Preparing Your Child with Aspergers to Face the World (Or at Least College)

Firstborn graduated last year.  He was accepted into a four of the five schools he applied to–all in different states.

He really wanted to go to one of two schools in particular and he made it his goal to get in.  Once he was accepted and made his decision,  we started preparing for his freshman year.  As I look at things, I realize that in reality, we really started to prepare when he was younger.

Laundry–When he turned eight, we taught him how to do his own laundry.  This has not always been a success.  On more than once occasion we had pink or grey “whites”.  He has been doing this for years, and I showed him how to run a top and front loader washer.  It’s taken lots of practice, and he still doesn’t wash his clothes quite as frequently as I’d like, but he does it.  Call it a victory.

Cooking–Through Scouting, our own efforts and his job at a food establishment, he has learned to cook and bake.  Like laundry, his baking endeavors were not always successful.  He once read 2 1/2 cups flour as TWO one-half cups of flour (ie-one cup).  That was an interesting gooey mess that soon adorned the trash can.  He learned to laugh at himself and has a fun story to tell.  In his senior year, I asked him to help with the food preparation more and more–whether it was browning meat or washing and chopping vegetables.  He can do it and I feel confident the boy will not starve.

Time Management–I’ve been coaching him on time management and organization for years.  This is the one area he has really, really struggled with.  It is more an extension of the struggles he has with executive functioning and planning ahead.  We’ve tried planners of different kinds, giant wall calendars for him to put all of his commitments on and the like.  I’ve often coached my children to look at deadlines for everything on a calendar.  Next, set up false deadlines for themselves a few days before the actual deadline.  Break the event up into smaller tasks, Calculate how much time they think they’ll need for each task and work their way backwards in terms of when they need to start the project/test studying.

I often use taking a trip for my example.  I try to really break down all of the variables so the children realize just how much time and preparation it can take.  On a trip, we know when the flight is, we know it takes x amount of time to get to the airport (say an hour).  It takes about a half an hour to park the car, catch a shuttle bus and get to the counter.  I will work like this:  Our flight leaves at 2pm.  We need an hour to get through security, that means 1pm.  We need an hour and a half to get to the airport, park the car and catch the shuttle.  Let’s give ourselves another 1/2 hour buffer in case we hit traffic.  That means we need to leave at 11am.  It generally takes us all 20 minutes to get the bags loaded, use the restroom before we leave and double-check we haven’t missed anything.  We’ll aim for a departure time of 10:30 (to make it easy to remember and to buffer our time).  We like to tidy the house before we leave, and depending on how on top of things we are, that can take an hour or more.  So, we need to have eaten breakfast, dressed, and packed by 9:30 at the latest.  Knowing how we like to sleep, this means we need bags packed before we go to bed, and we need to wake up by 8 or 8:30 (depending on the child).

Side note–We use detailed packing lists I created several years ago.  The older ones know most of what they need, so they use the packing lists more as a reminder.  We start the packing several days before we leave so the children all have time to wash and dry their laundry before it has to be packed into the suitcase.  

In the end, we sent Firstborn off to school with a portable planner he could keep with him at all times, a white board calendar, a file organizer, one five subject notebook (so he only had to keep track of the one notebook),  a meal plan (so he didn’t have to worry about cooking his freshman year), and lots of prayers.

Initially we got lots of text messages.  He was asking for advice on various things.  We often told him it was up to him to decide.  If he was really stuck, we used the approach of telling him, “other people in your place might….” followed by several suggestions.  We then pushed it back upon him to decide if any of the suggestions would work or if he would choose another course of action inspired by the “brainstorming” session.

One problem in particular I handed completely back to him.  I got a text one morning telling me he had overslept and missed breakfast in order to get to class on time.  Two days later I got the same message.  On the third day, he was convinced his alarm clock had broken and wanted me to tell him what to do.  Our conversation, “If your alarm clock is broken, what do you think you should do?”  In the end, he decided to move his alarm clock from his nightstand to his desk.  That solved the problem.  The act of getting up to shut off his clock woke him up enough that he wasn’t shutting it off in his sleep.  He solved this one himself–win!

We also counseled him on not overloading his schedule, and not tackling too many things at once as he adjusted.  Scheduling and executive functioning continued to be a sticking point.  Twice he took tests in the testing center in the late afternoon/evening because he thought he should have extra study time.  In the end, he realized a morning test time when his mind was fresh was better for him.  One of those late evening test times, he thought he knew what time the testing center closed, only to have miscalculated by an hour.  He ended up filling in random bubbles in the hopes he would get a few right and not get a worse score by not completing the test.

Despite our counsel to not sign up for too many classes if he was doing lots of extracurricular activities, Firstborn dived into both.  He pushed himself and got involved in the resident hall student government, played in the level 2 Symphony Orchestra (for non-music major students who are still serious about music), played in the pit orchestra for one of the school musicals, got involved in photography club, and performed lots of service hours in conjunction with one of his classes.  The second semester he took even more classes than first semester.  He came away with mostly B’s and two C’s for the year(one each semester).  He wasn’t happy about the C’s, but I’m counting it as a win in the end, because he realized it is often better to focus on fewer things and do them well, than do many things and not do them so well.

And I have to say it was quite refreshing when he would come home and lecture his siblings on how they were spending their time and the perils of procrastinating.  That’s when I really knew he had internalized the lessons learned.

***************

Firstborn would normally be working for the summer and preparing for his sophomore year of school.  Instead he is taking an academic deferment so he can serve a mission for our church.  That in itself has been a different process because of his diagnosis.  I will leave that for my next post.

Until then, I hope you are all well and happy.

 

 

 

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