School transition

posted by Jeff | Friday, May 21, 2021, 8:50 PM | comments: 0

Simon finishes grade 5 next week, and next year, he'll go to a private school that is a little more squishy about grade levels. Tonight we toured his new school, a small private school that will have around 70 kids total, K-12. They just moved into a new building, and there will be four teachers for the "upper school," which is the group for kids who are middle and high school age. The idea is that all kids, especially if they have different or special needs, don't always align with the state outlined levels, and often may be ahead in one subject but behind in another.

The reason we're going in this direction is because we couldn't see him being successful in a middle school with 2,500 other kids. In fact, he was already a nervous and distraught mess today, because there's no real work going on at school, and it's largely social, and he's struggling with that. It's not just that some kids are unkind, it's that he doesn't have the right expectations. Throw in remote school most of last calendar year, and he's starved socially.

Academically, his grades are actually fine, A's, B's and S's, but they don't really tell the whole story. And in fact, we don't even have a good understanding of what the story is. He struggles to get a few sentences on paper when faced with a blank page, but is it that he finds writing difficult, or is he daunted by the blank page? I've seen him crank out a couple of sentences in a row when he was motivated, but why is it that in school he gets nothing written after an hour? Conversely, we see him struggle with math when it's homework, but is that because he wants to do fun things or because he doesn't know? He brings home some great math test scores.

Kids with ASD and ADHD are often intelligent, but learn differently, so the struggle is more about understanding how a kid learns. You can only do that if you give him the attention and opportunity, and even in the elementary setting, the public school failed to provide that. His principal and one of his teachers were fantastic, but the support system around his IEP was suboptimal at best, especially when he was remote last year. There's no universe where that would get better in a huge middle school. This new school can meet him where he is, and we're hoping that he can go back to a public or "regular" high school after a few years, if he can develop the skills to be successful in that situation. We just don't know yet.

Simon's emotional and social maturity is definitely a year or two behind. He connects better with younger and significantly older kids, but struggles with his peers. We're seeing some development there as well, and seeing a therapist and emerging from the pandemic is helping. Difficult as this might be, I'm really impressed with his self-awareness about what he's feeling. Even today at the new school, he was able to tell me that he was feeling overwhelmed and nervous and worried about whether or not the kids at this new school would like him. Being able to see that himself was not a thing a year ago.

Diana has been amazing in this process. She checked out several schools, talked with the folks at each one, and figured out how to use the state's grant program to help pay for it. She navigated the IEP process and official diagnoses that qualified him for the grants. This school isn't huge, but it's the school that most closely matches what he needs. It has been a journey, and I'm really happy about the way it turned out. She's a remarkable mother.

I hope that we're setting him up for long term success, because he says he wants to go to college and specialize in hospitality management so he can run a theme park. It's a little early for him to be setting those goals (especially that precise!), but I love that he's looking forward like that. The reality is that we have to take things a little at a time, and that's hard. I don't want anything to hold him back. When he's willing to slow down and listen, and absorb things, I'm often surprised at what he can understand. If autism or any comorbidity doesn't interfere with his cognitive ability, his path forward involves developing the coping and compensation skills for the unique way that he learns. If it does run interference, then the goals are still similar, figuring out how to maximize his ability. Not knowing how it will go is scary.

For now, we're going to celebrate the end of a difficult year, and enjoy summer. That kid has had more than his share of trauma and drama in the last year (same for his parents). It's time for some easier and more relaxing days.


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