Posts tagged ‘hyperlexia’
We suffered through the school Christmas pageant last week; happily it wasn’t as painful as I expected it to be. There was definitely no Santa – far too pagan – but there were some familiar Christmas carols coupled with the seriously uncomfortable older kids playing Mary and Joseph with their plastic baby Jesus. C dutifully rehearsed his two lines (he was one of many narrators) and was all ready to speak them slowly into the microphone. “With sheep, cattle, and a manger,” he read, “baby Jesus arrived on a very special night.”
It was all very sweet and good. But I miss the days when school plays were more entertaining – when some kid knocked over the set, sat down and cried, or stole the show. C’s kindergarten play was priceless. C was a pumpkin in a garden full of vegetables. He hated the hat he had to wear (sensory issues), and try as she might, his teacher could not get him to keep it on. He spent the entire play tipping forward, letting his hat fall, and then picking it up, putting it on, and starting all over again. It was hilarious. At the end of the play, C got stuck in front of the curtain and laughed with a joy and abandon that will forever make that video one of my favorite treasures.
When I listened to C rehearse his lines for this year’s play and discovered his mistake, I admit to not working too hard to correct it. I probably should have; the mistake was irreverent in its tone, but the innocence of the misspeak was too cute to worry over. We let it go. To draw attention to it probably would have given C a self-consciousness he rarely exhibits, and we didn’t want to stifle any of his enthusiasm. So we held our breath when C proudly got up to the microphone and said, “With sheep, cattle, and a MANAGER, baby Jesus arrived on a very special night.”
Honestly? I don’t think anyone really noticed. Everyone was so focused on watching their own kid I don’t think people really listened to everyone else’s. But Husband and I chuckled and reveled in the return to the joy that should be a school play. Complete with sheep, cattle, baby Jesus, and his own special manager.
C tends to be on one end of the spectrum or the other, no pun intended. Inevitably during the first weeks of each school year, C’s teacher will email me asking, “Does C go to the bathroom a lot at home? Because he’s going a lot here…” I have to explain to them that he will go a lot (mostly to explore) at first, and then it will wear off…then they’ll email me later in the year with concerns that he’s not going enough during the day.
Every. Single. Year.
As is his way, C tends to overdo, generally followed later by underdo. It’s sometimes entertaining and sometimes dangerous (like the kindergarten bathroom experience during his plumbing phase, where he got diarrhea so often it prompted him to ask me if everyone got it once a month). If nothing else, it’s always interesting.
This time, it’s the Bible. We knew it would happen; his previous inexposure to church coupled with an immersion into an Evangelical Christian school would likely result in a soaking up of the information like a sponge. The Bible is appealing to C as it has lots of numbers, chapters, and short clips to memorize. I don’t even have to quiz him on his weekly Bible verse as he usually has it memorized on the first day it is assigned. C asks everyone their favorite verse. It is reminiscent of his weight phase when he was four and asked everyone he encountered – and I mean everyone – their weight. We were all too happy when that one passed. I don’t think I’ve ever explained or apologized as much as I did during that phase.
But I reached my limit this afternoon after 20 solid minutes of Bible discussion – or more of a one-sided fountain of information with few spaces for breath - in the car. ”I don’t like Levicious (Leviticus) or Dotonony (Deuteronomy), Mom. What’s your favorite verse you learned by heart? I already know this week’s verse. It’s _____. Mrs. T’s favorite verse is ___, and I asked her if we could learn that next week. So the Jews like the Old Testament and the Christians the New Testament, right? I think I like the Psalms. I know Pa’s favorite verse. I’m not the nicest kid in the world, Mom, Jesus is. Whose name do you say when you pray, God or Jesus? I say Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Did you pray that Mrs. T’s smartboard would work today, Mom? I did. You know you should pray five times a day, don’t you? Do you? Pray five times a day? I do.”
I finally had to ask him to stop. I could barely get a word in edgewise. We’ve had therapists tell us in the past to stop him when he’s going on and on about a special interest, all while ignoring all the cues from other people who have lost interest long ago. We’ve also had therapists tell us that we should be his soft place to fall and should engage and immerse ourselves in C’s special interests every bit as much as he does. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know I’d heard enough proselytizing for a Friday afternoon and had to call “enough.”
The Bible discussion inevitably turns into preaching. I’m used to C imposing his moral code on us – he’s a rules boy, after all – but not quite in this format. If you want to be disconcerted, try being preached at (I know it’s not grammatically correct, but he actually IS preaching AT you) by an almost ten-year old. No one is immune, except, it seems, my brother and sister-in-law. I’ve been waiting for that first “Have you been saved?” phone discussion, but it just hasn’t happened. Yet.
So, have YOU heard the good word? No? Well, come on over to our house, we’ve got plenty to share.
It’s been several years now, but I still vividly remember the last interaction I had with C’s principal at his Montessori Kindergarten. “It doesn’t matter where you go,” he said to me. “He won’t qualify for an IEP anywhere. He’s too smart.”
