Monday, November 12, 2012

Autism Diaries, XLI: the test

Thanks to the efficiency with which the dysfunctional network of state agencies responsible for supplying services to special needs children summarily dropped the ball on us and thousands of other Pennsylvania families over the past year, J has been attending classes without the 1:1 support that he had received ever since he was 3. It’s now been four weeks sans support, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed.

As soon as I learned that this was about to happen, I tried to milk it for what it was worth. “J,” I said, “Your behavior has been very, very good this year. Better than ever. And so we’re going to test you. We’re going to see how you do without any tss.”

Instantly his eyes lit up and a beautiful smile spread across his glowing face. He was not just flattered, but utterly delighted. For several years now he’d been hoping to rid himself of what, to him, was an increasingly irritating interference in both his autonomy and in his attempt to be just like all the rest of his classmates.

The “test” began, and he’s been playing the role of “normal” student well—astoundingly well, given how mischievous and out of control he was in his early years, with absolutely no sense of classroom rules or teacher authority. Now he follows his roster, walks calmly down the hallway, stays in his seat, and copies down things from the blackboard. He participates in class—particularly in math, where he knows the answer, or in chemistry, where he’s extremely curious about where things come from and how they work.

As the school’s special ed specialist puts it, he’s become very good at acting like a student. But his greatest weaknesses persist: language comprehension and tuning in to speech (the two, of course, are related). He takes notes without attending to meaning, once transcribing “region” as “religion.” He faces the teacher without taking in much of what he or she says (or of what his classmates contribute in response). Without an aide to prompt him to focus, his grades are starting to drop.

Luckily all the key stakeholders—except, of course, for J—are all on the same page. We agree that what he needs is no longer behavioral support, but a school district-supplied academic aide. Where the state of Pennsylvania has let us down, the school district of Philadelphia, cash-strapped though it is, must pick up the slack—as J’s new IEP now requires.

At the IEP meeting I heard various confirmations of how J’s behavior has improved. Just a couple of years ago a major disruption meant throwing a tantrum that rung through the whole building, or menacing a classmate by raising a chair over his head, or eloping to the teacher’s lounge to grab the chocolate syrup from the refrigerator and “chocolate his way back to his seat”; now it means excitedly getting out of his seat to “correct” his chemistry teacher when the teacher pretends to be about to make an egregious mistake in setting up an experiment.

How long it will take the cash-strapped School District of Philadelphia to get J an academic aide is one question. Another is how best to spin it to J. I tossed out one idea at the IEP meeting. J has been—through no encouragement whatsoever from us—increasingly interested in getting his learner’s permit. Taking advantage of his overall cluelessness (another function of not paying attention), we’ve told him that you can’t get a learner’s permit until you get straight A’s in all subjects but English, and at least B in English (even that would be a real stretch for J.)

So how about if I tell J that because his grades are dropping, he needs an academic aide in order to help him, so that he will have a better chance of getting his learner’s permit? The special ed specialist thought this was a great idea. But, remembering how just half a year ago he was still charging through the crowded hallway to get from one class to the next before anyone else did, she also said, “The day J gets his learner’s permit, I’m moving out of the state.”

1 comment:

Nancy Bea Miller said...

Great post! Tragicomedy at its best. Something we autism parents are usually good at but wow does J give you especially good material!;->