Up, Down, Sideways…A Huge Step

Posted: May 18th, 2010 under communication, life on the spectrum, parenting, socialization.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

…also known as the last three months.   It’s been a roller-coaster, a whirligig, and a challenge in every dimension, but here we are facing the next with renewed excitement.

First there’s the college situation.   Our son did in fact have problems typical of autists in both the Transition to College and the Reading classes.   It’s worth examining these to see how his autism affected his understanding of (clear to most people) instructions.   He had been working willingly and consistently, so it wasn’t lack of motivation or laziness causing the difficulties.

In Transition to College, he was supposed to write an essay covering eight questions about his goals and intentions in college.    He had been working through these at home.  But the instructor said “Turnthe paper with the questions on it into [specific office] on Thursday.”    So…M- turned in the paper with the questions on it (not his answers, just the questions) at the correct office at the correct time.  Literal interpretation of instructions, with no insight into the purpose of the instructions…no “street smarts” in other words.    When he got the email from his instructor asking why he’d done that, he panicked–he thought he’d done everything right.  It took some emails, a visit to the admin office,  and a lot of parental scaffolding to get this straightened out.   However, at this time we were told that there were no interim grades reported for the Reading class, but that his overall average was B.

I was still concerned about his reading comprehension, and the fact that the Reading class was so unstructured.  But on the basis of what we were told about his grades at approximately mid-term,  and the summer schedule recommended for him (the lowest level Writing class and the next Math class) we decided to move him into the city, into an apartment near the community college campus, rather than have to drive 80 miles/day, five days a week, to transport him to the nearest bus connection…especially in light of some health problems of our own that might have compromised our ability to ensure his regular attendance.

This decision led to a lot more complications (a later post on that)  but a few weeks later we found that he was now flunking the Reading class, and might need to re-take it in the summer.  The Reading class had only two tests–one late in the  semester and a  final exam.   After consultation with the counselor, we tried intensive tutoring for the last couple of weeks of the class, and M- improved enough on the final to just pass the course.

His problems with reading comprehension are fairly typical; even at the high school level, students are expected to be able to “get” the point of view of others, including that of someone writing an article.    He was supposed to detect obvious bias, intent, etc.    These higher literacy skills depend on pre-existing social skills for the same tasks…social skills he is still partly or mostly lacking.   Again, it’s the lack of “street smarts” and “school smarts”–the ability to assess a situation, facial expressions, tones of voice,  the likely motivations of others in real life–that makes “reading” these things in written texts almost impossible.

But not completely impossible.   Intervention did create gains.  He will need more coaching, probably for several more years, but the good news is that he is getting a grasp on what he doesn’t understand.

The next step to independence is the big move (next weekend and week) into his own apartment in the city.   He has been living across the street in a house we own, paying his own utilities and managing his SSI and minimal earned money on his own for two years, doing most of his own cooking,  his own grocery shopping, etc.  There have been glitches, but he’s gotten a lot better at it.   Today, he and his father went to the city and bought his textbooks for next semester and he signed the lease for his apartment.

Now we’ll find out if he’s capable of managing his life on his own, fifty miles from parents, in an environment at least partly new to him.    (If we didn’t think he could, we wouldn’t have gone this route….but we don’t know for sure without trying.)    Will he be able to keep up with the two classes he’ll take this summer?    Will he manage his time well?    Will he keep track of his money?  Remember to lock his door?   Will he be able to work part-time at all?    (His manager at the pizza place where he’s been working part-time said he would contact the manager of  a store in the same chain that should be accessible by bus from the apartment, but all the links aren’t in place yet.)  The financial end will be tricky, due to the rules governing SSI disability payments, but at this point we are still around to help.

Motivating a young person to seek more education and grow more requires that they find home “not enough” and see possibilities they have not yet experienced.   In M-‘s case,  the early travel we did with him exposed him to more places with more different kinds of environments; he became dissatisfied with what’s available in this small town.  The year he spent in the more restrictive conditions of a group home convinced him he did not want to live like that the rest of his life, and once out of that, he began to talk about college and finding jobs.   This motivation grew–he insisted he was ready to try college, and though he had difficulties this past semester, his commitment to more education never wavered.   We’ve also seen noticeable advances in his social skills (still not “there” yet, but moving the right direction) in the past months.

Our goal for him has always been the most complete independence possible.  Moving to his own apartment is a huge step…what I see as the next to last huge step (the last being finding work that fully supports him so he can get off disability…and that’s one that will also be strongly affected by his autism.)   He’s a little apprehensive (he’s always worried about making mistakes, making people mad, etc.) and I’m certainly twitchy as well…but the young bird can’t ever fly if it never leaves the nest.    So….here we go.


  • Comment by Jenny — May 18, 2010 @ 9:26 pm


    Yay! I’m praying for you guys and especially mama bird:)

  • Comment by Theresa Brennan — May 19, 2010 @ 1:57 pm


    It is so encouraging to read about your son’s progress towards an independent life. Right now my step-son is 12, and its hard sometimes to feel hopeful. Every small thing is such a huge struggle. In the meantime, congratulations on the progress and here’s my finger’s crossed that all goes well for him and you.

  • Comment by Elizabeth — May 19, 2010 @ 3:34 pm


    Thanks, Theresa. If I’d had this blog when M- was 12, you might find that we were about where you are back then. It’s slow, it’s a struggle (after all we’re 14 years farther on, now…) but as long as there’s progress, you haven’t reached the limit yet. I wish you all the best with your step-son.

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