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A Journey Through Autism, Pt 3 (2006-05-30 - 7:42 a.m.)

Here we go with Part Three.

There has been an inquiry concerning the educational aspects of Stephanie's condition, so I'll talk a little bit about that today.

It was pretty soon after we had a meeting with Stephanie's third grade teacher in the private school that we had her go through the tests with Cook Children's group. Almost immediately after we got the "official" diagnosis, we moved her from private to public school, primarily because we knew that the public school system had resources that the private school did not.

So, in the middle of third grade, Steph was moved to Bluebonnet Elementary, in the Keller ISD. There is (or was...not sure if she's still there) an assistant principal at that school who was wonderful. Mrs. Clinton worked closely with us during the entire time we were at Bluebonnet. She really helped us a lot. During the two years at this school, Stephie did not have any "resource" help, outside of speech therapy (she still has trouble with "r" sounds, and with getting complete sentences out) and what they called "Reading Bridge." She was in mainstream classroom for English and Math, and had to take the standard TAKS tests each year. At the end of third grade, she had to go to one semester of summer school to pass the reading TAKS test.

Her reading comprehension was and still is very low for her age.

Before I go any further on the time-line, I'm going to run down the recommendations by Cook Children's Medical Center. I'll try to summarize where possible.

1. They recommended further speech evaluation. At this moment, I really can't remember if we followed through with this one.

2. They recommended "specific interventions focused on improving her critical thinking and problem solving skills." Then, it said that parents and teachers might work on the following:

a. Compare passages using vague, imprecise language to one with clear vocabulary and encourage her to discuss why the messages were difficult to understand. Assist her with developing ways to enhance the precision and clarity of her communication.

b. Assist Stephanie with checking out her assumptions, particularly about what she sees, before resonding. She should be encouraged to gather as much information as possible and verify its accuracy before drawing conclusions, such that she may be more reflective in her thinking.

c. Enhance understanding of problem situations by assisting Stephanie with identifying/generating hypotheses about the possible causes of problems.

(I see now why we didn't get very far with these recommendations. They are kind of ridiculous. I say that, mainly because of the wording. These are pretty complex tasks to try to undertake with someone with even "high-functioning autism!)

3. It is recommended when Stephanie is provided with new learning material whether that be academic or socially related, instructions and directions should be clear, concrete, and broken into small steps. It would also be beneficial to provide these instructional steps in both a verbal and visual format. (Italics mine.) {This step was an extremely good recommendation. By the way, I skipped several steps in point 2.}

4. It is recommended that she receive a sensory-motor evaluation by an occupational therapist to rule out the possible presence of Sensory Integration Disorder. {We did have a meeting with an occupational therapist. It got us nowhere at all. They pretty much told us that they couldn't do anything for her.}

5. It is highly recommended that Stephanie's anxiety and disturbances in thinking be closely monitored so that appropriate interventions can be made if needed. It mentions coping and problem solving skills, relaxation skills, emotional development, feeling identification, tolerance, moderation, etc. Notice how all of these things closely resemble behavior modification.

6. This one recommends a "highly structured social skills group that focuses on building basic social skills." Stephanie really doesn't work well in "groups," and I'm actually kind of disappointed that these folks would even recommend that.

7. It was recommended that we might want to consult a child psychiatrist about "the degree to which medication interventions may be warranted..." RED FLAG!! RED FLAG!! We actually did this. We went to a child psychiatrist. I don't remember her name, or I would give it here. Now, I went to this meeting dead set against any drug like Ritalin. By the my knowledge, Ritalin still has never been approved for use on children by the FDA. This psychiatrist recommended a drug called concerta. Know what Concerta is? Methylphenidate. Know what Ritalin is? *ding* You guessed it! Methylphenidate. Concerta is just a different brand of Ritalin. We tried it for a few days. Then we threw away the rest of it and cancelled the follow-up appointment for this doctor. Even Stephanie's teacher (by now she was in fourth grade) said that she wasn't at all herself in the mornings. It literally made a zombie out of our daughter.

So...basically, we were told that we could either practice behavior mod on Stephanie or drug her up.

In the meantime, the school was being quite helpful. The teachers modified tests for Stephanie, shortening her spelling tests (of course, that was her best subject, anyway), which were combined with vocab tests. At times, verbal quizzes were given to her, given her troubles with reading comprehension.

We pretty much forgot about the Cooks recommendations, except that we would always take a copy of the report to the school when we began a new year with new teachers.

Finally, (a big "finally") at the end of fourth grade, we got them to approve her for special education (again, known as "resource"). The biggest relief was that this meant that she no longer had to take the TAKS tests. She would be given a substitute test in fifth grade (which is middle school in our district)...wait a minute. I'm thinking that I have my time line confused. I'm going to have to consult with my wife before I go any further with that story. I do know that in sixth grade this past year, she took SDDA tests instead of TAKS tests, and passed them with the proverbial flying colors.

But a few other things have also happened since then. I think I'll stop this here and get into those details in part four. This will deal with the diet change on Easter Sunday and the supplements that we started her on prior to that.

There's a really good song to listen to, if you're into rock music at all, that deals with the drug Ritalin. It is a song by Chevelle, a group of Christian brothers who began making "Christian Rock" music and "crossed over" into the regular rock market. The song, on an aptly titled album, "This Type of Thinking Could Do Us In," is called "Vitamin R." Perhaps I'll quote the lyrics soon. It's brilliant.

Let me be frank. I hate Ritalin. I detest it, and I despise any doctor that prescribes it. It has a nickname of "kiddie cocaine." It is one step away from street drugs. We have no business putting it in our children. I've seen what it does. And I cannot call it "progress." It's kind of like doing a frontal lobotomy on a mental patient.

Alright, I'll shut up now. Be back tomorrow with more.

TTFN, y'all.

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