Monthly Archives: June 2012
This came across my desk today. I see this all the time. I guess because I am autistic, I can tell the difference. Many people point and stare and say: “Bad parenting!” == I go up to the parent and say, “I’m autistic, how can I help?” Often times, I can not help. But at least the parent knows, someone cares.
TO: CLASSROOM TEACHERS
SUBJECT: The Real Me – A Composite Picture
FROM: The Dyslexic Student in your Class (assisted by Jo Polk, Language Science Teacher)
I just wanted to write you a note to say thanks for all the time and trouble you put in working with me at school every day. Also, there are a lot of things I would like for your to know about me, but trying to put my thoughts down on paper is the hardest thing I do, so my Language Science teacher said she would help me try to tell you what I’m really like.
I know you are interested in what I’m really like because you had me fill out that questionnaire about what I liked best. Well, I told you the food I liked best was hot dogs, but I hate hot dogs! What I really like is spaghetti, but I couldn’t spell that. I also told you my favorite subject is math, but I had to put that down, because I couldn’t spell “science.” So I never can say what I really mean when I’m writing because I can’t spell what I want to say. My teacher says that some studies show that there is a relation between violence and an inability to say what you want to say, either because of a poor vocabulary or because the words are just “tied up” inside of you and won’t come out no matter how hard you try. Sometimes I do just feel like I’m going to explode!
I know that I must be a puzzle in class sometimes because, even though I look like the other kids and act like them, most of the time, I just can’t seem to do my work as well as they do. Maybe you just think I’m kind of weird and that’s why I wanted to try to tell you what it feels like to be me.
This is kind of what it feels like: Do you remember what it felt like when you had that earache and had to have drops and a piece of cotton in your ear? Or when you had your eyes dilated and words looked blurred, and you couldn’t read very well? Or when you had a broken finger or arm and had to do everything with the “wrong” hand? Or how frustrated you feel when you can’t bring up the word you want? Or you can’t remember someone’s name? Or you drink too much of what you want? Or you drink too much coffee and have a case of coffee nerves, and you feel all jittery and uncomfortable inside – and no one else really knows it?
Then suppose you’re struggling with all these things – and the principal walks in to appraise you – and stays six hours! (A whole school day!) (Mom said I should put that in to help you see how I feel, because she said even a TEACHER gets blurry eyed and jittery when she’s getting appraised – whatever that is!) If you can imagine all these things then maybe you feel something of the way I feel at the end of a school day. So sometimes I go home and blow up at Mom and Dad – and they ground me!
I can do some things pretty well though. For instance, I’m a fairly good math student, but words are almost meaningless to me. (That’s what dyslexia is, you know – “bad words.”) So when you give me vocabulary terms to learn in math – they might as well be Japanese! Same way with computer terms or word problems. You see a lot of times I can solve math problems in my head, but when I have to write them down, I make a lot of mistakes – especially if they involve subtraction or multiplication facts.
And I know you must wonder why I almost never get everything copied down from the board. Well, I’m what the doctor calls dysgraphic, which means that my hand just won’t always do what my brain tells it to, so my writing is cramped and out of line and has poor spacing. Besides that, I’m left handed, and I just never did learn to hold my pencil correctly.
Because it’s so hard for me to copy from the board I very often don’t get home with a complete vocabulary list or notes to study, so I make a bad grade on my test because I didn’t have all the information to study.
Of course copying from the board is usually not as hard as copying from a transparency. Besides the fact that the lights bother me, the letters sometimes blur and seem to move, so by the time I relocate a word that I was working on, the transparency has been moved, and I’m completely lost. That’s usually when I kick Bobby to make him mess up too. And if you’re talking while I’m trying to copy – forget it! I don’t get the notes copied and I also miss what you’re saying!
Just think how confusing it is to try to work with these handicaps in a room with twenty-five or thirty other people moving about and making noise. I also have to try to resist what my teacher calls the “visual static” of highly coloured bulletin boards maps, pictures, charts, posters, etc. I like these – they’re pretty! But the “gatekeeper” in my brain lets in too much of this stimulation and it boggles my mind.
