Last Spring, the wife and I were a bit worried about the prospect of our autistic son moving on to mainstream kindergarten from his special-ed pre-K class. It wasn’t so much his ability to learn: he knew his ABCs, could identify colors and shapes with ease, and had the basic counting skills in place. He could also cut paper and color pictures with little problem. What concerned us was the transition to a more structured environment, how his developing communication skills would hold up, and how he’d react going from a half-day of class to a full-day.
Kindergarten is a pretty big step up from pre-K. And while there was no doubt that his mind was ready, the question became: was the rest of him ready? I brag all the time that young Matt is kicking autism’s ass, but that’s not to say that autism doesn’t fight back. Unfortunately, it’s a continuing struggle and one he’ll have the rest of his life.
His teacher, the classroom aid, and the school’s special education coordinator certainly understood our concerns but in their opinion, there was little doubt that Matt was ready to move on. In the past two years, he had surpassed all his goals in terms of education; his ability to learn. Now was the time to start focusing on his socialization skills and the move to mainstream kindergarten – with the assistance of an aid and his therapists – would be a logical step.
Six weeks in and the results are luke warm at best.
Some of his daily reports are great with him having little trouble transitioning from one activity to another. Other days, we hear about his refusal to do classroom activities. This comes in the form of tantrums, throwing himself to the ground, and even a pair of semi-successful escape attempts. One day, we were told, he simply got up during math, walked to the door, stuck out his tongue at the class, and ran out.
(Admittedly, I find that funny too but it’s certainly far from being acceptable.)
So now were left with trying to figure out why it’s happening and more importantly, what can be done to help him through it.
Is a full-day too long for him right now? Are there too many kids in the class? Is the structure a problem? Are the teaching methods not quite conducive for him and his autism?Each night my wife and/or I sit with Matt for about 10-15 minutes and work on his homework. This could be practicing writing his name, working on letters/numbers, and more recently learning sight-words (which are just common words that kids are expected to just, you know, know by sight.) In the case of this week’s words: a, the, my, it and two others I can’t remember right now.
Unfortunately, some evenings go better than others. Some nights he just refuses to sit and do anything. Other nights, we sort of see his autistic symptoms kick in and he doesn’t seem to focus on the task at hand. Still, he has nights when he knocks it out of the park and does everything he’s supposed to do – confirming that when he puts his mind to it, nothing being asked of him is out the scope of his abilities.
What I hope is that as time goes on we can not only zero in on the best methods to teach Matt what he needs to know, but also find the key to getting him to tell us what he knows (and to do so without sticking his tongue out as a big F-U to the class.)
Technology seems to the solution for now – the iPad, MobiGo, LeapPad, SmartBoard – but long term I’m not sure they’ll suffice. To succeed in school, a child has to be able to write with a pen, focus on a chalkboard, concentrate on the teacher, sit still for long periods, and respond to what’s being taught. Matt has to adjust to those rules and that structure otherwise, well, I’m not sure what the result will be.
I still have confidence in Matt. He’s proven others, including myself, wrong before and I don’t see him stopping now. Yet if anyone has a tip or two on how to get him to assimilate better (and quickly) in a classroom setting, I’m listening…