Monday, September 28, 2009

Order From Chaos

It’s very hard sometimes in this process to protect my son’s privacy, yet publicly acknowledge his differences and try to help him and others like him. At this stage in his life, as a young man away at college, many of his challenges are similar to those of every other college freshman living away from home; but they are amplified to some degree by the social communication problems and the learning disability. At home this past weekend, the level of anxiety was clearly notched up.

He had applied for and been given an extra-curricular assignment related to his major. A week later he received an email saying he had been replaced. There was no reason given, but let me put the potential explanations out there. The two best reasons are: the job was reassigned to a student who had more experience; or it was shifted to an upper-classman, perhaps one that had not been available when it was initially posted. Another possible explanation came to light as we discussed this situation over the weekend – he had forgotten to go to an introductory meeting on the project. However, I’d have thought any of those three reasons would have been clearly stated so the person losing the position would understand why. As written (although I did not see it), the email sounded like it was insensitive to the recipient's feelings.

Another potential reason that crossed my mind was that the person in charge recognized that my son had a learning difference and came to the conclusion that he would not be capable of managing the responsibility. Of course, that’s the reason that makes me want to scream, “He’s really talented – just give him a chance!” But let me put that aside for the time being and keep this in perspective.

First, the email did state that there were other positions open where the team could use help. Second, he did miss the meeting – he said he just forgot about it. Finally, there were two other very minor slips that would also be very typical of a first year college student. Both involved assignments: one that he did not hand in because he couldn’t access a printer on time. In the the second case, he lost the actual writing assignment and ended up putting an essay together that he thought was close to what was expected. Both of these turned out fine. In the case of the printer problem, the teacher allowed him to email it; for the other assignment, I think he got some credit for leaving her a message asking about it (although he did not get a reply) and showing up with something written, rather than just an excuse.

From my point of view, the lesson learned was axiomatic: Dude, you need to be better organized. The support my son received in elementary and high school really did prepare him for this point in his life. But (Nonverbal Learning Disorder) – no one told him he should be ready. After I caused him to have a crisis of self-confidence, we talked about using those organizational skills that he had acquired. Get a folder (or several) for important class papers, find a calendar that would be easy to use and that he actually would use. He uses a backpack on campus that is well-designed; we talked about keeping things (including his medicine, which didn’t make it home this weekend) in the same pockets so he would not only always know where they are, but he would always have them with him. Take out the calendar each evening and put it back in the pocket when packing up for the next day. In his old school system, there was always someone to check his assignment calendar and make sure he was on top of everything. Now he's on his own.

He can do this.

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