my son is about to be rejected from college -- long

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ComplexMom
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20 Mar 2022, 6:59 pm

Hello, I am looking for validation and support as a single mom of an 18yr old boy.

My son is a high school senior and doesn't know what he wants to do with his life, but when pressed, will say he wants to be a paleontologist or archeologist or creative writer. He loves to read and learn new things. He loves Atlas Obscura and Ripley's believe it or not. He loves graphic novels on just about any topic, especially Japanese mythology. He rarely leaves the house other than to go to school and spends his time alone on YouTube or the internet researching his topics of interest. I invite him to come with me on field trips, but he shows no interest and doesn't want to join me.

Since 9th grade, he has gone to a school for kids with different learning styles. His IQ is at least 100 and his ASD is diagnosed as developmental and not intellectual. He finds school boring and has gotten A's in everything up until this semester. We have been told that he often corrects the teachers (sometimes rightly so, but they don't take kindly to that). He doesn't understand the bureaucracy of school (or society for that matter) and is very literal in his behavior and expectations. When there is a social misunderstanding of any kind, he is often blamed for being difficult.

He is rule-oriented and often very rigid in his thinking. He doesn't do well with unfamiliar situations, but has adapted to his school so he can move between classes, lunch etc and have different teachers without much difficulty. His meltdowns are from sensory overload and frustrations at being misunderstood. He'll cry and shut down from frustration and not be able to function in the moment. When he was in 9th and 10th grade, I got at least one phone call a month from the school about these incidents, but they are much less frequent now. I think twice or three times this school year so far.

After lots of my own research I decided to take him to look at two local colleges that have wrap around programs for kids with ASD and altho he still doesn't know if he wants to go to college, he thinks it's probably the best choice if he wants to go into science. He picked the one of the schools to apply to.

The school he picked looked great on paper, a local state school. It's a reduced college load for the first year and then after that he can apply to the college full time and if he gets in he can get credit for those classes. The first year he can get academic support, social support, a mentor and a case manager. Plus he gets additional college support from the state. The school offers a wide selection of subjects to study including Japanese language, World Cultures, Archeology, Creative Writing etc. It sounded like a perfect chance for him to go to college with training wheels (that's how he described it) and take some classes that really interested him. He likes to learn EVERYTHING about the things that interest him.

I helped him fill out the application, during which I learned A LOT about him myself, and then he was called for two Zoom interviews. The first interview was just him, I wasn't included, so I don't know how it went. He said it went fine. The second interview was this past Friday and it was both of us, but mainly they wanted to talk to me. They wanted to know what concerns I had about him going to their program, what kid of support did I think he would need and did I think he would be successful. I said he would probably need all the support they offered (he's never lived away from home) and I hoped he would rise to the occasion and become more engaged when the subject matter interested him. While I spoke to them about my concerns, he was sitting quietly, reading something on the internet and, unbeknownst to him, making weird faces and picking his nose. lol

After this part of the interview I got the very strong vibe that they did not think he would be successful in their program. I asked them if they thought he wasn't a fit for their program and they said they honestly didn't know if he could succeed. I said I also had my doubts but I thought he would come out of his shell once there. They pointed me in the direction of community college and a state support program for kids with ASD instead. I asked them a few more questions and when the call ended, my heart sank. I realized that I was counting on him getting into this program and thought for sure he would get in. Now all of a sudden, it looked like he was not going to. It did not feel good at all. He is not as upset as I am because he still thinks he has a chance to be admitted. After this interview, I'm about 99% sure that he won't be.

I am torturing myself with the idea of him being rejected. He and I both (and his therapist) thought this program was exactly what he needed and would open up his world for him. We also didn't consider that he might not get in and we would need an alternative. So these past few days I have been succumbing to the fear that he will never get a chance to reach his intellectual potential and he'll spend the rest of his living with me (or in a group home) watching YouTube.

I am also beside myself with guilt because 1) I didn't prepare another alternative and now it's very late in the game. Realistically, it was hard enough to prepare for this one application to admission and I don't know how I would have had the energy to help him prepare a second one 2) I did not get him enough help or the right kind, for him to transition successfully to college.

My questions for you are:
1) am I delusional about my son's abilities/disabilities?
2) how do I encourage the smart socially anxious kid to do SOMETHING other than search the internet to pursue his interests?
3) Am I enabling him to not learn adult living skills by having him living with me?
4) Do I need to get him to move out of my home so he can have a chance to be independent?
5) Will he ever be a productive member of society?

Thank you for reading this far while I process all MY feelings and for any advice/validation/encouragement you can share.



txfz1
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20 Mar 2022, 7:44 pm

I can't answer your questions. While reading your post, I was thinking the school was just covering for themselves, rightly so. If rejected can you have a follow up with them? I would ask if he completed some basic plan courses and will they consider a transfer. This would prove to them he is serious and interested about completing the school work.

Would it be detrimental for him to work for a year instead of attending school?



ComplexMom
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20 Mar 2022, 8:16 pm

What do you mean by covering themselves? They want to talk to me before rejecting him so we are not blindsided?

I think it would be fine for him to work for a year, but I don't know what kind of work he would actually do. Right now he volunteers for a library one day a week and works in his school's cafeteria doing some kind of food services. Often the smells and sounds and textures of the cafeteria are too much for him. The other jobs they offered him were stuffing envelops at a hospital or wiping down the work out machines at the YMCA neither of which sound healthy in COVID times or like jobs that anyone would want to do. When he's engaged talking about video games or japanese history or weird facts, he's bright and funny and delightful. When he's bored, he is intolerant.

