An Unexpected Curve Ball in First Grade

Present word count of WIP:  51,899

Yes, I put the blog post ahead of my writing today. In fact, this may have to count as my writing today.

Jason in First Grade with his new glasses

I thought First Grade would be much like Kindergarten for Jason, despite his new glasses.

It wasn’t.

Even though he had a kind and attentive teacher and was classmates with many of the same kids he’d come to know in Kindergarten…and even though he was doing well academically, he was suddenly unhappy about going to school. He didn’t like doing homework (especially math), and he hated recess. First real warning sign.

He didn’t want to talk about his aversion to recess, so it was particularly hard, given his Aspergers, to get the details out of him. I even went on a few reconnaissance missions of my own to gain clues. (I felt kind of silly spying on my own child, but a Mom’s got to do what a Mom’s got to do.) Eventually, I got the full picture:

Almost every day, one kid or another (usually a second or third-grader…that’s the problem with graduating to first grade: you’re no longer in a playground all your own) was hassling him. Generally, it was something seemingly innocuous like chasing him or trying to scare him–normal behavior for kids that age, perhaps, but then Jason didn’t perceive things normally. He certainly didn’t like it. I found out that he’d been pushed down and held down a couple of times. Without a friend to stick up for him, school had suddenly become very lonely and even dangerous.

Jason in one of his costumes for "Alice in Wonderland"

The only fun outlet for him now was the Riverside Children’s Theater. We had signed both him and his sister up during his Kindergarten year and he thrived, both in their Saturday classes and in rehearsals and performances. (Why is it that actors are always so tolerant of unique qualities and characteristics?) In fact, he won the Best Actor award for his age group and even got a speaking part (one line) in their production of  “Cinderella.” The director thought he was so cute that he made up a line for him. For the following production, “Alice in Wonderland,” he got two roles. But the boys in RCT were nothing like the boys at school.

At school, he wanted to have friends, but all the boys he’d known in Kindergarten had moved on to sports like basketball, soccer, and baseball. Jason playing sports? Believe me, I tried. I signed him up for T-ball. He hated it. We got him a miniature Fisher-Price indoor basketball hoop. For the first week or so, he threw the ball into it, but gradually he started throwing one of his Power Puff dolls into the hoop instead. Then he simply left the hoop alone and played with the dolls.

Jason showing off Blossom, one of the Power Puff Girls

He was obsessed with the Power Puff Girls. That drew a couple of girls to him as friends, but the boys mostly thought he was “different.” They either teased him, or avoided him altogether.

Each day I’d send him off to school, hoping at least one boy would reach out to him and be kind. Each day, he’d return despondent. I was aching to help him, but felt powerless.

First of all, I didn’t know, myself, what I was dealing with. There was such a stigma a decade ago about boys playing with dolls and I’m afraid I gave into it. I tried to draw him away from his sister’s toys and instead interest him in anything more “masculine.” He just wasn’t interested in cars, trucks, soldiers, toy guns, etc.

Finally, I went on the Internet, typed “boys who play with dolls” in the search engine, and began to read. I must have spent a day and a half on my computer looking for any kind of clue to the puzzle that my son now appeared to be. First, I thought I’d found my answer when I landed on a page detailing some kind of disorder, having to do with the senses. (I believe they’ve either discounted that disorder now or folded it into another because I can no longer find it.) The description fit Jason, but not quite. Fortunately, the page included links to related disorders and one of those was Asperger’s.

I still remember how I felt when I clicked on the Asperger’s page and began to read about my son. As I read about the obsessions, the difficulties with sensory overload, the problems with communication and motor skills, and, most of all, the challenges in socializing, I kept thinking, “This is it! This is my son!”

I printed off the page and showed it to my husband that night after dinner. He wasn’t nearly as convinced as I was (but, then, it’s not uncommon for at least one of the parents to  fight the admission that there might actually be a scientific reason behind their child’s “different” behavior). Still, I called Jason’s teacher the next day and asked if I could meet with her after school. She agreed.

Once all the other kids had left the room the following afternoon, Ms. Rios and I got Jason involved in some games in the corner of her room and we sat down to talk. I was determined, first of all, to get her read on my son outside of any context involving Asperger’s syndrome or autism. So, I hadn’t given her any heads up other than to say I had some concerns about Jason.

