Thursday, September 30, 2010

Introducing Asperger's to the 6th Grade Teacher

MJ has skipped a whole grade and was starting 6th grade this year. Skipping grades with Asperger's? It might be extra challenging.

Usually the way things went, we were to supposed to set up or review his 504 Accomodation Plan through the principal, and it is signed by parents, teachers, and student involved. His plan was set to be renewed last May, but the principal was leaving the school and decided it was best to wait to renew it in the fall with the new principal and new teacher. So that is what we were waiting to do.

This time, however, I decided to do things differently this year. In the past we had always met with MJ's new teachers to discuss his Asperger's, but usually it was after the first week of school. It had seemed OK, but things were different this year. Rather than make an appointment to discuss things with the new principal, I decided to go to where things really mattered first. I decided to set up a meeting with MJ's new teacher first, and also, to meet with her before school even started. She was the one who was going to be directly involved with my son, and so I felt it best I talked things over with her first. When we initially set up MJ's 504 Plan, I felt embarrassed, if not guilty, the way it was all set up by the Principal and school counselor. It is all school protocol, but I felt like the teacher was just brought in and told what she was going to do without having much input on the situation. So, I figured I'd at least give the new teacher a heads up on this new student. Plus, it would be nice to see what she thought of everything before approaching the principal for renewal. So, I set up an appointment for a week before school started to meet with MJ's new teacher.

Now, maybe I was going overboard, but I typed up a list of 12 things entitling it "Differences With Asperger's Syndrome Specific to MJ". I mean, I wasn't going to leave any questions unanswered, and I figured it would be a sort of guideline/help for the teacher if any problems arose. I hope it wasn't too much, but here is what I listed:

1-Lack of Eye Contact
2-Difficulty in Remembering Basic Tasks
3-Difficulty in Cognitive Listening
4-Misunderstanding of Social Norms
5-Lack of Emotional Response
6-Inability to Understand Non-Literal Communication
7-Processing Delay
8-Difficulty in handwriting and understanding Spacial Relationships
9-Misunderstanding of Personal Space
10-Problems with Gross Motor Skills
11-Difficulties with Transitions or Change in Routine
12-Difficulty with Communication

Now, along with this list, next to each characteristic I explained what I meant and some of the solutions that we have created for better self management. I explained which characteristics had specific accommodations already set up in his 504 Plan, and also gave a few suggestions of what worked well with MJ.

MJ's 504 Plan had 6 key points:

1-Preferential Seating closest to the teacher
2-Allow extra time on written assignments, or limit the amount
3-Cuing MJ when invading personal space
4-Allowing the use of graph paper for written assignments
5-Cuing MJ when not talking appropriately (slow down, softer, louder)
6-Helping MJ with communicating assignments and getting all needed materials home

Pretty much we weren't going to be changing anything with the 504 Plan Renewal. We were going to one small idea to the last point, but I'll share that idea in my next post.

So, I feel bad. Poor teacher who I basically just bombarded with all this information before school started. Here I am trying to explain to her that our son is "basically normal and like any other kid" but at the same time I am shoving all this bizarre information to her obviously showing that he is not just normal. Maybe I did too much, but I just didn't want to leave any rock unturned and I just decided to give out ALL information instead of just some.

She seemed very nice and accommodating. She seemed to have a good attitude, and she even suggested that we don't even bother setting up an appointment with the Principal until maybe October because she knew the principal was busy and she didn't think there would be any problems.

So, with that, the meeting was over, and we waited to see how this new year would turn out for our MJ.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Facing a New Challenge: Skipping Grades with Aspergers

Well, we heard back from the Principal and the decision was granted---MJ was to be allowed to skip the 5th grade all together and enter 6th grade this coming fall.

Although it made sense academically to skip MJ, it was a bit of a social no-no. Really it isn't that great to skip regular kids into a higher grade at times, let alone skip a child with Asperger's Syndrome, someone who was already a social misfit?! How could we?

It took a long time for us to come up with this possibility. MJ was very very smart. The schools and doctors had tested him and shown us even more than we thought at how smart he was. Yet, here was this kid with poor social and processing skills, and who was awkward, clumsy, had poor handwriting, and slow speech, and he didn't always show his smartness right off. It really wasn't fair to the poor kid that he had all this intelligence inside him but could never get it all out in time to prove it.

Over the years as we figured out his Aspergers, we found ways to work with the school to accommodate him so that he was able to show his talents. With his 504 Plan, teachers gave him less written assignments, more oral, allowed him extra time to write, gave him social cues, and little things here and there to help him adjust. It was working quite well mostly, but he was still way above the other kids academically.

We had hoped he would figure things out socially, yet he was not. And with Aspergers, would he ever really fit in the social circle? We hated to see him so miserable and bored both socially and academically. So, we had to choose at least one to be happy in. With Aspergers, who knows if we can help with the friendships and social acceptance, but at least we could help him enjoy school more and feel challenged. They had tried in 4th grade to allow him to go back and forth between grades, but it had been a big mess. Schedules never quite worked out and MJ was always left an emotional mess. We knew he needed to be challenged, but he also needed stability in a set schedule and one main teacher. We agreed to the skip.

But now the really would this work? The workload was surely to be more advanced, and would a new 6th grade teacher be willing to accommodate a child that not only had skipped a grade, but had the issues of Asperger's on top of it? And plus there was to be a new principal this year. What if she didn't agree with all these accommodations for MJ?

All summer we worried and waited until it was close enough to school starting that we could set up a meeting with MJ's 6th grade teacher.