Saturday, September 14, 2013


So my baby started eighth grade this week! Everyone got up at 6AM...(I am NOT a morning person!) and got our routine going again. Jack even rode his bike to school...and to think he couldn't even ride a year ago!

 Harry and I drove, as the high school is an easy drop on my way to work. So I happily take the extra 10 minutes I get with him, even if I'm not allowed to sing, dance or anything silly while he is in the car! He is my "golden child". I don't have to worry about his grades, his schedule...he takes care of it all like a trooper. Straight A's, since he's not here to stop me from bragging!  (Of course he thinks Jack is the "golden child!)

 So I drop off Harry at his ginormous high school (1600 kids) and am off to work, already deep in thoughts of my 8:30 call and how to handle a nasty clean up needed there. I must admit I forgot all about the kids and school until 2:30 when my phone rang. I looked at the number...220-3000...the school. I know it's not my kids because they have phones,  And let's face it, that number is burned in my brain. I think to myself, "Seriously? It's the first freaking day," and answer the phone...

 "Mrs. Heise? Jack had a rough morning..."

Oh joy, back-to-school...

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Adolescence: Now What?

There are so many books about Aspergers Syndrome.  I suppose this should be a welcome fact given that Aspergers is still in its infancy.  And many provide invaluable information helping parents to observe and identify Aspergers in their children, which is a Godsend in a world where many doctors and psychologists, while aware of Aspergers, are not adept at recognizing the simple fact that there is no "golden source" set of Aspie symptoms.  Instead, it usually presents itself with a few common indicators, (e.g, failure of eye-contact, specific and obsessive interests), but each Aspie child presents differently.  While severity is certainly a factor, personality is also an important part of what an Aspie child presents.  This makes it difficult for a professional that does not specialize in Aspergers Syndrome to spot the Aspie traits.

As my son entered adolescence, I noted that the books continued to point out the Aspie traits, but there were fewer and fewer books offering techniques for dealing with the new and uncharted world of Aspie adolescence!  Sure, Aspie boys may lack street smarts about sex, and thus may become obsessed with porn...and??  What next?  What do I do with that?  Each time these new traits were exhibited, I would once again pull out my Aspie library and begin to research, hoping for a glimmer of what I could do to ensure that we continued Jack's progress.  

At about 12, I ran out of material, and it was frustrating!  So for the past year I have been floundering for ways to counter the adolescent Aspie's "I-don't-care-if-the-rest-of-the-world-knows-I'm-smart" attitude, and super short frustration fuse!  This combination is not good for a school-aged kid, as it results in grades that do not even remotely relate to what he has learned, and teachers who are frustrated by his lack of drive and inability to ask for help and desire to pull a runner at the slightest conflict in class.  

So I am on my own again, trying to figure out what will work.  Short term rewards and privileges?  But what?  If I offer a trip to Tokyo for grades that prove effort and classwork that gets completed?  "I'm out, " he says.  And this is a dream trip for him.  So too long term I guess!

Allowing him to attend his weekly "Duelling Tournaments" for a good week?  Probably too short term as I don't have a good barometer weekly.  So what next?  

I don't know.  I do know that failure is not an option, so we keep trying until we figure out what works for now.  On my end, the reward is huge, so I'm still plugging away.  I've got a man to raise after all!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

My Five Year Old, the Monster...?

So what happens when a five year old pops his teacher in the face?  I guess it depends, huh?  Was she hurt?  No.  Did he continue to hit her?  No.  She decided that she was at her wit's end and went to the principal.  Not at her wit's end with Jack, however.  She knew what his problem was.  She had been begging the district to evaluate him, trying to get the school psychologist in whenever she could.  But no one would listen.

She thought surely if the administration knew that he had resorted to lashing out, they would do something...and they did.

My 5 year old + Politically Correct "Zero Tolerance Policy" = Suspension from School.

That's right.  I am the proud mother of a 5 year old with a mark on his "permanent record!"

I came home from work to meet with the principal.  His dad came too.  We went in her office, and there were about 6 adults around a big table talking about my son.  The principal began to talk about how there was zero tolerance and Jack would not be allowed back if this happened again.  All children were expected to behave appropriately, or else the teachers would not be able to teach...

