Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Splurge

Insofar as theirs is a generation that we've had trouble just saying no to, does it follow that the absurd degree to which we live beyond our means reflects not so much our rapacity, but our unwillingness to stem it in our children?

This thought byte comes from a recent email thread between me and some dearest cronies who besides a lifelong friendship have the common bond of belonging to no groups that would have us as members.

From a mass scale telescopic view I can see how we as a generation have utterly failed the next one in the same way we've tried so hard to succeed: we've done what our parents didn't dream possible. We've become friends of our children. The hierarchy has collapsed. No more man's-home-as-castle or spare-rods-and-spoiling-progeny. We monitor their Facebook sessions. Then we skulk because they haven't friended us.

Part of our buddy play may well be to buy-off our childrens' gratifications through gadgets and junkets. We had one year of "the surge" but are now going on 30 years of splurge -- soon be etched in history as the run-up to the end of self-correcting capitalism.

However, peel away the macro perspective and my own micro perspective is out of step in the big splurge picture. I have a non neuro-typical son with an Asperger's diagnosis who I have a difficult time saying no to. This is because he has such a difficult time asking for things. I know that because he longs to be on his own. Unlike his dad he neither:

1. has the precedent to show himself the door from childhood nor,
2. the cognitive workings to figure out what it means to survive in the world.

Still he gets a seat at the table as his IEP team assembles. He is lobbied intensively by his divorced parents who are on opposite sides of whether to continue speech and language sessions at the high school. In the end he casts the deciding vote. He sides with mom -- as does the under-resourced school. In fact the school and she are in lockstep as documented by her response to my concern about ending special needs services and the official Refusal of Services letter I received the next day:

MOTHER: "[B]ecause the meeting concluded with the determination that, at his age, life experience (such as volunteering, community activities, etc.) is more appropriate than an artificial setting for gaining social skills, there is nothing I am seeking from the school system."

SCHOOL: "It is likely he will derive more benefit from real life interactions, and their natural consequences, through real life interactions as opposed to instructional practice with contrived and artificial situations."

My son does not understand this is a false choice. He does not see the connection between learning pragmatics and his leading an independent life. He doesn't connect all his confusions and anxieties about nonverbal language, contextual cues, inferential logic to basic social problem-solving 101. That's the program where life creates the problems and the course to address them is through the special needs services required by the many high-functioning and non-verbal learning disabled children that came of age in his generation.

He is not proficient in using his hands or working in the physical environment. He is not naturally gifted at math or science or other disciplines where he can lead a hermetic existence. He needs to live within the world of human contact. He has to be taught to process and handle intricacies he neither understands nor sees as important to his own growth and discovery.

So now that I've established what he doesn't want -- artificial and contrived situations perhaps? Here's what he is getting: He's in his second year of algebra and he still can’t figure out how to convert hours worked into dollars earned. He completes workbook upon workbook in his solitary home school setting filled with multiple choice trivia that relies on his one indomitable scholastic survival skill -- rote memorization. It is a curriculum that does nothing to help him in his deficit areas. I draw that conclusion from a succession of outside speech and language evaluations. Ironically the last one was completed the same week the most recent therapy ended at the school.

It's equally frustrating that he really knows what he wants to communicate. It's the how part he needs help with. He's a terrific writer. He's written funny sketches. He enjoys acting, dance, and chorus. But when rehearsals end he's totally out of the loop. He didn't know what a text message was until one was demonstrated on an episode of Heroes we watched together. He looks at his watch incessantly without realizing the signal it gives to others. Does he even feel a tinge of doubt or sadness that at 16 he's told to watch his younger siblings but that he’s ill-equipped to babysit-for-hire? No, because then he might enroll in social problem-solving 101 -- probably retake it several times at least. No time for it? Too much homeschool memorization? Too bad.

His trouble with abstractions holds real -- not abstract -- consequences. It's hard to live up to one's potential when not even knowing what it means. He can't even define the term "potential." Never heard of it. He can pretend though. He feigns understanding. When I applauded him this past weekend for admitting to not “getting it” he said that he just has to wait for his birthday and then he’ll get “it” – whatever it is.

Someone much brighter than me once said it's not fair to ask a child with a disability what they want. My birthday wish for my son is that he can put aside his doubts and anger and embrace the support that will move him past the blank stares, IEP meetings, feckless administrators, and his parents' bickering. He is the most genuine and kind soul I've ever met. That would be true if I wasn't his parent.

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