I began by asking how he was getting along with the other kids in the class. She said that he didn’t seem to be having any problems, but that he did tend to stay to himself. I asked if she ever observed him playing games with any of the other children. She paused to think and then admitted that he preferred playing alongside them rather than getting involved in their games. I think I also asked about any peculiarities she might or might not have observed about my son. She noted a couple (relating to his sense of unease outside and being bothered by certain noises). Then I decided it was time to show her the printout. I handed it to her, saying, “Would you mind reading this and telling me what you think?”

I waited while she read, watching her eyebrows rise and her head nod more than a few times. When she finished, she looked up and said, “Wow. I’ve never heard of this before, but I think it sounds exactly like Jason. I think we should set up an appointment with the District’s School Psychologist.”

In that moment, I was both relieved and anxious. Relieved that at least one other person saw Jason the way I did, but anxious about the upcoming appointment and what it might confirm.

I won’t beat around the bush. We met with the psychologist. Fortunately, she was familiar with Asperger’s and she said that, in her opinion, Jason definitely exhibited signs of AS. She also was on our side, meaning that, since the district really only recognized autism and wasn’t yet aware of AS, she would be willing to mark him down as autistic so that Jason could get the services he needed.

Even with her diagnosis, I wasn’t through. Perhaps more to convince my husband than myself, I sought a second opinion from an experienced neuropsychologist, one who had worked with an autism center in San Diego. She confirmed the diagnosis.

I threw myself headlong into researching anything and everything printed or published online about Asperger’s syndrome. Even with a diagnosis from two different professionals, my husband still wasn’t persuaded. He’d say things like, “Everybody has quirks in their personality.” Nevertheless, I stayed up many a late night, reading blogs like this in which mothers or fathers shared their journey to seek the answers to the puzzles their children presented. (I have a full shelf of books today, not to mention videos, most of which I collected in that first year after the diagnosis.)

Later that week, when we took Allison to sign up for Girls Softball, we passed by the playing fields where Little League was starting up. I looked out at those boys running around, tossing the ball to each other, and taking their turns at bat. Then I looked down at my son, whose hand I was holding tightly so that he wouldn’t take off in a panic from the occasional bee flying by.

I won’t lie. Tears came to my eyes in that moment, for I knew then that at least some of the dreams I’d had for my son would never materialize. A curve ball had struck out the son I’d thought I had. It was time to begin learning about the son I really had and building some new dreams.

On Friday, we’ll all be down in Utah celebrating Allison’s graduation from BYU, so I thought it would be a good time to post sometime that day about how all of these developments were affecting Jason’s sister. Siblings of those on the autistic spectrum have challenges of their own, and I’m so proud of the way Allison dealt with his Asperger’s.

Originally posted 2012-04-17 13:28:52.

From Food Issues to Communication (or the lack thereof)

Present word count of WIP:  50,792 (yes, I refined a bit)

Before I continue my description of our own Asperger’s journey, I want to make three things clear:

1) No two individuals with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (including Asperger’s) are alike. Some will have food issues, others won’t. Some may be strong in language, others in match and science, etc. These postings, then, are about our particular journey. There are plenty of other stories online. (I know this because I sought them out over a decade ago when I was hungry to know more, and I’m certain there are many more today than there were then.) If you want to understand the disorder better in all its permutations, check out the website for Autism Speaks, or if you’re particularly interested in Asperger’s, then I recommend the Online Asperger Information and Support Center. Also, I don’t pretend that Autism is the only developmental disability in the world. A fellow writer and friend of mine, Margaret Turley, included a special mention of Autism at the end of March as a part of National Developmental Disabilities Month. You might want to check out all her postings last month.

2) Jason has given me permission to share his story in this way. He comprehends that there is a need to help increase understanding about Autism in all its forms, as well as to seek its cause(s). We are doing this for the same reason we decided to take part in IAN, the Interactive Autism Network set up to link researchers with families impacted by ASD. We want to provide support, answers, and a sense of community for individuals who, for too long, have felt like outsiders in this “neurotypical” world.

3) Jason’s story will continue both here and on the website of Madison House Autism Foundation, a non-profit group formed by friends of mine in Maryland to assist those with autism (and their families) as they navigate the rest of their lives once they reach adulthood. Much has been written and produced to help children with autism, but what about when they grow up? Or what about those who don’t discover why they have felt so “different” all these years until they are older? With so many diagnosed on the autistic spectrum, we are facing a future filled with such individuals as my son. As Jason graduates from high school next month and begins to make his way into the adult world, I’ll try to share the challenges, setbacks, and triumphs every second and fourth Friday of the month.

