Little Man has one more year in middle school, but we are already thinking ahead to high school. The biggest decision will be where he goes.  I’ve been trying to live in the land of denial with this one. I’d rather not consider a) three kids in high school; b) his actual transition to high school (because we know how well the transition to middle school went); c) my baby in high school; d) getting to know a whole new IEP team; and e) his last tri-ennual evaluation, set for his Freshman year. All. Of. That.

He will, of course, have a voice in the decision-making process. What brought it all to mind today is that he brought it up in the car this morning. He and his buddies were talking about high school, where they each wanted to go, and – of all things – the possibility of getting community service hours by volunteering at their old elementary school when they’re in high school. Nothing like planning ahead! Anyways, he firmly stated he wants to go to the same school as his siblings. Okay, well, wow.

There is a math and science high school in town, which is much like the middle school he attends. It’s project-based, heavily utilizes technology, collaborative work, and it’s much smaller than the nearby high school. It’s a lottery process to get into the math and science high school, so it would be luck of the draw to get him in. It’s also across town – at least 20 minutes each way with traffic. So while I think it would be a really good environment for him, I’m unsure he will get in, and unsure of the logistics.

I like the idea of him at school with his brother and sister. I haven’t had all three in the same place in nearly five years. And if he does go there, that will give us that many more years of blessing those hallowed halls with our particular brand of crazy. I’m sure the Principal, VP’s, counselor, and school nurse are already cringing at the thought of three extra years with us around.

Knowing he would have his brother and sister on campus to look out for him and help him gives me small peace. I know how frequently Big Man and P see each other at school (hardly ever) during the day. It’s a big school with 2500 students, give or take. I do panic though…..the more students, the more opportunity for some jerk to give him a hard time. And don’t get me started on the PE situation with locker rooms, etc. I can’t even…..

He’s in a good place now. High school will be a new story. He’s hardly had to change classrooms, is used to not having homework, and has plenty of kids similar to him at his school. The kids know him, accept him, know his quirks and how he is. I can’t entirely picture how that’s going to go in high school. We do have other options besides these two. There is a charter high school, Classical, and other semi-homeschool options (although the thought of him being home more during the school day, well, that’s a whole other discussion). He seems bent on going to school where his brother and sister go.

It’s going to be a transition no matter where he goes. Those transitions are never easy with him. Yes, we have another year where we are, but the process has begun.

Oh yeah, IEP time

Little Man’s IEP normally falls the first week in December, smack in the middle of Nutcracker hell week, and right around the time of our wedding anniversary. The coordinator called me late in October, and asked if the week before Thanksgiving break would work. Uh, yep….way better than dealing with it/squeezing it in the midst of all the other madness. I somehow put it in the back of my mind, and it snuck up on me. Heck, this whole year has pretty much snuck up on me.

Sooooo….the Friday afternoon leading into the Thanksgiving break, and 1.5 hours before I was supposed to leave for dinner/drinks and the Sound of Music, I was sitting in the small conference room at Little Man’s school, with his team, for his annual IEP meeting. Joy.

We’d had our concerns this year. I believe I wrote about them earlier in the school year. But, as I’ve had happen at pretty much every single one of his IEP meetings, the team addressed any requests/issues we had before I had a chance to raise them. We are all on the same page, that of keeping him on the good, upward path he’s currently on, and getting him ready for high school. That conversation was a huge part of the meeting – what we need to do, what we need to be thinking about, the goals he has and how they’ll translate, what can be done to ease that transition.

He has two subject teachers this year, as well as a PE teacher, and then whomever is teaching the Elements class he chooses. That means he’s seeing at least four teachers a day. He is moving around from classroom to classroom, albeit in a much smaller setting than he’ll see in high school. I’ve met his teachers before – parent/teacher conferences were last month – but I didn’t really get a grasp of anything beyond his academics, and how much improved he is over last year overall, until the IEP meeting. They are both the perfect combination of compassion and understanding and the tough love he needs to show him the boundaries, limits, and push him a little bit. That was the big thing we were going to ask for – that they push him, get him to stay in the classroom as much as possible, keep him engaged in the lesson/group/activity as much as possible. They’ve already started doing that. He’s up to 99% as far as in-class time. Last year, I think he hovered at 65-75%. They don’t let him push the buttons he did last year to get his way. They’ve learned he will cry to escape a situation. They are both handling him brilliantly. I felt immensely relieved after talking with them and hearing from them in the meeting. They are both exactly what he needs this year.

Another big part of the conversation was getting him to participate in the IEP process. In high school, he is expected to be part of the meetings. They want full buy-in from him on his goals and needs. To get that, he needs to give input. Now, Little Man HATES hearing conversations about his differences, deficiencies, needs. He goes into meltdown, or lashes out, or shuts down completely. We’ve made a plan that next year, he has to come to the meeting with one goal for himself, and one question about high school, the IEP process, etc. Once he’s participated in that much of the meeting, he will be allowed to leave the room. We do know his limits.

Here’s my thing: as much as we’ve been thinking about prepping him for high school, his team has been thinking about prepping him for high school. It is a huge part of the conversation. I was SO relieved to understand they are  on the same page in this regard. They care about him, the whole him, not just the academic him. They know him, what makes him tick, what helps motivate him and keep him on track.

Let’s just wrap it by saying the meeting went really well. I feel they are not just HIS team, but my team as well, that we are indeed working together to give Little Man the best education in the best environment for him. Bonus – the IEP meeting is done before Thanksgiving and all the madness December brings around here. AND I was one time to leave for the show.