I've been putting it off. Seriously putting it off. The thought pops in, I push it out. I don't want to think about it; I'd rather clean the spiders out of the basement than deal with it.
Tom has a field trip starting next week. A week-long field trip. To West Virginia. To study the ecology and to participate in team-building activities. General education teachers and parent chaperones. Can you possibly understand how horribly wrong this trip is for him? It tasks every one of his challenge areas, and it doesn't use any of his strengths to do so. There are no inbuilt supports, and there are no support people who understand what it means to be a person with Asperger's. (The prevailing attitude is, He has to learn how to do these things. There seems to be little to no concept of, Then teach him. He's not going to learn how to do them by plopping him in the middle of a situation that requires them. He needs to be explicitly taught the skills prior to his needing them. I ask you again here, would you give a person who is blind a piece of print material and say, You're responsible for this information? Of course not. You'd either teach the person braille and provide it in that format, or you'd give him a reader; either way, you'd teach the necessary skill set or accommodate first.)
There's no nurse, there's no staff accustomed to dealing with this population, and there will be few food choices that he'll accept. There are three- and four-hour stretches of unstructured time, several times a day for three full days and one partial day. And while there are activities available, none of them have ever in the past appealed to him. He's to choose from a selection of non-preferred activities, away from home, without his supports. The boy with low tone is to participate in physical activities in front of his peers. And he is to do so without the opportunity of having his academic and cognitive strengths help him.
He's to study the ecology of each of the places they visit, observing, noting, photographing, and sketching. The boy with the fine motor issues is to use pencil and paper when he vastly prefers the computer. The boy with the planning skills of a much younger person is to say, Oh, I'll stop what I'm doing now in order to complete this assignment, which I'm not interested in, and I'll do a jim-dandy job of it, too, making sure to expand on all the observations.
The entire scenario is a set-up for a multi-level meltdown. If he melts, he's going to lose credibility with his peers, and the adults are going to think that he's disrespecting them and respond accordingly. It is so very likely that he is going to be blamed when in fact it's the adults in his life who will have set him up to fail. (A person who is blind doesn't choose to be blind; there is a problem with the connection of the eyes to the brain. And it's not his fault that he's blind. Tom doesn't choose to have Asperger's; there is a problem with the social and executive functioning connections in the brain. And it's not his fault that he has Asperger's.)
If only we could make it so, this trip could be the perfect opportunity to work on his social skills (and positive peer relationships), skills in his IEP that rarely get addressed in the academic setting of middle school. This could be the chance to work on executive functioning skills, modeling and teaching him how to do what needs to be done. What better time than this for a trained professional to guide him through the maze before him, teaching him those exact skills that he's going to need in order to be an independent member of the community, to get and keep a job, to get and keep a wife and family? But it's not going to happen this way. None of the adults are special educators; none appear to truly "get" Asperger's.
It says in the STEM literature that "the academy recognizes the need to nurture the unique socioemotional development of highly able learners by providing an opportunity for students to learn with and from their academic peers." Nurture. Unique socioemotional development. But only if they fit in the established framework?
Well you might ask why I'm sending him on this trip. I'm sending him because I'm the last person in the world to say that he can't do this. He needs the chance to show us that he can do it. Then why the anxiety? Because I know that this is not a level playing field for him. Or, to switch analogies, the cards are stacked against him; this is not his game. However you want to say it, this is not the match for him. I've prepped him as much as I can, but I don't believe he's finished boot camp, and I'm sending him into hostile territory without a weapon.
Between the grace of God and his own smarts, I believe that Tom can get through this. But notice that "getting through this" really isn't an optimal outcome for what's supposed to be a fun and educational "Ace Adventure." And I'm sad to say that getting through this is expecting more.