Friday, November 03, 2017

Why S L O W is also GOOD

When my son was preparing for college, we were all excited about the possibilities. 

I wasn't overly concerned about his ability to take care of himself. He could do his own laundry, he could cook, he knew how to tip the pizza delivery person. So, partially because he seemed fairly self-sufficient, I felt like he could handle life at college. This is partially because I wanted to feel that way. I wanted to see him succeed, but I also wanted to feel as if he was just like any other kid going off to college. I wanted him to have a great time, and enjoy meeting new people, and learn a variety of things from a bunch of different classes. Most of all, I wanted him to enjoy that feeling of being in charge of your own life.

Well, if you read my post from yesterday, you know that he wasn't ready for college.

His therapist tried to tell me this. She really did. She tried to suggest that maybe taking a year off from college might be a good idea. Whenever she suggested this idea, all I could see was my son having an entire year of not socializing. No interaction with other people his age, doing fun things. Honestly, I was blinded by the thought of this lack of interaction. I was afraid it would halt his progression.

My son's therapist also suggested the idea of community college. I also ignored this idea. I had recently taken a class at our local community college, and I wasn't all that impressed with the other participants of the class. They may have been smart kids, but they weren't social with each other. Nobody talked to each other, in a class of at least 20 students. It seemed weird to me. Of course, I didn't stop to think that it was a class on Macroeconomics, and maybe that wasn't the most social of subjects. So, based on that very limited experience, I considered community college for my son -- and tossed that idea rather quickly.

Now, three years later, I can see that my son's therapist had more experience than I had, and she knew what I didn't understand -- that people with ADD or autism or any other myriad types of learning issues often need to take a little longer to mature. This extended maturity window applies to many college students, not just my son. I talked with my other two kids, and they had lots of peers who took five or six years to finish their bachelor's degree. It's common, and we as parents need to take a step back and realize that maybe it's preferable to take longer to accomplish some goals.

I have one friend who has a son who is just now finishing his bachelor's ... and he's 30. He had several missteps along the way, but once it was HIS DECISION to go back to college, he nailed it. He was able to get much better grades, and he was able to figure out exactly what he wanted to do. It's hard to hear that concept, that sometimes people need a decade to figure out life ... but isn't that better, to take a long time, than to never figure things out at all?

So, my husband and I watch our son, and we see progression. He won't have his associates until he's maybe 22 ... but it's PROGRESS. He looks happy. He's going to community college, and it's a good one, and he's made friends. Ya know what? There are LOTS of guys just like him, almost identical to him, at his school. He watches those students, and notices that some do better than he does, but a lot of them are struggling. He also notices that his professors "get" him there, and they are helpful. He is also, now, figuring out what his direction may be, what he enjoys, and that times when he fails on a test are followed by times that he gets one of the highest scores in the class. You just never know what a person can accomplish ... and it may not be the path you expected or wanted for your son or daughter. But if they can just keep working, and slowly making progress, that's a beautiful thing.

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Thursday, November 02, 2017

Much has changed in the many years since I wrote that last post about my son's experience at Earlham college. What I'm going to write today will reflect what often happens with people on the spectrum when they attend college.

Like most families, our son -- and we as his parents -- were excited about the college experience, and Earlham seemed like an ideal choice in many ways. It was a beautiful campus, full of truly accepting and kind students. To this day I still have a very soft spot for Earlham College and it's student body.

Our son was there for two full years. He did well the first semester. He had access to many social activities, and seemed to have a handle on the academic side as well. But the second semester showed a dive in grades, even with my attempts to help with scheduling, etc. from far away. He returned for another year, but could not keep up with the expectations, and also seemed to really find it hard to socialize. He was somewhat depressed because he could not manage the social requirements of keeping up with people, texting, interacting on a regular basis, etc.

We also realized that his meds were not working very well. Late into the fourth semester, he began taking regular Ritalin four times a day ... and things improved but not enough and too late.

