tagline
WETA

advertisement

Forums
Parenting a Child with LD or ADHD

Hey Dad, you missed one ; )


Author Message
Joined: Nov 03, 2005
Posts: 69136
Other Topics
Posted Mar 26, 2002 at 9:35:02 AM
Subject: Hey Dad, you missed one ; )

From the Washington Post:

Autistic Child Develops Into Coping Teen
For Family, Joys Overtake the Frustrations

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A56536-2002Mar20.html

By Patricia Ford Loeb
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, March 21, 2002; Page GZ18

By any conventional measure, Alex Mont is a genius. His IQ is 155. At age 12, he scored 780 on the math SAT. He is at the top of his class of elite students in the accelerated computer science course at Montgomery Blair High School. Even among this group of gifted students, his speed at solving complicated math problems is legendary.

But Alex, 14, is also autistic. He cannot remember faces or read nonverbal cues such as glares or smiles. He is easily overwhelmed by noise and large groups of people. He cannot pretend, even just to be sociable.

And so this brilliant student finds the most basic analysis that teenage boys are asked to make unfathomable. When a classmate points to a pretty girl and asks what Alex thinks, he demurs.

"It's obvious the intent is to encourage me to make a judgment based solely on physical appearance," said Alex, a ninth-grader. But he will have none of it. "I say, 'How am I supposed to know? I've never met her.' "

This disarming combination of intellectual power and social helplessness has made Alex the object sometimes of ridicule, most often of affection and always of fascination by those who know him.

"It's something I look forward to every day," said his physics teacher, Robert Donaldson, "seeing what he has to say and how he'll say it."

Alex's story -- his successes and failures -- is captured in a new book written by his father. Daniel Mont said he was motivated to write the book -- "A Different Kind of Boy: A Father's Memoir About Raising a Gifted Child With Autism" (Jessica Kingsley Publishers of London) -- after a Washington Post article about his son ran on the front page in 1997. The article prompted calls from a number of TV shows, including "60 Minutes," "48 Hours" and "That's Incredible!"

The Monts, of Derwood, turned down requests for interviews. But they were profoundly moved by an outpouring of calls and letters from grateful parents of autistic children who had found solace in Alex's story.

"I remember [when Alex was younger] being hungry to hear about the experiences of others," Dan said, "especially those whose children were a little older, who were a little further down the line with this. The reaction to the story made me think there'd be a market for [a book]."

The book, by turns funny and sad, documents the joy and frustration of raising a child who embodies such extraordinary gifts and extraordinary challenges; the heartbreak, the high comedy and the anxiety. Dan writes of the questions his wife, Nanette Goodman, would ask herself about Alex: "Will he be able to live independently? Will he get married? Can he handle college? Will he ever have friends?"

Some worries remain, but they've been moderated by delight at the teenager Alex has become.

"If we could have seen a snapshot of Alex at 14 when he was 3," Dan began. Nanette finished the sentence, "It would have been a hell of a lot easier 10 years."

Ups and Downs of Childhood


From infancy, the Monts knew their first child was different. He didn't respond to his parents, he didn't babble or coo and, as Dan remembers it, he never smiled or laughed. Though Alex was normal and healthy, physically, he seemed terrified of other children, his language was delayed and he developed odd obsessions. He had to be the one who opened automatic doors in stores. He could not entertain himself. Nanette became a supermom, in constant motion to keep Alex occupied. Younger brother Simon, who came along in 1989, tried desperately to engage Alex, only to suffer repeated rejection when Alex was uninterested or unable to play games that required imagination. The diagnosis came when Alex was 3.

Autism is a little-understood disorder that affects nearly a half-million Americans, leaving them with severely impaired social and communication skills that can make them dependent for life. The diagnosis was frightening to the Monts but also something of a relief. Now they could begin to work on Alex's problems.

They learned that Alex is a concrete thinker. He had to be taught, step by step, the subtleties of interaction that others learn intuitively. But while they were teaching Alex basic skills such as how to tell when someone was talking to him, it was becoming clear that Alex had special gifts.

He could add and subtract numbers before most other children could count. In preschool, he learned multiplication and division effortlessly, and by kindergarten he could do algebraic equations using exponents and logarithms.

School, then, was not going to be an academic challenge but an important lesson in socialization. Alex started public school in Ithaca, N.Y., where Dan taught economics at Cornell University. The family moved to the Washington area in 1994, in part to get better services for Alex. Dan now works at the National Academy of Social Insurance, and Nanette, also an economist, works for the Cornell Center for Policy Research.

The Monts put Alex in Candlewood Elementary School, and a key theme of Dan's book is how wonderful the children there were to Alex -- overlooking his disability and taking pride in his outstanding math ability.