Jason, aged 2 and 1/2, with Ariel toy

Now…on with our journey.

Early on, there were other signals that alerted me to the fact that Jason wasn’t a typical kid. Because our daughter had been a late walker, I wasn’t so concerned about his delay in gross motor skills. By the age of 2, however, he still hadn’t seemed to clue in to the process of communication.

Allison was an early talker, but Jason said very little. In fact, I began to wonder if he had a hearing problem because, often, when I’d call out to him, he wouldn’t even turn around, let alone respond. But the pediatrician checked his hearing and found it to be perfectly normal.

It wasn’t that he couldn’t speak or say words. He was very adept at repeating any word I told him. His vocabulary was adequate; he just didn’t seem to know what to do with all those words. I’d ask him a question like, “Do you want some water?” Instead of nodding or shaking his head, or saying “Yes” or “No,” he’d simply repeat my question or at least the last part of it. (I came to find out later that this behavior is called “echolalia,” a condition that often presents itself in autism and other developmental disabilities.)

By this time, my daughter was enrolled in Kindergarten and I was aware that her local elementary school had a speech therapist. I figured he needed speech therapy, so I called up the school. While the therapist would have been happy to meet with me, she fortunately pointed me to a much better resource: the school district’s Sunshine Early Childhood Center. I made an appointment there to have Jason tested and took him down on the appointed day–a Friday.

They tested him for everything: physical abilities, speech abilities, drawing abilities, social abilities, etc. As I recall, it took a good hour and a half, if not two hours. Then, at the end, they told me:

“Mrs. Mills, Jason definitely qualifies for our program. He’s communicatively handicapped. He’s delayed in fine and gross motor skills. And he’s orally and tactilely defensive.”

(I knew he was very careful about what he’d allow me to put in his mouth, but I wondered about the tactile part until I recalled the way I’d had to cut labels out of his tee shirts and pants…and how much he hated the feeling of rain on his head, or getting his clothes wet…and the way he howled whenever I had his hair cut.)

They didn’t call it autism then because he seemed so high-functioning in some ways (he really knew his letters and numbers), and this was in 1996, less than two years after Asperger’s became an official diagnosis.

Still, I was happy to have any kind of conclusion, so I said, “Fine. What do I do next?”

Keep in mind that I was only now getting used to having my daughter gone every morning for kindergarten. She had done a couple of years of pre-school before that but they had met only three mornings a week. I figured this Sunshine School was going to be like a pre-school. Boy, was I wrong!

The school principal told me to bring him to the school at 8 am on Monday, then pick him up at 3 pm. Thereafter, she told me, a bus would pick him up from our house in the morning and deliver him back in the afternoon.

I looked down at my darling little two-and-a-half-year-old boy and gulped. “Are we talking two or three days a week?”

“Every day,” she said. I remember that my mouth dropped open.

“Five days a week? He’s going to be in school longer than his older sister, and she’s three years older than him!”

They assured me that he needed it and that he would get used to it.

“But he’s not even toilet trained,” I argued. (M&Ms had worked wonders with his sister, but there wasn’t any special food I could use to bribe Jason.)

“Oh, we’ll take care of that. We’ve got special training potties in every classroom.”

Still stunned, I followed the principal and speech therapist as they walked us around the school to show me all the facilities. Not only would Jason be in a regular classroom with other disabled children, but he would receive regular speech therapy and occupational therapy. Talk about early intervention! Of course, at the time I didn’t appreciate the life-changing gift they were providing because I still knew next to nothing about autism.

All I knew that day was that, come Monday, I was going to be a very lonely mother all morning and a very worried mother all day. And I couldn’t help wondering if this, like the carrots, would lessen his trust in me.

Would he still love me Monday afternoon?

On Friday, I’ll post about Jason’s “Sunshine” experience.

Originally posted 2012-04-09 10:56:20.

From “Normal and Healthy” to “Food Issues”

Present word count of WIP:  50,811

Jason at 4 months

I was already 38 by the time I was pregnant with our second child, Jason. We were living in Riverside, California, and our daughter, Allison (then 3) was thriving. She’d been born two weeks overdue and turned out to be a late walker and early talker. I suppose I expected some of the same after Jason was born.

