Sunday, February 14, 2010

Making the Transition from High School to College - How Scary Is This????

So this week it suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks that Justin is going to be going to college in a little over two years. This is a stage of life that is scary for ANY parent, but for a parent of a special needs child this is TERRIFYING. I just love those friends or WELL MEANING family members who say, well he is going to be 18 and he has to be on his own. He has to make his own decision. You have to let go sometime. They have NO CLUE how much harder it is for special needs children/adults to navigate the real world and all those things that we just take for granted but that they have to be taught over and over again and even then may not always get it.

I am always accused of being overprotective or a worrier and I am sure that some of my family are considering this as just my next thing to worry about, but for those of you who have actually been through this, or are getting ready to go through this, you know exactly how I feel and what I mean. You know how this phase in your life feels like you are getting ready to jump off of a sky scraper with no net below and like you are doing that while at the same time pushing your own child out in front of a speeding train. You understand that just because a child turns 16 doesn't necessarily mean they are ready to drive and just because a child turns 18 doesn't necessarily mean they are ready to live on their own. So you will get this and I hope this blog helps you.

So in my search for information on how to help myself and my child get ready for this huge step I posted some questions to the various autism groups that I belong to and one woman wrote back what I think is the absolute most useful email I have ever received in my life and I asked her if I could share it with all of you and she said yes. Her son is in his sophomore year of college and there is alot of things that she had done to prepare him for this transition and there are also alot of things that she found out afterwards she wished she had done. I am sharing her exact words here in hopes that it will help you like I feel it is going to help me. Enjoy. Thank you Sherron Ostrander.

My guy is a sophomore in college, so some of this we prepared for, some of it is stuff I wish I could have foreseen. Some of these are for college only, but many are just stuff any child needs to know/be able to do before he leaves home. Some (like banking) apply to our NT kids too, and you'd be horrified to find out how many of them leave home not knowing them! Don't let him tell you, "moommm, you know I know that." Make him show you.
Knowing the theory and physics of playing pool doesn't mean that you aren't going to get hustled for everything you have.

Job interview skill! -- these apply to interviews for admissions and or scholarships, too. And later, talking to his advisor about his class schedule, etc.

How to organize and plan study time when your teacher is not going to remind you about homework or tests (and keeping a calender or some such)

Make sure that "self advocacy" includes making sure he knows he CAN ask for help, SHOULD ask for help, and who those people or organizations are that he can ask for help. Help him identify times when he could have asked for help instead of struggling by himself, not even knowing where to start.

Make sure that he understands that however unreasonable it is, FERPA will mean that he must sign (in some cases ask for and sign) legal papers to allow you to know anything about what is going on with him, like helping him and his advisor pick the appropriate, and the appropriate number of, classes. Many professors will not want to talk to the parent, only the student. It's probably a good idea for the two of you to go to a professor's office and introduce the two of yourselves. Make sure the professor has a copy of the LOA (letter of accommodation, which he is responsible for himself and is something of a 3 step hassle), and that your child gives permission to him to call or email you. In fact, the delivery of the LOA is a good excuse to go see the professor.

How to do laundry in a coin operated laundry. Start by knowing how to do laundry at home.

How to sweep, vacuum, mop, load the dishwasher, and other cleaning duties.
He should have plenty of chores already by the time he's 15.

How to clean out a fridge. How to know when something is spoiled, how to properly store food. How long things usually are still good. (ie, Eggs for weeks, but lettuce for days, and takeout sushi about 15 hours.)

Take your Aspie out in public. Make him do the grocery shopping. Make
him stand in line for movie tickets, and pay y'all's way into places with an entrance fee. These are "simple" to us, but things he may never even have thought about, much less feels comfortable doing.

Anything else you currently are doing for him. Remember, your main job is to make yourself unnecessary.

Banking, including writing checks and balancing a check book, and how to use an ATM and the difference between a debit card and a charge card. And how to talk to tellers! And that a check can be held for 3 days, in some cases, and that in many cities, 2PM is the next day at a bank. So if you deposit something at 2:01 on Friday, it's the same as depositing it Monday morning and you could possibly not have access to it until Thursday! Friday, if that Monday happens to be a holiday, in which case the deposit is counted as having come in Tuesday morning. Even if your bank is open on Saturday, that is NOT a business day, and doesn't count as one of your three days. Anything deposited on Saturday is counted as deposited on Monday. Of course, withdrawals of any kind are IMMEDIATELY charged to your account.
This includes ATM transactions.

You can get "cashier's checks" or a "bank check" at the bank, for free. You can also get money orders there, and many post offices, and that either of those will be much cheaper than any retail place selling them.

Speaking of that, he'll need to know what is appropriate I.D., and what NOT to give out, like social security numbers except for a job, or school registration, or some other big, trusted institution, but not Wal-Mart unless you get a job there. Cashiers have no right to your SS#.

Never to loan money to anyone. Never to give money to panhandlers, etc.

How to use a credit card. Get him one as an authorized user on your charge, and take him places where he has to do the paying. He needs to know how to (or whether to) hand it over (look for swiping machines). If he's worried about whether they even take credit cards, show him those lovely stickers with the different charge card logos that businesses put on their doors or over the register.

How to figure 15% in your head (or just take 2X the tax, in many states) and the importance of leaving a tip. Also that the tip can be added to the credit card. That money left on a table unattended in a restaurant is NOT lost.

