From Fear to Victories in One Middle School Year

Autism and Middle School

By Mama Chewi

What a difference a year makes.

Haven’t we all heard that cliché too many times to count? In the course of normal living, subtle changes generally come and go…unrecognized and uncelebrated in favor of waiting for something bigger to happen. Something that is sure to have meaning and leave a forever impression. It is when we get caught up in this waiting that we lose sight of the broader, more important picture and forget to take note of the little things that lead to great victories.

Our house has had some great victories this past year, yet they all seem to originate from one single choice that was made a year ago. You see, my Boyoboy was at the end of his first year of middle school and found himself needing to make elective class choices for his upcoming 7th grade year. Immediately his interest was drawn to the coursework that came easy to him; the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) that would keep him squarely in his comfort zone. These were big decisions, as he would be the one attending the classes and doing the subsequent work. However, knowing his abilities and study habits, we felt like none of these classes would stretch him toward the continued growth he needed. He needed an opportunity to come his way that was chalked full of challenges and would allow him an occasion to explore some dusty social skills that needed to be brushed off and put to use in the upcoming year.

Middle school is hard.

Friends make it better. His tribe of understanding friends was hardly more than one. I felt like he needed to be actively involved in working toward a solution for filling out that enrollment card that could perhaps be the game changer of his 13 year old life. I really wanted to stand behind him and support his desire to make that decision. Until one day I realized he couldn’t make a decision that would take him far from his known core comfort.

I remembered a conversation I had previously had with another autism mom. During our talk, she had told me how her son had really flourished after taking a drama class. That resonated with me for a long while. I hadn’t had a need to recall it until the card continued to stay in its uncompleted glory on the countertop. Looking over the elective options, sure enough, speech and drama was an option. Talk about taking someone out of their comfort zone…interpreting facial expressions, speaking in front of others, maintaining direct eye contact, fumbling through expressive body language, all of that was sure to make my Aspie boy dizzy with worry. I hesitated to bring that option forward, but was happily blown away when he didn’t immediately dismiss it. In fact, a highlighted circle around the course was a good enough win for me.

Fast-forward several months and that boy of mine was sitting in his speech and drama class. A part of the coursework was to journal every day and think about the different feelings and emotions associated with the daily entry. Understanding emotions has always been trying for him. No doubt he is an emotional child, but being the reader of emotions is a different story all together. This was a task that he wasn’t excited about but didn’t shy from either. Again, baby steps toward another victory.

The class, and the classmates, were showing him a side of life and life skills that he hadn’t seen before. They would critique each other and then have to modify their presentation based on the comments of others. That takes some flexibility, which is not the first characteristic to come to mind when speaking of my literal Boyoboy. One particular assignment was tough. He had to recite 5-7 minute monologue in front of the class AND act out the emotions as he was speaking it.

I had wanted something that wasn’t comfortable and would allow for growth. This certainly delivered that pit in the stomach feel, and I wasn’t even the one standing on that stage.

He worked hard. Harder than I have seen him work in any other class. He would go over the peer and teacher reviews and make tweaks to his speech. He would get anxious and fall into the couch like he wanted to melt in between the cushions. Every day, we would practice together and him on his own. As he was nearing the delivery date, I realized that this had become less of a school course for him and more of a course in self-regulating the autism in his life. There were so many lessons on communication, timing, observations, and emotions in that class.

The day arrived.

I dropped him off with explicit directions to text me when it was done. I watched the clock throughout the day, guessing at the time he should be finding his way to the stage. Oh how I wanted to be there to see how it would unfold. But this was his journey alone. I had prepared him the best I could. His peers and teachers had too. The victory or defeat would be his alone.  Soon, the text came. He had NAILED it! Like with a hammer, he nailed it. His teacher was so impressed with his delivery that she asked him to take it to state tournament. Really? Yep. That was a hard fought victory!

He accumulated more victories this past year too. He was a member of the Regional Academic Bowl championship team. He received the “Most Committed” student award during the end of year assembly, as voted on by the teachers. He sat for the ACT test just because he wanted to see how he would do. His score would indicate he did well enough to be accepted into many notable universities.

Socially, he volunteers at our local library. He is in contact with the public and has to answer any questions they may have. He was a junior group leader to 17 nine-year-old boys at VBS. He took the leadership position with pride, as he monitored their needs by assessing their expressions and body language. He just returned from his first mission trip with the church. That means that he was without direction from a parent or teacher for four days. He had to be in charge of himself the entire time while there. His schedule was wonky and sleep was limited.  He ate at a shelter with the homeless and made conversations with them. I could tell from a few of our phone calls that frustration and anxiety were knocking on his door, but he didn’t bolt. He planted himself firmly still and worked his way through the concerns as he had been taught to do. The victories are coming at rapid speed now, as I feel like he has learned the methods and techniques that will take him into his own life journeys. I know the roadblocks still lie ahead, and I know they will sometimes obstruct his lane. However, the discipline he has learned through these little collective victories has given him confidence to jump those hurdles as they pop up along his path.

Autism and one boy's middle school victories

And to think it was only one year ago that we sat together and shared our fears and concerns of the upcoming school year. New school years, or some other form of change, will always be on his horizon. I am so lucky to be able to sit on the sideline and cheer him on to other victories.

*Mama Chewi owns and works at Chewigem USA.  She has a 13 year old son with Aspergers and 10 year old twins.  Her philosophy is every day is a new day….put to bed the past and wake up to something new and exciting each day.  Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Images courtesy of Chewigem USA

 

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About Jodi Murphy

I am the founder of Geek Club Books, autism storytelling through mobile apps for awareness, acceptance and understanding. My mission is to use the art of storytelling and technology to entertain and educate for the social good. I am a 'positive' autism advocate, mother of an awesome adult on the autism spectrum, lifestyle journalist, and marketing specialist.

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