Tag: educating an autistic child

Lost In “The Spectrum”: Educating My Autistic Son

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“Baby Mickey’s Red Ball”

When I first found out that I was pregnant, I was overjoyed. I had a miscarriage the previous year and being pregnant was an answer to prayer. I made all kinds of plans and had high aspirations about how I would educate my baby. I had always made good grades in school and loved to learn and my ex-husband had also. It was the one thing that we had in common, we were both geeks. We decided that we would read to the baby as soon as he was put into our arms and we did, not in the delivery room, but when we got to our regular hospital room. I had chosen the Disney book, “Baby Mickey’s Red Ball” to read first and as soon as they brought Lucas to me, I read. He seemed enthralled, a little too much for a newborn baby.

As he grew, we both read to him a lot. By the time that he was two years old, he was reading to us. I am not talking about memorization. I am talking about presenting him with reading material that he had never seen before and he read it to us, at the age of two. I had a Great-Uncle who was both fascinated and terrified at this amazing feat. At the age of four, we were visiting with my Great-Uncle and Aunt and Lucas read a newspaper that was laying on the dining room table. I’ll never forget the shock on my Great-Uncle’s face. He was a highly intelligent man who worked for the Agricultural Department and he was astonished.

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The Basics

I was working with Lucas at home because I wanted him to be advanced academically. I was teaching him his numbers and ABC’s. Once he grasped the pattern of our number system, he could count indefinitely. I remember him counting to 200 sitting on his potty for training. He began counting to 300 and I realized that he “got it” and never had to address that issue again. He was two.

Teaching his ABC’s seemed almost ridiculous. He was reading, but he did need to know how to spell, so it seemed to be a reasonable pursuit. Little did I know that he could already spell anything that he wanted to spell. It was very unusual.

This fascination with letters and numbers and advanced reading ability at such a young age is called hyperlexia and many autistic children have it. At the time I thought he was just brilliant, and he is. He is also autistic.

Pre-School

I mentioned his pre-school in my previous article. I had to go right back to the facility within hours of dropping him off at school. He was laying in the floor in the fetal position screaming to the top of his lungs. A few days later, a boy advanced towards him on the top of the slide in the little covered playhouse at the top. The boy was imitating the children’s show, “Power Rangers” and Lucas did not understand what he was doing and pushed him off the slide to the soft sawdust underneath. The boy was not hurt but Lucas was suspended. A few days later they were to convene in a meeting of “The Board” to determine if they would allow him to stay in school. I took him home and told them to forget it. I did not want him in a place where he was not wanted.

Kindergarten

About this time, a friend looked at me and said, “You’re going to home school this one aren’t you?” I desperately wanted to do just that, but had no idea about how to go about it. I knew that he was academically advanced and emotionally behind and that public school would not support his advanced intellect and that he would be bullied relentlessly. The school that he would go to was notorious for bullying by children and staff alike, and there was NO WAY that I would allow that to happen to him. I began to investigate home schooling.

After choosing the curriculum and informing family members about our decision to home school Lucas, I began using the workbooks provided. “Friends” and family alike were in a rage about Lucas being home schooled, as if it was some of their business. They had never watched as he was treated like an outcast by “a good Christian woman” in a room full of “normal” children. They had never seen people laugh when he read the words to a song from the church hymnal, thinking that it was just a memorization. They had never seen a 18 year old boy scream at him in the church parking lot until he ran to the car crying. They only knew that they wanted him to be like other kids. You know what they say, “Opinions are like (body part), everybody has one.” I have also heard that you can wish in one hand and urinate in the other and see which one gets full the fastest.” and “You can’t always get what you want.” as spoken by the great Mick Jagger. People who supposedly readily accepted the will of God in their lives were simply unwilling to accept the fact that the same path is not necessarily the best path for everyone. I home schooled him anyway.