He was pronounced “normal” and “healthy” at birth, weighing in at 6 lb. 14 oz. He was a really good, quiet baby, and nursed often. At six months, when I started introducing him to cereal and other baby foods, he didn’t show much interest, still preferring the breast. He quickly refused many of the baby foods I tried to give him, never even trying any of the meats. The only fruits and vegetables I could get him to eat for a while were bananas, applesauce, pears, butternut squash, and carrots. Soon, he started refusing the carrots. One day I tricked him into a bite of carrots and he gagged it up. After that, he wouldn’t eat any baby food.

I supposed I had lost his trust. In the meantime, my breast milk was drying up, so I finally weaned him at 18 months. After that, he refused to drink anything but water (which is the only thing he’ll drink to this day). As a toddler, the only things he would eat were plain white bread (without the crust) and Honey Nut Cheerios, but once he tasted plain Cheerios, he wouldn’t go back to the other kind. This became a pattern for him. Once he got used to anything new,  the old routine would be left behind.

Obviously, I was concerned about his diet. His pediatrician said I should force the matter. He said no child would willingly starve himself to death, so I tried to force other foods on two separate occasions. Both times, he refused, got sick (flu, fever, etc.) and I just didn’t have the heart to go back to starving him after he got better. I did manage to add a calcium supplement that had been recommended by the doctor, but it took a great deal of coaxing and even threatening to take away one of his favorite toys to get him to swallow a teaspoon of anything that didn’t look like water. It was that way with all medicines (and still is, to some extent), though he did get to start liking the sweet-tasting supplement.

We finally just gave in to his strange eating habits. He progressed (if you can call it that) from Cheerios and bread to white toast with butter, then Ritz Bits with Peanut Butter, then Ritz Bits with Cheese, then Grilled Cheese sandwiches, then French Toast, then marshmallow pieces in Lucky Charms (that was an accident), then a certain brand of Cinnamon-flavored Alphabet Cookies, then Eggo Pancakes, then Lays Baked Potato Chips, Vanilla Ice Cream, and Bananas (Yay!). He would never eat more than 2-3 of these items during any particular phase of his development.

The pediatrician thought we were “pushover parents.” I know because later, when I obtained a copy of Jason’s medical records for his first IEP, I was able to read all the doctor’s notations from my son’s visits and examinations. But that was before we–or the pediatrician–knew what Asperger’s syndrome (AS) was. AS only became an official diagnosis the year after Jason was born, so by the time we were dealing with his food issues, it was still very unknown, even within the medical community. Sure, the doctors knew about autism, but this was a very high-functioning autistic spectrum disorder, and you would never have thought Jason to be autistic at first, or even second glance.

We soon found out, however, that we were dealing with far more than a “picky eater.”

On Monday, I’ll share the other first clue to his “differentness.”

Originally posted 2012-04-06 14:06:14.

Autism: 1 in 88…My Son: 1 in 1,000,000

Present word count of WIP:  49,832

1 in 88. That’s a much higher percentage than it was back in 1996, when I first suspected something was off about my son…or even in 2000 when he was a first grader and I got the official diagnosis. And in some places, like Utah, the rate is even higher (1 in 47).

Whether it’s an epidemic or not, it’s certainly a direct concern to over a million families here in the U.S. and many more around the world. Then multiply that million by at least ten for all the families indirectly concerned (relatives, teachers, health care professionals, scientists, taxpayers) and you might begin to understand why autism is a topic that won’t go away. There is a very good reason we devote an entire month – April – to  Autism Awareness.

But I don’t intend to cite figures and percentages here. I’m all about stories. So, for my postings during this month, I thought I’d share my son’s story. After all, he is the reason I wrote my second novel – the one that will be published later this year.  I’m not sure yet of the title. That may be determined today when I meet with Linda to sign the publishing contract. But whatever it’s called, it will be, at its core, Jason’s story. There are bits and pieces of him throughout, either in detail or symbolism.

I’m traveling right now, so my earliest recordings of our Asperger’s journey with him are inaccessible. However, let me share a glimpse of the kind of challenge we still face now that he is 18.

While no two children with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are alike, traveling with them is ALWAYS hard. Why? Because travel is all about change: changing location, changing the daily routine, changing the people you’re around, changing the places you eat and sleep, etc. And any change is most difficult for these individuals. They tend to want to cling to the familiar…even more so than the rest of us do.

We came down to Utah to attend our church’s General Conference, see our daughter, and sign my contract. Jason was reluctant, particularly since he was still getting over a chest cold, but he agreed since this might be our last opportunity to attend conference as a family for at least a few years. Besides, he had a particular question he was hoping to have answered during conference.