So, our son came home, and immediately got a job. He then enrolled in a nearby community college. He again did poorly. Then, a miracle happened -- but at the time, it didn't seem like a miracle. Our son forgot (ADHD much?) to refill his epilepsy medication. I had shifted the responsibility for his meds to him, instead of having me do it -- it was time for him to take control of the medical side of life, and he had previously been very good about keeping tabs on and taking his epilepsy and ADHD meds. But, at this point, when he finally told me that he had forgotten to refill his meds ... it had been two months. That medication was completely out of his system. Restarting the med would be catastrophic ... the first time he began taking it, his cognition was horrible, his sleep was horrible, and he was depressed. Many of these things shifted over time, but it took six months to adapt, and I still observed fairly negative effects from that med. 

As a family, our son and my husband and I came to the conclusion that he should just not take this med. That would seem to be a reckless idea ... but he had only had two seizures EVER. Once you have a second seizure, neurologists automatically slap the "epilepsy" label onto you and give you medications, often regardless of how those meds impact your life. To be fair, having medications take care of debilitating epileptic seizures is the most important thing. And yet, people like my son, who have only had two seizures and immediately were helped by the first medication they ever tried are somewhat unusual. Then, by going off of the medication for two months and having NO NEGATIVE SYMPTOMS, our son's experience seemed to lean towards being a very atypical case. It has now been 1-1/12 years off of the medication, with no seizures and no adverse effects. We make sure that he gets lots of sleep and try to keep the stress level low -- we are guessing that a lack of sleep and lots of stress may have triggered his two seizures many years ago.

Once off of this medication, his next semester was amazing. He got the highest score in his class for pre-calculus. The next semester, he took a Calculus class -- a six-week summer course -- and got a high B. All of his other grades were high B average grades, all while working part time. I help with scheduling, but even that chore is being passed toward him. As parents, we are available to discuss how long an assignment will take, and how to chunk the assignment into smaller amounts to make it easier to accomplish. We are here to brainstorm ideas for essays, etc. But our son is doing the work. He has decided to complete his associates in Mathematics -- an associates degree will make his credits all transfer to another university (rather than worrying about that university picking and choosing which credits they will accept). He will most probably finish his associates degree in a year.

We are taking these sorts of choices one step at a time, but I am learning a lot of things as a parent. I've learned that those two years away from home were still a success. There was a lot of social learning accomplished during that time, and there are still friends who contact my son as a result. I've learned that community college is a wonderful thing. I've learned that accomplishing a degree slowly is just fine. I've also learned that my son just needs more time for all sorts of things, and providing that time results in small accomplishments that will ultimately add to big accomplishments.

And I cannot tell you how many times I have spoken to other parents who have been through exactly that same trajectory with their son or daughter.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Asperger's and Picking the Right College

2014 was a bitch of a year.

Excuse my language, but man, that year put my son, myself, and my husband through the ringer.  Like many other kids, my son started getting seizures at the age of 17, and then had to deal with adjusting to anti-seizure medication.  Anti-seizure medications, for want of a better explanation, MAKE YOU STUPID.  Right when you are preparing for college, submitting your grades to colleges, writing your essays for college, and taking your college entrance exams -- these poor kids have to do this while taking a medication that purposefully DECREASES the brain's ability to trade synapses.  It's incredibly cruel punishment for a time when you need to be at the top of your game.

So, we did what a lot of other parents with kids who have cognitive or physical challenges do -- we bought and read the book "Colleges that Change Lives."  We spent the summer visiting many of these schools.  We tried to get a "feel" for each college, through interviews, walking across campus, and reading their class offerings.  We visited dorms, and read info on the internet, and just generally managed a cram session to make a choice of the appropriate college.  Many colleges may have been good choices, but finally my son decided on Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana.

This is a college that is smaller in numbers than a lot of U.S. high schools.  The downside of this school is that Richmond, Indiana is a small town with supposedly little to do.  Another downside is that Earlham's size makes it so that you get to know everybody, and you may tire of everybody after a short amount of time.  Maybe classes aren't offered as often as they should be, when compared to constant and consistent offerings of other, much larger, schools.  But, from what I can tell, the negatives, for the most part, stop there.