I very politely told her that I did not want to hear anything she had to say, since she would not be able to pick my little criminal out of lineup...I don't think she had ever even met him!  I spent most of the time discussing how we could get Jack tested with the psychologist and the Vice Principal.  At some point, the Principal decided that it was time to ask Jack to come in and to explain to him what he had done and the whole "zero tolerance" bit.  I think she had seen Scared Straight too many times.

When my little man walked into the room, she began to tell him what he had done wrong and asked if he could apologize to the adults around the table...all six of us.  At this point, Jack ran into my arms and began to cry, hiding his face in my neck.  I turned to the woman and said..."This is my son.  He is 5.  He is not a Monster; he is a little boy.  He is a very gifted and brilliant little boy who will one day find the cure for cancer, or be a great Pultizer winning author.   And I'll be damned if I am going to let you turn him into an accountant because you only want to teach Stepford children."

[Many years later, after my oldest son graduated from that school, and Jack was out of district, she approached me all smiles.  I said to her, "don't worry, I don't have any more kids..." She laughed, but I am sure she was glad to be rid of me by then!]

As this was near the end of the year, not much came of this...and Jack spent the summer home with Norris.  I was afraid to put him in camp.  The next year, I found out that the sweet, pretty teacher had made sure Jack's first grade teacher was a 30 year veteran.  She wanted to give him a voice who could get him what he needed.

And she did.  His first grade teacher was a middle aged, single woman who loves Bob Dylan, and describes herself as a bit of a social misfit.  Within a week of school starting, she had called for a meeting of the special ed committee and asked for a daily aide for Jack, and to begin testing.  The state pays for the aide, so that came right away.  The rest is a saga in and of itself.  But for the better part of that fall, the school had shrinks and consultants seeing him.  He had an unnatural attachment to his mother.  He was suffering from reactive attachment disorder, (which I was told not to take personally!)

Not being a shrink, I spoke to my own shrink, who told me he did not think it was even possible to have both at the same time, as they are somewhat polar opposite diagnoses.  He also told me that my own private shrink for Jack's methods and schedule for Jack indicated to him that she was "studying" him and likely writing an article.  He said I should push for testing outside the school with a private diagnostician.  He told me my insurance would pay for it.

For six weeks, Jack's dad and I, (who by now, were divorced) took turns taking Jack to a Fifth Avenue Office where he spent two hours two days a week taking various tests.  When he was through, the doctor told us it would be about two weeks, but that she could already tell us that Jack had Aspergers, and that five years old was a bit long in the tooth to be diagnosed, so we had to push for behavioral therapy as soon as the testing documents were ready.

She also, seeing our faces, sweetly told us that in the end, it wouldn't matter that Jack had Aspergers.  "He is so handsome and charming and funny that people will always forgive him his oddities, so it will be ok.  The main thing is to get him help so that he can be in school and be learning."

We sent the tests to his district.  And waited.  Every few weeks, they would send someone to evaluate him, and by spring he was taking cognitive speech therapy and occupational therapy.  But his teacher was still frustrated.  The district did not think he needed further help because his educational performance was well above average.  The teacher, in frustration, blurted out to the administration that this was because he was a little genius, because she certainly wasn't teaching him a damn thing.  All he did was sit at a desk in the hallway and draw pictures everyday, and that was NOT an education.

God bless Mrs. Bob Dylan, because that moved the district to send in a behavioral modification specialist.  Their goal was to try to provide Jack the services he needed in the school, and she would tell them what those services were.

But it didn't work out that way...her report was even more scathing than Mrs. Dylan's tirade.  The report stated that Jack spent all of his time in the hallway with his aide, or in the office, and that it was unlikely that he had been educated at all in either Kindergarten or the first grade.  It stated that a child like Jack was badly in need of an educational setting that included behavioral modification therapies as a part of the daily curriculum, and that he was already, at nearly 6, two or three years behind in this training.  The report went on to say that Jack was a lovely boy who was well above average intelligence who simply did not know how to process the world around him:  Classic Aspergers.  It recommended that the district immediately find him a placement in such a school either in or out of the district.  It went on to say that the in district Autism program was not appropriate, as it was for other Autism spectrum behaviors and learning dysfunctions.  And Jack showed none of these.

