Last Wednesday morning we left the kids with a new babysitter so we could meet with the educational psychologist who evaluated Noah earlier this month. The sitter asked the kids when they’d be starting school. Neither knew, so I told her September 7 for June and August 30 for Noah.
“That’s soon!” Noah exclaimed in surprise. We’d been telling him school started soon, of course, but I remember how when you’re a kid the summer seems endless. It just goes on and on until all of a sudden, and quite surprisingly, it’s over.
Later that morning, as I walked out of the appointment, I told Beth, “It’s what they always say about him.” Noah is a quirky kid, no doubt about it. Over the years we’ve considered or various teachers, his pediatrician, and therapists we’ve consulted have suggested the following diagnoses: OCD, Tourette’s, Sensory Processing Disorder, Asperger’s and ADHD. But with the exception of Sensory Processing Disorder, he’s always fit some of the criteria but not enough for a diagnosis. (And even SPD diagnosis he received at the age of six was a borderline one.) So, this is a long way of saying the psychologist doesn’t think he has Asperger’s, even if she does she recognize some Asperger’s characteristics in his behavior. She thinks ADHD is a possibility, but she wasn’t ready to make an official diagnosis of that either.
What he has and as far as I know there’s no official name for it, is a big gap between his intelligence and his executive function. Or to put it simply, he’s really, really smart and he’s also a really, really slow worker. He excelled on a verbal IQ test (in the 99.6th percentile) but on a writing speed test he scored in the 20th percentile. This wasn’t news to us. Noah’s teachers have been telling us he takes a long time to complete his work ever since kindergarten. Whether they interpret this as laziness or an intrinsic part of the way his mind works often determines what kind of relationship they have with him and how effectively they can teach him. We’re scheduling a meeting with Mrs. B, his fourth-grade teacher, to discuss the report and the psychologist’s recommendations in hopes that she can make some accommodations for him, though the lack of any official type of diagnosis at this point means we don’t have any legally binding action plan. I’m okay with that for now. I’d rather just talk to the teacher and say this is what we think he needs and see how it goes.
The week before school started was busy. As I mentioned earlier Noah had play dates with Sasha, Maxine and a pair of twins who will attend his new school and he also attended Sasha’s end-of-summer pool party. On Tuesday morning I let Noah walk to Sasha’s house alone for the first time. This is something we’d been mulling over for a long time, but since he will need to walk home from the bus stop by himself this year (June’s school schedule rules out my getting him), we thought we should start letting him practice walking places by himself. As I stood on the porch and watched him set out, I could tell by the set of his shoulders and the way he held his head how proud and grown-up he felt. And it felt right to watch him go.
The next play date was Wednesday. The dynamic of meeting two new kids at once was a little challenging. At first one twin seemed more interested in playing with Noah while the other hung back, and then the twins played together with Noah left out until their mom suggested we move the play date from the playground to an inside space where it might be easier for them to interact. An inside space, of course, meant our house, which was nearby but in no condition for guests, particularly guests I’d never met before. So I just said, “Well, I didn’t clean,” and she said not to worry so we went home and as it turned out they did play better when they had something more structured to do. (They played Monopoly.) Monopoly was the game of choice again on Friday when Maxine came over. She stayed from 9:30 to 1:30 and they actually finished the game, which was satisfying to Noah since the twins had to leave mid-game.
I had the chance to watch Noah at Sasha’s party since it was a parents-invited potluck. At the beginning when it was only Sasha, Sean and Maura playing in the pool he did pretty well. He splashed in the pool, played with the squirters and ate chips when the kids got out of the water and hit the buffet. But as the party got bigger he started to hang back. I encouraged him to join the other kids when the herd of nine-year-olds moved to the trampoline because he likes bouncing, but he stayed on the screened porch with the grownups. By the time the activity had switched to sword fighting with sticks, I didn’t even mention joining them anymore because I know he’s not comfortable with that kind of play. He’d gone back to the pool to anyway. He was alone but he seemed to be having fun. We haven’t been swimming much this summer and he ended up spending almost the whole three hours and fifteen minutes we were there in the water. I think it was okay, given how big crowds of kids overwhelm him. He spent a lot of time alone but he did socialize some, too.