Like many of you, I have a son who has been a kind, funny, smart and good young man who has had problems socializing.  I don't know how many times I have been at home with him on the weekends, knowing that he should be out with friends getting into trouble.  Well, now he's at college, not getting into trouble but consistently socializing.  Even when his roommate moved out (they were a bad mix from the very beginning, even though the kid was a good kid), my son managed to figure out how to get out and do things with people.  He has CONSISTENT and REGULAR activities with a group of friends.  This is a HUGE blessing.  I almost don't care about his grades (notice I said "almost").

Rarely do I feel like choices made are clear and obvious.  The choice of a college has such a variety of factors that it's almost impossible to make a choice without second-guessing.  There is just something about this college, with it's emphasis on collaboration rather than competition, that seems to be so healthy for kids who need a slightly more understanding environment.  There's something about the high percentage of international students that really makes the rest of the student body open to differences of ALL kinds.  Currently, my son's friends come from Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, and a few from the U.S.  It's an incredible high for me to message him and receive a text back that says "sorry, can't talk right now, watching tv in a friend's dorm room with a bunch of people."

I've never been so happy to be ignored.

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Monday, December 02, 2013

Aspergers, Inattentive ADD …. and now Epilepsy

I'm writing today, because I just don't know where else to go.  I figure that anybody who actually reads this blog, though I am limited at writing posts, will have enough experience with adversity that they understand what I'm talking about.

My son had a seizure about six months ago.  We thought it was a one-off situation, due to a new medication he was taking that often lowers the seizure threshold for people.  We picked him up from his high school, where he was dazed, somewhat incoherent, and had blood all over his shirt from biting his tongue.  We drove him to the local hospital, where they did an EKG but that was pretty much it.  After a couple hours, our son was back to his regular self, and we thought nothing of it.

Until the first week in November of this year.  He had another seizure, but this time it was worse.  It lasted longer, his incoherent-state lasted longer, and we figured that he would do well to be checked out more appropriately at the hospital.  They did an MRI, and found nothing, but they kept him there in the hospital overnight for observation.  He was incredibly sleepy that day and the next.  The next day the hospital staff did an EEG, and found brain wave spikes consistent with epilepsy.  He had had a tonic-clonic seizure, his newly-obtained license would have to be taken away until he is seizure-free for six months, and he now has to take anti-seizure medication.

It took days for my son to get over the sleepiness.  His cognitive ability was shot.  It wasn't great before this -- none of his ADD medications have been working -- and now, everything he does takes three times as long as a typical person.  Homework is a nightmare.  His grades are falling.  His hopes for college are quickly dwindling.

I just can't kick-start any of my positive thinking anymore.  I think I'm just worn out.

I don't see how we can climb our way out of this hole.  I'm out of ideas.  My son is amazingly upbeat, in spite of all of this, but even he is depressed that he can no longer drive.  His first question in the hospital was "will this affect me academically?"  Well, so far, the answer is a decided YES.  I have no idea what to do for him.  Hell, I have no idea what to do for me.

The ONLY thing I can think of to do is something I've been avoiding ever since his autism diagnosis.  We very briefly tried the GFCF diet when my son was five, but since he showed no sign of gastrointestinal distress, and we couldn't see any difference in him when we tried the diet, we gave up rather quickly.  To tell you the truth, I kind of thought the GFCF diet was for whackos … people who were grasping at straws to find anything to try and improve their child on the spectrum, even if it didn't make any sense.  Well, now, I'm one of those whackos … because NOW, I'm reading study after study after study about how food intolerances can adversely affect epilepsy, and I'm thinking it's time to bite the bullet and do a combination of the Gluten-free, Modified Atkins Diet, in an attempt to improve my son's outlook.  Quite frankly, I have no other option, because everything I've been reading in the last three weeks doesn't give me a lot of hope.