So now, fearing that we would sue because Jack had not been educated in two years, the process actually began.  By Summer, Jack was enrolled in the SW BOCES program for kids with Aspergers and PPD NOS.  He had a hard time adjusting at first, but he came around.  The program psychologist says once he explained to Jack that no matter how bad his behavior, no matter who he hit, he would not be sent home or kicked out, so he might as well knock it off.  So Jack did.  And he began to fall in line and learn.

The teachers in the BOCES program gave us hope.  Jack's behavior improved immensely.  He stopped having meltdowns (which were really just evidence of how disoriented he was in his school environment.)  By the fourth grade, he was a completely different kid.  We considered bringing him back in district.  But the school thought it best to wait one more year.  They were very proud of how far he had come.  One of the few success stories.  This year, he was evaluated again, and his mainstream teacher was asked about him and if she had any issues or doubts about him being mainstreamed.  She laughed and said "Jack is my highest scoring student.  I love him.  He'll be fine!"

So this spring he will leave the BOCES program, which is hosted right now at the Pocatico Hills School.  I think we will all miss the beautiful campus, originally built on the Rockefeller estate for their servant's children.  It is set amongst organic farms and lovely estates.  And I know he will miss his friends and teachers.  I think they will miss him too.  He is a special kid.  If you spend any time with him at all, you won't want to know a time when you don't...

I am more nervous for the fall than Jack.  He is fine, but I am worried that he will be picked on or bullied.  (Though he is as big as me, so not likely.)  But I have to let him go, an hope that we have armed him with enough wit, humor and social tools to navigate the social world on his own.

And for this, we have to thank the pretty teacher for finding him Mrs. Bob Dylan, and Mrs. Dylan for having no fear about being Jack's advocate, and my own shrink, who finally told us how to get off the school district shrink merry-go-round and get Jack some real help.

Part 2: Cheeseburgers in Paradise

When I signed Jack up for kindergarten, I informed the school that his nursery school had indicated that he was not developing socially as they had hoped, and that he required a firm hand and an experienced, older teacher, as he was able to run circles around the younger teachers in preschool.

So the school, in its infinite wisdom, put Jack in a classroom with a 24 year old, pretty little teacher.  Smooth move...just asking for it.  And boy did he give it to them!

From the beginning, Jack was difficult.  He hid under his desk.  He ripped papers off the walls.  He flipped the lights off and on.  He was, in general, very disruptive.  He refused to listen and did not respond to discipline.  He and the Vice Principal became good friends because they spent so much time together that year.

One week his nanny Norris went on vacation and asked a very lovely woman to take care of the boys in her absence.  Jack did not react well to the Norris' absence.  His behavior at school became far more pronounced, and I was getting daily calls from the teacher and principal at my office.  (So much for that whole "trying to make a living" thing!)

One day he threw such a fit that his substitute sitter stayed at school with him, taking him out into the hallway.  She held him in her lap as he cried.  His teacher came out and knelt down to Jack's level and asked him what was wrong.  When he refused to answer, she placed her face very close to his face and looking him in the eyes and asked again.

She is the first to admit that getting into Jack's personal space was probably not the best idea she had ever had.  Later she said that she did not know what she was thinking, as he never liked to have people that near him.

So you are probably wondering what he next, huh?  Well, what is it that Ralph always said to Alice on the Honeymooners?  "One of these days, Alice, to the moon!"  Yes, he punched his very sweet and pretty teacher right in the face!

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Video Game Generation

The other day, Jack said that he was bored. Now I realize I could have said, "Really? How about doing the dishes?" That is what our parents always said...but instead I said, "Why don't you play your new video game?"

"I finished it." He finished it. The game he got for Christmas 2 months ago, and he finished it.

"What do you mean you finished it?" I asked. "Can't you start over and play a new game?"

"No," says Jack..."I've finished all the levels."

Wow. A $60 video game he asked for, for months before it was released, and he is done with it? "Why cant you play it again and get better at it?" I asked him.

"No, it would be boring to do it again," he explained like I was the child.

I was thinking of this conversation later that day when thinking about how young people in the workforce behave these days. They truly are the video game generation. Short attention span and wanting a new game as soon as they finish the task at hand.

When we were kids there were two games: Pong and Space Invaders. The different "levels" were nothing more than the game just getting faster and faster. When you finished all the levels, you played it again because there just weren't any other games for you to play. By the time Pacman and Frogger came out, we had mastered Pong and Space Invaders. You could say we were beyond finished with them. But we still played them because we still only had four games!

