Thursday, July 15, 2010

Never smile at a crocodile. Never.

My son, almost 13, is one of those kids you don't know what to do with.  (Pardon my preposition.)  He's really, really smart -- not genius level, just really, really smart -- and he has Asperger's.  This gives him the need to have academic input well above that of his peers and to have social and executive functioning (EF) skills training well below that of his peers.

For most of his elementary school years, his "behaviors" were the main focus of special education interventions.  I heard quite a number of "willful defiance and non-compliance" attributions along with a steady stream of "he's not available for learning."  (This despite the fact that he could read by age 3 and absorbs information from books like a sponge.)  By the time he started 4th grade, I finally took the advice of the non-school members of my son's team and asked that his academic gifts be addressed, i.e., give him appropriate gifted/accelerated instruction as well as appropriate special education interventions.  Since my school system has both departments (Special Education and Gifted), I didn't see a problem.  Sadly, the two refused to work together to appropriately program for my child (and for a number of other children in our area).

My son has completed the last two years (6th and 7th grades) in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) program, which is for highly-abled learners.  Academically, he's done really well.  Socially?  Organizationally?  He has improved since he left elementary school, but I don't think that we can say he has improved because he has received appropriate interventions.  I think he has improved mostly because he's no longer in a completely inappropriate placement -- he's in the least inappropriate that the school system has available, but as I've said multiple times, available doesn't automatically equal appropriate.  Though we've mostly leveled the playing field academically, I haven't seen that his social and EF interventions have been particularly effective, and he's not much of a squeaky wheel anymore, so he's not seen as needing any oil.

Right now, my son is in a camp for children with ASDs.  It was piloted last year for a week, and it has expanded to a four-week run this year.  (I won't bore you with the stories of past camp failures, most of which ended with calls to come pick him up...)  This camp has got a lot of really good features, including that it provides social skills instruction and physical movement by a staff that is trained to work with this population.  The director is the head of the Adapted P.E. department, the assistant director is a Speech/Language Pathologist, and the two other main people involved are Autism Specialists (recent positions in our school system), both of whom know their stuff and have not yet become jaded, burnt out, or steamrollered by the system.

I have two major areas of concern with the camp.  The first is that yet again, my son's need for high academic input is not being met.  I know, I know, it's camp.  But if you don't "hook" him with highly interesting subject matter, he attends only because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.  (I told him that if he didn't go to this camp, he had to get up early every day and go to the gym and do a complete exercise workout with me.  He chose camp.)  He's doing "OK" in that he's not a behavior problem, but he's not enjoying himself.  He thinks the arts & crafts are babyish (They are.) and  he refuses to bring them home, preferring to either lie and say that the one remaining is not his or to drop them in the trash.  He also doesn't like that many activities are labeled "therapy" -- art therapy, yoga therapy...  He told me today that the biggest problem for him is the vocalizations (sounds and gibberish) and the crying of his fellow campers.  He goes in every day with a defensive posture, and every day he comes home cranky.  We're challenging him to work on areas that are very difficult for him -- fine motor, gross motor, social -- and though we're doing so in a safe environment with staff that are knowledgeable, we're not using his strengths to do so.  (And doesn't that sound like his trip to West Virginia in May?)

Next week I'll pull him from Week 3 of this camp in order to send him to the school system's Space Camp, which is run by the director of the Department of Gifted Instruction.  I have big-time concerns about sending him there without support, without knowing the schedule, without knowing the instructors, without... without... without...  It's interesting that when I told his school team that he was going to attend Space Camp in the middle of the ASD camp, they offered to contact the teacher to let him know a little bit about my son and what tips/tricks work for him.  Since when has the right hand cared what the left was doing?  Since when has anyone been proactive across departments like that?  Well, it's not what it should have been -- that would have included me in the discussion -- but it's more than we've ever had.  But please note my doubt that it was sufficient.

The other major area of concern is that I found out by happenstance last week that one of the people most involved in preventing my son's elementary school success (and the success of a number of other children whose parents I know) is somehow involved in the camp.  I don't know to what level, but when I walked in last week and saw her there, my confidence in the camp's programming plummeted, and my anger rose.  I well and truly thought that I had finished dealing with her, and that thought pleased me.  I rarely blog about the people on my son's school teams, not with personally identifying information, anyway, and I'm not going to start now.  But, oh, the stories I could tell, my own, others' in the county, still more of those who moved away because of the damage she inflicted.  With all the complaints filed, including our own, I don't understand how this person retains her position in the school system.  I wish she were not in a position to be able to defeat our children.  Off and on for the past week, I've heard the tick-tick-tick of the song, "Never Smile at a Crocodile," and I've known who the crocodile is.

Crocodiles aside, can you see my problem?  We've got two camps, one with very strong ties to school and the other completely run by school.  My son fits in both and neither, but not quite.  The camp for children with ASDs is set up to address his many needs, but it doesn't appeal to or use his strengths.  Space Camp will appeal to his strengths (probably), but it won't support his needs.  Where's the place for my son?  Where's the camp for children who are twice exceptional?


Lori said...

Hate this for you. You should never have to be torn between the lesser of two evils when it comes to your children. And because of state-funded organizational failure to boot.

Gotta say...dying to know if I know the crocodile too! Hard to tell when there are so, so many....

Confessions of a Mother, Lawyer & Crazy Woman said...

I hope camp is going well for your little big guy. Cheers, J