Last Monday I took Chris to see a pediatric developmental specialist, one of three people in the valley reputed to be accurate at diagnosing autism spectrum disorders. Before the appointment we received several different questionnaires to fill out and return. Chris's school (where he still goes for speech therapy) sent in their own battery of tests and assessments. Everything had to be back to the office at least one week before the appointment. Since we scheduled back in June to take the first available appointment (yes, it was November 3) there weren't many problems completing our paperwork in time.
The doctor spent about 15 minutes interviewing Chris and me and then he looked at his little computer, cleared his throat and said, "Well it looks like Asperger's, although it could be a Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified. Asperger's by definition is not diagnosed when language delay is present..." To which I said, "Speech and language are different things and Chris has never had issues processing language, just forming sounds."
It was all very civil. After making his pronouncement the doctor asked if I had any questions. Of course I did (shocking, no?). I asked about homeschool versus public school. He said it was a personal choice and he didn't have an opinion. I asked about social interaction. He told me that usually he recommended that school was a good place to learn social skills but he understood we were from Nampa... and some schools are better than others when it comes to dealing with developmental disorders.
Hmmm. Isn't it interesting that even the medical community in Boise has heard that Nampa schools are not the greatest? I sit here laughing because I can not count the number of times I've said something to the effect of, "I'd keep Chris in school if we lived in Meridian or Kuna..." It's not that I don't have a great appreciation for the teachers and therapists Chris and Sam have worked with in the Nampa School District. I love them all. To a person they have been kind, caring, compassionate, well educated, and hemmed in by the quirky policies of the Nampa School District.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could just do away with the entire district hierarchy, leaving only the principals and school faculty and staff in place? If that ever came to pass I'd seriously consider re-enrolling Chris in the elemenary school. His IEP team last year recommended that we pursue the option of dual enrollment. He could learn the academic subjects at home where he's less distracted and better able to focus. He could go to school for the part of the day "specials" are taught and do his speech therapy, p.e. (always important, don't you think?), art, music, library, and computer lab. It sounded like the best of both worlds. He'd still get the social interaction (which is only so very important if you have a social disorder) and he'd get to experience some subjects on a scale that I'm really not able to reproduce at home (my form of p.e. is to put in the YogaKids video).
Then the school year started. His therapist reluctantly told me that the district has changed it's policies for this year. Chris would qualify for speech therapy if we used a service plan and said he was enrolled in private school (which homeschool is). Chris could also have dual enrollment and attend specials. He could not be dual enrolled and keep his speech therapy. Does that make any sense to anybody?
The therapist has been working on finding a compromise ever since. On Wed. the psycologist who was on our IEP team recommended I call the district office and start asking questions (I've been pretty passive since I really feed off the energy generated by confrontation... it's a bit addictive so I try to avoid it all together). I called. The lady in charge of special education told me that we'd need to form a 504 team and that if that team determined speech therapy was needed they could write it into the 504 plan (a 504 simply outlines any special accomodations that need to be made within the classroom for the time a student is present in class). Interesting, no? So I called our SLP and passed the info I recieved onto her. She said that is not what the district's been telling her and if they're willing to bend this far she'll confirm as soon as possible and try to get Chris dual enrolled as soon as possible.
So, back to my initial question. Is the diagnosis we recieved on Monday relevant information? I expected that once we had (or did not have) a diagnosis everything would change. And it didn't. The doctor did give me some ideas for curriculum to try and websites to visit to purchase curriculum well suited to children with Asperger's. He told us that Chris seemed to be doing well and to continue with what we're doing and check in again in six months.
It took a long time for me to be willing to go through the testing and get a diagnosis. I was so worried that my child would be labeled and people (especially teachers) would look at him differently. Now that we're homeschooling that doesn't seem to be much of an issue. It also took this long for me to realize the most important consideration when it came to diagnosing my son... a diagnosis doesn't change who his is. He wasn't broken before we had a name to call his quirky traits. He isn't broken now that we do have a name for those silly tendencies like fascination with smells and rabbits.
In essence, nothing has changed since last Monday. There are not a slew of new ideas or people running to show us how to "deal" with this unique child. He's doing well. I guess we'll keep doing what we've been doing... which is loving him and praising him and cherishing him for all the things that make him unique and special. Wouldn't everybody love to have someone in their house with a map of their surrounding permanently imprinted on their brain? Shouldn't we all take time to really smell the flowers (and rain, and wood shavings, and kitchen spices, and crayons, and...)?