Saturday, July 3, 2010

Super Smart with Asperger's

OK, so much of this is a recap, but if you haven't been following this blog, it needed a little reviewing:

For years we have known that MJ was gifted. It is what we first noticed before anything else. Poor kid suffered bored through Kindergarten then tested into a gifted split program where we put him into another school. We worked through 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade trying to figure out a place for him.

He was always so super smart, but then all these little things were holding him back. With his Asperger's he has trouble processing things quickly, his handwriting is terrible, and his gross motor skills leave him clumsy and awkward. His organization skills are awful, his short term memory for remembering things to bring home or assignments was not good. His speech was delayed and he mostly stuttered or got stuck on phrases when trying to explain things.

When he was in first grade and the teachers came to us telling us they thought something was wrong, we took him straight up to the children's hospital to have him checked out. MRI's, neurologists, pediatric the end it came down to Asperger's. I had never even heard of Asperger's before then.

We were sent to specialists for Asperger's and psychologists to evaluate MJ. Also, the school was testing MJ on his intelligence and motor skills at the same time.

Through all this, back in first grade, along with the diagnosis of Asperger's, these teachers and doctors were telling us another thing---MJ was brilliant. They told me his IQ was "in the genius range", and that he was testing off the charts, but then the problem all came down to processing. There was this huge gap between his intelligence and what he could process. It seemed very unfair. He was super smart, but he couldn't let others see it because it was too difficult to write, or he was too slow or awkward to communicate.

Back then I called the school district and talked to the school asking what we could do to help him. Couldn't we accommodate him in some way so that he could be able to communicate this knowledge and intelligence to others?

I was outraged when the school district told me that it didn't matter what medical diagnosis he had, that as long as he wasn't failing academically, that there was no need to accommodate him in any way.

So, fine. Let MJ be super smart, but let him never be able to show it because the school system doesn't care unless your child is failing.

This seemed like a huge injustice to me. But, life went on and I guess we were lucky that he was still making it in this gifted program. His teacher for the first 2 years knew how to work with MJ and actually by the end of 2nd grade, he was improving some on his handwriting and not stuttering as much. Good for him.

3rd grade proved more difficult. He was demanded much more written work and timed tests which were just too much for a child with a processing delay and physical difficulty in handwriting. I remember trying to work with his teacher and talking to the gifted coordinator trying to find a place for him. It was hard to make a place in a gifted program for a kid with Asperger's. I was getting extremely frustrated, but I had been researching, and talking to MJ's doctors, and they were concerned why MJ wasn't getting any accommodations.

We finally found out the school had a social worker who we had work alongside us in finally setting up a 504 Accommodation Plan for MJ at the end of 3rd grade. Maybe now he wouldn't get so left behind.

We switched schools for the start of 4th grade for social reasons really, but then things continued to not work out. This time it was more academic problems. It was like we couldn't win. He was either bored academically, or miserable socially. Or sometimes both.

Back at the beginning of 4th grade, we met with the teachers, school psychologist, and principal of the new school to discuss MJ and what we could do as far as his Asperger's and how the school material wasn't challenging enough for MJ. (We were back at the regular neighborhood school and right away MJ was far advanced in all the subjects and was questioning why he wasn't learning anything new.) We didn't know what to do and asked about grade promotion.

The school started a series of testing that lasted 3 weeks. MJ didn't mind. He actually likes taking tests. But anyway, at the end of all this, the psychologist told us that MJ was like a kid in 300,000. She said much of what we had heard before, in that his intelligence was that in the "very superior" range, and that he was testing far above his peers, but that his processing was that average to kids his age. (Well, this was good at least---his processing had finally caught up to his peers. But it wasn't right compared to how far ahead he was intellectually.)

But this time it was different. THIS school actually cared about MJ's potential, and they wanted to be able to match his education with his intelligence and not let anything hold him back. So, for the first time, they were going to work with him. They were going to allow him to do extra things, and take certain subjects in the grade level higher to match what he knew.

It was a little weird though. Because they were telling us basically that MJ was brilliant, but they didn't want to skip him any grades, because if they did then they would have to skip him again in 3 months, and again and again....

Now, I'm thinking, what? First off, I would not skip my child again and again and again. And how can they know this or say this? They said he had the ability to "master anything presented him in a short period of time" and so he would just keep going on and on. They decided rather to accommodate him by the split grade thing and giving him time to do more research into things he was interested in , and giving him his own laptop to make up power point projects to present his class.

