This is an email I didn’t send. It was going to Dimitri’s SEA, who has been with him since kindergarten. She was also Shayla’s SEA at the same school. I won’t send it now because writing it out was all the clarification I need.
Backstory: Shayla had her IEP (Individual Education Plan) this morning. Dimitri’s will be scheduled any day now. Unfortunately, Shayla’s successes and struggles have shadowed Dimitri. Fear has been the byword for Shayla’s school plans, brought about by our very early experiences with an unsupportive and ignorant principal (who has since retired). It was a nasty way to start our whole parent-school experience. We had to get on their case to provide Shayla with EVERYTHING she was entitled to (support, therapies, interventions, and safe and productive learning environment), until I’m sure the principal viewed us as leeches sucking money from her budget.
Dimitri is much higher functioning than her and in a far better environment, but we direct the schools to treat them the same. My head knows it is time to stop this, but my heart is afraid of him losing because we did not demand enough.
Here it is:
Strange question time. Sorry, but it’s another comparison between Shayla and Dimitri. You know them both, as well as anyone can, and especially their different learning styles. Being that it’s IEP season, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to their learning styles.
The reason I am asking for your opinion in this matter is because I (and Tony) struggle to separate our previous experience with Shayla from our projected experience with Dimitri. They are, in our hearts and mind, two parts of one unit (our children). The fact they both have autism has increased this challenge because until recently we lacked the greatest tool (varied peer interaction) to recognize any neuro-typical development. I’ve made it my mission to get a better understanding of them as individuals beyond the autism, and in doing so I am studying their differences.
I’ve been considering how Shayla stayed close to her peers academically until puberty and behaviour changes, but Dimitri has struggled. However, Dimitri is so obviously engaged in the school experience, while Shayla had to be drawn out of her shell. And though I know learning styles within every person is layered and influenced by environment and interests, there will be traits that will stand out.
Both kids demonstrate a strong ability to learn, but their intellect is manifesting very differently. Shayla is smart – when we find that window in her brain and get the information in, it stays there. She can use concepts and knowledge appropriately, and though output remains sporadic, what we get is good. On the other hand, Dimitri is clever. He doesn’t remember some stuff like proper spelling, but he uses environmental information as well as previous knowledge to come up with solutions. And he has a wider definition of “solution” than we expect from a third grader, which contributes to his avoidance behaviours.
This was my “a-ha” moment. Shayla is smart; Dimitri is clever. Neither child is a poor learner. They can be taught, but strategies must be different as well as expectations. Shayla fared well in spelling and word-recognition. Math was really hard. Dimitri actually does great at math with motivation (“Look! A cookie! Finish the worksheet and it’s all yours!”), though he has to use manipulatives however his vocabulary has been described as “inventive spelling”, and his reading is something he avoids like a plague of locus.
Actually, I think he’d prefer the bugs. I think he would pick them up and show it to all the other eight-year-old boys, where they would gather as a pack with cries of “Oh, cool,” and “Can I hold it?”
This is my new goal. I am going to see the children as individuals beyond the autism. “Autism” is a series of challenges and struggles due to hereto uncharted brain problems. I am going to see them as more than challenges and struggles. Because there are huge parts of them that are just flat-out normal.