I originally started this blog a few years ago to chronicle Noah's daily struggles with autism. It was a dark time in my life - a time when I felt that things would never get better. It was a time when I felt that all my hopes and dreams for my son and for our family had died. In my efforts to help Noah recover from autism, I began a journey that inadvertently led me to rediscover myself. I learned how to laugh again. How to dream again. How to live again. How to love again.

Autism Schmaustism. He's still our son.

This is a blog celebrating our family. Our kids. Our life.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Our Educational Goals for the Summer

I don’t know if I’ll return to blogging or if this is a one-off post, but what I do know is that I have so many thoughts whirling around in my head and it’s always better if I can just write them and get them all into one place.

We just finished one and a half years of homeschooling.  We're now supposed to have a 7th grader, a 5th grader, a 4th grader, and a Kindergartner, but what we have is, well, I don’t even know  what we have.

I was telling my parents yesterday that I think I pulled the kids out of public school too soon. I pulled them out because they were failing and their self-esteem was suffering and they were emotionally suffering and our family was falling apart. But I pulled them out before their half-term report cards came back, so there’s nothing official on record to show that they were failing. They would have received an F on their report card, but there is no report card. They would have both been held back if they had stayed through the school year, but they didn’t.  Eli had neurological testing showing significant learning disabilities, but we couldn’t afford the testing with Nandi and her school thought her failing was behavior based. In the words of her teacher, “I just don’t think Nandini cares”.   But I wonder what would have happened if we had left them in school. Would they be held back year after year? Would they have been placed in special education? Would some miracle worker have come along and taught them everything they need to know in the exact way they needed to learn it?

Because it’s been a year and a half and, well, despite working with them both for the last year and a half, we haven’t really accomplished anything.  I don’t think I realized the full extent of their LD’s.

Sometimes, I think it’s easier for Noah. I mean, it’s frustrating for him because he has an intact mind stuck in a body that won’t cooperate, but the truth is that strangers and people don’t really expect much of him. He looks like he has autism. And all it takes is one public outing and the flapping and the babbling and the shrieks give him away. If Noah shuts the fridge door, we all cheer and clap and praise him.  He is fully cognitively aware, but we expect so little of him.

It’s different with Nandi and Eli. They can talk and run and play. Eli is our little professor who memorizes movies and can hold full adult conversations with complete strangers. He gravitates towards adults and charms them with his manners. He stays up late to listen to books on CD.  He can remember events that happened when he was three. He can remember what he was wearing and what the atmosphere smelled like, but he can’t even remember how to spell his own name.

He is so creative. His imagination is so vivid that sometimes I wish I could live inside his brain. I imagine it’s full of vivid colors and details. He can take a broken Frisbee and a piece of string and a pipe cleaner and an old garage sale Happy Meal toy and create a fantasy world that will occupy him for hours.

He looks normal. And he talks big. And he can remember where I last put my keys.  And people have high, high expectations of him. But he can’t remember anything with numbers or letters.  He can name every dinosaur, but yesterday, Sim gave him an old Mp3 player, and he can’t remember the name of it. “CP3”, “3BM”, “3pM”, “PC3”.  He doesn’t know how to spell his full name. He can’t remember our address or phone number and the few times he does, he gets the order mixed up. He doesn’t remember to capitalize the “T” in our last name. He reverses some of the letters. He cannot add or subtract up to 10. Or tell time. He can remember where I put my keys, but can never find his shoes.

He is anxious and fearful and temperamental. He’s come a long way, but when he gets overwhelmed he explodes and cries and doesn’t care who it’s in front of. He is too afraid to take any classes, like robotics or a class at the zoo, because he’s scared of other kids his age. He doesn’t like to try new things, but prefers the comfort and cocoon of home. His favorite thing to do is to watch TV or movies where he can escape into a fantasy world, or perhaps, to escape the world that he’s in.

It’s hard because you would never know just by looking at him or talking to him, and I’m so scared for his future.  What kind of future is there for an adult with severe LD’s?  Who looks normal and talks big, but who can’t add or manage money or look at 2 quarters, a dime, a nickel, and three pennies and tell you how much it is?  You can’t even get a job in retail or at a fast food place if you can’t count back change.

