Monday, April 27, 2009

Gifted with Asperger's

Often people have asked us why we don't have MJ in a special school or a separate class. (Of course then there are still a lot of people that don't see anything different with him.) I've gotten some comments even on this blog about how he should be put in a special class where he can have more individualized help.

So----why isn't he?

First off, if you've read our past posts and beginnings, you can know that MJ was originally placed in a full time gifted program. This was something he was placed in because he scored 99% on the tests and ranked within the top 14 kids in the school district.

As we were directed to doctors and counselors to seek out what was wrong, they did a massive amount of testing. At first what came back was how incredibly smart MJ was. The school's special ed teacher explained how he could not even show us the results of some of the tests because MJ scored so high above them that there wasn't even a place on the graph to list him. When we had him tested at the children's hospital for special heath care needs, they told us his IQ was in the "genius" range.

We always knew MJ was pretty smart, but from what these people were telling us, he was super smart. So we know already that he did not fit into a regular classroom. We allowed him to be in this gifted program to fit to his academic needs.

Now, when the school came to us and explained that something was wrong and we needed to get help or figure it out, we were in the gifted program already. He wasn't having problems academically, but the problems were because of shakiness, awkwardness, communication, handwriting, etc.

We are still in the program and MJ has little if any problems with academics. He scores above 99% of the nation through different tests. He reads 200 words per minute. He is very very smart, and so when people comment that he should be removed from the gifted program because he is not up to par, well, it upsets me a little.

I know Asperger's is a little different. It is still a disability. (Now I don't mean this in any way negative because I feel it isn't so much a disability but a different perception on life and thinking and Aspie's are in sort of a culture of themselves.) They allow kids in wheelchairs or deaf or blind to be in a gifted classroom with some sort of accommodations, so I say, what is the big deal to allow a child with Asperger's some sort of accommodations?

He deserves to be in the gifted program just as much as any of his other classmates. So, he has some issues with organization, with speech, with awkwardness, with interpreting non literal things, and then he has a bit of a processing delay, but why should any of these things force him to be put in a special ed classroom?

MJ doesn't seem to fit anywhere. He doesn't qualify for special ed because he is so far advanced that they won't put him there. I don't think it would be a right place for him anyway. We don't want to put him in a regular class because he would be bored. But then in a gifted class he is still having problems not because he isn't smart enough, but because of the speed in which they demand.

The timed tests, the pressure for neat handwriting and fast writing, and the importance of organization are killing MJ. It is not that he can't do any of these things. He just has a bit of a delay in processing, and then he has some fine motor coordination problems that make his handwriting to be extremely unreadable and slow. He can be organized, but he can't remember things very well without being constantly cued.

So---what do we do about it? It is the constant struggle even to know what to do that is frustrating. We turned to the school district right after his diagnosis to see what to do. They told us they didn't care what kind of diagnosis we had, but they would not accommodate any child unless they were failing academically.

So here we were. We had a super smart kid who could do OK in the classroom because even though he was slow, or weird, or had communication issues, or couldn't write very well, he would still be able to score high on tests. But what about letting him live up to his true potential? The specialists told us he scored so super high on all the cognitive and thinking and academic testing, but that his processing level was way below even average. So then what do we do?

The older he gets, the more pressure is put upon him to be faster, quicker, neater, remember things for yourself, understand, etc....

This is why we have been trying to figure things out pertaining to his Asperger's. We do not know what is right or wrong or quite where he fits in. We do not judge any of the teachers or think they are wrong. We just look for an answer and hope there can be a way made for MJ to get the best education he can without so much anguish. So please don't judge us for bad choices or comments we make with this blog. Maybe years from now we'll look back and say it was bad, or it was good, but this is just a journal and a learning experience to us all. Maybe somewhere we could have helped someone else who was struggling with the same issues.

We also maintain a blog relating to being a parent of a gifted child that you can read at if you are interested in any of those adventures.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Problems from not Establishing an I.E.P

OK, now before you read this, I am not "bashing" MJ's teacher in any way. We are just trying to figure things out. We thought we needed an I.E.P., but then the school made it seem like things would work out. We've only looked to the school for direction and where to place MJ. We know teachers have enough responsibilities and kids to deal with and they can't focus on just one kid, but we are just trying to see what we can do or what accomodations need to be met.

I thought we had been pretty lucky. We had gotten through 2nd grade without a struggle, and although we were seeing added characteristics of his Asperger's during the summer, we still thought maybe things were going to work out for MJ. We were on the ball and met with the teacher the first week of 3rd grade. We gave her an outline and a list of detailed information about MJ, and we thought things would go well, but soon things went elsewise.

#1-The first month of school I noticed right away that MJ was coming home with tons of homework. I felt bad for the poor kid. He would be doing homework from 4 pm till bedtime. I didn't understand. His teacher said at the beginning that homework shouldn't take longer than 45 minutes, but with all the stuff he had it wasn't possible.

I let it go for a while hoping things would mellow out, but they didn't. I finally emailed the teacher asking what was going on. She emailed back to say that MJ was supposed to be doing these things in class and only taking home what wasn't finished, but I guess somehow he wasn't even getting started on these huge booklets of work.

