Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Raising The Bar

Three months short of our older son’s 4th birthday, he was diagnosed with autism.

I’m not sure if my wife and I really understood what that meant back then. We’d heard the term. We’d seen stories. Once we got the diagnosis, we read the literature. The learning curve was steep. We tried to stay on the road. It was a challenge for us.

It was a greater challenge for him.

The biggest issue he faced was with his speech. He had difficulty processing what he heard. He had difficulty saying what he was trying to say. My wife once commented that our son speaks English like it’s his second language. Try as we might, we couldn’t figure out what the first language was.

We got as much help as we could through insurance and hired private help, the type that insurance wouldn’t cover. We also worked hard with him ourselves at home. When he started school, we got him an Individualized Education Profile (IEP), trying to obtain services for him. Slowly, it started to pay off.

The first thing we discovered was that he excelled at math. Numbers came easy to him, though word problems were troubling. We also found that he liked science and history. Language arts was another story. His language issues proved hard to overcome. However, he did get better.

As his abilities improved, we changed his focus. However, we discovered he did as well. He was pulled nearly every day for special services. He didn’t like being singled out and worked with one goal in mind…to get out of services.

We worried when he started middle school, concerned if he could handle the increased work load. He did well, particularly in math, and his grades were good overall. He also joined the band as a clarinet player. His service levels were reduced, but he still got them for speech and language arts.

Seventh grade came and our son surprised us. He secretly made arrangements to change from regular math to accelerated math class and passed the test to be admitted. He also tried out for and made Honors Band. Toward the end of of seventh grade, he applied to be a Peer Leader at his school. The position would allow him to help younger students to adjust to middle school. His speech capabilities were an issue, but he didn't let that stop him. He went through the application and interview was accepted as a Peer Leader.

This year, he started 8th grade. He continues to be in Accelerated Math and Honors Band and he added Accelerated Science. We were worried that more accelerated classes would tax him, but he wanted to stay in the class. He’s also moved to a regular Language Arts class. He continues to have speech problems and take speech lessons at school. However, he looks forward to the day that he can eliminate that, too.

My wife and I know that challenges remain. However, we couldn’t be prouder of his accomplishments. The day he was diagnosed, I doubt we foresaw this for him. However, I’d be afraid to believe he has any limits now.


Pepper said...

So sorry I'm late to this post, Walt - but I just wanted to say how much I love your insight in this.

I love the way you celebrate your son - and God's unique design of his life.
It's one of my callings to get to work with kids who view the world in a different way -and I LOVE it! They teach me something new every week

Walt Mussell said...

Pepper, it's the biggest challenge I've ever had. It also has the greatest reward. Every year at my birthday, I get a chance to make one wish.

As much as it means to me, though, I've never wished to be a published author when I blow out the candles.

Pepper said...

You have your priorities straight, Walt.
I have kids from 2nd grade to college age - all on the Spectrum. Their challenges are many. Their parents battles are enormous.

And these kids have hearts of GOLD! Genuine. Honest. No pretense. Despite all the challenges and frustrations, there is an element of truth in the fact that the world could be a lot more genuine if we viewed things a little more like a person with Autism.

Okay - sorry, got off on my tangent :-)

It sounds like you have a great kid...who has some fabulous parents