This prepared us well for the workforce where you started on the bottom rung and you stayed there long after you had mastered the tasks, and "finished it." It prepared us well to do repetitive tasks for little thanks and to not always be looking out for the next big thing. After all, for most of us, even if there were more games, our parents would not have been able to afford the exhorbitant prices of them, and would have sent us outside to play instead.

Outside is where we learned to play games and to work as a team, and to understand that every game had a winner and a loser. It is always better to be the winner. The winner got the trophy. This prepared us for the workplace where only truly great performance is recognized, and mediocrity is tolerated, but not celebrated.

I think that these days we have prepared the video game generation to enter the workforce at the bottom, to master that "level" in no time, and to begin asking for praise and a raise. I cannot quite get used to how much feedback this generation requires. I have been told that it is for us to adapt to them, and to learn to praise them often and profusely, as they are used to getting trophies merely for playing the game, rather than for winning. They have been told by their parents how special and terrific they are at every turn, and when they hit the workforce and no one praises them simply for doing their jobs, they don't understand.

And after they master that first level, they want a promotion. Because it is all about making your way up the levels in the video game generation. Never mind that it took us years of toiling at the bottom to move up the ranks. For this generation, the bottom is not just a place to start, but it is the first level in the game. They dont seem to understand that you don't move automatically to the next level after you have mastered the first. In fact, you don't move to the next level until you employer decides that you can be of some other and better use to him. It really has nothing to do with your desire to move up at all. You might toil at the first level for years after you had mastered it, and then skip 2 levels simply because you are needed there. And no one gives you a "participant" ribbon just for showing up. Your praise is your paycheck!

I guess we have done our kids no favors, buying them all the latest games, driving them to soccer and telling them how great they are even if they stink at soccer and get C's in math. Perhaps we should have let them fight their own battles at school instead of interfering when a teacher gave them a bad grade. The world even has a name for us: helicopter parents. I've read that when employers recruit this video game generation, they also focus on the parents, who want to be sure junior gets time off for Aunt Lucy's wedding and has an ergonomic workstation so his carpel tunnel doesn't act up. Is the cafeteria peanut-free?

My parents never once called my employer...for any reason! I would have been mortified. I was an adult trying to impress other adults. The heli-mom thing would have blown my image as a responsible adult...after all, if I needed my mommy, I wouldn't have seemed very responsible, now would I? I guess that the video game generation has such high self-esteem that mommy coming along on the job interview doesn't bother them...

I guess I am just an old fart who doesn't want to get with the times, but I refuse to reward mediocrity, to pay more for less and deal with mama drama on the job! But what do I know? I was the one playing Pong for a full year straight. These kids can win the Vietnam, Korean and both Iraqi wars all within a year. Maybe I should just accept that it's "game over" for Gen X, and make way for the video game kids...and their mommies!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Welcome to Planet Cheeseburger

So if you have taken the trouble to click the link to, you are probably wondering what the hell is Planet Cheeseburger, and why I am here...

Planet Cheeseburger is my life.  It all started many years ago when my youngest son Jack was diagnosed with Aspergers, which is on the autism spectrum but not what you usually think of when someone says "autism".   Aspergers is more like your weird Uncle Fred who could talk for hours about the latest space shuttle mission, but could not engage in small talk of any sort.  Or that kid in your high school who would never look you in the eye and sat on a bench at lunch drawing in a book, not having any friends, but not seeming to be bothered by that either.

That is Jack.  Except Jack is very handsome and wickedly funny. He is clever and everyone he meets loves him.   My partner (and everyone hates when I call him my partner because it makes us sound gay.  Not that there is anything wrong with being gay; we are just not that interesting,) once told him "There is nothing wrong with you Jack. You're normal. I don't think you have Aspergers at all. I think you have Cheeseburgers!"   He figured out how wrong he was when Jack punched him in the face for ejecting a DVD that Jack had been watching, and his rigidity would not allow him to wait for the DVD to be ejected and cleaned.