So, we packed up the grill, his preferred plate, fork, glass, and everything else I’d need to make his special grilled cheese sandwiches. He brought his pillow (to be honest, I wish I’d brought mine, as well) and three of his favorite books, his iPod Touch, etc. And once we got here and settled into our hotel, we tried to restore as much of his routine as possible.

He went to the Priesthood Session with his father, coughing through much of it. Later that night, my husband and I worried over how he might react should his particular question not be answered over the pulpit by one of the leaders or General Authorities. After all, he had been promised by church leaders that if you prayed faithfully to receive a particular answer during conference, you would get it. And those with Asperger’s take such things very literally. But by then, we knew what his question was and it was so particular that we both shook our heads in doubt. You see, the likelihood of his prayer being answered in that way wasn’t anything like 1 in 88. It was more like 1 in 1,000,000. Still, we’ve all known miracles to happen.

I’m sure, by now, you’re dying to know his question. Like others with Asperger’s (a high functioning type of ASD), Jason has his obsessive interests. For him, it’s media – particularly movies and books. He loves all things Disney and he loves the Harry Potter series (both movies and books). So, when he finally shared his question, we learned it was this:

Once and for all, are Disney and Harry Potter looked upon with approval by the Church?

I remember the way he perked up when President Uchtdorf began his talk Sunday morning by saying he’d felt moved to respond to the concerns of a mother about her two children. Surely, he must have thought, this will be my answer. Then, as the talk proceeded to focus on the dangers of contention and holding onto grievances, my son sagged back in his chair. Still no answer.

After the Sunday morning session, we had a talk about conference talks. We explained that while  some may provide very specific answers, they usually deal with general principles of the gospel. I told him that his best answer probably came Saturday morning when the prophet, himself, reiterated that we should seek for those things “that are virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy.” We told him that, guided by the Holy Ghost, he needed to determine for himself whether Disney movies and the Harry Potter series was of good report, praiseworthy, and uplifting.

Apparently, he made that decision. As we sat in the Conference Center waiting for the afternoon session to start, he pulled out my Kindle and began reading “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

Talk about juxtaposing the sacred and the secular. Nevertheless, it calmed him and he hardly coughed at all during the whole session.

On Friday, I’ll post about how this Asperger’s journey began.

 

Originally posted 2012-04-02 06:00:56.

A Writer’s Responsibilities

Present word count of WIP:  47,402

While each writer is unique and works in a unique setting and situation, we all share certain responsibilities as I see it:

1. We have to do our best to show the truth through our fiction.

2. We have to work at it regularly, hopefully on a daily basis.

3. We have to support our fellow writers.

4. We have to honor our contracts with publishers and agents.

5. We have to recognize when it’s time to take off our writer’s hat and be a mom, a dad, a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, a teacher, or a friend.

I could have written a lot more today, but instead I spent my morning working on a Power Point Presentation on Asperger’s that I’ll be giving to a pack of about 20 Cub Scouts. Sure, I could have counted it as writing, but I didn’t. Instead, I took off my writer’s hat to prepare to teach. Why? Because I have a son who’s grown up with Asperger’s Syndrome and I know how important it is for these young 8-10-year-olds to understand better so that they might be more inclusive of those around them they might see as “different.”

Then, this afternoon, as I prepared to put my writing hat back on and make more headway on my WIP, I got a call from a friend–a fellow writer–who needed help with her new WordPress blog. The hat stayed off.

As much as I love writing–and I do–there are things that are more important.

Originally posted 2012-03-19 21:53:40.

Consider Organizations, Not Just Individuals

Present word count of WIP:  47,161

Okay, I slowed down on my output the last two days. First, I was bummed yesterday at receiving another rejection. It was so nicely worded, however, and included enough good feedback that I almost felt guilty about feeling depressed. (At least, I know the agent judges me to be talented and would definitely consider future proposals.) Then today, things really began to look up and I simply couldn’t concentrate on writing all morning. I may have an important announcement to make next week, so stay tuned!

For now, Seth Godin’s next bit of Advice for Authors:

16. Most books that sell by the truckload sell by the caseload. In other words, sell to organizations that buy on behalf of their members/employees.

This got me thinking about another way to market my second novel, LAPS, once it gets published. Since a couple of key characters in the novel have Asperger’s syndrome, I could contact local chapters of Autistic Support groups and donate cases of books or, at least, provide them at deep discounts simply to help spread word of the book.

