Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Balancing Hard Work and Expectations

Joe and I walked away from our meeting with Ms. Fredericks today feeling great! She was all smiles talking about Theo, telling us we should be very proud. And we got the impression that she really likes Theo. I know it's hard to imagine anyone not liking him, but that's the sweet Theo you know. In school last year he had bad behavior issues and I could tell his teacher just plain didn't like him and didn't want him there. It's very hard for a parent to see someone feel that way about their baby.

The Report
Now, I was that kid who was unhappy with a 99 on a test. I held myself to ridiculous standards. I'm not sure why, because my parents sure didn't. They always had to tell me to ease up on myself, force me to stay home when I was sick because I wanted to go to school  (not becuase I liked it, but so I wouldn't miss something important) and sleep more and study less. It was definitely somewhat of a role reversal. I think I owe my attitude to the need to compete with my two best friends who are geniuses and scored 100s in their sleep.

All the stress I gave myself in school was unnecessary and not something I want for my children. But how can a perfectionist hold her children to lower standards than she held herself?

Maybe autism was the kick in the teeth I needed.

First graders are given standardized tests in NYC now. Makes you wanna cry, no? We received those results today. Theo was on grade level with math, and on the cusp of grade level with reading. My heart sank when I saw his below-average reading scores, but only briefly. I reminded myself this wasn't a standardized test for special needs kids--it was for all first graders. It wouldn't be fair to hold him to the same standards as everyone else.

Nor would it be fair to teach Theo that it's OK for him to expect less of himself and use autism as a crutch. We are still learning the careful balance needed between making him work hard but forgiving himself for taking longer to catch on.

But it's his mom who struggles, to tell the truth. I get frustrated during homework. I start yelling at him. Yesterday I made him cry because he wasn't telling me the right answer in math. I know that makes me sound like a monster, but he wasn't trying.  He was just naming random numbers as answers. I usually know the difference between him being uncooperative and legitimately struggling. Still, when I saw the tears I hugged him and told him this work was hard and he was doing a great job and would get it soon. I reminded myself that I had to get my act together as much as he does.

Luckily his wonderful sitter Sharon and his best friend Reina (she's 8) are the ones who help him with homework on most days, and he is much more cooperative with them.

Back to the parent-teacher conference. Ms. Fredericks has been giving him lots of prizes lately for good behavior. While he has trouble transitioning between activities, he's socializng much better with the other kids. He works beautifully with Ashley, who is calm. She keeps him with the calm kids because they bring out the best in him.

She was very impressed with his growing vocabulary, as are we. She showed us the "on demand" story the kids had to write where the kid writes a 3-page story with 3 illustrations with zero help from the teachers. His story was great! Really nicely written, most words spelled correctly--and adorable drawings of him sledding.

The principal randomly walked in the room during the meeting and gave us a big smile and thumbs up to indicate how well Theo was doing. I smiled through my teeth and repressed the urge to say "aren't you glad we didn't take him out of this school last year like you clearly hoped we would?"

Ms. Fredericks also remarked on the great change in Theo ever since we took him off the gluten-free casein-free diet. He was just so happy to eat what the rest of the kids were eating! Remember my post about the important social component often ignored when this diet is discussed? She used to buy him gluten-free cookies (which I didn't even know--so sweet!) to help make him feel like he fit in, but he always knew they weren't the same as the other kids' snacks. She says he's an overall happier kid in school now.

Heehee-- I told Theo I was proud of him because his teacher said he was doing well in math, reading, and writing. He asked, "What about lunch and snack?" as if those were subjects too!

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