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Monday, September 09, 2013

Aspergers and College Interviews

Yesterday my son had a college interview.  This is kind of a big deal for a number of reasons:

1) Neither of my two other kids have ever had to do a college interview.  Ironic, since they are supposedly "typical" and would probably do fine in a college interview.
2) If any of you out there have a kid on the spectrum, you know that having a 30 minute conversation with a stranger isn't exactly something that comes naturally to them.

We are fairly sure that this is the college my son wants to attend.  It's somewhat selective, and his test scores currently are average, while his grades for this particular school are pretty good.  We've visited the school, toured the school, and actually have had an interview at the school.  This interview, though, was carried on at a local Starbucks while the admission counselor was visiting our area.

Here's my advice about the situation:

Make absolutely sure, by Google Maps or otherwise, that you know the location of the interview.  We did not, and Google maps was confused as to where this Starbucks was as well.  We drove our son to the interview, and made him ten minutes late.  In this case, it was not a big deal, since nobody else was scheduled to interview that day.

Practice, practice, practice.  We got online and checked out as many "College Interview Question" websites as we could find.  We went over and over the possible questions, all the while telling our son that the interviewer may not ask any or all of these questions.  I'm sure that our son answered some of these questions in odd or unusual ways, but like my hubby said -- that's just typical 17 year old boy.

The other thing we did -- we prepared him by asking really weird questions, to get him to try thinking quickly and on his feet, so to speak.  Ever realize how little you are asked off-the-wall questions?  Well, in an interview, an off-the-wall question might be exactly what the interviewer does to see how well a student responds to uncomfortable situations.  It's a good thing we did this.  My son was asked "How do you think your teachers would describe you?"  I was so happy to hear that he responded "Wow, I've never really thought about that question. [great stalling technique, I thought...] I think they would describe me as funny!"  Many people would think that saying "My teachers would describe me as intellectual, smart, hardworking" etc. would be the right answer, but no -- those are kiss-up-to-the-interviewer answers.  Something that is genuine is much better here.

I researched, and apparently khaki pants, button down shirt, belts that match your shoes, and a tie (or not) are good things to wear to a college interview.  Arrive on time, shake your interviewer's hand, and after sitting down, when spoken to, smile and lean in to the interviewer's side of the table

The interview was conducted outside the Starbucks, where their discussion wouldn't be too much of a distraction for others.  As the parents, we sat on the inside of the Starbucks, facing the interviewer and my son just outside the window, which made for quite the view of what was going on.  I tried not to watch too much, but from what I could see, there was much laughing and smiling and general fun going on.  My son really lucked out and got a wonderful admissions counselor, who was probably only four or five years older than him.  She was incredibly engaging, and made the interview an enjoyable process.

Because of the youth and slight inexperience of my son's admissions counselor, she was unaware of what an I.E.P is.  Once she understood that my son was interested in how this particular college would support students with "disabilities" she was able to answer his questions.  She also had a five or ten minute discussion with us as his parents so that we too could ask questions.

Five years ago, if you had asked me if I would have thought this particular situation would have gone this well, I would have probably said "no."  It's a real gift to be able to watch the process a little, and see what a good job my son did.  Now it's time to keep our finger's crossed, and after my son applies to the school, wait and see if he gets in!

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Friday, August 09, 2013

Aspergers and Happiness

I had a great breakfast today with two friends who live on my street.

One friend has a son, five years older than mine, who is on the spectrum.  The other friend has a son in my son's grade in high school, and although he is not diagnosed, he has many, if not all, of the same issues that my son has.

We were talking about our sons' lack of need for friends.  Here it is, summer time, and we watch our other children socializing and doing stuff and out of the house all of the time.  Then we look at our sons who are at home, wondering why they don't feel the need to get out and be with people.  We wonder why they are fine with staying at home, and all the socialization they need is a good game on Xbox.

Thing is, THEY ARE HAPPY.  We may not be -- we may be concerned that they don't leave the house, that they aren't going out to eat or hang out with friends.  This bothers us, as their parents.  We just can't relate to it.  But if we are concerned with our sons, it has more to do with OUR needs and less to do with our son's needs.

