The doctors at U.C. Davis Mind Institute diagnosed Joe with Asperger’s Syndrome, Sensory Intergration difficulties, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. By third grade he required a fulltime teaching assistant. He had adjusted fine in the kindergarten classroom, where there were many opportunities for open ended, engaging activities, and he’d also behaved well in the small, confined kindergarten playground.
But first grade was a different story.
As I sat on the playground bench, I noted Joe’s behaviors; he was climbing trees, running beyond the schoolyard fence boundaries, and engaging in other dangerous behaviors. The previous day, when I had arrived to pick up Joe after school, he had taken three chairs and piled them one on top of the other on to the top of his school desk, and while the teacher’s back was turned, he’d climbed onto his desk, and then on to the highest chair.
After that afternoon, I was frightened to leave him alone at school without direct supervision.
The school’s staff members recommended our son be placed in a Special Day Class with other children with special needs. The class they suggested consisted of children with many behavioral issues. I knew my son’s educational rights; based on the California Education Code, the school district had to try everything within reason to have my son mainstreamed into a regular education classroom with typical peers.
Children who have Asperger’s Syndrome have to learn social skills. At age six, Joe had very few social skills. He didn’t make eye contact; he talked pedantically; he walked in circles; he talked off subject; he didn’t listen; he monopolized the conversation; and he showed no outward signs of any interest in what a person was saying. An entire “Special Day” classroom of children who demonstrated inappropriate behaviors would serve only to diminish his social skills.
My letter writing began – a long documentation of Joe’s educational rights, including quotes and references, first to the school district, later to his teachers and the principal. My letters were followed by phone calls. I wrote speeches and handouts and traveled to local community organizations advocating for children with special needs to be given the opportunity to flourish in a regular education classroom setting. I was an active voice at the Parents’ Club at my son’s school. I was a member of the school financial planning board. I volunteered in the classroom and attended workshops regarding special needs children inclusion.
It was a full-time (unpaid) job. I never worked harder in my life.
The endless hours of work, drug me down to the ground, and caused me to literally have a nervous breakdown.
My efforts did help. Joe remained in the regular education classroom setting and was mainstreamed with an assistant at his side. He participated in weekly occupational therapy, speech, and a resource class sessions. He flourished socially and academically. His behaviors improved. He amazed all of us!
I started him on a gluten-free diet midyear and his behaviors improved even more. Everything with Joe’s education was going well.
About two years later, by the middle of my son’s third grade year, Joe didn’t have an assistant in school anymore. We’d decided, as a team, to let Joe attend school on his own. In addition, he was getting older and didn’t want to be different than the other children by having a helper at his side. After we made the decision to remove the assistant, the situation at school took a downturn.
First, Joe’s school worksheets started coming home with mostly scribbles on them. Then he was accused of starting fights on the playground. And later, a group of boys were bullying and pushing him during lunchtime. Soon, he stopped eating most of his lunch. He started to complain about school. He used words like “hate” “stupid” and “torture.” He did not want to get out of bed in the morning on school days, but woke up bright and early on the weekends. He fought me like a tiger over homework and often had fifteen-minute screaming tantrums in the morning before school and in the afternoon after school.
Desperate and worried, I met with Joe’s teachers and principal. They were supportive. They tried their best. But I could see his behaviors were headed. At first, we tried having Joe spend time in the computer lab during lunch, but that solution didn’t work for long. Joe’s tantrums only grew worse and, by then, he usually refused to do most of his homework.
I couldn’t handle the stress anymore, the constant worry and dread which enveloped me every school day.
Joe’s teacher didn’t understand. She didn’t have the same viewpoint as I did. She noted how well our son performed academically in her classroom. She pointed out how he had made a few good friends. She hadn’t seen any tantrums. She made it clear she believed Joe should remain in school.
At this point, I saw pulling Joe out of school as the only answer.
It was a tough decision. I had worked so very hard, had fought like a mother bear for my child to be mainstreamed into a regular education classroom. And there I was, only a couple years later, pulling Joe out of school. Even my husband, who had been very supportive through all of Joe’s schooling, was questioning my actions.
I felt like a hypocrite.
I felt like a failure.
But the negative feelings soon passed, as I saw the sparkle in my son’s eyes return.
And I quickly surmised, God had provided me with all the resources I needed.
I was a credentialed teacher and I knew just about everything there was to know about teaching a child with Asperger’s Syndrome. After all, I’d read the books, been to the seminars – heck, I even had a ten page teaching strategy list I’d compiled for Joe’s teachers. (And, though I didn’t know it at the time, I even had Aspergers!)
It was amazingly odd and sensational all at the same time!
And so it was, I set to homeschooling my little Joe, my little professor, my dear, dear son.
(Joe is now attending Middle School for three class periods, and is homeschooled half-days. 2012, grade 6)