I Visit the BAC
I went to visit Charlie at the Big Autism Center on Friday morning. His teacher had first planned on asking me to come at 10.30 am but then (as she told me in a phone call) it occurred to her that I'd drop Charlie off at 8.45 and have to drive home and turn around. I would have just waited in my car (have laptop, can wait and work), but it was definitely better to get to go earlier. And such kindliness is characteristic of the center and their teaching of Charlie.
Charlie's teacher told me she's still figuring out just where he is in his programs, as far as things like reading and arithmetic. He did some self-help/daily living/pre-vocational programs (like setting the table) readily and some less readily (going shopping in a "lab" set up to be a grocery store with food containers on the shelves and plastic produce, but I guess it would be a bit too much to have real fruits and vegetables). Charlie requested a break during this and his teacher said they could complete this later.
Back in the room, Charlie worked on some receptive language and sight word programs. He got frustrated towards the end and knocked his head on the table. His teacher carried right on. She had Charlie—shoulders tense and starting to groan loudly–do a few more words before ending that session. He'd on and off been saying "time to go home" and I figured that my presence was affecting him as, from the teacher's and staff's reports, Charlie hasn't been getting upset while working at his desk. Indeed, he calmed down very quickly and sat quietly in his seat. (Even while another student was verbalizing loudly and constantly.) After a few minutes, Charlie asked his teacher for a snack. They were almost out of the kind he likes and I said I'd send in more on Tuesday; his teacher said not to worry, she could get some herself.
Aside from that one moment at his desk, Charlie was focused and busy, and followed instructions carefully. He's now going without the helmet for an hour around lunchtime. His teacher told me that they're fine with him walking in from our car to his classroom without it, so he's getting used to not wearing it all the time.
His classroom is a fairly large space, with windows and white walls. It's a bit under-decorated, with a calendar on one wall, a few posters, a small row of lockers, a shelf of games and puzzles, a computer. It's quite different from Charle's former classroom in the public middle school which was about half the size and had windows that opened onto a hallway. That room was full of equipment: A couple of computers, a printer, shelves packed with binders and notebooks and containers of materials. At this point, I'm thinking that the simpler set-up of Charlie's current classroom is more what he needs—hard enough for him to stay focused without all kinds of stuff, some of which (when he was getting really frustrated) he would swipe off the shelves and tables.
During the visit, I went on a walk with him and his teacher; the school has two levels with ramps and stairs and lots of wide open space. I also saw him work a 60-piece jigsaw: Charlie really does not want to do puzzles at home anymore (a stack of his puzzles, which had been going dusty on his shelves, have now found a happy home in California). Charlie, it seems, like to keep the school/home division clear. His teacher noted that he's not at all interested in using the computer. I explained about how he likes to watch videos on YouTube after typing in their names and learned (good thing I brought it up) that YouTube is blocked on the school computers. Also, at home, he is much more of a talker.
Both his teacher and the principal emphasized that Charlie comes into school smiling and does so throughout the day. I think this definitely accurate. The Big Autism Center certainly doesn't have the hustle and bustle and constant activity in Charlie's old, very large, public middle school. But right now hustle and bustle aren't, as we've learned the hard way, what Charlie needs to learn, whether it be academics or ways to deal with his agitation and anxiety that don't involve his head. While his teacher noted that it was unusual for Charlie to get upset while working at his desk, she didn't act like him getting upset was some kind of mini-crisis. Indeed, she noted that Charlie and some classmates were going on a library field-trip that afternoon—-in his old school, Charlie was barred from field trips because of "behavior issues" (leading to more behavior issues). He was peaceful when I left.
Friday it was much warmer than it has been. After I picked Charlie up from school, he requested a walk when we got out of the car and on and off ran joyously in the sunshine. The rest of the day passed in the same "no drama" way Charlie's schoolday had. He was talking about "sushi" quite a bit and—as Jim was working late in his office—Charlie and I drove to the supermarket around dinner time. He chose some packs of sushi and gobbled up quite a bit of them, as well as some watermelon, while I was running to do a load of laundry. A little video-watching, a little writing (with a very careful effort to write "January 15, 2010") and Charlie was in bed by 7pm, and asleep before 8pm.
And he should be tired. At the school, I saw a boy working hard, keeping himself together even when he did get upset, communicating his needs, enjoying things I didn't know he liked (a CD of a classical symphony and some iced tea). I saw a boy who has a lot of space to move his growing self in, within limits that are comfortable for him to navigate. No school of course is perfect. But for the time being and I hope longer, Charlie seems to be in one that seeks to understand and accommodate him, even while teaching him and keeping him moving forward.