Autism Society of America

Since my son has AS, we have been participating in a study put on by the University of Washington. In fact, we recently gave them permission to share all our data with the National Instititute for Health. They might also appreciate copies of the novel. It’s something to keep in mind, for certain.

Asperger's Under the Umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorders

How about you? Can you think of organizations that might have a natural tie-in to your most recent or upcoming book?

Originally posted 2012-03-09 16:45:10.

Jason Gets Scheduled

Each week, I grow more and more suspicious that this Pathway Program was designed with someone like my son in mind.

First, they had a lesson that basically talked him into attending college for real. Then they had a lesson that made him focus on his future and what he might want to be. Next came a lesson about general and particular goals in certain areas of life–intellectual, physical, spiritual, etc.–in the immediate future (he chose the physical…but I’ll post more about that next time).

And this week, he had to make a daily schedule.

What an eye-opener (to him, anyway). His father and I were already well aware of how he spent most days.

First, he had to track how he spent his time over 24 hours. Just the idea of it made him uncomfortable, and it’s obvious why when you examine the results:

(Just click on the image for a closer look)

In case you’re having a hard time reading the fine print, the result showed that he essentially spent a third to half his day on the computer. He calls it “researching” but he’s basically surfing the web and reading about all his favorite topics on Wikipedia or checking Facebook, Mugglenet, and the like.

Then they had the gall to ask him what he learned about himself from this exercise. As he put it to me (but not on the question sheet…there he was a bit more diplomatic), “I learned I’m a lazy slob!”

He’s exaggerating, of course, but the lesson did get through that it was time to reorganize his priorities. And that’s just what he was required to do next. Make a list of his priorities and things he needed and wanted to do. Then he had to make up a new kind of schedule.

Here’s what he came up with (after a bit of nudging from me):

(Again, click for a closer peek)

What an improvement in his use of time! I think it helped that the week before we’d already gotten him (and me) going on an exercise routine, but the addition of the commitment to spend actual daily hours in the local library, not to mention time reading rather than glued to a computer monitor, really made a difference.

As I reminded him, he can’t hope to be able to hold down a full-time job schedule until he’s able to maintain a personal schedule of his own. So on Monday we begin the new schedule. I’m so proud of the strides he’s making!

And my suspicions that the designer of the Pathway Program must have an ASD child of his own only continue to grow.

Originally posted 2012-11-09 13:09:07.

A Possible Career for Jason

A couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t surprised to see that Jason’s homework assignments all revolved around exploring his own preferences in terms of interests and possible careers. He took three different tests online, one of which I immediately recognized as a version of the Myers-Brigg Personality Indicator test.

You know the one. It asks you to choose your preference in various situations and it’s designed to discover whether you’re introverted or extroverted, intuitive or sensing, thinking or feeling, and perceptive or judging . . . or something like that. I recalled that when I took it, I ended up being an INFJ (introverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging). So I was curious to see where my son would end up on this other man-made “spectrum.”

I decided to watch and say nothing as he answered the various questions, though more than a few times as he answered, I had to bite my tongue because that wasn’t how I saw him at all. In fact, I got to wondering how accurate this test could be for someone who has a hard time stepping outside of himself enough to judge how different circumstances truly affect him. His first result: ISTJ.

He went on to take the other two shorter tests and then let the computer spit out the jobs that seemed a good fit. There was only one–some kind of housing inspector. Jason and I looked at that and then at each other and said, “What?”

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, when I took one of these kinds of tests in college, I was told I was most suited to be either a Priest or a Rabbi.

Anyway, I encouraged him to take the personality test again and this time I prompted him a bit based on what I knew of my son. This second time around, he turned out to be INTJ and two main careers were suggested:

Desktop Publishing or Library Science. Both were a much better fit. Of the two, he said he’d prefer working in a Library.

I was happy to discover later, in a blog posting about careers suited to those with Asperger’s, that Library Science can be a good fit for Aspies.

In any case, based on those results, he’s begun to lay the groundwork for his college courses, with an eye toward earning either a Bachelor of Science degree in Interdisciplinary Studies (which can all be done online) or a Bachelor of Science degree in University Studies (which requires some courses toward the end in residence). In either case, he’s thinking he’ll focus on the areas of English, Communications, and Literature.

Finally, a glimmer of a plan for his future. YES!