My teacher says all of this stuff makes me have an “output deficiency.” She says that means something is different about the integration process – that after sensory information is received by my brain, something different happens in the neuronal, electrical and/or chemical processes somewhere in my central nervous system. This different neurological organization often keeps me from responding properly to stimuli. (She’s always talking weird like that! We just try to overlook her.)
But some of these things that are different about me make me really good at things like art and music and drama. And everybody in my house brings me things when they need to be fixed. I’m a great swimmer and golfer. And I’m learning photography as a hobby, and I can usually think of a solution to problems that’s different from what everyone else comes up with – and I fell good about that. I’m inquisitive too, and I want to know how everything works.
But yeah, I know I’m in trouble a lot. You’re probably thinking about the bus conduct report I got last week. But how was I to know when the bus driver said, “Hit the seat!” that she meant for me to sit down. Instead, I whacked the seat with my lunch kit and tore the upholstery and she got mad! Why don’t adults say what they mean?
Another thing about me is, what I’d really like to do is to play sports, but it seems like I’m always doing something wrong in football practice. When the coach calls us into the muddle (seems like that to me!), I try to concentrate but my auditory mis-perception problem gets in the way, and I hear what he says, but I just don’t understand what he means. My dad says too, that I can remember some things like an elephant, but that my short term memory is not so good, so I forget the plays. Then when I get on the field and run right instead of left, well.
But I always have too much homework to play football anyway, so I thought I would try band, and I could practice at night after I got my homework done. Boy, I’ve got my problems there too, though. The director tells me I must look at him and if I do, I lose my place on the music, and all the lines and spaces and notes run together and I’m just lost. And the rhythm! I know I couldn’t hear accent in words, but I didn’t know that I would also have trouble with the strong and weak beats in music!
Well it may not matter much, because I don’t want to be a football star of a musician when I grow up, anyway. I want to be a veterinarian – or maybe a surgeon like my mother’s brother. Maybe I can make it, because Mom said my uncle couldn’t have made it through medical school without a reader. I told Mom I couldn’t believe they have basal readers even in medical school.! (Those things will haunt me all my life, I guess!) She said that wasn’t what she meant -just like the bus driver!
Well anyway, my parents say it was the luckiest day of our lives when we moved to this school and I got put in classes with teachers who try to understand and work with me. They said kids like me used to drop out of school – but, then those kids didn’t have teachers like you!
I’ve got to get out of here. It’s 5:30 already and dinner’s at 6:00. Yikes! That’s not 5:30 – it’s 6:25! Oh, no. I’m late again! Mom says I have NO sense of time!
Well thanks again. See you in class tomorrow. I’ll be the one rummaging through my backpack trying to find my pencil and paper. So now for long!
Jo Polk 10/1/87
Copyright (c) Jo Polk – All rights reserved.
Regarding Dysgraphia: (personal note)
My whole learning process is oriented toward hearing, not seeing. It was how I coped with this disability. I never even knew I had it. I just knew, it was hard to learn subjects like math, which is all visual. I had to tape lectures in college and listen to them again. Trying for copious notes just didn’t work. It is probably why my eye/hand co-ordination is so poor, and why I do very poorly at video games. I grew up feeling like I was a clumsy”“klutz” and never knew why. I was never good at sports,never good at art, drawing, or so on. Cursive writing is impossible for me. It’s why I print, and use block letters, to this very day. Stroke by stroke, I form each letter.
I discovered this, when I was doing volunteer work at the Orton Dyslexia Society, in the San Fernando Valley. (They have an excellent chapter in San Diego!) I wanted to better understand some of the other kids I meet, who have learning disabilities, as well as myself.
Dysgraphia, like Dyslexia, is covered under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA). If I ever return to school, I will be provided with a note taker, at no cost. Early diagnosis, is important. I went most of my life, thinking that I was ”“different!” I was! But now, I know why. Note that the official diagnosis (for me) was made by a Psychiatrist.