That conversation took place the last day C attended his school, a mere three months into the year. I still fantasize about sending this principal the very full IEP C has had since then, coupled with his report cards (all of which show him at or above grade level in every subject). Being smart – or being on grade level – doesn’t automatically disqualify a child from having an IEP. How is it that I, the parent, knew it, but every single professional at that school didn’t?
As recently as last spring, I began to think about the day C would no longer need an IEP. Could he finally graduate from special education? I know he’ll always be his quirky self, but is it possible he will some day no longer need services? Then C started at his new school, in his small classroom, with his very observant teacher and a special education teacher who really gets it. And for the first time in years, we had an IEP meeting that was hard for me to sit through.
It wasn’t all about how great C is doing. This school wants to increase C’s services, and increase them dramatically. While there were the usual wonderful comments about how bright and delightful C is, it was paired with comments that cut to the bone.
“C is being unfair at recess. He’s cheating at tag, and the kids don’t like it.”
“C got S in trouble when he told the teacher S had hit him when he hadn’t.”
“We can’t let him get away with things anymore just because he’s cute.”
Ouch, ouch, and more ouch. It was a sleepless night for me. I was frustrated and angry, despite knowing what they said was absolutely true. I knew I was being completely defensive - I knew it, because none of this was a surprise to me. C does cheat because he hates to lose. He doesn’t seem to notice how much it irritates other kids when he does that. And S has said mean things to him since day one at his new school, and he’s a little obsessed with S now. Saying he’d been hit was probably C’s way of lashing out at S. And darn it all if C’s dimples can disarm me to the point of distraction when I am trying to redirect, give consequences, or otherwise discipline bad behavior. Let’s face it, the kid is beyond cute by any standards, and it has probably gotten him out of various situations over the years.
But what was beneath it all was what disturbed me the most. Yes, C is doing well, he’s delightful, and he’s made astounding progress. That is always clear. What I realized, however, is that his particular struggles haven’t really disappeared as much as I thought they had. C’s challenges are simply more noticeable now because he’s in a smaller class. It’s probably not that C has been so steadily improving that his old school wanted to cut his services - it’s more likely that they just didn’t notice how much he needed them.
“Mommy, you should watch channel 598 because it’s a good channel for grown-ups! It’s called ‘Adult On Demand!’”
“I love you, Mom, for all your funniness.”
“I think it’s a boy movie for all the farting.”
“Mommy, how did I get inside you before I was borned? Did you swallow me or something?”
“Daddy, can you teach me to fall asleep as fast as you?”
“How many feet above us do you think God’s throne is?”
To the lifeguard at the pool who gave C a bandaid when he scraped his knee…“Thank you, I think you saved my life.” Followed quickly by, “I want to go somewhere sometime and NOT get bonked.”
* * *
C: “Do Ga and Pa have kids?”
Me: “Yes, C, your Uncle T$ and Mommy are Ga and Pa’s kids.”
C: “No, not you, do they have real kids? You know, kids my age?”
I never knew looking for a new school for C would be such an adventure. We saw it all. Having realized that the giant public school model is no longer a fit for C, off we went to explore some pretty interesting places about as far from the neighborhood school as one could get.
First it was the excellent charter school in a yuck part of town in an even more yuck facility. We almost left before we walked in the door. But the class C would have been in had ten kids from 4th-6th grade, and is taught by a teacher with a special education background. Very cool for the 4th grader who has some awesome math skills. The place would have been a no-brainer if it weren’t for, well, just about everything else. No specials to speak of, and the playground was beyond dismal.
Lesson learned: first impressions sometimes are everything.
Then came the interesting private Christian school that I have wanted to visit for two years. With less than twenty kids in the whole school, I figured C would get all kinds of individual attention. But looking at it online and visiting are two different things: it is run by a large-hearted, barefooted, grubby guy who looks and speaks like he did a few too many hits of acid in the 60s. The old house-made-church-made-school was piled with I’m not sure what, and the layer of filth worthy of a few bottles of clorox did not please my allergy-sensitive nose. It was an interesting place with interesting kids, but it wasn’t the place for my interesting kid.
Lesson learned: apparently there is such a thing as bohemian Christianity - two words I never expected to see that close together.
We then visited the more traditional Christian private school, with properly coiffed little ones behaving perfectly and scoring well on their achievement tests. Everything was fine until I dared mention “Asperger’s,” which sent the principal into a tizzy of, “Well, we’ll have to test him thoroughly with our resource teacher to see if he can handle the rigor before we could even consider admitting a child like him…” back-pedaling. I’m pretty sure he equates special education with stupidity, and I was non-plussed, given that C could probably out-math any kid in that school. No amount of my bringing up C’s AIMS scores, grades, or abilities got the principal back onto the “We have a wonderful school here” track. And when the principal himself pointed out how small C is right in front of him, well, that was the end of that.
Lesson learned: good Christians do not necessarily good people make.