And how ironic it is that most of his senior pictures for high school were taken in our local library. Here’s one of my favorites:

Now my only concern is: With the rise of e-books, is the future of libraries in jeopardy? How will libraries change in the next five years, and will it still be a good fit for my son by the time he graduates?

Originally posted 2012-10-26 06:00:51.

Starting Down the Pathway to College

Last night marked Jason’s fourth week in the Pathway Program and I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen thus far. After a somewhat shaky start (more about that in a minute), he’s buckled down and begun to get used to a whole new routine.

First, some background on the program. Offered by BYU-Idaho, the program is designed for three different groups of aspiring college students–those who are academically challenged and need a little boost to get them ready for college work; those who need to put their lives in order to be ready to abide by BYU’s strict moral code; and those, like Jason, who may have difficulties or learning disorders that prevent them from being at ease leaving home for college.

The program is simple. Jason takes two courses a semester (an online course that provides reading materials, study guides, writing prompts and weekly quizzes . . . and a second course on Thursday nights in a classroom at the local LDS Institute). Following the second course, he gathers with the Pathway Director and the other classmates to discuss what they’ve learned online that week. All told, Thursday nights are pretty long–about 3 hours in class. But the rest of the week, the load is really quite light. This semester, Jason is taking a religion class and a course entitled “Pathway Life Skills.” Perfect for someone like my son.

I say that because it’s teaching him the true value of a college education and how it will affect his life and prepare him to serve himself, his family, and his community. In other words, it’s drawing him out to engage with the world he lives in. Exactly what he needs!

As I alluded to above, Jason’s first Thursday night class didn’t go so well back in September. But that was because there wasn’t clear communication about the schedule for the evening. After one and a half hours of the religion class, he was maxed out and rushed out of there before they even announced that a Pathway class would directly follow. Jason doesn’t drive yet, so my husband was waiting in the parking lot. When he got in the car and insisted the class was over, Michael thought it a bit strange but began to bring him home. Not ten minutes later, I got a call from the Pathway teacher’s wife (fortunately, a couple runs the program) asking where Jason had gone. After a quick call to my husband, they turned around and Jason, rather humiliated, slumped back into the classroom and hid in a corner for the rest of the evening. Needless to say, he didn’t get much out of that first class.

I thought we might have a problem getting him to agree to return the next week, but after a bit of coaxing and helping him with that first week of assignments, he went. Now, after three weeks, the routine is set. He checks his email regularly. He logs in for his assignments, does his reading, goes through the study guides, completes his Learning and Attendance Reports, takes his quiz, and prepares for the next Thursday evening class.

Dare I say he’s beginning to resemble a college student? It’s exciting to watch.

Once he completes three semesters of the Pathway Program satisfactorily, he’ll be admitted to BYU-Idaho as a full-fledged online student and be able to pursue one of nine different Bachelor’s degrees or five different Associate’s degrees (and those are only the degrees they’re currently offering . . . by the time he’s accepted, I imagine they’ll have more).

I can almost see my son’s future opening up! Now if we can only get him to take Driver’s Ed. Patience, I remind myself. At least he’s begun to be open to the idea of driving.

By the way, all my postings about Jason are now being shared over at Madison House Autism Foundation. It’s a terrific organization designed for autistic individuals (and their families) who are trying to find their way into and through adulthood. They’ve agreed to follow Jason’s Journey with me.

Originally posted 2012-10-12 03:00:23.

“Wednesday Writer” – Jason Eric Mills

I’m kicking off my weekly “Wednesday Writer” series by interviewing not a published author, but a writer (perhaps) in embryo–my eighteen-year-old son.

Given that he was the inspiration behind A NIGHT ON MOON HILL, this won’t be like all my other author interviews (though I will ask him about his own writing at the end). Instead, I thought it would be interesting to get his take on the story he inspired. You see, he was about the age of Eric, the ten-year-old boy in my novel, when I had my first ideas for this tale. At the time, we were finally getting a handle on his Asperger’s in terms of helping him make friends at school. This interview was also my first opportunity to see what he thought about me being a writer.

Me:  Do you remember how old you were when you first became aware that I was writing on a regular basis? And what did you think of that?

Jason:  I’m sorry to say that I don’t exactly remember how old I was when I first became aware that you were writing on a regular basis. I do, however, vaguely remember you being on the computer all the time back in Riverside. (We used to live in Southern California.) But I think I truly became aware when we moved to Richland and you actually let us know that you were writing a novel. As for what I thought, I think I was like, “That sounds pretty cool. Maybe she got inspired by J. K. Rowling.”