There is solace in numbers. CS Lewis said this: ”“Perhaps the most liberating words ever spoken in any language are these:You too? I thought I was the only one!”
And so it goes –
September 10, 2000
I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, in August, 2008.
This is especially poignant:
Cases of dysgraphia in adults generally occur after some neurological trauma. Dysgraphia may also be diagnosed in a person with Tourette syndrome, ADHD or an autism spectrum disorder such as Asperger syndrome.
This explains a lot of my childhood struggles.
A salient ability of Aspergers, is the ability to view everyone equally. Black. White. Brown. English Speaking, non-English Speaking. Republican. Democrat. Young. Old. All are equal in the eyes of most Autistic’s. This can be a decided advantage in dealing with the varied opportunities for relationships. It can also be an unravelling. Those on the Autistic Spectrum are easily blind sided by the need to custom tailor their approach to relationships to an individual, and not the group en masse. What works for one group or individual does NOT always work with another.
Ignoring someone with Autism/Aspergers is the most powerful weapon Neuro-Typicals (NT) employ. Silence (no communication) is interpreted as rejection. The deafening cry is a plea to be left alone.
For many, the social information can not be processed correctly or immediately. It takes a long time (weeks or months) to understand when a relationship is over, because many process emotional information, through logic. When the social information is properly decoded, there may be a plea for grace to end the relationship expeditiously and friendly, so that the loss can be appropriately mourned, and the long journey to restoration can finally begin.
October 16, 2011
Most anyone who is part of the Autism Community, would recognise the name Dr. Temple Grandin. But would you recognise the name: Eustacia Cutler?
By: Patrick Springer, INFORUM / Fargo, North Dakota
Colin Vieweg possesses a level of maturity beyond his years. He’s also prone to pronouncements delivered with an air of erudition that have earned him an affectionate family nickname: the Little Professor.
He started to read at the age of 3, a skill that was well established by kindergarten, leading him to announce: “Mom, I’m bored. I already know how to write my name.”
“He’s always been so bright and so charming,” his mother, Emily Vieweg, says. “He’s just a happy kid.”
Happy, but also troubled at times. Colin has an inability to read social cues that makes it difficult for him to form friendships. Small changes can loom as big disruptions, and his mood can abruptly switch from sunny to stormy.
The first hint of problems surfaced at age 5, when his mother noticed he was “a little bit hyper.”
His problems in social interactions weren’t evident when he started school. As a preschooler, in fact, he was enrolled in a special education program as a “typically developing peer” to provide a good model for disabled children.
But as he progressed in elementary school, problems became evident. At first specialists attributed his problems to a learning disorder. He was given a diagnosis of oppositional defiant.
Then, a therapist recognized symptoms that previously were overlooked. Colin has Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.
Along with difficulty in social interactions, hallmarks of Asperger’s include repetitive routines or rituals, peculiarities in speech and language, including speaking in an overly formal manner or in a monotone, and taking figures of speech literally. Clumsiness is sometimes a factor.
At first, Vieweg was unwilling to accept that her son had an autistic disorder. The therapist said: “That’s fine. You can disagree with me.”
But in time, after reading about Asperger’s syndrome, she came to accept the diagnosis and its consequences.
“I said, ‘OK, he has Asperger’s. This is what it is,’ ” Vieweg says.
That was the beginning of her evolving understanding of a condition that partly defines her only child.
It took her another year to arrive at the conclusion that there was nothing intrinsic about her son to change; his brain just works in a different manner than most.
“You don’t have to fix him,” she says. “We have to teach and guide, but I don’t want to change who he is.”
Colin’s early days in school were difficult, but his family now is grateful for the way he is handled by a team of teachers and a specialist at Fargo’s Carl Ben Eielson Elementary School.
Switching from one class to another can cause anxiety, so Colin is alerted in advance so he can ease into the transition, with help from a teacher.
