Showing posts with label Piano. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Piano. Show all posts

Sunday 14 May 2017

A Visit to Secondary School and Piano Recitals

Today’s post is science free, since for some of the original readers this blog it has become heavy going at times.
Monty, now aged 13 with autism, is about to move up to mainstream secondary/high school.  While this might sound quite a normal transition I really doubt his kindergarten teacher ever thought he would make it that far, in a meaningful way. Even I thought that finishing mainstream primary/junior school would be quite a challenge.
One reader of this blog is Monty’s kindergarten teacher who has known him from before his diagnosis, a decade ago. Outside of the North America people tend not to want to diagnose autism in three year olds and parents do not want to hear reports from kindergarten that things may not be so good. Even being non-verbal may not ring alarm bells with pediatricians; where we live it is put down as “dysphasia”.
In spite of the tell-tale signs, the differences at the age of three between classic autism and typical are not so big.  We do not have great expectations of three year olds, even though some are already very talented.
Monty’s kindergarten teacher requested he have a 1:1 assistant before he was diagnosed with autism at the age of three and a half; he has had one ever since.
Having started kindergarten quite young it was no big deal to spend an extra year there before moving to primary/junior school. 
For the next four years Monty went to mainstream school in the morning and had 1:1 tuition at home in the afternoon. Very slowly some academic skills were acquired, but mainly as the result of the home program. Not surprisingly, a gulf had opened up between Monty’s skills and that of his peer group. 
As is often the case with little boys with autism, he did get “adopted” by nicer little girls in primary. So you would see him walking hand in hand around the school playground.
At this point, aged 8, Monty had a big regression involving both self-injury and aggression to others.  This lasted about 9 months and was associated with a loss of some of the recently acquired skills.
We never had an assessment using the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), which is a pity because at least it tells you, at one point in time, where you stand. At the age of 9, Monty had mastered the skills in the very detailed ABLLS assessment, which is an excellent list of all the very basic skills you need; these are skills big brother had at 3 years old.
Shortly thereafter I started my autism science research and instigated a trial of bumetanide.  The rate of skill acquisition then accelerated and the severity of autism faded.
Even though the violent behavior had subsided, at the end of that school year I decided to move him down one school year.  In effect his peer group changed to one which was 2-3 years younger than him.  In subsequent years he moved forward with this new peer group, so he has been in the same peer group for 5 years.
Each year I said to the class teacher that if at the end of the school year Monty had not mastered the year we could repeat it, because there is no point deluding yourself and moving to a higher level when you are clueless about the previous level.  So as long as there are 10+% of the class with lower grades in each subject, I think it is fine to move ahead.  It does surprise me how badly some neurotypical kids do at school, because they should all be ahead of Monty, but some are not. From time to time, Monty is actually closer to the top of the class, which is remarkable.
Since big brother has only one more year to finish secondary/high school, he was rather expecting little brother to wait another year in primary/junior school.
As his classmates started talking about the move to secondary school, Monty naturally assumed he would be moving too.  Having been told by Monty “in September we go to secondary school” so many times, this is of course what is happening.
Recently Monty and his class had a half day visit to their new school and everybody had a great time.
Plenty of the younger kids in secondary already know Monty and as do some of the big ones who are friends of Monty’s big brother.
So big brother realized it was not going to be embarrassing after all.
Siblings going to the same school often have issues, in part because teachers feel the need to compare them to see who is better/cleverer. The fair comparison is the progress you make from where you started, as I keep telling big brother's maths teacher; so not to accept that you have A, B and C grade students and be happy they get their predicted grade, but to try and improve them.
The secondary school is small, but has had some boys with Asperger’s in the past. In theory it should be much easier for them to fit into school, but often it is not. Most of the issues that I get to hear about were entirely preventable.  Having an assistant who the other kids like and respect solves most of these issues.
How far Monty goes through the standard secondary program remains to be seen. He cannot do the high level things that his big brother can do but, as I have learned, neither can 20% of the class and nobody diagnoses them with MR/ID.

Music Recitals

One area where people with Asperger’s can excel is music. There is research to show that people with autism/Asperger’s are far more likely to have perfect pitch than other people. Another big difference is that the Asperger’s child may be happy to practice at home three hours a day.
We recently had a visit from a girl with Asperger’s and she played the piano amazingly, but as Monty’s big brother pointed out, so would he if he practiced 20 hours a week.  It appears to be a case of social life or music practice.
Monty does not play his piano 20 hours a week, for him it is more like 3 hours a week.
Monty recently had two concerts, one at school with typical peers and an autism/Asperger’s concert.
Who plays the best? Well in this unscientific sample, it is clear that the Asperger’s kids play the best, followed by the typical kids and then the autism kids.
Where does Monty fit in? Well he started out as an autism kid, but after nearly five years of pharmacotherapy he is well up there with the more talented typical kids, but not yet up there with the star Asperger’s kids who practice 3 hours a day.

Monty's piano teacher, who has seen him twice a week for five years and only teaches kids with special needs has pretty much the same opinion. Monty is not her best pupil, but he is the only one to progress so far, from where he started. He started his piano before he started his PolyPill. Her comment a while back was, whatever it is he is taking, keep giving it to him.  


Monty goes to an International school using the English curriculum, where high school starts at the age of 11; he will start aged 14.  Most of the spelling I use is American English, except for some words that look really odd, since this blog's audience is 70% American and spelling was never my strong point.

Most people diagnosed today with autism have mild autism, often without a speech delay or cognitive loss and should be able to complete the standard school curriculum. People with more severe autism do not normally progress far with academic learning and many "graduate" aged 18 with the skills of a 7 to 8 year old. This does not have to be the case, as some readers of this blog have also discovered.