I’ve really come to appreciate how the whole brain works and what a miracle it is over this last year and a half.  People are afraid that their kid will grow up to push baskets at Walmart or get a job at McDonald’s… I mean, isn’t that what people say? “You’d better pull up your grades or you’ll be working at McDonald’s for the rest of your life.”  But the truth is you have to really be on top of things to work there.  The other day we drove through and I was mesmerized by the lady who took my money at the drive-thru. She had to pull up my order, take my money, recognize how much it was, enter it in the register, know how much money to give back to me,  get that money, count it back to me, all at the same time that she was taking orders from customers who’d just driven up to the order menu.  She had excellent multi-tasking skills. She was able to do things in a sequential order. She was able to hold strings of information in her head. Things that two of my children can’t do and might never be able to do.

I have no idea what the future holds for our family.

Anyway, the whole thing has me thinking of what to do this summer about our schooling.   Sim and I decided that we’re going to pick a few things that we’re going to work on for each child… things that are important and necessary. And then we asked each child what they want to learn. Here’s what we decided on. By the end of the summer, each child will be able to…

1.  * Print his or her full name, address, phone number, and my cell number.

2.   *Each child will know his or her birthday and write it out. Noah will be be to point all the information out on his letterboard.

y   By the end of the summer, our goal is for Nandi and Eli to both 
   *Add and subtract to 10

2.   *Add numbers and money to 100 using 5’s and 10’s. For example, 25 cents plus 10 cents is?  80 plus 5 is?  40 plus 50 is? 25 cents plus 25 cents is?

3.  *Be able to tell time by the 5 minute mark and recognize a quarter past, half past, and quarter till.

4.   *Eli will read one Magic Tree House book out loud. If he finishes, it will be the first book that he’s ever read.

5.   *Nandi will read to page 30 in her American Girl Felicity book. We promised her three months ago that if she finished it, we would buy her an American Girl doll.  It takes her about 30 minutes to read one page, but it’s the book she wants to read out loud. It will most likely take a full year for her to finish.

Naveen already knows how to write most of his letters and even spell words from site, but he doesn’t yet know what each letter stands for. I can already tell he is a very visual learner. He can spell his full name, my name, Sim’s name and the names of his siblings, but can’t tell you what each letter is. So by the end of the summer, I want him to be able to

1.  *Know his alphabet by sight and sound

2.   *Count to 10 (consistently) and recognize the number 1-10 and be able to count objects up to 10.

3.    *Write his name, phone number, and address. (This will actually come easy to him, as he snaps pictures of words in his brain and then writes them out).

We have restarted RPM with Noah and he is finally able to point in isolation without me holding his finger. This is huge and will go a long way towards people accepting that the thoughts he writes are his alone.  One a scale of 1-10, we’re at a three, so we have a lot to work on this summer, but I’m confident that if we consistently work on it all summer that he’ll be able to fully point on his own come September.  By the end of the summer, Noah should be able to

1.   *Spell his full name, address, and phone number on the letterboard

2.   *Be able to point on command – independently.

3.   *Progress from one row of letters at a time to two letters. He had progressed to a full letterboard (all letters of the alphabet on one sheet), but now that he’s learning to do it independently, we’re having to start over. I’m hoping that he can independently  master half the alphabet on one sheet and progress to a full sheet by the end of the year.

It will be tricky to accomplish everything, especially as our 19 year old niece, Hannah, is coming over from England to stay with us for 6 weeks. There will be lots of sight seeing and hanging out and doing everything we can to make sure she has a great time. But it’ll also be really good to have an extra pair of hands around and I have a feeling the kids might work a bit harder in order to impress Hannah.

Anyway, there you have it. Our educational goals for this summer. We’re not actively working on writing or spelling or history or science. We’re just concentrating on the life skills that every child and adult needs in order to navigate through life… one chunk at a time. I mean, you have to be able to spell your name, know your address, and count money. And these are things that we’ve worked on for the last year and a half, but we also worked on other things, too, so I’m hoping that doing an intense summer boot camp will finally help cement these things in place.   And if it works, it may be how we approach our schooling in general for Nandi and Eli. These LD’s aren’t going to go away. So maybe it’d work best if we taught life skills and only a few at a time.

It’s a work in progress.  

Hope everyone has a great summer!

No, we didn't adopt again. Just a friend.