Sam’s Science

Lately John’s reactions to minutiae have been extreme: he’ll suddenly stand up and scream at the top of his lungs. Frustration born of not finding the words quick enough I imagine, which doesn’t make it any easier — only understandable for those of us with the Autism Manual. It is of little use to the public at large, including those inside our educational institutions — but at least most people look at John and see his disability. His is evident.

But my Sam often passes for typical. Often. Which means when he acts atypical people are all what the hell? I’ve been guilty-guilty-guilty of this more times than I care to admit. We expect so much more from him, so much more than we do from his brother. When Sam’s reaction to a timeout for speaking out in class is explosive screams and a mad dash around the room, some are quick to categorize him as a “bad child.”

Sam spends all of his free time reading the encyclopedia for fun —  he is all “nano-technology this” and “Cambrian period that” complete with helpful and constant pencil drawings. So we signed him up for this after-school science program. His brain is in need of stimulation that an after-school science program would seem to provide. The weekly topics and experiments scream SAM.

So when John and I arrive to pick him up — after first negotiating the parking lot and John’s screams because I was unable to complete a crocheted Mars before we had to leave (yes, a crocheted Mars) — after negotiating screams and flailing limbs as we walk down the hallway because, I don’t know, I chose the wrong route? or maybe he was still upset about Mars and needed to scream some more about it? After all that, we arrive to the classroom and I see my boy huddled in a chair backwards, snot falling down his face, eyes red and still wet with tears. He sobs when he sees me. The instructor motions that he’d like to speak with me… “He was very rude,” he says “he talks a lot —a lot!” he adds with exasperation “and he doesn’t listen. It seems he can’t hear when he’s spoken to.”

He was in a timeout for nearly an hour. An hour!

Huh. So you see, I’ve forgotten. I’ve forgotten how well my boy copes, how often he passes for typical. I’ve forgotten to relay strategies to this young and inexperienced instructor. Once again I am taken by surprise that yep, my boy still has significant challenges! still enough to knock me over. I try to explain now Do you know what an IEP is? You do? Great, He has an IEP that is supposed to address some of his challenges. He really loves science, it may be helpful to give him a warning or two about speaking out before putting him in a time-out. Just makes it worse, I promise! 

This is the third session and the third time Sam has been miserable when I’ve picked him up. This last time is, of course, the worst. The program is not run by the school system but by an outside organization, so I don’t think I can ask for accommodations — or can I? I’ve contacted his team and am hoping for the best. He is desperate to continue. The instructor is glad to hear some things that might help but does not sound overly confident that he can handle it.

So there are these times? Times I just feel outside myself. Sometimes I think it may be the gaping stares from others that hurls me out of my body, a spectator to my life, to the situation. When John body-drops to the ground, my limbs feel leaden and uncooperative in the exact same way that his refuse to budge and part of me is above looking down at the ridiculousness of it all.

But Sam needs for me to be different.

8 Comments

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  • This really struck a chord with me. You see, I have a son like Sam, and we’ve gone through the exact same thing. Sometimes the ones who seem to not need as much actually need a little more, because others expect them to be “typical.”

  • Ugh this is so hard. I can hear the sadness and the worry in your words. Can someone attend the program with him? An aide? A favorite babysitter? I really hope his team comes up with some answers for you… will you update and let us know?

  • An HOUR timeout? Your poor guy. 🙁 There has to be a way to make this work for him, especially since he is so interested.

    I think this is one of the toughest things: kids that seem typical are expected to act that way. Even with my Sam, who doesn’t have a diagnosis, I see issues that he has, but it is so hard to remember in the moment that you can’t just force a child into acting a way that they are unable to. I wish instructors could really understand that too.

    Plus, Sam is talking too much? About science? At a science class? Isn’t that supposed to be called eagerness and interest and shouldn’t that be rewarded?

    So sorry that you and Sam are having a rough time. Also, I hope you have completed your crocheted Mars for John.

  • I have never heard of an hour time out for a first grader in any kind of program. Having an aide go with him sounds like a really good idea.

    Sometimes the people I know with higher-functioning kids seem to have it harder than I do, because you have fewer supports and may get less understanding from other people. But it is so wonderful that Sam has so many interests and actually wants to go to that program!

  • Well, obviously the teacher handled that horribly and I feel bad for the little guy! And I totally get how you feel as my little dude is very much like yours. It is frustrating when people just treat him like he is being bad and expect too much from him.

  • That is striking a chord with me as well. My daughter is almost 3… and we’re coming to a point where we skirt a line on any given day between what’s “toddler”, what’s “spectrum”, and what’s unique to her. And see, she is reaching a point in many ways, that because she has made so much progress… others expect her to BE typical. (and frankly, I get worried about supports being taken away)

    But even for a “typical” kid… an HOUR in time out? Really? I hope your team comes up with some good solutions.

  • Ugh!

    I’m sorry! Sorry for this whole situation. It’s true, sometimes I think about how it is easier for Andrew being protected by his obvious autism.

    When you spoke about walking in to pick him up, I cringed because I have been in similar situations with the stares recently picking Brian up from an after school program. I was close to breaking down on one recent event like this. I know exactly how you feel!! Just sorry! And hope it can all be figured out so Sam can continue to attend his science class with more support and understanding.

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