Jackson has had difficulties with reading, writing, and language since he first started pre-K at age 4. His pre-K teacher told us that it would take him much longer to complete the writing pages; her response was to give him more pages, which is mind-boggling when you think about it. By the time Jackson was in 2nd Grade at St. B., the school had all but given up on him. He was receiving only the bare minimum of extra help, and he was punished for receiving that help by having to make up any of the work done in class at home later that night. He would have 6-7 pages of homework each night.
One of the reasons we moved Jackson into public school was so that he could get help with reading. We knew he was showing signs of a learning disability, and we learned the hard way that the private school had no desire to help people with disabilities. (So much for organized religion helping the less fortunate!) We worried, though, that Jackson was too sensitive to survive the tough environment of public school, especially a rough school like our neighborhood school.
Last year, Jackson thrived. He had some trouble with bullies on the playground, but for the most part he had fun with his classmates. He made leaps and bounds with his academic achievement; turns out, a little one-on-one attention was all he really needed. He was reading at grade level by year end, and the teachers did not think he would need further intervention.
This year has certainly been different.
During my health scare last month, Jackson definitely picked up on the raised stress level in the household. Consequently, he began having more and more difficulties at school. Each day, he came home with a new story of how the kids at school were bullying him. I began to dread seeing the school’s phone number as an incoming call; each time, it was the Assistant Principal calling to tell me about an incident between Jackson and some of the other kids.
At this same time, the school held parent-teacher conferences, and I found out that Jackson was having significant trouble with reading, and also was still flipping letters and numbers regularly. His teacher was not aware that we had explored the possibility of dyslexia for Jackson, and also did not realize that Jackson had received reading help the previous year. The teacher and I also talked about the recent bullying incidents; he had not been aware of some of them (Jackson didn’t want to tattle) and had already addressed others.
In the past week or so, I have had three meetings at the kids’ school. All were about Jackson. He and I met with his classroom teacher and the art and gym teachers to discuss the recent bullying incidents and develop a plan to address them moving forward. Today, we repeated that meeting with the Assistant Principal and a school counselor, since they were unable to be present the last time. (It’s a good thing we repeated the meetings; the AP and counselor were better at helping Jackson articulate a plan for the future.) But the hardest meeting happened last Friday.
When we had Jackson tested for dyslexia, it seemed like the person doing the testing (who we had privately retained) had given a diagnosis of “mild” dyslexia to appease us. Jackson had done really well on the testing and did not struggle with some of the tasks that seemed like they would be especially difficult for a child with dyslexia. I was suspicious of her diagnosis for those reasons. I wondered if it could be something else, and started to put together the pieces of the puzzle. We know Jackson has reading difficulties, and we know he has trouble with some of the kids at school. He tends to slur some of his words; he does not pronounce middle consonants. We also know that Jackson is incredibly sensitive and emotional, much moreso than many kids his age. And, hardest of all to accept, he has “stimming” or repetitive behaviors that he exhibits at home. All of these things combined lead me to suspect that he could have Asperger’s Syndrome — he could be somewhere on the Autism spectrum.
I met with the school special education teacher last Friday to discuss these concerns. Many of the scarier behaviors he exhibits do not happen at school — he does not blow up at the other kids the way he does at Grace or me, and he never stims at school. He is able to make friends, although he does have problems with some of the kids, and he excels at math and science. The SPED teacher suggested that we could test him. She acted like she didn’t think the diagnosis would fit, but she also acknowledged some of my concerns. I was ambivalent about agreeing to testing. Even if he is on the spectrum, he is receiving the help he needs at school (they resumed reading help after the parent-teacher conference), so all it would do is put a diagnosis on paper.
I eventually agreed to allow the school to test Jackson for an autism spectrum disorder. It could not hurt him to have a diagnosis, and it might help us better understand how to help him. It might even help him to understand why he’s different.
So, this year is turning out to be Jackson’s year. For so many years, we had to deal with life-threatening crises with Grace, and the issues we were noticing with Jackson didn’t seem extreme. They are subtle. Even though Jackson skips consonants in many words (think saying “ruh-ing” instead of “running”), it’s easy to ignore, or to ascribe to being just his way of talking. Even though he gets mad at his sister to a degree that seems extreme, it’s easy to understand why he’d be resentful of her. Even though he stims, hey, don’t we all have little behaviors we do, like tapping our feet or clicking pens? It was easy to write off these symptoms before, but now is the time to address them. He deserves just as much attention and consideration as his sister, even if his issues are not life-threatening.
It’s Jackson’s turn. Finally.