Wanted: Personal Assistant For Absent-Minded Aspie

At our annual IEP meeting a couple weeks ago, Justin’s teacher began the conversation with, “He’s going to be very successful.”

She was nice enough not to add, “which is good, because then he can hire a personal assistant to collect his coat, pack his bag, update his day planner and tell him where he’s supposed to be.”

Justin has always been an organizational train wreck. One of the pitfalls of Asperger’s is the impairment in executive functioning skills – all those mental processes that let us plan our actions, remember instructions and juggle multiple tasks.His desk is such a disaster that his teacher got him a whole separate bin to store his duotangs so they wouldn’t disappear into the abyss. He has 200 pencils in his room because they get buried under his mountain of papers and so he gets a new one every time he wants to make a new list. He left his gloves in his classroom on Friday, and when we went to retrieve them he also found the water bottle, gym clothes and math homework he’d neglected to put in his backpack. ARGH.

When he was younger, we had a written list posted in the kitchen of all the steps he was supposed to follow when he finished breakfast (get dressed, brush teeth, make bed, etc.) We had another (laminated) one for how to take a shower, one for how to tie his shoes, and so on. Eventually we could take the lists away and he would remember the routines. The terminology stuck, though – even now, when I want him to get dressed, I tell him to do his steps.

But he’s in fourth grade now, and his teacher puts a big emphasis on personal responsibility. The kids even get marked on their use of their personal agendas – they’re supposed to use the agendas to record their reading minutes, keep track of due dates and generally stay organized. You can guess how well that’s going.

He has learned something new, though. At swimming lessons the other day, Brayden complained that Justin walked out of the change room and left his stuff all over the floor instead of putting it in the locker. So Justin offered to pay Brayden in leftover Halloween candy if Brayden would clean up his stuff for him.

Delegating is an important skill, right? (Sigh…)

Breaking the Helicopter Habit

So my kids are now walking to school all by themselves. It’s a 20-minute trip that requires crossing one semi-busy street at a four-way stop. I used to drive them every day, at first because they were so young; later because it was a convenient stop on my way to work; most recently because that’s just what we’ve always done. But I’ve been trying to give them more freedom and responsibility (see The Independence Project), and this seemed like a natural step. They’re nine and seven; they can do this.

Those of us who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s walked to school every day, of course. My older brother once got turned around on his way home from kindergarten and was wandering aimlessly around a park when a woman spotted him from her window and went over to ask if he was lost. He told her his phone number, she called Mom, and Mom went and picked him up. But Mom didn’t drive him from then on; she just made sure he knew which landmarks to follow to get home.

And NO ONE GOT ARRESTED. Imagine.

It’s easy to fall into the helicopter parenting habit. I used to wonder how it was legal to send a kid down the street alone when it wasn’t legal to leave him unsupervised once he got wherever he was going. But our job as parents is to prepare our kids to go out in the world without us — and they’ll never know how if we don’t let them practise.

Not that I’m completely letting go. I still pick them up from school every day, mainly because I like to check if they have all their stuff (see Bringing Order to Chaos), but also because I enjoy chatting with the other moms while waiting for the bell. I know I’ll have to let them get home on their own someday (Justin is already clamoring to be allowed to do it), but one thing at a time.

We’ve all got a lot to learn here.

 

End of the 100-Day Summer

Words alone cannot describe how excited I am that my kids are finally going back to school tomorrow (only 100 days after this all started!) Professor Mom did what she could, but the boys are clearly bored and itching to get back to a real classroom. There were happy dances all around when we heard the strike was ending.

My parents are especially happy, since they long ago agreed to babysit for two weeks while Chris and I go off on vacation. We leave tonight; school starts tomorrow. This deal came just in time.

Much has been written about the actual deal and whether it’s good for teachers, taxpayers and kids. All I know is that my nine-year-old, after seeing a headline announcing the six-year deal, blurted out, “You mean we might get to go to school for six years without a strike?”

Dare to dream, buddy. Dare to dream.

Three Cheers for Professor Mom

Since the two sides in this infernal teachers strike are still not speaking to each other (a plague on both their houses!), it’s fortunate that the kids and I are actually enjoying this homeschooling thing.

Seriously.