How to prepare several simple meals, or make sure you get the full meal plan. Even then he'll need to know things like, "you NEVER put the popcorn in the microwave and walk away from it, because it doesn't take half the time they suggest to cook it in order for it to become a smoking bag of toxic waste."

How to write emails to professors, counselor/advisers, teaching assistants, lab partners, etc.

Give your lab partners (or group project partners) your email address and ask for theirs.

How to do group projects. They are very popular in some majors. This needs to be practiced in high school. This is another case where knowing the theory of groups is not the same as remembering to ask your lab partners before you take over the experiment because they obviously didn't pre-read the lab, and you know how to do it right. Or knowing to speak up when they are doing it wrong, instead of waiting for them to finish and then staying late to redo it properly.

Map reading — Many colleges, even small ones, are a confusing and disorganized jumble of buildings.

Even if you can't make yourself talk in class, sit near the front and look at the teacher or student who is talking and show interest. If the student agrees, I like for him to send a little note along with his LOA, saying something along the lines of, "Because Asperger's includes communication deficits, I may be unable to speak much in class. I can answer direct questions if they are informational and not for my opinion, and am given a few extra seconds to formulate the answer in my head." Or whatever applies in your case. If you're one of the lucky ones with a verbal kid, it might go something like, " . . . I may have trouble stopping myself from talking too much. I may need you to remind me to give others a chance, or that I am allowed to only ask 3 questions per hour." (There's an Aspie that is in several of my sons classes that has this in his LOA. My son is in the physics department, and of the 17 Aspies registered in the DSS office, 15 of them are in physics, math or some other field where they run into each other

Remember that community college is college too. If your child goes to a state run CC, in almost all cases, the credits transfer in full to any other in-state institute, including if these are taken in high school as dual enrollment classes.

I highly recommend dual enrollment for calculus, or Japanese or whatever your child's strongest subject is. They get both high school and college credit for those classes. It gets him out of the high school environment and into the college environment in small little chucks that help him "acclimatize."

CLEP anything he can. And remember that most CLEP tests must be taken before the student enrolls in any class in that series. ie, if you know he can CLEP out of Cal A, don't start Cal B until after the CLEP tests. And CLEP anything you can! (or get AP credit, or what ever gets him a few extra hours toward graduation).

Resign yourself to the fact that 12 hours is full time, and in all likelihood will be all he can stand, not because of the academic content, but because of the sheer daunting task of organizing those classes and the time to study for them. Homework won't be like high school.
Remember that old adage of "2 hours of work at home for each hour of class time." And if he doesn't have 30 hours at the end of two semesters, he's still a freshman, with all the disadvantages freshmen have with registration. So, start taking CLEP credit in 11th grade.

Quit letting them look at far away schools. If he's not going to be able to be both self sufficient AND able to handle classes AND dorm life, that's okay. Start looking close to home. There's no real reason for someone to have to deal with ALL those major transitions the same day!

And applying to colleges is very stressful, and not something he will ever need to do as an adult. Don't let them tell you it's like applying for a job. It's not. If you want to develop those skills, have him apply for jobs. Bring home typical applications and practice filling them out at home. Looking at the person he turns the app. in to. Even putting on the
tie and going to the interview, if called. It doesn't matter if he doesn't
need a job. Most folks under 18 just plain can't get a job, especially if you are any where near a college campus. And if he does by some fluke get an offer, "No thanks," is a fine answer.

There are TONS of scholarships for transfer students who have gotten their assoc. degree at a community college.

AND about those college entrance tests (the PSAT, SAT and ACT). Take as
soon as you can, and GET ACCOMMODATIONS. You have more ability to do this the younger he is. Those organizations are NOT subject to IDEA, not required to to help your child do his best, and don't care a whit about your child. They only have to comply with the ADA. which means they only need to give him "reasonable" accommodations, that will allow him to do AVERAGE on the test. The most common, easy to get accommodation is extra time. Get it.
Make his high school teachers routinely give it to him, even if he doesn't need it. It can make the difference between a 32 and a 33 on the ACT, which to us would have meant $2000 more scholarship money, every semester! But if he's taken the test already without accommodations, and made average or better, then it's WAY too late to ask for accommodations.

Transportation. If it is appropriate in your area, or the area of the campus, how to use the bus system. City buses and having correct change is NOTHING like riding on the school bus. Many are not ready to drive until later in life. In those cases, if he's not going to be at home, or you don't want to spend the rest of your life is as a chauffeur, then public transport (including how to call for a taxi, or use a car-pooling system) should go to the top of your list, now.

Driving. Some will never drive (see above). Most are not ready to drive at 16. Many will think they aren't ready at 18. But a fair number, who aren't even close to being ready at 15 may be by 19. Learners permits are good for
4 years in most states, and do not count as being a driver on most insurance companies. And I firmly believe in self-fulfilling prophecies. Get him his learner's permit, go on as if you are fully as confident he will eventually drive as you are that he will go to college.. Even you don't want him to drive. And when he is in the car, have him sit up front and pay attention.
Have the driver point out things to look for, potential problems, good following distance. If you have an older sibling being taught to drive, have the younger one there in the car, too.

He is NOT required to graduate in 4 years. Talk to the people in charge.
Arrange a five year high school plan (include making some classes like Home Ec and Consumer Ed, or whatever the modern equivalent, required). Give him that extra year to mature and get a good handle on those organization and self-sufficiency skills. I usually advise folks to repeat 8th grade, that's often much easier than stretching out high school, However, if you can arrange a 5 year high school plan that goes for half days, leaving him to dual enroll at the community college for one class, that would be unbelievably helpful.

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