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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sending Zack to Summer School, Adjustments

So Zack's back in school this week, and of course, we're going through a little readjustment period.  He's been out of school for about two weeks, napping every day, staying up later at night, sleeping in (as much as he sleeps in), and not having to race around in the morning, getting ready for his summer bus.

He started back up school this Monday.  No more nap, he falls asleep in the middle of his bedtime story every night because he's so worn out, and not only do we have to get him up and ready and fed for the school bus by 7:30 AM, he's now - because of his earlier bedtime - getting up at 5:30.   At this rate, I'll be getting up at 2 AM just to get any decent writing done.

That's not the toughest part, though.  The two toughest adjustments:  

1. his acting out at home, because he's being told what to do all day and by the time he gets home, he's tired of it, which means LOTS of battles and head-butting at home

2. Abby and I convincing ourselves that he still needs summer school

The previous two summers, it wasn't so hard to see the need.  So early in his progress, he clearly needed the intervention.  That first summer, we were at our wits end dealing with him and were desperate.  Last summer, he'd improved greatly, but very early into his summer break he regressed, so we knew he needed summer school.

This summer, it's been harder.  He's come such a long way.  Most of the time, he's fully interactive with others, very sunny and cheery, and he knows better how to actually play and occupy himself.  His diction and language have improved immeasurably, and, unlike the previous two summers when I watched both of them at once, this year I don't feel trapped in the house.  I'm able to work outside, even mow, without worrying that Zack will run mindlessly into the road or into the neighbor's yard.

But we still decided to send him to summer school.

Which is so hard.  Because when we stop and think about it - if we let ourselves - our four year old boy hasn't had a summer off since before his second birthday.  For a little over two years, he's attended school nearly year-round.

That's tough to take.  He's energetic, loves to play, loves to be outside.  Part of me - and Abby, I know - hurts to think that until the end of August, he'll spend the bulk of his time Monday through Friday sitting at a desk, being put through fairly rigorous learning tasks.

But, as much as this hurts to admit, he still needs it.  His intellectual development is astounding.  Though his speech is still very childlike, he's synthesizing words and phrases at an astonishing rate, using them very appropriately in context. He plays well with Madi most of the time.  We can take him places publicly, even took him on an overnight trip to Niagara Falls this past weekend, and he was GOOD.  Several months ago, we took him on a 12 hour road trip for a week to Michigan to visit family.  We NEVER could've done that two years ago.


He still acts out terriblly - completely out of proportion to the situation - when he doesn't get his way.  He has NO CONCEPT of waiting, which seems like a normal four year old thing - but again, completely out of proportion to normal four year old behavior.   He doesn't come and ask to do something, he just runs off and does it, again, not because he's rebelling - he doesn't understand the concept of "asking".  

Though he's better at understanding some things hurt and are "dangerous" and staying away from those things...he still has some gaps.  And, the worse, he still - especially when out of school - slips into that mindless, repetitive behavior - "stimming" - that is the hallmark of autistic children, and the more he does that, the worse his behavior is, and you can see him sliding into it, detaching from the rest of the world, which makes dinner times and other structured, "sit down" activities very burdensome.

We have great the perhaps soon in the future, Zack can spend the summer home, like a normal little boy.  My greatest fear is that he'll suffer a kind of institutionalization, and only be happy and peaceful with high structure.   But in the end, it's not about what I would like for him, but what's best for him, which is a tough call.  Zack will always need more structure, more directives, more guidance than other kids, simply because of his behavior, for a long time.  

And as everyone knows, doing the right thing is rarely the easy thing.  

But we're committed.   As a teacher, I've seen too many parents over the years chose easier paths, and I often wonder - were those paths easier for their kids?  Or easier for them?

Because like anything else, parenting is NOT easy.  Was never supposed to be.  Because things worth doing never are.

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