I haven’t written in a long time. Since we changed schools I decided to focus solely on Adam. I’m also very cautious of what I write about, because while it’s important for me to do this, it’s important to protect Adam’s dignity as he is maturing fast.
We made the official switch to an ABA school. Frankly, it was getting exhausting trying to find an inclusive school to support Adam’s needs. Adam needs understanding, lots of structure, lots of practice for the work that’s difficult for him, and people who greet him every day with a wide smile. I have been struggling on how to write this because I’ve been so critical of ABA. I have come to peace with this decision for now. We didn’t have good early experiences. I’ve learned that it’s not just some ABA therapists who didn’t accommodate or treat Adam with respect. Understanding autism, accommodating, accepting isn’t reserved for the non ABA teacher. Maybe times are changing.
Adam has Occupational Therapy equipment and goes to the gym every day at his school. He gets his sensory breaks. He uses a Vantage Lite and now the iPad — from the notebook, to text-to-speech for typing, which he is doing more independently. He also enjoys using the Vantage Lite. Adam also started using the Vital Links headphones which help him be able to calm his body and sit at a desk and do work. This works by choosing various MP3 music chips. He can sit and work and still hear and listen to his teachers. It’s a much better option than the Ritalin we once tried in his other school — a nightmarish experience.
After June, Adam went also to a new camp. We lost our aide worker of seven years. For the first time I had to let Adam “go.” I had to learn to trust that others would treat him well and I had to trust that Adam would rise to the occasion.
He did, although his new obsession with exploration and doors took over. He typed to me in the summer that “door is a question.” A question so powerful, in fact, that sometimes he seems to have little control over his insatiable curiousity.
We incorporated exploration time at the end of each day, with supervision. He was still adored at his new camp as he was at his older camp. Both camps are fully inclusive. He needed a bit more support after incidents at the end of his the year at his other school. I called the summer “operation calm down” as Adam was highly stressed and the door obsession began. As the summer unfolded, he calmed. By the end of it, his ability to speak reliably soared in ways we had not yet experienced. He was relaxed and happy and of course, we always try and type a little more each day at home since he got his iPad.
This was the biggest change in Adam’s communication — his verbal ability increased and between typed and verbal, I could trust that what he said, he meant. Instead of echoing or saying things he learned elsewhere, Adam began telling me real things and he still does — from how he is feeling, to what happened to him, and what he does and doesn’t like or want. Some days I will get an interesting full blown description of something I didn’t quite ask for, with language full of imagery that I have to interpret, which gives me clues into the way Adam sees things. I have asked the school to verify things I do not know, in order to test myself as Adam’s communication partner. I am always trying to ensure that I enable Adam by testing myself and watching for his cues. I am a work in progress.
Adam writes emails to me every day — something I still insist as part of reciprocal communication (and a safety necessity in my view). Yesterday, he independently wrote me that his tummy was sick. I had to call the school to verify and the senior therapist ran down to check on him. “Isn’t this a wonderful call?” I said. Sure, my son could have been barfing, but hell, he could tell me! Adam is assertive when he can speak. I can see more clearly now that he has a fighter spirit.
Yesterday, Adam was unusually upset in his OT appointment and I had to intervene. I brought in the iPad and he typed “I want dinner!” As he typed, he said the sentence before he finished typing the word dinner. When Adam is anxious, like so many autistic individuals express, it can be harder for him to access language. Sometimes it’s not, so there are no clear cut “rules” here. Yet, as soon as he was able to have access to the device to type, he immediately calmed down.
The same thing happened this morning. He was quite upset. I brought out the iPad to type on the text to speech application, which he really likes. I asked him if he was feeling tired or sick. He wrote back, “No school because I tired.” He smiled because he obviously feels more empowered when he can tell me what he really wants to say.
I get asked a lot from parents on how I taught Adam how to type. Believe me, I was criticized by people who believed that supported, or facilitated communication, was a hoax. I simply kept it up (I started when Adam was around four years old). Now Adam can type unsupported most of the time. My priority with his school is following up with is literacy and unsupported typing. At home, we play poetry games and type in the nuanced ways that are difficult to explain without writing it out in a longer essay or post. It is always best to see Adam and I doing this a few times to see how varied it can be.
Today, I promised myself I would write again, and I’m enjoying writing about Adam’s writing, which is much more interesting than mine. Sometimes I feel that I am climbing a never-ending mountain when I say it is Adam’s neurology, not behaviour, that make it difficult for him to communicate and do tasks consistently. So I stopped writing and talking for a while and just lived our lives. This is one of the reasons I had to take a break. I needed to be with Adam, go through all the changes, and just be.
So far, I like what I see as Adam happily runs to the school door every morning. We went through some difficult days with certain ABA therapists when Adam was a baby. It is now, as he’s older, that I see that consistent practice is important and helpful to him, as well as a structured day that he can predict and have some control over. For Adam, I am still convinced that the early engagement was very important through a play-based method. He always had a combination of methods that are currently out there. Being with other children was wonderful. I wish he could still be with all kinds of children, of course, especially since he typed a couple of weeks ago, “I want friends.” But when schools do not fully understand and accept autistic kids, I had to pull back and ask myself where Adam might be treated better. In this case, he’s in a place where the staff seem open minded and we work together on planning Adam’s programs and various teaching methods. Adam’s extracurricular activities include now skiing, a Friendship Club, piano lessons, and an art class.
I am hopeful because I know that Adam will progress because of maturity and because of finding the environments, support and methods that best suit him, and these may or may not change. I am also hopeful for myself that be it good or bad, writing and talking about Adam in respectful ways is still very important to how I support myself as his mother. Both Adam and Estee find writing really important, and I know Adam would tell you so.
Every parent has a dream and an expectation for their children, and expectations never quite turn out how we envision. I always had a dream that Adam and I will tour around and he will be able to tell you many things on how he grew up and learned all by himself and I can talk about the journey I took to try and help him. I can imagine Adam and writing to each other, because that’s what we are doing! Maybe soon I’ll find the energy to show you. I believe Adam the fighter will want to show you for himself.