We’ve developed a groove: from 8:30 to 11:00 each day we go through lessons and activities related to language arts, science, math, and social studies, with a snack break and a “recess” mixed in. I’m totally winging it, but it seems to be going all right. So far, I’ve managed to keep them engaged with different math games, science experiments and educational videos, none of which I came up with on my own (what did people do before the Internet?)

The point is not to cover the actual curriculum, though I do try to stay on that track. The real goal is to have structure and routine, and to keep our brains busy with something besides Pokemon. I’ve sort of figured out what works (starting the day with their weakest subject so they’re fresh) and what doesn’t (expecting them to do nothing but worksheets all morning), and I’ve even had a few unsolicited compliments from the students themselves. Yay me.

Tomorrow we’re doing a field trip, not because of its educational value, but because Professor Mom needs to get out of the &$!@ house. We’re meeting a few other families at a pioneer ranch about an hour from here. We’re all pretty excited at the chance to be with other people.

We’d be even more excited if the schools would open. Just sayin’.

No School = Not Cool

Let’s recap, shall we?

  • Days since school was in session: 86
  • School days lost to the strike: 16
  • Bargaining sessions scheduled: 0

Oy. If anyone had told me, way back last spring, that my kids were about to go 86 straight days without school, I would’ve laughed. I would not have believed that the powers that be could allow such a thing to happen. I would have assumed that all involved would realize the effect this would have on the half-million kids in this province who rely on public education to give them the knowledge and skills needed to contribute to a healthy democratic society. And when the last two weeks of the school year got erased in June, I figured the two sides would use the summer months to cool off, man up and hammer out a deal.

But I was wrong.

I know there are important principles involved. I know there are passionate advocates on both sides. And I know there are no easy solutions.

But at this point, I don’t even care who “wins.” I just want my kids to be able to go to school.

SOON.

Professor Mom Steps In

With no teacher training whatsoever, I am attempting to provide a stimulating educational experience for my kids while this strike drags on. On the very first morning, I freely admitted to the boys that I don’t know everything, that we’re all kind of feeling our way through this, and that we can always turn to Google if we get stumped (which we did in Justin’s very first vocabulary lesson — speaking as a highly trained communications professional, why does anyone need to know about irregular vowel sounds? But I digress.)

My class composition: a gifted nine-year-old with Asperger’s who would finish a year’s worth of workbooks in an hour if I’d let him but who falls apart if he gets even one answer wrong; and an active seven-year-old who loves to read but hates to write and whose favorite part of the curriculum is the DPA (that’s Daily Physical Activity, when we spend half an hour jumping on the trampoline or playing Twister or whatever).

I was expecting to maybe spend 20 minutes on worksheets each day and call it done, but the boys surprised me by wanting to keep going, so I’ve had to plan out lessons to cover the entire morning (well, not the ENTIRE morning: Justin was raring to go at 7:00 on Tuesday and I persuaded him to wait until 8:30.) I’ve come up with some math games that seem to be a hit, the kids have been pretty good about doing their reading comprehension worksheets, and our interactive globe has been a great help with our social studies unit. I’m skipping the arts and health components of the curriculum (pick your battles, right?) and I’ve been avoiding science, but we will start learning about states of matter tomorrow. Ugh.

But there’s a reason I didn’t become a teacher. I suck at it. I do love explaining things, but I prefer to do that by writing documents, not by standing in front of a group of kids. I was happy to be done with math and science decades ago; relearning the basics so I can pass them along to my kids is not my idea of a good time. And I strongly suspect the kids would behave differently for a teacher who wasn’t their mother.

But this, too, shall pass, right? RIGHT?

A September With No School

There are certain milestones that occur each year like clockwork: Halloween comes in October. Christmas is in December.

School starts in September.

Well, not this year. Not in BC. I’d give anything to be wrong, but it looks like our kids won’t be back in class for many, many moons. They may well grow out of their back-to-school clothes before they ever get a chance to wear them.

I won’t go into the politics of the thing. Frankly, I’m not feeling the love for either side right now. Instead of shopping for backpacks and planning bag lunches, I’m buying educational workbooks and designing a learning schedule. Years ago I saw a poster of a mom playing with her baby that read: “You are their first and favorite teacher.” I may have been their first, but no way am I their favorite. If I have to keep up the homeschooling thing for too long, we’ll all end up in therapy.

And $40 a day won’t cover that.