(Not really. Don’t misunderstand. I love the Harry Potter series, but Barbara Kingsolver is more my style.) 

Me:  What was your first reaction when you learned I was writing a novel in which there would be a young boy with Asperger’s? Did it make you nervous at all? If so, why? If not, why not?

Jason:  To tell the truth, I was excited that you were writing a novel based on me. I thought it was only natural for you to write about that particular subject matter since you’ve done so much research on Asperger’s. The more I thought about it, I realized that it would be really important for you to write A NIGHT ON MOON HILL because it explains many things about AS, and I think tons of mothers with children who have AS will learn a lot from it. So, to answer your question, no, I wasn’t nervous in the least. (In fact, I was rather flattered!)

Me:  I offered to let you read the finished manuscript more than once but you always refused. Why did you want to wait for the actual physical copy of the book to arrive before reading it? What made you give in and read the Kindle version?

Jason:  I guess I wanted to wait for a physical book because I’m a freak like that. I just think it’s so much more satisfying to actually open a book, turn the pages, and be transported to another world. When you’re reading from an electronic device, I think it’s a little less satisfying because you can’t turn any pages, you don’t physically open anything, etc.

As for the second question, after Dad read it and practically raved about it, I thought to myself, “Well, if Dad really liked it, maybe I should just read it on Mom’s Kindle.” And boy, am I glad I did; otherwise, I wouldn’t have noticed that little mistake in Chapter 18. In fact, I’m surprised Dad didn’t catch it! (A mistake, by the way, which the publisher has thankfully rectified . . . so, unless you read a very early Kindle version, you will never see it!)

Jason finally getting his hands on a physical copy of the book

Me:  What did you think of Daphne, the main character, at first?

Jason:  I definitely noticed some similarities between me and her (e.g., love of swimming, neat freak, slight outdoors hater, etc.), and I also loved how brave she could become if someone she cared about was in danger. She’s practically the textbook definition of an “unlikely heroine.”

Me:  What was it like to read about Eric and the way he interacted with Daphne and others? Did it feel at all familiar or were there enough differences to set him apart from you?

Jason:  I fell in love with Eric the instant he was introduced. The conversations between him and Daphne were brilliant, and I could tell she was impressed with this boy who knew so much about angels and other things. I think there are some differences between us, like how he loves being outside while I don’t like being outside for too long. Some of his quirks felt very familiar (like how he prefers his food done “the right way” and his high soprano voice), and I thought you did a great job on his character. (Aw, thanks. Jason, by the way, had a lovely high soprano voice when he was Eric’s age…now he sings bass beautifully but has a wide range.)

Jason and I when he was about ten or eleven

Me:  Without giving anything away, what did you think of the book? What did you like most and what did you like least?

Jason:  I thought A NIGHT ON MOON HILL was very well-written and the characters were enjoyable, particularly Daphne’s agent, Judy (I thought she was the most hilarious character in the novel). I liked the whole conflict with Morgan and you did a really good job making him . . . (Okay, I don’t think I should include the rest of that sentence . . . spoiler.) I, of course, loved the relationship between Eric and Daphne, but I wish there were more descriptions of Eric’s activities with . . . (Sorry. I can’t print the rest of that sentence either. If you read the book, you’ll probably be able to guess what Jason was about to say.) But, on the whole, A NIGHT ON MOON HILL is, in my very honest opinion, your best novel yet.

(Now that I can print!)

Me:  Finally, I’m aware you’ve written a story or two . . . mainly of the fan fiction variety. Did reading my novel increase your desire to write fiction? If so, what would you like to write a story about next?

Jason:  It’s true I’ve written stories–a Lion King/Alice in Wonderland crossover fanfic, 2 “Gargoyles” fanfics, and a Wile E. Coyote fanfic–but writing an entirely original novel is pretty daunting. I don’t know that I ever could because all the good ideas seem to be taken. I am tempted to take one of my Language Arts assignments back in my freshman year in high school (about “Wicked”) and expand it. So if I do any writing in the near future, that’s probably what I’d focus on.

I’ll be certain to let you know if Jason follows through on that. In the meantime, if you’re interested, beginning next week I’m posting every other Friday about my son’s progress post-high school as he journeys toward independence.

And next week I’ll be featuring an interview with author GG Vandagriff with many of the usual and some not so usual questions.

Originally posted 2012-09-26 22:12:53.