Susan's Blog

Friday, October 6, 2006

Old School

The other day Ned and I visited a possible new program for Nat, for the first time in about 6 years. He has been at his current school for so long, longer than any other placement he’d ever had. We love where he is primarily because they love him. This is not something to take lightly when your child is challenging to educate. Teachers and administrators, no matter how idealistic and good-hearted they are, may not realize the particular investment of energy, brainpower, and love that dealing with a kid like Nat involves, and even the best of them may become burned out, feel put-upon, etc. And mediocre teachers of the autistic — and you probably don’t know who you are — watch out!!!!

Since the summer ended, although it may appear to you that my energy has been devoted to writing, belly dance, illicit thoughts about men, and feeling sorry for myself, the bulk of my energy goes to my babies. I just don’t always want to talk and write about them because some of the words related to them are so deep and rooted that it takes a lot of energy to yank them out before they’re ready.

But my thoughts about my boys — and today I’m writing about Nat — have ripened to a degree where perhaps I’ll do a little harvesting, in honor of Sukkot, which I believe is tomorrow. (Five days after Yom Kippur, big fat yellow moon, days of plenty in the garden = Sukkot, the Feast of Booths, the celebration of the harvest.)

One reader/new friend suggested to me that perhaps my looking around at new placements had to do with Nat having asked a question for the first time. Perhaps, but there is more. Since August, we had reduced one of his meds (Resperadone) and switched him to a different SSRI (from Paxil to Luvox). Almost immediately, we saw a small awakening, because the Resperadone acts as a relaxant, I believe, and a buffer against potential aggression. But aggression has become such a non-issue — knock wood, knock wood, please God don’t take this away — that we felt we could adjust downwards. Resperadone is a serious drug, with potential devastating side effect, and we don’t want him on it at all, but a little bit has been necessary, and so we monitor it very strictly, along with a specialist at Children’s Hospital in Boston.

As a result of the decrease, Nat is more “on,” and more visibly nervous, too. (Poor sweetheart.) But we think that we can help him feel better just by helping him express himself. It all comes down to communication, being able to pull out what is in your heart (for me and for him). More and more, it appears to me that helping Nat express himself is the key to his universal progress and peace of mind.

So we have hired a consultant to work with him after school, in a very positive, cheerful way, to get him more in the habit of using words, to get that part of his brain in better shape. It is an error-free training, so there is very little frustration for him; they give him the answers when he doesn’t know them, and they vary the exercises so he doesn’t get too bored. I’m sure it is a bit boring for him, but he still gets enough down time in between.

The home program appears to be going pretty well. So Ned and I decided that maybe if Nat was going to continue progressing verbally, we should consider a placement that is the next level up in rigor but also in potential. This program is housed in a typical high school, about half an hour away from us, and is hugely vocational, but also has a lot of social activities built right into the day (and after school, and even at night). We visited several classrooms and could easily imagine Nat in them. The teachers looked bright and warm, and the program director had a bouncy, can-do attitude.

But I am far too old and cynical to fall in love with a new school program. I’ve been beaten down by high expectations and seduced by wonderful program directors and fancy facilities. Where Nat is now has a far more institutional feel, but inside, beyond the dreariness and rigidity, are many young, lovely teachers who think Nat is a star. If he slides into a bad period, they stick by him and help him remember how to act.

That’s always the piece that gives me pause: what if he has an aggressive phase? How will the new school handle it? Will they call me in at the smallest sign of pinching, hair-pulling? Or will they jump in and problem solve, still seeing Nat in all of his glorious potential?

Whatever we do, we are going to move slowly. I am not used to that, but that’s what is needed. I checkout out the program. I’m going to a meeting at his current school at the end of this month. I’m going to see if there’s things to tweak there. I’m going to look carefully at his progress and his work. I say, “I” but it’s really “we.” Ned and I are going to talk a lot about this and try to figure out if we can gently push Nat upwards, into a slightly more challenging atmosphere, and hope that there are plenty of capable, loving hands to pull him in and hold him there.

1 comment

Oh, its so hard isnt it? Dammit! Right now I’m having to decide whether mainstream is a viable option for Alex. He’s at an MLD (special) school right now. I’ve had all summer to think about it, but I STILL havent come to any firm thoughts. *sigh*

— added by bethduckie on Friday, October 6, 2006 at 9:51 am

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