Friday, November 14, 2008

No 'cures' here

Recently, I've been posting about how great we are doing, and we are doing great. But I thought I might mention that, great as we are doing MK has not morphed into some boring neurotypical kid.

He is still exceptional in his interests and his skills. For example, earlier this year, after really struggling with basic geography (what is the difference between a city and a country) he learned basically all the countries in the word, what languages they speak there, what their populations are and many of the capital cities. Recently, he has included real-time weather to his stack of knowledge. So, in the middle of a conversation about any other unrelated topic, we are likely to hear, "By the way, it's getting cold in Copenhagen. Close to zero. It might snow soon." or "It mostly cloudy in Halifax today."

And there are still some unexpected things that are tricky. We read together for about 45 minutes every night. The first 20 minutes are spent on science type stuff. The other night I found out that our guy didn't understand the difference between a river, a lake and an ocean. For a geography buff, that's unusual. He'll probably soon be regaling us with tales of how many liters per hour various rivers around the globe flow at.

This post doesn't really have a point, other than to mention that one can be doing well and still have a unique take on life and still need help with some things that other people might find easier. It's all good.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Giving Props

We had our IEP today and spent most of our time taking things from last year off. His teacher said that she had a hard time believing that all of the challenges and supports listed on last year's IEP were real. Just goes to show you something or another.

One thing in particular stuck me when we were talking about how much our guy enjoys gym (two years ago he hated it above all things). What stuck me was how his teacher described the great support MK got from his classmates in gym class. T0 be frank, MK is not good at ball sports. He is probably almost as bad at it as his father. But he gets nothing but encouragement from the kids in his class. It is, apparently, the same in other class activities, and that, I am sure makes a world of difference. It's quite remarkable from kids who are 12 and 13 years old.

I commented on this to the special ed coordinator. She, of course, pointed out that the attitude of a class is very much determined by the teacher. But she also gave some of the credit to a program that they have been running in our school called The Roots of Empathy. They start the program in kindergarten. The other thing that contributes is the school Social Responsibility goal. They talk about sharing and helping and contributing to community and environment at every assembly. The halls are full of social responsibility posters made by the kids, showing things like friendship and inclusiveness and caring and so on. And I think it makes a difference. It seems that when you set out with the deliberate goal of teaching kids to be nice, it works. And and that, in turn, has other payoffs, like allowing very nervous autistic kids to feel relaxed enough to engage in academics and even things like gym.

That's not to say that these programs are a panacea for all things. In the same school, two grades ago, there were teachers who encouraged and rewarded competition above all things and who felt that students who learned differently could not learn together. As our school system gives principals an exceptionally weak role, with almost no input into specific classroom instruction (because the teachers and the principals belong to different unions) we have to count on luck to deliver us good teachers.

That said, the past year and a half have been very good for us, and they have been good because of wonderful teachers. So, though I can't name them by name, and they don't read (or even know about) this blog, let me give props where props are due. Thank you good teachers. Thank you good programs. Thank you good principals.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Salad Fork Days

My parents were both British. What is more, they were both university profs. What is more, they were both brought up in working class British homes that lived in horror of being confused with the undeserving poor. So for my parent's children, table manners were not optional. "If you want to learn how to eat like a lorry driver," they would say, when a knife was raised too high or a fork turned the wrong way, "you are welcome to study it after you have mastered conventional manners."

While I don't fully share their enthusiasm, it is true that life is easier when you know how these things are done.

But with MK, the straight forward approach taken by my parents didn't work that well. First of all we had years and years of that sort of advanced picky eating known to all those with kids on the spectrum (foods must be white or golden brown, no two foods must touch each other, no one food may contain two textures, etc.) . That meant that our definition of a successful mealtime was one at which MK ate. If we were succeeding in getting food into him, we were not going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by bringing up the question of how the food got into his mouth. Then there was the question of extreme sensitivity to being corrected (we are talking deep sadness and tears in response to something like, "It's best not to put your elbows on the table, Buddy."). Then there was the whole mechanics of manipulating anything held in the hand, which applied not only to knives and forks, but also pencils and scissors and glue sticks (but not, of course, to game controllers). And last, but not least, there was the whole communication thing. At the age at which most kids are getting the fundamentals of table manners, we were still doing the you/me confusion thing. If you've never done it, you cannot imagine the hours of entertainment that come with a phrase like, "Pick up your knife," when your interlocutor has "your" and "my" reversed. (By the way, it is impossible to explain you way out of this reversal. If you attempt to do so, you will find yourself in an ad lib recreation of "Who's on First." )

And so it is with great pleasure that I announce my latest finding in the science of child rearing: these things can be learned even at the ripe old age of thirteen. We now have our ducks in a row. MK's favorite foods now include escargots and mussels. The sensitivity is at a level where composure can be regained in a matter of seconds after a helpful suggestion. MK can tie his shoes and color within the lines. And, so long as I am willing to substitute "truck" for "lorry," he has no trouble understanding standard instructions regarding table manners.

Just today he managed to eat his whole meal with his fork in the proper, inconvenient, downwards orientation.

Good things come to those who wait.