Because loud noises and a lot of activity can be bothersome, Colin is in a smaller “adaptive” physical education class. For the same reason he avoids riding on the school bus, and is allowed to use a different staircase.
Also, if he feels overwhelmed, he can seek refuge in an office.
A set of seemingly minor accommodations have made a big difference in helping Colin cope with the challenges of school, his family says.
After school, his maternal grandmother, JoAnne Vieweg, picks him up and takes him to her home in south Fargo. His first half hour is spent “decompressing” from the stresses of navigating social interactions all day at school that would seem routine for most.
He finds solace in a corner of the living room at the computer, where he is chuckling at some Chuck Norris jokes, and with his portable video game console.
From time to time, he emerges from his absorption to join a conversation between his mother, grandmother and a visitor.
“I was ignored by the teachers a lot,” he says of his early days at school.
His mother asks, “Is that how you felt?”
“That’s how it was,” he says.
The early tendency from some of his teachers was to blame Colin’s difficulties on parenting, JoAnne Vieweg says.
With time came greater understanding, including the realization that his temper flare-ups – his family calls them meltdowns and Colin calls them emotional storms – are best to let pass.
“You wait until he’s calm,” JoAnne says, adding that he can’t think clearly in the moment, or even recall what happened during a meltdown.
His disabilities are more than offset, his mother and grandmother say, by his abilities.
“He can build anything,” JoAnne Vieweg says. “He’s exceptionally talented in music. He has a beautiful singing voice.”
“Perfect pitch,” Emily says. “There’s just so many things he can do.”
Barb Stanton will never forget the first child she diagnosed as having Asperger’s syndrome.
His mother was sitting in her office, crying as she recited a litany of problems he’d had, in public and private schools. In desperation, she turned to home schooling.
Nothing worked. No one had the answers.
The boy, seated beside his mother, calmly corrected his mother’s recollection of dates and other details.
Suddenly it became clear to Stanton, an individual and family therapist, that the boy had Asperger’s. She realized that she had probably missed the condition in other children she had seen.
Later, she would be the professional who diagnosed Colin. Those like him, on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, are often overlooked or misdiagnosed, Stanton says.
“There’s not an obvious disability until something happens,” she says. “They have such amazing skills and talents and yet there are other things they just have difficulties with.”
Because of their abilities, high-functioning autistics often are told, in so many words, “You’re so smart, why can’t you?” Stanton says.
“A lot of these kids are blamed for behavioral problems when it’s how their brain processes,” she says.
“There’s certainly a tremendous lack of services in this community for children and adults on the autistic spectrum,” Stanton says. “What these kids need more than anything is understanding and compassion.”
Emily Vieweg worries about the day when Colin will leave home.
She sums up her view of the uncertain future with one word: “Terrifying.”
Will her son be able to cope with the many changes that go with the transition to college?
She hopes that he will be able to gauge his reactions with other people; that he will be able to recognize when others try to take advantage of him.
“I want him to be properly protected,” she says. Once Colin is adult, she wonders whether she will be able to protect him in the way she can now.
“Legally what will I be able to do to support him and protect him?” she says. “I think one of the things I think about is what skill sets is he going to need?”
Those with Asperger’s syndrome have difficulty with what are called executive functions: organizational skills, being ready for class, remembering homework assignments, breaking long-term projects into manageable pieces.
“That I see as a potential issue for him,” JoAnne says.
It will take time to provide answers for those questions. In the meantime, the Viewegs know what helps. A key ingredient is his relationship with his teachers.
“He needs to know that the teachers like him and want him to succeed,” Emily says. “He feels more comfortable knowing he has friends.”
She’s thankful for the support she has, from her family and others in the community. As a single parent with a special needs child, she is devoted to her son around the clock.
Some of her friends have accused her of hovering, but Emily thinks of it as monitoring.
“Ever since he’s been tiny, I’ve been mama tiger, protecting my cub,” Emily says. “I’m going to protect my kiddo.”