Well, then what was he doing? I know he has the distraction issue where he could see something on the window and stare at it for an hour, but wouldn't the teacher notice? She promised to keep a better eye on him and for us to let her know if anything got ugly again as far as homework.

#2-Homework wasn't bad for a while, but what MJ was having problems with were these timed math tests called 36's. (36 math problems that must be done in 90 seconds.) We found out about them over the summer and remember I directly asked the teacher how these were going to be worked out because of MJ's processing delay. She said she would try doing some orally, but really it doesn't matter orally or written, there is still the delay. I did not and still do not agree with timed math tests for grade. Sure, I think it's OK to have limits like you can't take forever but making math problems a pass or fail if not finished just seems unfair to me. If they know the facts, they know them. Why must they be timed?

Anyway, he was not doing that well on these. He knew them all and we worked with him daily shouting out multiplication and division problems but there is always the delay. He knew them all, and he wasn't stalling, it's just part of MJ. It takes his brain an extra second to process and verbalize or write. No big deal, but for a timed test it meant a big difference. Pass of fail! I kept telling him it didn't matter if he couldn't pass these off because I knew he knew them all and the tests were just stupid. (Yeah, I know, I probably shouldn't have been giving him a bad attitude, but I couldn't help it. They were unfair for a kid with his disabilities.) I told him I was proud of him no matter what.

He seemed to accept this until he started coming home telling me that the teacher was making him stay in from recess everyday until he passed off every 36 test. So, that meant he was being punished everyday to stay inside and do test after test after test until he could pass them. At this point he had stayed in the whole week so far.

#3-Now, the meltdown---one day in particular I picked up MJ from school and he was in tears. He was super upset because he had gotten in trouble repeatedly enough times that he was in big trouble with the school disciplinary rules. (They do so many warnings, and then you have to face consequences.)

I asked him what happened and he said first his teacher marked him down for not doing his work but he said he was trying but another group was working right next to him and he couldn't concentrate on what he was doing with them talking. (Now it is seriously impossible for MJ to work with a lot of distractions.)

Next he said he got in trouble because the class was talking. (OK, so group punishment, I can handle that.)

But then 2 strikes means you must stay in from recess. So OK, that's fine, but when it was time for recess his teacher came up to him and said "I hope you know that THIS IS RECESS TIME." So MJ, being that he takes everything literal and he must be constantly reminded and cued to remember things, looks at his teacher and takes her sentence as, hey--I need to go to recess now. So he does. And as soon as he does, his teacher tells him that he did not fullfill his punishment and stay in from recess, so he is in trouble a 3rd time.

OK, so it really wasn't a super big deal, but MJ was really upset. I mean, sure he was distracted, but couldn't he move to another place to work? And then if he is being punished, then can't you just remind him "Hey, remember you got marked down twice, so you need to stay in from recess" rather than making some hidden statement about it being recess time now (when you're really meaning, this is recess time now, NOT for you because you're in trouble) and then punishing him yet again for not fullfilling the punishment?

We already outlined all these things at the beginning of the year about
#1-processing delay
#3-constant reminders
#4-the need to be cued
and many many more, but why was he getting in trouble again and again?

I felt so bad for him because he was just crying and crying trying to tell me how he didn't mean to do wrong and he didn't mean to be bad, he just forgot he was supposed to stay in and his teacher didn't remind him and why would she tell him it was recess time now?

So, goes to say, what I thought was going to a smooth year was just getting ugly, and apparently I was dumb to think he didn't need an I.E.P.

I did email her right away and I was actually very nice stating things like, "what can we do to help solve these problems together" and then restating some of the instructions and characteristics of Asperger's for her info. But when she did not email back, I took this as a negative, and a need for me to look for help in other places.

I immediately began contacting the school department head and calling MJ's team of doctors to see how we could go about establishing an I.E.P.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Distractions.......this is usually a bad thing I suppose.

At certain points, I wish I COULD distract MJ away from being so focused in a book, a show, or some blob of super glue stuck to the desk, but at other times, these same things can act as such distractions to him from doing what he needs to be doing.

Homework has been a huge struggle. Well, it is a struggle when you are in a house with 3 other children.

"Do your homework MJ!"
"Finish your work!"

This is just about impossible for MJ to do if there is any type of distraction.

I used to think he could sit there at the table next to his brother and they could both do their homework, but no. If someone else is sitting near him doing some other kind of work, then he can't but help to get involved in it instead of his own work.

I used to think he could sit quietly ALONE at the table and do his work, but no. There might be something stuck to the table that he becomes fascinated over, and then he has to stare at it and poke at it or whatever.

And just about ANYTHING can distract him! We have slowly found that the best place for MJ to work is up in his room at his desk and alone. Of course, this only works some of the time, and half of the time he has found a book or something else to start looking at instead of his homework, but it is getting better.

As far as school goes, we explained to the teacher that he needed to be cued every now and then to stay on track and that there was problems with over focus on something to not allow him to switch to another.

We hoped this would help and that the teacher would remember, but soon MJ would come home with a really upsetting day.