And so it was that Jack began life with Cheeseburgers...but anyone who has a Cheeseburger in the family knows that you all live your lives with it, here on Planet Cheeseburger.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.   Let's just start with how I came to settle on Planet Cheeseburger. My first child, Harry was difficult from day one.  He came into the world kicking and screaming, (emphasis on screaming). It took a doctor, four interns and a pair of forceps to get him to come out of his cozy little world. And boy was he mad about that. He did not sleep for about 3 years...neither did I. He needed to be carried everywhere he went. If I didn't, he would look up at me, holding up his chubby little hands saying "uppy-uppy!"  So I simply had to carry him. (Read: I spoiled him rotten.)

There are pictures of me carrying him around while nine months pregnant with his little brother Jack. He has a Cheshire cat smile on his face. I'm sure he was thinking, "I've got her all figured out. She's wrapped around my sticky little finger. Life is sweet!"

Little did he know that everything was about to change forever! On the day I went into labor with Jack, I boarded a train for New York to see my OB-GYN. Harry would not let go of me, crying as Grandma took him out of my arms. He must have known something was up, because I never came home that night. The doc sent me to Lenox Hill Hospital where I waited patiently for Jack...except Jack was not Jack back then. He was Charley.

So I'm waiting for Charley, but nothing is happening. In fact, I was no longer 6 centimeters (or sauntimeters, as my very odd OB pronounced it. I'll fill you in on why she is odd another time...) I had regressed back to 5, and Dr. Odd was not amused. Out came the pitocen drip. I was mildly terrified, recalling the painful ordeal with Harry, still fresh in my mind.

But it could not have been more different, as Charley could not wait to get out. The doctor, (Dr. Odd's husband, as I apparently had not followed Dr. Odd's schedule) held him up and declared him a big boy! The nurse then placed him on my chest, where he promptly peed on me. I smiled, finally understanding the beauty of those first moments, ones I had missed with Harry, since they wisked him away and spent the next 45 minutes stitching me up.

The nurse cleaned and weighed him, 8 pounds 13 ounces, and asked me what his name was. "Charley, or maybe Jack, I haven't decided." She held up the little pink bundle, looked him in the eye and said simply, "Jack. This one is definitely a Jack.". And so he was...

Compared to my experience with Harry, Jack was very different baby. He didn't cry much. He slept through the night after 10 days. He laughed and played, but did not require the constant attention that Harry had. (Oh, and I should mention at this point that Harry was pissed about this new addition to the family. "Take him back," he begged me. Another time while I was feeding Jack, who was always hungry, he said to me, "Can you take that off your boob and read me a story?")

After a few months, I went back to work, and both boys went back to daycare. And life went on as always. But as Jack approached his first birthday, I felt that I hardly knew him. He was a good baby. He was charming and smiled a lot. But he didn't seem like he was "mine". I figured I just needed to spend more time with him, as work and two boys had made it impossible for me to bond with him as I did Harry.

I remember that I quit my job a few weeks before 9/11. So Jack and I watched in horror while he ate breakfast. Most people did not even know I had quit my job, so people called all day. It was the first day of Harry's pre-school. While Harry was in class, Jack and I stayed in a nearby shop, (like the rest of the world we had no idea what would happen next, and I didn't want to be far from either boy). While there, Jack began a lifelong friendship with the shop-owner, Gina. Over the next several years, Gina and her life experiences would cross with ours over and over again.

In the next few years, Jack became more animated with me, and I adored him. He was so easy. He never cried and was just happy to be along for the ride. He and I were pals. But after a few years, when he started pre-school, I decided it was time for me to go back to work. We found a kind and gentle nanny who took to Jack like a duck to water. And while he liked her, he was aloof, just as he had been to me in the beginning. (Meanwhile, Harry was livid that I would dare go back to work and leave him with "that woman!"  I still don't think he is over it!)

I did not realize until years later that his aloof personality was likely an early sign of his Aspergers. The second sign, which also slipped right by me was his difficulties at pre-school. The Director of his school could not put her finger on it, but after two years left me with the advice that I should have his school district monitor him closely, as he was just not developing socially the way they had expected. He was a puzzling kid, because he had friends and playdates, and he would talk to other children, but it was all on his terms. And he did not seem to understand that the other kids did not always want to be hugged or touched. Sometimes he would knock kids down who were not expecting it.

But more than that, he did not do as he was told. Not that any kid does, but with him, it was a way of life. If he did not see a reason to do X, he simply would refuse. And no punishment would make him do it.

He had always told me he did not like school. He only went 2 days a week because of that. Still, he made it through without any major incident, so I was totally unprepared for what came next...