Friday, October 02, 2009

Daniel in School

We are two months into school now and Daniel is fairing better than I expected. At his own request, he's attended two dances and actually danced a little. Stacy who I've mentioned before and a small circle of girls seem to have made it their mission to include him in their activities. He usually comes in the door happy and as talkative as Daniel ever is. He's taking Chemistry, Communication Arts, Algebra A, American History, PE, and an advanced Art class (Art is his thing the way music is Jeremiah's). I'm delighted to report that he's making As in everything except History, and he's got a B in that.

However not everything is coming up roses. A few days ago, he came home with an assignment to create a "brochure" that would convince people to move to or visit a town, the name of which he drew from a hat. Daniel drew "Warren, NJ".

For the uninitiated, Aspies often struggle with decision-making and exercises that demand abstract thinking. It's not that they are unimaginative (not even close). They simply are at their best with the tangible, with the familiar, and what comes directly from their own heads and immediate experiences. Daniel's never been to Warren, NJ and has no desire to go there himself so he can't imagine why anyone else would want to either. Additionally, unlike his older brother who could sell ice cubes to an Eskimo (trust me), the idea of selling anyone on the idea of doing anything, is beyond his comprehension. When Daniel did googled it, he didn't spot any obvious answers to his quandary, so he was frozen in time, sitting in front of the computer, staring into space.

When we realized he needed help, Jeremiah and I both jumped out and googled Warren ourselves. We quickly found numerous links and sent them to him. Jeremiah offered several suggestions and I gave an inspiring speech about what this town must be like, talking about their numerous city parks, the annual hot air balloon festival, the historical sites, their community gardens, and their great museums, lovely old homes, schools, and so on. Heck, when I got done with it, I wanted to live in Warren, NJ (Sometimes I don't know my own power).

In spite of all of this, and hour later, Daniel was still sitting in front of the computer, frozen in time. When I spoke to him, he turned and looked at me with tears pouring down his face.

A meltdown. Albeit a quiet one. Crap. Crap. Crap. We haven't seen one of these in a couple of years. I had to swallow my reaction (which was to cry with him).

He was embarrassed and upset enough that he had trouble talking. Jeremiah back wandered in and actually sat down. Jeremiah isn't known for cutting Daniel any slack, which can be both good and bad, but this time he was quiet as Daniel began to sort through what he wanted to say.

"I can't think straight. My head is cloudy. I don't know what's wrong."

Do you feel sick? I asked.

No. I'm just tired. I'm tired all the time.

Are any of your classes worrying you?

"No. In fact it's easier than homeschool."

Big surprise. Are you having problems with anyone at school? Another student or a teacher?


So what do you think it is?

"I don't know."

"I do," said Jeremiah. "I know exactly what your problem is. You're not getting enough sleep and you're not eating right."

Daniel opens his mouth to argue and shuts it.

"I did the same thing and I felt the same way." Jeremiah glanced me and smiled. "Do you remember what you did?"

"Yes I did. You were a straight A student and you didn't fake being sick and you never tried to get out of going to school. So I let you take a day off to catch up on your rest and then you worked out a better schedule for yourself."

In fact, I did this for him twice in four years ( the last time he was under the gun to write a paper and stayed up all night two nights running--the result was an eighteen year old zombie--not a pretty picture). I figure a better rested student with a couple of "bogus" absences on his record is better than a worn out, stressed one. Unfortunately, the school's policy limits excused absences to illness, death in the immediate family, or doctor's appointments (with proof). This means I have to be dishonest in order to practice this policy. Once upon a time, the only unexcused absence was one in which the parent hadn't given the kid permission to miss school. Now the school decides this and it irritates me no end.

"Yes I did. Man, you got to go to bed earlier and you've got to grab some fruit or a salad at lunch time."

I was a little blown away by Jeremiah and told him so later on. He shrugged it off, but was pleased.

I let Daniel take the day off (he actually protested this--largely because he had a hard time understanding that the teacher would let him turn the work in a day late), let him sleep in some. When he got up, I put him back to work on his assignment. He also had extra chores around the house (he was disappointed to learn that a day off from school did not mean a day off at home).

He made an A on the assignment, by the way. I didn't see the actual finished result until yesterday when he showed me the artwork on the front--a sketch of a hot air balloon--which he tells me he almost forgot about. It took him seven hurried minutes in art class. I wish I could draw like that when I wasn't in a hurry.

I've been corresponding with his history teacher to find out why he only has a B in that class. It seems he's not been turning in daily writing assignments. When I sounded Daniel out on it, I learned that he doesn't turn in the ones he considers unfinished, even though the teacher only picks these papers up once a week.

You do know you can finish them at home, right?

Daniel looked surprised. "But he only gives us five minutes at the beginning of class to write them."

But he doesn't pick them up every day, which means you could finish them on your own time.

"But . . ."

It's okay, Daniel. It's not cheating.

He looked uncertain, but acknowledged me with a nod.

I've often been grateful that I only had one Jeremiah, who--along with being gifted musically, extremely intelligent, and quite driven (and mouthy)--is the one who always spotted loopholes and exploited them (But Mom, you didn't say . . .). However, I confess, sometimes I wish a little of it would rub off on Daniel.

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