Last week I went into a meeting with Pepper's school counselor. We were going to discuss his 504 plan, which provides accommodations for his ADHD and for his giftedness. My little guy has been struggling with some pretty intense anxiety the last few months, too, we were going to add some other accommodations as well.
And then came the words I never expected to hear: Pepper has a really unique combinations of quirks and struggles. Have you talked to his doctor about a, b, and c?
A: Pepper is unable to engage in meaningful conversation with his peers unless it is about a topic he is well-versed in. In other words, Pepper lacks some very fundamental social skills, the main being the ability to understand the give and take of normal conversation. This means he has incredible difficulty making friends.
B: Pepper seems unable to integrate the sensory information from his environment. He has to wear noise-canceling headphones in order to work in class. He has to chew on a sensory necklace in order to keep from eating his school supplies. He has to sit on a yoga ball in class to keep from falling out of his chair repeatedly during the day. He has very strong food aversions...all texture related. He also has an extremely low pain threshold. He is easily overwhelmed by all of this and melts down frequently.
C: Pepper has a brilliant mind. He has a photographic memory, a vocabulary that surpasses mine (not exaggerating), and incredible mathematical skills. He is also a speed reader.
As the counselor pointed our A, B, and C, everything just kind of came into focus. All of a sudden, I looked at Pepper and was able to see what the counselor couldn't say.
After a phone call to Pepper's old pediatrician (who was his doctor from when Pepper was 3 until our move in June), I scheduled an appointment with Pepper's new pediatrician. I filled out some paperwork. The doctor talked extensively with Pepper and with me. And we concurred. Pepper is on the autism spectrum.
As I look back at his life, I'm able to see it, and I can't believe I missed it. The signs have been there since he was a toddler. But somehow I missed it.
Pepper has been a hot mess at school. He's anxious all the time. He's frustrated all the time. He's in the clinic and the counselor's office every day. He's performing poorly on schoolwork, which is NOT normal for him. He has had physical anxiety symptoms like crazy, too. Matt and I talked briefly and prayed briefly. The answer was very obvious: time to homeschool Pepper.
Today I withdrew him from school and ordered a bunch of curriculum. I assured the school it has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with the needs of my son. He's going to be getting occupational therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy to help him with the symptoms of his autism and anxiety. Not having to pull him out of the classroom for therapy will be greatly to his advantage. And because Pepper is so brilliant, I'm going to be able to provide him with learning opportunities that will match his love of learning and his high intelligence.
On one hand, I'm sad because autism is kind of a big deal, and not what I was expecting. On one hand I'm glad, because now I understand him better and can meet his needs better. And if I had three hands, I'd also add that I'm excited because he's going to thrive as a homeschooler.