Well, all was well for a while, but....we were getting into some problems. You take a kid with Asperger's who is very into routine and schedule, and who can't handle transitions, and then you try to have them go back and forth between grades and see what happens when the times don't always match up for math, or he misses part of his regular grades class, or recess time. MJ was coming home with major meltdowns on a weekly basis.

And, although he had this laptop to use, really he was never remembering he could do that, and he was just given busy work a lot of the time to fill in the time he was normally bored.

Socially at first he was doing well at the new school. We thought he had a few friends, but by the end of 4th grade, he was back to being friendless and bored with school. He told us that besides math (in which he took in 5th grade), he didn't learn anything he didn't already know except for stuff about soil.

And now, we also found out the principal was being transferred to another school, and we were worried. What would happen to MJ?

Would the new principal agree with the way things had been done this last year? Would she allow a 504 plan for MJ? Would she decide he should not do split grades and have him repeat 5th grade math all together?

We didn't know what to do. We hated how the school day caused emotional drama for MJ. It wasn't always smooth, and he was freaking out because of the non-routine. They had told us when he got into 6th grade that they wanted him to walk down the street to the junior high school for more advanced subjects. We didn't want that. That didn't seem safe. How would that work out? We didn't want MJ to have to repeat the same subjects next year either. So what could we do?

This is why when we decided to meet with the Principal and school psychologist, we wanted to discuss the 504 Plan to make sure it would be in place for next year, but also we had a separate agenda. We wanted to suggest MJ be skipped into the 6th grade for next year.

Yes, I know what you are thinking. You're thinking, "Are you crazy?! Skip a child with Asperger's a grade where he is going to have one big emotional meltdown and all kinds of trouble?" And yes, maybe we are crazy, but we were finding out more and more that there wasn't a place socially for MJ. We had been going back and forth for so long. We started out trying to help him fit in socially, but then that didn't work, so we moved him schools to focus on academics, but then he failed miserably socially, so we moved him back, and now he was hating life academically. It was like we couldn't win no matter what. And by the end of this year, we were beginning to see that maybe MJ was never going to fit in socially no matter where he was placed. So, should we hold him back for fear of social downfall, when really he wouldn't fit in no matter what grade? Plus, do we torment him by making him repeat subjects he already has mastered, or do we torment him by having his school day all crazy and never exactly set because the separate grades do things at different times?

Really, what could we do? The only resource I've had is that of my husband, a grown up adult with Asperger's, also very gifted, who has lived through school life and is able to give his opinions.

For my husband, school was miserable, and he never really fit in socially. He hated elementary school and was always bored. He says not until junior high did he begin to enjoy school because he was more challenged and the subjects were split into levels more where he could be challenged. He said he always wished he could have been more challenged and skipped grades just to get out and done with school. The uneven school day is a nightmare for Aspies. MJ needed to be challenged and allowed to not have to repeat math and other subjects, but at the same time, it was too hard to have him not have one set teacher and a set schedule.

So, here we were meeting with the school psychologist and Principal who were actually both very surprised this was on our agenda. The psychologist thought it would not be good to skip MJ. She said she could see all kinds of "red flags" socially and emotionally, but at the same time, she said he was not the normal kid. With Asperger's it put a whole mix in the puzzle because who was to say he would ever really get things socially? We were kind of frustrated because she was the one who basically had told us before that MJ should be in college almost, but now she was like how could we even think about promoting him?

My husband did all the talking and described what he felt and shared his experiences. Now, he and MJ are like peas in a pod. They think the same, they act the same, they understand one another. Hopefully, somehow he knew what would be best. MJ was all up for the idea of skipping the 5th grade. He already had mastered math, and reading he is a whiz. Grammar he already knows. Science he is smart in. The only thing really would be history, that maybe we could work on over the summer.

But still, really? Was this a right thing to do? I kept asking my husband if this was OK. He kept saying again and again that it was the only way. MJ needed stability, but he also needed to be challenged.

So, after some consideration, the Principal was to be the deciding judge in the matter. It was the last week of school, and we waited in agony for what the decision would be. I don't know what I feared more, the answer to be yes, or the answer to be no.

Oh, by the way, if any of you are interested, I maintain another blog where I've kept a record of life parenting a gifted child at This blog I try to keep focused on our life with Asperger's, but the other blog I focus on our life decisions, trials and errors in raising a couple of smart kids. They seem to intermix a lot though. It seems as if they go hand in hand.