Monday, June 20, 2016

Autism diaries: taking responsibility

J has just entered his third decade, and things are looking a lot better than they were at the beginning of his second.

He's just finished up his first year of college and, incentivized by ceiling fans for B averages, he has done OK. The first semester he only managed to make it look like he'd gotten a B average--by dropping the classes he was failing and somehow doctoring the display of his grades on our local computer. The second semester he actually managed a B average, but only after going on a reduced schedule and then dropping his English class. (We still have to sort out the English requirement with the Office of Disability Services).

The third semester he also managed a B average (each time it's been down to the second decimal place). This time he did it without dropping any classes, but with only computer science and math on his roster. His math classes--where all the assignments and logistics were totally straightforward--went fine. His computer science classes--where both the directions and the turning-in process weren't so straightforward--were more problematic. In fact, he was all ready to drop one of them because he was in danger of a D or worse, but I insisted that he turn things around this time or no fans. And he did--entirely on his own.

In fact, the thing that impresses me the most about J's college experience is how well he's handling things independently. Except for the verbal challenges of complicated directions, and the social challenges of working in groups, he's managing quite well. He's finding his way around campus, getting to classes on time, checking in with professors about uncertainties, and taking pictures on his iPhone of important, ad hoc whiteboard announcements. Organization and transitions are commonly ranked among the top challenges for students with ASD. Not so for J.

For J, the issues are social and linguistic. But his language and social skills continue to grow. While I'm not sure what exactly goes on socially at school--except that he eats lunch in the cafeteria and attends a weekly chess club--he recently passed a milestone with me. He still lives at home, and in many ways our dynamic hasn't changed: I caught him in the act of lying in bed rather than cleaning up his room, which he had claimed he was doing. He immediately stated that he was starting with the things on his floor that were within reach of his bed. "Yeah, right" was my reply.

A common refrain about children on the spectrum is that they are literal minded and don't get irony. But J has heard "yeah, right" often enough from me that he has--for quite a while now--totally gotten my drift. What was different this time was that he made it clear that he actually cared--a lot--about whether I believed him. Even though he was facing no consequence for not cleaning up his room or for lying about it, he was so upset at my skepticism that he followed me around the house insisting that he really was cleaning up his room and trying to get me to convince him that he'd convinced me that he really was cleaning up his room from his bed.

Another milestone: J was recently called up for Jury Duty. They must have gotten his name off the voter roles: J (luckily) has no interest in driving, but he eagerly registered to vote two years ago when a form arrived in the mail the month he turned 18. The Jury Duty milestone had several remarkable features. First, the report date was actually convenient: two days after J's last final. Second, he was so eager to be picked that he showered and shaved more thoroughly than he had in a very long time. Third, I wasn't in a panic about how it would go: I gave him a few basic guidelines, two trolley tokens, and lunch money, and assumed it would all work out.

As it turns out, all he did was sit in a room for 6 hours--with a lunch break in between--and then collected a $9 check. But it was all pretty miraculous nonetheless.

After all, this was the same kid who was deemed by evaluators at a highly reputed autism center to be so highly impaired that only life skills classes were appropriate; and who, until just a few years ago, depended on one-on one-support to make it through his school days without getting into fights or disrupting or dozing through classes.

1 comment:

C T said...

That's terrific how well J is doing!

My two-year-old is really enjoying the ceiling fan in her room now that summer has arrived. I think she spends extra time in bed just watching it go around and around.