Of course, in addition to the play dates and party, there were school events, too. The ice cream social was Wednesday night. The principal and the teachers played Two Truths and a Lie. Each one had a Power Point slide with two true facts and a lie about himself or herself and the parents and kids had to guess which one was the lie. We didn’t know which teacher he had yet at the time but I think Mrs. B was the one who has gone bungee cord jumping from a crane. Or maybe she was the one who once parachuted out of a plane. In any case, she did not try out for the Olympic Track and Field team. I know that for sure. After learning about the teachers there was a human treasure hunt in which you had to find people in the room who met certain characteristics. (For instance, I signed a lot of people’s sheets as their vegetarian.) Beth and I both find these kinds of icebreakers tedious, so we were happy when it was finally time to line up for ice cream. We did see a few families from Noah’s old school and get to talk a bit, which was nice.
We were back at school on Friday afternoon to meet Mrs. B and tour her classroom and see who Noah’s classmates are. Samira, who has been at the same school as Noah since nursery school days, is in his class, along with Maura who he has been friendly with on and off since kindergarten. There was also a boy who recognized Noah from Improv camp (though Noah couldn’t remember where they’d met until the boy told him) and one of the twins. So there should be plenty of familiar faces.
I studied a flow chart about the writing process and noticed there was a great quantity of books on the bookshelves and a beanbag chair nearby. “Can I come here and sit in the beanbag chair and read?” Beth asked me. A couple of the kids did just that, picking out a book from the shelf and settling in to read.
There was also a display on the wall about different kinds of ecosystems. I said it looked like they were going to study ecosystems and Noah, standing right in front of the wall, said, “Why?”
Then they all had to ask the teacher a question before they left the room. After giving it a tremendous amount of thought, Noah asked why the wall of cubbyholes was filled with two-liter bottles. For a science experiment was the answer. On our way out we bought a car magnet with a wolf on it, as this is his new school’s mascot.
On Saturday afternoon Noah practiced walking home from the bus stop. He and Beth walked there together and then she waited five minutes to follow. Sure enough, they both got home, five minutes apart. I asked him if he felt confident about walking home and he said yes. After a pause he added, “But it was a little scary walking alone.”
On Sunday I made him copy his summer reading log over again because it had gotten wet at some point during the summer and the bottom was all raggedy. More importantly his handwriting was nearly illegible. He made a new grid on the computer, printed it and filled it out by hand, somewhat more neatly. As he was doing this he realized he had not actually finished one of the books he wanted to put on the log, so he spent most of the evening doing that. After he finished he paced around the house, seeming nervous and keyed up, but he went to sleep pretty quickly after going to bed at his new bedtime of 8:45. (We moved his bedtime back when we made June’s earlier. He thinks going to bed fifteen minutes later and having a bedtime after his little sister’s for the first time in his life is “awesome.”)
He slept until 7:00, which qualifies as sleeping in for him. Beth made him his requested lunch of shredded cheddar cheese, saltines, mango slices and grape juice. I took his picture at the gate and (he wanted to pose as an old man) and at 8:10, he and Beth walked off to the bus stop. Fourth grade, I thought. That is old.
June and I went about our day. I took her to Great Kids Village (http://www.greatkidsvillage.com/drop_in_playtime.html) to see Banjo Man (http://www.banjomanfc.com/), who has a Monday morning gig there, and we had a picnic lunch nearby before getting back on the bus to come home. She fell asleep during Quiet Time for the second day in a row. (She would do it the next day as well.) We’d just finished reading several chapters of James and the Giant Peach when Noah walked in the door at 4:25.
“The first day was good,” he said, before I could even ask him and he gave me two thumbs up. He likes his teacher. She had students from her last class write letters to her current class to tell them what to expect. “You shouldn’t be dreading all the homework people say you are going get. True, there are long-term projects but they are usually fun. Mrs. B is an awesome teacher and you are lucky to have her,” begins the letter Noah received. They are doing a lot of get-to-know-you activities right now. For homework he had to write five interview-style questions for the teacher, which she will answer at a mock press confererence and he had to put several objects in a “memory bag” he’ll bring to class and explicate. (So far he has a magnet in the shape of West Virginia and a potholder he made at his old school in the bag.) They have a whiteboard that you write on and what you write is projected onto a screen. They painted on a real canvas in art class. He played with other kids at recess. He said it was less scary walking home by himself the second time. He seemed really, really happy talking about his day.
I don’t know what Noah’s first year as a Wolf will be like. Of course, there’s a lot I could worry about from his uneven social skills to his wandering mind to the logistics of getting him to school and back and the question of how he will respond to the increased workload. But I have a lot of hopes, too, hopes of fun and challenging assignments and kids to whom he can more easily relate. Wolves are pack animals after all. Most of all, I hope he finds his pack.