Finally, there came the school we almost skipped visiting because it’s further away than we’d like. But the principal answered the questions I wanted to ask - in the way that I wanted him to answer them – before I asked them. “We have the classroom teachers go out with the kids at recess because they know our kids far better than an aide would, and they’ll know right away if there are problems,” he said just before I asked about recess. “Ms. J is a nurturing, kind teacher who has a very gentle spirit with the kids,” he said about the 4th grade teacher right before I was planning to ask about her.
It was a done deal before we walked out the door: this was the school. We still visited four more schools after this one, but none measured up. I find myself wondering why we didn’t switch years ago, and when I read the Principal’s welcome letter to parents, it only served to reinforce our decision. At C’s new school, “children don’t have to fit the system…[teachers] appreciate individual strengths and reinforce them with frequent praise…[children are] given the opportunities to express ideas in different ways.”
Lesson learned: Find the place that encourages C to be the kid he is, without trying to make him be like all the other kids.
For years I’ve been struggling with when to tell C of his diagnosis. All this time, watching for signs that he’s ready to hear about this thing that makes him so special in so many ways. I’ve waited for the questions about why he struggles making friends, keeping friends, conversing with friends, and basically anything else having to do with friends. I’ve wondered when he would ask why he is pulled out of class for speech, physical, occupational and friendship group therapy.
Those questions have never come.
There are books about autism and asperger’s next to my bed. C has heard mention of the words, I am sure of that. This child, who is curious about everything, reads everything, asks who is calling when the phone rings, and asks if I like the book I’m reading (but not what it’s about), does not seem to have one smidgen of interest in autism.
Perhaps, I think, he already knows. Perhaps he senses that he struggles with things other kids don’t and simply hasn’t said anything or can’t figure out how to ask the question. And then I realize: C doesn’t think he struggles with anything. Thus far, he seems to view himself as the same as everyone else instead of outstandingly different. So I wait.
Perhaps, I think, I need to plant a seed. Maybe if I introduce him to the concept in a more roundabout way, his awareness will grow, bringing with it some level of introspection. So I ask a crucial question.
“C, do you think you are the same as other kids or different?”
“Well,” he says quietly, “since my class this year was mostly boys, I’m mostly the same. But if it had been mostly girls, I would have been different.”
“Mommy, could you get me a little brother?”
As we were driving by the extinct volcano near our house in Ga’s convertible, “If this volcano erupted, would we have to put the top up?”
“Do you pick up stuff on Ash Wednesday because the volcano ash will hurt it?”
“I’m tired of sleeping in my bed.”
“I always like to talk to little people like me.”
“Is there a life cycle for poop?”
“That’s how I like to spend my money. On cheap stuff.”
As he’s observing the hair on his legs, “Mommy? I think I’m getting too haired.”
“Mommy, I think I should just skip 4th grade and go straight on to college.”
I always feel somewhat melancholy this time of year; the school year is drawing to a close, and it feels like something important is ending. This year, something important probably is ending as it looks like we may move over the summer. We’ve been here for three years – just about as long as we’ve been anywhere since C was born.
There are many things I don’t like about this place we now call home. Class sizes are shooting up to 31 next year, the summers are beyond hot, and our state has just passed a new law that frustrates me to the core. Yet there’s also many things to love – grandparents that are 15 minutes away, an elementary school that has been nothing short of wonderful for C, and C’s friends. Yes, I did say ”friends.”
For the first time in his life, C actually has a few friends. Whether it’s due to changes in him or just the luck of the draw with kids in his class, I’m not sure. But he seems to have eased into himself this year, and to leave behind the place that brought it out in him seems somewhat counterintuitive. Part of me wonders if we just stuck it out here, he would settle into himself even more. The kids know him better, and while there are still issues with a few children that grow in severity with each passing year, for the most part, I think C has found his place with the other children. Will that happen quickly in a new town, or will it take another three years for him to figure out where he fits? It’s hard to say.
Last year, when C was preparing to make the challenging move from lower elementary to upper elementary school, we discussed a myriad of options including having him repeat second grade. As we all sat around at C’s IEP meeting last Spring discussing the upcoming change that seemed so potentially traumatic, the lower el principal said something to me that I still remember. She said, “Have faith in your child.”
This principal knew something the rest of us did not. She knew - despite all our concerns about a new school that required much independence of the children, a new school that did not seem as welcoming to parents’ constant presence on campus, and a new school that seemed far less nurturing than the one where C was – it was not about all of that. It was about C. Madame Principal felt that whatever it was, C was prepared to handle it. And sure enough, she was right.
I feel fortunate to have recently been interviewed (see here) by one of my favorite bloggers ever, Caitlin, over on “Welcome to Normal, Population: 0″ for her Mother’s Day series. Caitlin has landed in the category of women I call “Ones From Whom I Can Learn Much.” Go ahead on over there, read my interview, and then stay awhile and be inspired by Caitlin, as I am.