The truth is, we pretty much just jumped right over kindergarten because Lucas already knew all of that. We went right to the first grade studies and the work was incredibly easy for him. By law, you only have to spend a few hours per day in actual studies and even that was not necessary. After he saw the material one time, he had it. The worksheets and tests were a breeze. I had been right, he would have been held back in the public system. Book knowledge came easy for him.

The Grammer School Years

We were able to join the YMCA and swim most days. Lucas is a great swimmer. He took lessons there. We bowled and hiked and took vacations and all the while, his curriculum was with us. We might study in the park one day and at home the next. Those days were the easiest days, not easy, but the easiest. We were not under pressure. Lucas still cannot handle stress well. Home schooling was great for him.

High School

As he neared the end of his mandatory years of study, the work got harder but he still excelled. He took his ACT and aced it with a 27. As a result of that test he was awarded a full Faculty Scholar scholarship to Jacksonville State University where he chose to major in General Music and Minor in Communication, (NOT Communications). Communication studies are mass communication and Communications is more technology oriented.

University

Lucas is a gifted pianist. He had lessons from the time he was 6 years old throughout his life and he excelled in his music. The Communication studies were just as easy for him. He could easily present a paper to an audience of 2 or 200 with no qualms. He was creative and resourceful and used Apple T.V. and Power Point and all kinds of technology to present to his class. He gave personal recitals and played in “Concerts and Recitals” for the staff and students and always got good grades. He graduated with Honors at the top of his class and went on to pursue his Master’s Degree. All of this was on the time table recommended by the University. He got his Bachelor’s Degree in four years and finished the Master’s program in two. It was pretty amazing to see. What no one saw was the endless shopping that I did, buying him everything that his heart desired, just to keep him sane. Those six years cost a fortune. The stress of a State University was too much for this autistic young man and he began to deteriorate mentally. By the time that he finished the Master’s program, he could not even pass the Comprehensive Exams. He walked in graduation but that was all. He never earned his Master’s even after successfully completing the course of study with mostly A’s and a few B’s.

While it is amazing for an autistic child as affected as Lucas is to earn a Bachelor’s Degree and finish the Master’s program, if I had it to do over, he would have never gone to University. His degree seems to be worthless. No one will hire him. He had been a church pianist before going to college at age 16. He did that again for a few months after graduation but he didn’t need a degree for that. The stress of college changed him in an undesirable way. The pressure of keeping his scholarship with high grades, along with the stress of performance and social pressures that he just could not understand, was too much for him. His behavior became erratic. He never thought about his actions before performing them. He became depressed and sullen and the social structure that was foreign to him due to his autism made him feel like a stranger in a strange land. An autistic girl struck up a friendship with him only to end it abruptly when her Mom disapproved. The loss of what he thought was the only friend he’d ever had was too much to bear on top of the rest of college life. He changed from a light-hearted gamer to a sad and lonely young man. He got his degree but lost so much more. He would have benefited so much more from a good trade school where he could have learned to do something useful. As it is, he is unemployable.

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Lessons Learned

As the old adage goes, “Hind sight is better than foresight.” I truly believed that Lucas would “fly” in University. I knew that he was intelligent and gifted. I figured that he would wind up being a geeky college professor like the character in the Disney movie, “The Absent- Minded Professor”. Instead, he had a breakdown. From what I understand, students do occasionally suffer mental breakdowns in college. I know of others who have had that experience who are not autistic. With his limited reasoning ability, he just could not make sense of the whole experience and with academic pressure and pressure at home, which has since been eliminated, he collapsed. Now, I advocate for him to have insurance, some income and a secure future. All that we can do is the best that we know. Nobody is perfect. The thing that I want you to remember is this, “Do your best. That’s all you can do. Your best is not the same as my best or anyone else’s best. It’s YOUR best. We are all imperfect and work with limited resources, both financial and otherwise. Once you’ve done your best, rest. That’s all that you can do.”

Love to all,

Brenda Sue