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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Science Camp and Social Stories

I'm told it's a fifth grade rite of passage, but I can think of many other descriptions. Last year I remember "reading" about it and thinking, never in a month of Sundays.. and now it's nearly here.

Now it's nearly here, although we've been preparing for over a month, the levels of anxiety are palpable.

To list the deficits would be demeaning and fail to encompass the magnitude of the challenge.

There are lots of parents with young autistic children who are struggling to learn basic skills: dressing, toileting, feeding, talking. They're not thinking about Science Camp - why would they? I certainly never did. I was a miserable skeptic before they arrived - it's genetic. Such things as science camp seemed completely unobtainable, barely struggling through the average 24 hour day. We had more social stories, step by step guides and numbered sequences than I can count, some tailor made, others from the school, all designed to address the dreadful deficits.

They cover the practical -

How to tie your shoes, [a vast improvement on 'where to hide your shoes.']

They tackle the subtle -

How to be a good friend.

We also have a vast number of fringe topics -

Words - why they work
Clothes - why we need them
Food - the ultimate life insurance
CPR for the under 5's [to ward off fear of imminent death and empower]
International flights are not necessarily fatal
Big Ben - what to do about bullies
Field trips are in the category of 'fun'
Traffic, a survival guide
Recess and other alternative forms of torture
Bubbles, what is this thing called personal space?

But children grow, quite often in spite of us, making leaps and bounds we never envisaged. Inexperienced parents, like me, toss the old social stories aside once mastered, only to have the same issue re-appear, sooner, much later, or in a whole new format.

The practicalities loom large but it's important for me to remember that although some tasks are difficult to accomplish physically, there's an awful lot else going on inside his mind. A certain degree of stress and anxiety can motivate - too much and it's paralyzing.

So would a social story help with this situation? Yes and we have one, fully and comprehensively designed by his speech pathologist at school - quite brilliant - but is it enough? Sadly no.

So whether you have a non-verbal 2 year old [been there, done that] or a tantruming 5 year old [ ditto], or a OCD 7 year old [likewise] believe you me, Science Camp is coming, it's compulsory, there's no escape.

What to do?

Many parents have transformed themselves into cheerleaders of the 'you can do it' variety - no matter how ineptly. Over the last year in fifth grade, this attitude is mirrored by the school, of the 'step up to middle school' variety. We're all on the same book if not the same page - rise to the challenge, but fear and doubt lurk about. Our children are much more astute than they're credited - they can almost smell it and I'm sure there's something in my tone and body language that gives me away. I need something concrete as much for myself as for him and that's when I remember.

I remember the ever growing hoard of social stories, a box load of abandoned hurdles and pitfalls, each of which has been overcome. If we need proof he can do it, what better body of ever growing evidence could we have? A veritable treasure trove.

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