Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Autism Diaries XXXI: Where on earth are you going to send him to high school?

"Where on earth are you going to send him to high school?" The title of this latest installment is a quote from a speech therapist who, after evaluating J several years ago, noted that she'd never before seen such a discrepancy, even in autism, between language comprehension and general intelligence.

Well, it's now three months into J's first year of high school, and I think it's finally safe to say that we actually did find an appropriate high school for him: the best one out there, in fact; a science and engineering magnet with a single, excellent special ed teacher. His first report card came back last week and I met with all his teachers and he's doing... just fine. His teachers seem, without exception, to respect his intelligence, his quirks, and his talents. I do not take this for granted. Indeed, this is the first school that hasn't had one or more teachers freaking out at having J in his or her classroom.

There's a catch, of course. While this school, not surprisingly, has other autistic spectrum students, never before has it had anyone with J's degree of comprehension deficits. His comprehension is good enough for Geometry, Biology, Engineering, and Computer Science, and I believe he'll do fine in World History next year. It's when language is socially embedded, aesthetically oriented, or presupposes a basic level of socio-cultural background knowledge that everything falls apart. In particular, the poetry and novels he's been reading for English class have gone totally over his head.

Wouldn't it be nice if J could work independently in this class, sticking with straight-up nonfiction? Sure, I'd be thrilled if this child of mine could lead a full, neurotypical life that includes digesting great literature and deconstructing poetry. But this is a kid who didn't even begin to understand the concept of narrative until he started playing Harry Potter computer games at the age of 6 or 7; who to this day is baffled by some of the simplest of dialogs, character interactions, and introspective ruminations; and who, except for Captain Underpants, has never in his life shown any interest in reading a book.

Not that he's not quite literary, in his own, idiosyncratic way. He can write from a prompt without a moment of writer's block. He can produce decent poetry on demand. And he delights on metaphorical word play. In fact, I'll use this post as an opportunity to share some recent gems:

"It looks like the train is sweeping up the passengers." (Said after watching a train obscure the commuter-lined platform opposite us, fill up, and then continue on, leaving an emptied-out platform in its wake.)

"High notes are light and low notes are dark." (It would seem that this kind of synesthesia exists even in congenitally deaf cochlear implant users like J.)

And, my favorite, said in reference to our crowded, weedy blackberry plot, where, by the end of the summer, the plants were all over one another: "It looks like the plants are fighting."


FedUpMom said...

Katharine, you think it's a metaphor to say that plants are fighting? You need to read this book (maybe J would like it too?):

My Weeds

Anonymous said...

And I would have liked it if my youngest could have been saved the agony of Algebra 1 and 2 and Geometry (replaced by practical math) without feeling like a failure. Because she has been able to do all the things that J finds difficult since early grade school, and has had insights into people worthy of a trained therapist since grade 6.

kathyiggy said...

Glad to hear things are going well! My ASD oldest also has significant comprehension issues. Algebra and science are her favorites (except for the word problems!) but in Lit and US history she just memorizes as much as she can from the SparkNotes. Unfortunately, history is nearly all discussion of social issues and no memorization of people/events. We have a great case manager and guidance counselor who understand her strengths and weaknesses.

Katharine Beals said...

FedUpMom, thanks for the suggestion. He's doing photosynthesis in biology, so he's primed for the competition for sunlight.

Anonymous, I'm sorry your daughter found the college prep math track agonizing; college prep math obviously isn't for everyone. It does sound like she'd make a great therapist. Perhaps in the future she could work with special needs kids like J?

Kathyiggy, I'm not yet sure what our world history class will look like; if it's as social as yours, then he's in trouble.

FedUpMom said...

Katharine, the more I think about "My Weeds", the more I think you'd like it. She explains how farming practices result in the evolution of crop-specific weeds. She has a very scientific, technical outlook.

Crimson Wife said...

I worry about this with my youngest child, who was recently diagnosed with autism. The developmental pediatrician said that her long-term prognosis is good as it's clear even at not-quite-3 that she is extremely bright. I just pray that her language skills will develop to the point where she can get through college-prep humanities courses with adequate grades.