Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Eighteen years of autism--and a year of reckoning

This year’s new challenges in homeschooling pale beside another set of scholastic challenges. This year is J’s final year of high school. When it ends, so do 16 years of formal, full-day, public education that began when he was three. As these final weeks go by, a host of issues loom. What happens next year? Can he handle college? Where should he apply? Where might he get in? What other options are there? How do we keep this smart, restless, fan-obsessed young man productively occupied and progressing towards independence?

It feels like a sort of Judgment Day is pending: one that will weigh the fruits of our 18 years of sweaty and tear-filled struggles with autism and, finally, announce J’s ultimate prognosis.

These last few years have spoiled us. His current high school, a math and science magnet that still doesn’t get nearly the recognition it deserves, is the best school placement he’s ever had. It’s the first school to have welcomed rather than dreaded him; the first school where teachers happily take responsibility for teaching him. (Yes, the teachers are front and center, engaging in such radical techniques as direct instruction and drill and practice).We’ve had rough spots from time to time, mainly with literature assignments and homework completion (that chronic organizational and motivational problem, so common to AS kids, of writing down assignments, getting them done, and remembering to turn them in). But, as J has gotten used to the school and as the school has gotten used to him, each passing year has been easier—even as his classroom aide services were cut down to zero and his STEM classes have become more challenging.

This year he has a great lineup. He gets his non-STEM classes out of the way before lunch, and then has one period of BC calculus followed by two periods of discrete math/ AP computer programming. Both classes are small (15 students and 20 students) and the teachers are devoted and excellent.

In cherishing this year, I have two big hopes--one for J; the other, for his younger, STEM-oriented peers. For J, I hope that we can figure out a way for next year to be as engaging as this year is. For his peers, I hope that his school will continue to resist the ubiquitous pressures to abandon the direct instruction and drill and practice that make it one of the very best schools in the city.

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