Archive for March, 2011

And Finally Acceptance

We had our IEP meeting last week. Actually, it was a “he’s not getting an IEP and here’s why” meeting. Overall, I’m pleased with the outcome. The nurse was not there. That is good, I might have been forced to rip her face off. Well, not really. The day before the IEP meeting I decided that I would go in a kinder-gentler version of myself and not the face-ripping-off version that I was prepared to be. I think that was generally appreciated by all in attendance.

The school psych running the meeting was also a good thing. She’s very organized and thoughtful. She had spent time with Elliot and validated our concerns.  The school psych intern talked about programs she’s doing with Elliot (he gets social stories and model me videos with some other kids once weekly during lunch (he had never mentioned to me that weekly he ate lunch with a grown up)) and all the data she and the classroom teacher collected. It was very objective. There were even charts! It was lovely.

For those of you with households with one or more engineer parents: there’s lots of anecdotal evidence that we have a higher tendency to have Asperger’s/Autistic children. Is it because we, ourselves, are on the spectrum? Is it because we value characteristics that define the spectrum? There’s no clear answer. From Wired 9.12

It’s a familiar joke in the industry that many of the hardcore programmers in IT strongholds like Intel, Adobe, and Silicon Graphics – coming to work early, leaving late, sucking down Big Gulps in their cubicles while they code for hours – are residing somewhere in Asperger’s domain. Kathryn Stewart, director of the Orion Academy, a high school for high-functioning kids in Moraga, California, calls Asperger’s syndrome “the engineers’ disorder.” Bill Gates is regularly diagnosed in the press: His single-minded focus on technical minutiae, rocking motions, and flat tone of voice are all suggestive of an adult with some trace of the disorder. Dov’s father told me that his friends in the Valley say many of their coworkers “could be diagnosed with ODD – they’re odd.” In Microserfs, novelist Douglas Coupland observes, “I think all tech people are slightly autistic.”

There’s something to that. We all know the Unix admin that doesn’t shower and sits in his corner cubicle ignoring all the social cues thrown his way. Or the programmer that tells a user he’s being dumb, not because he’s trying to be an ass but because after explaining for the upteenth time that no, the code doesn’t behave like that even though that’s how you do your job, but because he’s run out of ways to describe the problem. And he doesn’t see that the user is about to have a breakdown. (Yes, I am being sexist … I know plenty of women in the industry. We may not be as savvy as marketing people or as warm and fuzzy as pre-school teachers but we don’t seem to be as socially unaware as (many of) our male counterparts.)

The psychologist that did Elliot’s evaluations explained that we all have the characteristics found on the spectrum, it’s just whether or not they impede our lives. For example, I sort my M&Ms by color and then eat them in a certain pattern. But only if I’m at a table and only if I have enough to make it worth my time. It’s not like I can only eat them sorted, I can dump a hand full in my mouth and go on. So yes, I like patterns and ritual but not to the point that it impedes my life. (BTW the psych totally said it was normal to sort candy like that. Probably because she does it too.)

Both my kids have a high level of rigidity. We found out that Audrey will only start eating lunch once all her plastic containers full of food have been opened. If she can’t open one, she’ll wait for her teacher without eating any of her other food. We’ve never told her to do that. For her, lunch doesn’t begin until everything is ready. That’s her lunch system. She doesn’t deviate from it. I’m sure she can, she just doesn’t. If she were told to, she would be able to handle that. Therein lies the difference. She has rituals but can deviate from them without detriment. And that’s where Elliot is, he is full of rituals and expectations and he doesn’t know how to deviate from them. He doesn’t know why you would deviate. He’s learning how to brain-storm alternatives and think through the consequences of a different choice. It doesn’t come easily to him. In his defense, why would you think about the consequences of doing it differently when this way works just fine? Unfortunately, not everyone has the same idea of working just fine. As it turns out, most first graders want their ideas heard and want to have a voice in the group project. So, Elliot’s learning how to exhibit empathy and make friends. He’s already made great strides. He asked to play basketball this season (after he understood that he wouldn’t be on the same team as Audrey) and is excited to play soccer next. Both require interacting with unknown kids, something that last year he would not have voluntarily signed up for.

I have high hopes that he’ll be a well-rounded nice kid that other kids like and respect. It doesn’t have to be a lot of kids, just a small circle to make him feel loved throughout the day.

And because it seems to sum up my feelings currently, from the venerable Dr Seuss:

In my world, everyone’s a pony and they all eat rainbows and poop butterflies.