I guess I would love to see my son run off to college in a year, into a sea of guys and girls just like him. I would LOVE that.  I would love to see him comfortable, and with people who like to do the same things that he likes to do.  I would LOVE to see him interacting and feeling part of a group.

My son, though?  What does he want?  He's actually pretty happy with the way things are.  He's always happy.  He's always content.  I guess he just doesn't need that much.  Sure, he would like to have people to interact with -- but it's not a NEED like it is with other people not on the spectrum.

Once, we sent my son to a church camp for four days, held at a local college.  He was going to room with people he didn't know, and he was going be doing all sorts of stuff that he had never done before (dances, classes that he chose to attend, etc.).  I was nervous, but I wanted him to try this experience so that he could see what college was like.  He texted me that first night, telling me about all the shenanigans that he and his fellow campers were getting up to.  He never did go to a dance, but he had a great time playing board games with a bunch of kids.  He was walking to and from classes when it was raining, with an umbrella, and had girls walk with him to stay dry.  After a few days, he texted me "So this is what you've been telling me is so great about college!!!!"   Yeah, that was a great day FOR ME.

He hasn't socialized very much since then.  That was a year ago.  But that doesn't mean he isn't capable of having this same experience again.  It will just be on his time, on his schedule.  It won't be my kind of social experience, but it will work for HIM.

I finally realized, this year, that it isn't about my kind of social life -- because that's probably not ever going to work for my son.  He can't take the noise, he doesn't understand the conversational mores, and he doesn't have the burning need to BE WITH PEOPLE.  But if he can go to college and find some like-minded people to goof off with for a few years, well, I'll be a happy mother.

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Tuesday, August 06, 2013

social skills help at

My daughter, who is 22 yrs., is home for the summer between finishing her undergrad degree and going off this fall for her grad degree.  She was teaching my son's age group at our church this last weekend.  In the process of asking her how that went, and what the kids were like, etc., I asked how her brother acted in class.

She said "He is really overly-opinionated, and when he spouts his opinions, with little or nothing backing them up, everybody else rolls their eyes at him."

Ever seen this happen with your kid?  Have you ever done this yourself?

Often, I think that my son is actually doing better than he really is, socially.  I think it's my way of putting my head in the sand -- if I'm not observing it directly, then he must be doing fine.  But I know that he is overly opinionated -- especially about politics -- and if people on the spectrum are about 3 years behind socially than their peers, then this kind of lack of social skills makes my son (and others) look childish and borish.  I can say this, because I'm pretty sure I have done the same thing in my life -- except I was probably older and should have known better.

So tonight, we had a big talk as a family about NOT spouting opinions, especially when you don't have facts to back up that opinion.  We talked about declarative statements, and how they lead to arguments. We talked about how couching your opinion in ways that are not aggressive lends itself to constructive conversation, and doesn't make people think you're stupid, and doesn't make the person you're conversing with feel attacked.  I tried to make it clear to my son that I try REALLY HARD to not open my mouth about things like politics unless I've read a lot on the subject, and watched the news, and looked up words or policies that I don't understand [which is often!].  My daughter and I role-played back and forth to show my son the difference between spouting unfounded opinions, and people's response to this -- and couching your opinions in language that is conversational and shows that you're open to learning new things from others, allowing a free-flow of ideas and improving relationships with people of differing opinions.  I tried to make him understand that if he is quiet, and waits to talk until he has something legitimate to say, backed up by numerous FACTS from a good source (newspaper, magazine, news program, etc.), people will take him seriously and may even come to respect him.

Tonight I was online looking for possible resources for this type of social problem, and I came across this website:

This is a site that has numerous articles on social skills subjects, written by a guy who used to be shy and socially awkward.  He has a background in psychology and counseling, but he says he's no authority on the subject -- he's just observed people a lot, and has improved by making sense of these observations -- and wanted to pass what he has learned on to other people.

I'm going to read these articles, and have my son try reading them as well, to see if it helps him to makes sense of some of his social skills that still need fine-tuning.  I have a funny feeling that many of the articles will deal with issues that came up tonight with my son and his "opinion" problems.

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