Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Chet's journey part 3

As Chet became old enough for kindergarten we worried more about finding the right school setting for him. It was clear he was bright. He essentially had taught himself to read by age 5. He knew number facts and could count, and do simple math. His learning deficits centered primarily around social issues--impulse control and aggression, and motor control. He had atrocious handwriting even for a young child. However he was also left handed and I didn't know how much to discount because of writing being harder for lefties. Also we had begun to notice that he had difficulty recognizing colors.

Due to a September birthday we were able to start him late in kindergarten. That we hoped would help with some of the maturity that he seemed to lack. We chose a parochial kindergarten with a low pupil teacher ratio (2 teachers for 16 children) and hoped that this enviroment would allow him to flourish. It was also a 1/2 kindergarten; we knew he was not ready for a full day experience. Yes, he'd have the energy but not the ability to focus. Kindergarten actually went pretty well. He did better when he was a morning session student than when they flipped 1/2 way through the year and he was an afternoon student. His focus definately showed a strength in the morning. The teachers liked him and did well with him and though he made no lasting friendships we were able to facilitate a couple of play dates for him.

However first grade was different. There were two kindergartens at this school which were merged into one first grade with one teacher. We hoped for the best because academically we felt he was getting a good education. By the winter break however it was clear he couldn't contain his behaviors enough to be in such a large class and we moved to a public school class. Again we had been lucky enough to find a very small class with a good student/teacher ratio and were able to make it through the year. Homework frustrated Chet. He was constantly told by teachers that his work was too messy (which it was.) We found at an eye exam that he was color deficient and that was the reason he had such difficulty telling colors. It shouldn't have been a big deal. Not everyone is an artist. But preschool and elementary kids do a LOT of coloring! They add problems and are told to color all the ones that equal a certain number a specific color. Chet would do the math correctly and pick the wrong color. We kept explaining he couldn't see the colors as we did (and due to fidgeting had usually peeled off the papers which would have given the name to him) and received little support in the matter.

By grade 2 we were looking at core evaluations. It was determined that he had ADHD and that he also had underdeveloped muscle strength in his hands and arms. This could have been a result of early malnutrition as a baby. OT was suggested to help. Professionals determined that a small class size, the OT, and a token economy of stickers or rewards would help him work to achieve better results. Additionally he was no longer supposed to be graded on his penmanship.

We soldiered along with decidedly mixed results. Chet wasn't all that motivated by token economies. They would work for a short time but the real problem was that there was nothing that he felt so passionately about that he wanted to really work to earn it. He liked to read and i wasn't going to take reading away from him. He wasn't hugely invested in TV was unable to really do video games, had few if any friends, didn't like to eat, etc. OT helped somewhat but his penmanship would always be a challenge. As he progressed through school scribing was occasionally added for him when it became time to try and write down assignments. We were allowed to write homework assignments for him if it was a long report, or to help him type it on our computer. Homework took longer and longer as he progressed in school and this too became a problem. He simply couldn't spend hours on homework and we kept in dialogue with teachers to try and keep this reasonable.

Socially he became worse instead of better. Primarily I think this was a function of the fact that he was sort "stuck" developmentally at a very immature level where social skills were concerned. Other kids for the most part had continued to progress and they had little patience with his efforts to make friends. They considered him a pest and weird and the crueler among them also learned that he was incredibly naive and would do anything they said for him to do. Especially if couched in terms that made Chet feel they were his "friend" he could be counted on to do or say virtually anything. Because he was loud about it and had such poor communication skills he was more frequently the person in trouble, as opposed to the person who instigated the behavior.

By grade 4 the principal met with us and said that the staff had determined that Chet's needs would best be met in an inclusion classroom at another school. They had more people trained to handle special needs and while they didn't believe Chet was causing problems on purpose, the fact was problems did exist. So off we went to the world of inclusion classrooms. The first year went quite well and we became hopeful that perhaps things were levelling out. He had an aide and a wonderful teacher who really was able to bring out the best in him. She was quiet and patient but firm and he really blossomed. Sadly all the progress ended with grade 5. Grade 6 brought a new special ed teacher who had a personality that did not mesh well with Chet's. He was always a person who people either loved or hated and it was clear that just by breathing he managed to get on her last nerve. He was mainstreamed for a couple of classes due to his intelligence and in those classes although he had an aide, the teachers were remarkably intolerant of any deviation from accepted classroom behavior. He began to serve detentions for such horrid offenses as pencil tapping ( a nervous habit he could not stop)

Increasingly the social skills worsened. There seemed to be a wider array of negative behaviors in the contained classroom and Chet decided to try them all on for size. The school cafeteria was also extremely noisy and this made it very hard for him to eat anything and return to the classroom with any type of self control. We explained over and over that he needed to eat to keep his blood sugar up and asked for alternative eating arrangements. None were made and when I visited the school I could literally hear the yelling and chaos from the cafeteria in the parking area near the school. There was no way Chet could handle that and no wonder that he came back to class after lunch angry and wild.

A classmate told him that girls like to have boys ask to have sex with them. Chet believed him and followed a girl around that he liked saying he wanted to have sex with her. The parents considered filing charges, we tried to explain, both to the parents and to Chet what was happening. We worried and got more and more stressed. Finally at the winter break we suggested that we homeschool him. The school practically cheered with joy, so much so that they gave us textbooks and teachers editions for the first two years we schooled him. Chet was angry,
change was unsettling to him and although things were bad at school, it was the "devil he knew."

Over the winter break we visited friends in Puerto Rico for a week and with a few exceptions, Chet did very well there and enjoyed himself greatly. The hardest parts were the plane and limo rides. Again he got so overwrought from tiredness and waiting that he bit my partner and struck at us.

Homeschooling was both fun and challenging. Keeping him focussed was always hard but we found that he really did LOVE to learn. He wanted structure and we posted his class schedule on the fridge and he really began to blossom. We became increasingly active at our local wildlife sanctuary and he became a species monitor there. His job was to keep track of a bird's nesting habits and then input the data and give an oral report at a volunteer recognition event. Amazingly he did this very well. We began to see that socially he was more likely to achieve when it was with older people, older teens or adults. Peers still found him "weird."

We continued to homeschool through highschool. He took some AP classes, and with few modifications (we did limit the foreign language exposure as he had enough trouble learning to use English effectively and correctly. Trying to memorize a foreign language totally frustrated him.) After he completed his courses, he took about three months off and then he decided to try to take the GED. We offered to do some brush up work but he declined. He took the test with only a modification for timed testing per his original IEP and he did well. He passed everything and most things well above the minimum standards. He was thrilled and we felt that this was some small proof that we had not made the wrong choice with homeschooling. But what next?

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