California Educator

March 2016

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Page 45 of 55

A F E W Y E A R S A G O , at one of my elementary schools, I met with the parents of a first-grader to go over their son's test results. Their son, at 6, was a math whiz with perfectly average intelligence a n d a b o v e - av e ra ge a tt e n t i o n t o details — he loved Legos and knew a lot of facts about dinosaurs. He had a couple of friends from preschool with whom he loved to play chase on the playground. I started with these strengths as I went over my test results, showing them charts so they could see how their boy was just like his classmates in many ways. "He worked very hard on the tests," I said. "And when we took a break, he told me jokes that made me laugh out loud." Across the table from me, they both smiled , and the boy 's father uncrossed his arms. After 30 years as a school psychol- ogist in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have now sat across a table from over a thousand schoolchildren . I have tested kids — and continue to test kids — to identify learning dis- abilities and emotional disturbances, and particularly in the last decade, to recognize autism spectrum dis- orders, the fastest-growing special education category of school-aged kids. I've worked at preschools, ele- mentary schools, middle schools and high schools. I've worked in the inner city and in affluent neighborhoods. "Ben processes some information slower than his peers," I said to his parents, showing them the numbers on the bell curve chart. "He also has trouble reading the other kids' facial expressions. You know about the meltdowns here when things don't go his way or when he makes a mis- take." ey nodded in unison. "He's sensitive when his classmates use loud voices, and he doesn't tolerate kids brushing up against him in line. "His teachers told me about his frustration with writing and with m o v i n g on to e a ch n e w a c tiv ity. He shouts or cries or pouts when asked to make changes. And when you describe his getting stuck on h o w t h i n g s h av e t o b e a t h o m e , h i s d e sp e ra t e n e e d f o r r o u t i n e s that h e can c ount on , how w h en h e was littl e h e di dn't lo ok ri g ht at you and didn't follow what you w e r e l o o k i n g a t , w e l l , a l l t h e s e things lead me to believe he is on the autism spectrum." I paused for a few seconds. No matter how many times I say this, it still makes my heart race each time. I 'm not sure if a father will scowl and insist "Not my son," or if a mother will cry and say that Doctor So-and-So said it wasn't autism, or if they will thank me for my thorough work and tell me they knew some- thing was not right and that this now makes perfect sense. "Has anyone ever mentioned this possibility to you?" I asked now. ey shook their heads. "No," his father said, crossing his arms again. "is was not on our radar." "It's sometimes tough to figure it out with kids who are at the high end of the spectrum," I explained, an d th en l aun ch ed into my t al k On the Spectrum Educator's life work with autism spectrum disorder becomes personal after her son is diagnosed Although one child in 68 is diagnosed with autism spectrum disor- der, school psychologist Anne K. Ross was stunned when she learned her son has Asperger's syndrome. e diagnosis propelled her more deeply into her life's work with children on the spectrum. Following is an excerpt from Beyond Rain Man, her new book on raising her son and what she learned along the way. 44

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