Saturday, January 28, 2012

What If They Had a Science Fair and Nobody Came?

Shortly after the Christmas holidays, information started coming home from school about the annual Science Fair. The damn Science Fair! Words that clench my stomach and turn my dreams to nightmares. Other parents tell me their kids actually have fun doing their science project and look forward to it. They enjoy spending time thinking about what kind of project they'll do and planning their experiments. Not my kid. Unfortunately, Jack has zero interest in science, science projects and the annual Science Fair. He's not a science kid--aside from computer science--so getting him to do a project for the Science Fair is about as much fun as trying to give a cat a bath.

His school requires all 4th, 5th and 6th graders to participate in the Science Fair every spring. In 4th grade, he and Charlie investigated the freezing times of different substances (water, apple juice, root beer). The biggest revelation of that project was the discovery of root beer slushies. Yum!

Last year I tried to make it interesting by choosing a video game-related subject: "Do Boys and Girls Like the Same Video Games?" He still had very little interest in participating, so I pretty much did most of the work myself.

This year Charlie initially said he would do the science project, but after perusing the first few pages of the 34-page 6th Grade Science Fair Student Handbook for 2012, he decided enough was enough. What's the point of attempting to complete a project that's only going to stress out everybody in the family? What kind of lesson does that teach to anybody? If we as adults were overwhelmed by the whole thing, how does our child feel? We decided we just weren't gonna do it this year. Hell no, we won't go!

After going back and forth with the school, we've come to a compromise. The 504 agreement we set up in August determined that his homework is limited to 20-30 minutes a day maximum, due to his disability. For this reason, the majority of his science project will be done in class, supervised by his teacher (bless her heart!). She's modified the project to suit his interests. He's doing a study of the ergonomics of playing video games: whether you make better scores in different playing positions (sitting in a chair vs. lying on the floor).

Whew! What a relief! I feel like a weight has been lifted off the whole family. Am I alone in this? Surely there must be other parents out there who feel as we do that the whole Science Fair thing is out of control. It's just too much.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

There Must Be Consequences!

Max Burkholder (Max Braverman on NBC's Parenthood)
I have such a love/hate relationship with the NBC show "Parenthood." On the one hand, I love that they have a character who has Aspergers, and little Max Burkholder, who plays Max Braverman, does a wonderful job portraying the behaviors typical of a child with high-functioning Autism. Someone very much like my Jack. That's why it upsets me so much when they handle storylines so poorly. Even though they go out of their way to write Aspergers into the show, sometimes they seem to forget that Max actually does have Autism. This week was one of those times.

At the start of the episode, the family is preparing for a weekend road trip, and Max is playing a video game. After his mom Kristina tells him several times to turn off the game and Max keeps saying he's almost done, Kristina marches over and snaps off both the television and the gaming system. Anyone who has a child on the spectrum can tell you what happens next. Of course, Max has a giant meltdown, which includes calling his mother a bitch. Hello! Did you forget your child has Autism? Did you expect any other response when you just figuratively slapped him across the face?

But does Max's mother take any ownership of her part in the meltdown and remember her child has Autism? No! She proclaims, "There must be consequences for his behavior!" Max is grounded for calling his mother a bad name and forbidden to go on the family trip. Kristina ends up staying home with him and his infant sister while everyone else goes to Grandma's.

I've been in that exact situation. I once grabbed a Nintendo DS out of Jack's hands because he didn't seem to be listening to me, and I'm here to tell you we both learned a hard lesson that day. The meltdown that ensued was extremely painful and emotional for both of us. He not only called me a bitch, but he told me he hated me and he'd never loved me. He was 9. By the time it was over, we were both crying and upset, but I realized that I was the one who provoked that meltdown. I was the one who threw the switch and sent his brain spiraling out of control.

Kids with Autism have low tolerance for frustration. They don't like transitions. In Max's mind (and Jack's) his mom just destroyed all the progress he'd made in the game he was hyperfocused on, just as effectively as a bomb blowing up in his face. It's too much sensory input and a meltdown ensues.

How can you punish someone for the way their brain works? Would you punish an epileptic for having a seizure when you shine a light in his face? Would you punish a diabetic for going into insulin shock when you forced her to eat sugar? Would you punish a child with dyslexia for not being able to read?

Once again this is the age old assumption that children have "tantrums" due to bad parenting. Very, very hurtful to someone who has a child who has these outbursts. He's not a brat. He has Autism. A little more compassion, a little less judgement. 

Once Jack had calmed down after his meltdown, we hugged and apologized to each other. We both cried. I told him I was sorry that I grabbed his DS out of his hands, and he told me that he was sorry he said all those mean things to me when he was angry. He didn't mean any of those things. He was just so upset he was using his words as weapons.

We don't believe in punishment just for the sake of punishment. Real life has its own consequences. If you say mean words to people in anger, the punishment is watching the person you love cry. Isn't that punishment enough?