"It is a minor miracle to me that Alex has barely been teased or ridiculed by his classmates throughout elementary school," Dan wrote in his book.

But then came middle school. The Monts put Alex in the Learning Center at Montgomery Village Middle School, a program for students who need special education services. They thought that was a good place for him; it was walking in the halls that created problems for Alex. His luck in finding an accepting peer group ran out.

"In middle school," Nanette said she learned, "it's cool to be cruel." But if the children were just going through a phase, Alex often felt let down by adults.

"When I told a teacher that people were hitting me and running away, he'd say, 'They're just bumping into you and you're overreacting,' " Alex recalled. "My response would be, 'Then why isn't it happening to everyone?' The teacher's counter-response would be, 'You're the only one who makes a big deal about it.' And I would then respond, 'Why is it the same people doing it over and over again?' And they never really came up with a good answer to that question."

Nanette finally followed Alex through the halls one day, at a discreet distance, to confirm that other students were intentionally poking and bumping Alex to get a reaction. But ironically, some of the bullying helped him develop a badly needed skill. Like many autistic people, Alex is face blind -- he cannot remember faces, so he had a hard time identifying the students who tormented him.

"Needing to identify the bullies helped him focus on identifying faces," Nanette said. "He was going to learn to recognize the faces of the kids bullying him come hell or high water."

The Perfect Fit


Alex seems much happier at Blair, where he is apparently finally being academically challenged in the school's math and science magnet program. Working on a group project in his research and experimentation class recently, he roamed around the noisy room working out a sophisticated formula to determine how far the contraption his group was building could launch a ping-pong ball. He abruptly left to make a computer model using his calculation, leaving his partner alone to build the device, but Alex said he likes working in groups at Blair.

"In middle school, I had trouble sometimes working in groups because some of the kids didn't understand everything," he said. "But since this is a magnet program and all the kids in here are smart, it's fun."

His classmates clearly notice his unconventional behavior but they also recognize how smart he is. His counselor and teachers believe the magnet program is the perfect placement for him because the students are more likely to be empathetic toward Alex.

"Many of the magnet students have felt how hurtful it is to be teased," said his counselor, Dottie Wiseman. "Their issues are different but they're 'not normal' either and they know what it's like to be tagged with that, so the kids he's spending time with have had that experience and are not going to tease him."

Still, Blair is a big school -- 3,000 students -- and the noise and commotion in the cafeteria in the morning was too much for Alex at first. School officials arranged for Alex to go to his physics teacher Donaldson's room in the morning and assigned security assistant John Toombs to run interference for Alex if he ever feels he needs help in the halls.

Toombs said he's enjoying getting to know Alex. "It should be an interesting three years," he said. "It should be fun to see how far we progress."

Similarly, Alex's teachers say they love working with him, and Donaldson, in particular, is fascinated by his intellect. "Comparing his understanding of physics and mine," Donaldson said, "he has a depth of understanding it took me years to acquire. I really am in awe of him."

Dan laments that although Alex does seem able to develop good relationships with adults, he still doesn't seem to have the same ability with people his own age.

"One of the things we still struggle with is that he doesn't have any friends," Dan said. "He's never gotten together with anyone socially. I think I'd be lonely but I don't know if he is."

On the other hand, Dan and Nanette say they won't have to worry about peer pressure. Alex is so concretely logical that he cannot figure out why anyone would be influenced to engage in self-destructive behavior.

"If my friends told me to smoke," Alex said, "I would have to conclude these people are not my friends."

And Alex is so utterly unable to deceive, Nanette knows she will never have to worry about him trying to get away with something.

"When he was younger, he was a little more difficult [than other children]," she said. "But as a teenager I think he'll be easier."

"Why is that?" asked Alex, who was listening to her conversation.

"Because," she answered, "I believe deep in my heart you want to do the right thing. You're not always sure what the right thing is but you want to do it."

Alex thought for a half-second and responded with his characteristic guilelessness. "That's true."

Back to top Profile Email
Anonymous
Joined Nov 17, 2019
Posts: 69136

Other Topics
Posted:Mar 26, 2002 1:16:56 PM

My two boys go to a very small private school as all of you guys who frequent here would know.They just had there yearly school play.All the students are gifted Lders or Adders,of all ages.
The title was; TV that was,an alien view. They did all old 50's and 60's sitcoms and commercials. One of the skits was " trouble with tribbles" the old Star Trek episode. My oldest played Scottie,and my youngest played Bones. But the best all time Spock I have ever seen,I might even be willing to say ,better than Nemoy himself,was played by an AS student. An absolutely fabulous job,incredible. He also did a wonderful job playing Perry Mason,but Spock,wow..

Back to top Profile Email