The first week back to school after Christmas break was a good one. There was no homework. The little guy asked about doing homework every day. When I told him there wasn’t any, you could see the relief on his face.
That was last week.
Homework is back. In addition to things simple for him, like reading, he was given mixed up sentences to put back in order. I feared this sheet of paper.
Maybe that fear does not make sense to you.
Homework time is difficult. Not typical kid, don’t-wanna-do-it difficult. It’s different. There is still don’t-wanna-do-it, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. One of T’s biggest struggles is language. He has speech therapy 2 hours a week and works language programs with ABA every day. Then, kindergarten gives him papers labeled “challenge” that are sentences out of order. This kid’s life is a sentence out of order. They had no idea how apropos the word “challenge” was.
We sit down at his kiddie table. There are more “toys” than space in my house. Inevitably, toys end up on the table. Once we sit down, he is usually engaged in scripting, grabbing whatever toy is on the table. He asks me the same questions. I have to give the “correct” response or he will ask over and over until I do.
Round One: I have to “break through” the scripting to get his attention. Not a big feat in itself but time consuming. If I try to “break through” in the middle of a script, his “chain of events’ is incomplete. It cannot be incomplete. Meltdowns occur with incomplete sequences. He may respond without melting but that is an anomaly that gives false hope, soon dashed if I attempt a repeat performance. I’ve lived that repeat performance meltdown. Add an additional 15-30 minutes on to homework time while making it through screaming, crying, panicked meltdown status for cutting off his thought flow.
Round Two: Giving the instructions for the particular worksheet or project. First, I have to understand the homework. This is kindergarten, people. Yet, there have been times, I’ve been stumped by the directions. Then, I have to explain what to do to a child that doesn’t understand the written one given with the paper. I have to craft an explanation that includes examples… Then, I have to do it so that he will listen to my explanation.
Round Three: The distractions. The TV must be off. The iPad and Nintendo DS must be put away. Books have to be out of reach. Everything should be out of reach. But even with everything out of reach, he finds it more interesting to stare at a scratch in the table than do his homework. Frankly, the properties of lint are more interesting than his homework.
When objects are not the distraction, then his own mind will provide it. “What color is Neptune?” he asks, as I explain how he is to pick the smaller word out of a larger word (Circle all in ball). An average worksheet will have 10-15 “problems” which require pencil or coloring to complete. When he gets through one, then we go through the whole process from “focus” to finish again.
If writing letters or numbers is involved (almost always), then we have an added level of discontent. My son can write but hates it. He’s awkward and has trouble with spacing. He knows if the spacing or line placement is wrong, it will be erased and he will have to start over.
With the mixed-up sentences, he tried to copy the sentence out of order. I had to keep telling him it was not right. I’m still not sure he gets it. He could say it correctly orally but could not transfer that skill to paper.
Round Four: T needs constant reassurance that he is doing things right. He wants perfect the first time. Yeah, don’t we all? But if he makes a mistake, his confidence level goes to zero. He will not even utter a complete sentence after a mistake, for fear he is saying it wrong. I have to help him regain confidence while correcting mistakes so he understands the whys.
I want him to get it. I will not yield to the fact that he has struggled to write letters out. I push him. Not for perfection but for adequacy.
He has a disability but he still has to make it in a non-disabled world. Should I say he doesn’t have to try harder than everyone else and he should get a pass? He’s always going to have to try harder to get to where other kids get naturally for some things and not try at all where other kids have to struggle. Where he does and does not struggle are usually polar opposites of the typical kids. The struggles outnumber the non-struggles by far.
An added step with my child is knowing how much is too much. What is his limit? How much can he do? How much should I leave him alone and how much should I prompt or even show how to do? This takes experimentation.
We all know that feeling of frustration. I want to tell him it’s okay, or it’s good enough, and he can just leave it. But I can’t. I have to help him see what’s wrong. To accept the critcism in a good way. To see that, despite the struggles, he can still reach the goal, even if it takes longer.
Autism is a whole spectrum from high functioning to severely disabled. T is on the high functioning end of the spectrum. He does not have other types of learning disabilities. What I see is that his autism does not make him less capable of doing the work. It makes it harder to get it done.
This is the time of his life when he is building foundations upon which everything else will rest. I have to help push his limits now and teach him he can succeed. Because he can.
And when he succeeds? He’s proud. And so am I.