He says work is boring and tedious and gets frustrated with the repetition. He is so isolated and presents as bored and indifferent to things that are not in his interest and he is socially very timid. Which is why I hoped he would get into this college program. Those characteristics are common in kids with ASD and I thought the college program was set up to support kids like that to help them come out of their shell.

Needless to say his interview skills are weak. One work answers or "I don't know". He is better at expressing himself in the written word, but that does take some prodding if he is talking to a stranger.

I feel like I've done something wrong either at home or with his education that hasn't prepared him for college or a job.



DW_a_mom
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20 Mar 2022, 8:25 pm

Your son sounds like he is lagging more developmentally than my son was at that age, but I want to start with a few points:

1. You can't assume that he won't grow and learn as he needs to. He just needs to do it on his own timeline, not the manufactured one society has created.
2. When it comes to college admissions in today's world, most of us college educated parents seem to be doing a great job of creating anxiety for our kids and messing everything up, so blame yourself less than the general trend of your peers.
3. College admissions in the US have literally become a crap shoot.
4. There is always a road, but you have to take the time to find it, keep options open, and be patient.

For background, my son is now 24 and has graduated from college. It was BAD back when he was applying, and it has only gotten worse. The stress and the rejection and the waiting and the worry. UGH. We lucked out and one school that turned out to suit him perfectly saw his intelligence and admitted him. He excelled in his course work (computer science), found his people (game design club), did a year abroad aided by my relatives who live overseas, and graduated on time. Straight shot, couldn't have wished for better, but my son and I agree on something that is really rare: he has "angels" of some sort watching out for him. I think it may be because, despite all the ways he puts his feet in his mouth and shows common difficulties associated with ASD, he's learned to follow a likeable script in public, he truly wants to do good in the world, and people tend to "like" him. You may read all that and assume I can't possibly understand what it's like ...

He struggled after graduation. Really struggled making the leap to a career job. Two years down the road and countless interviews later, hopes raised and hopes dashed, sinking into depression that I hadn't imagined he was capable of ... his angels came through for him and he is now has a career job. In a field that has tons of openings it still took two years.

And there is my daughter. The one we thought was nuerotypical, who always instinctively knew how to play the game, get straight A's, impress all her teachers, dreamed of MIT, and was tied for valedictorian. The one who also crashed during her junior year of high school totally and completely and ended up testing herself out of high school so that she wouldn't have to face the pressure and the choices and the disappointment anymore. I didn't know what the heck was happening or if she could ever recover.

But slowly, one course at a time, she started to take courses at the local community college. She tried out different subjects. She took her time. She challenged everyone and everything that was building expectations and putting pressure on her. We talked. We fought. She went to counseling. She researched and tried things, trying to figure out her own issues. She worked hard on learning how to find balance, to avoid breaking down and getting overwhelmed. We put zero time pressure on her, figuring this was her journey to figure out. And she did.

In our state, once you've done two years at a community college and achieved a certain GPA, you can "tag" to the state university system with GUARANTEED admission as long as you've checked off everything on the tag list. This was manageable. Clear cut. Do A, get B. No crap shoot, no stress. She NEEDED that, and used it. We would have assumed that would be our ASD son, not our daughter that appeared more nuerotypical, but you know what they say about the word assume. She is now on track to finish her degree while many of her friends who had started off at the university straight out of high school have floundered. She got to miss all the stress and disappointment of an out-of-control college admissions process, and will have the SAME degree as the students who've been there all four years.

You may not always see the road, but there always is one.

To the questions:

Quote:
1) am I delusional about my son's abilities/disabilities?


As parents, we always are, to some extent, but that isn't a bad thing. Our kids deserve to have a cheerleader who believes in them. Mostly, I suspect, your son needs more time. It would be good for him to learn how to self-regulate and control his own environment so his meltdowns are reduced. I would recommend you make that a priority for a while. My son's girlfriend (also ASD, still in college) seems to melt down monthly and it interferes with EVERYTHING, really dragging down her college experience. Her self-confidence and self-image issues are also inhibiting. My son really wishes per parents had known about her ASD growing up and worked with her on these skills the way we worked with him. Not all ASD individuals can learn to control their sensory issues and avoid meltdowns, but most can learn a lot of the signs and make really good progress.

Quote:
2) how do I encourage the smart socially anxious kid to do SOMETHING other than search the internet to pursue his interests?


His interests are the ticket to a successful adult life, so you need to build off them, not away from them. My son is more comfortable with 0's and 1's than with people, but to design games you need play testers. That brought him to the game design club, and from there he build a solid group of friends.

Quote:
3) Am I enabling him to not learn adult living skills by having him living with me?


Yes and no. It can be difficult for our kids to take on more responsibility while living at home, since they know we'll do the same chores we've always done. But it can also be an opportunity for him to safely branch out and try new skills with failure being less devastating. I've encouraged some parents and adult children to sit down and create a contract together, outlining respective responsibilities and privileges. Let him drive the process more than you, and make plans to revisit it every six months or so.

Quote:
4) Do I need to get him to move out of my home so he can have a chance to be independent?


He should move out when he is ready to, IMHO. I strongly believe that children and young adults are driven to achieve independence as long as nothing interferes with the process. I remember the principal at my kids elementary school telling us that, and I have seen it to be true. There are so many subtle things we do, however, that can get in the way. When he takes over a chore, you can provide instruction, but then you have to let him do it HIS way. Not a word to discourage him. Watch the messages you speak and say; youth latch on the slightest negative. Let him fail, just stretch out a hand, help him shake it off, and offer positive support. I used to freak out at the dangerous things my son did with scouts, but in many ways, he needed that. He needed to know he could mess up completely, be lost in the middle of nowhere, and still be OK.

Quote:
5) Will he ever be a productive member of society?


There are so many ways to be productive as a member of society, and some of them involve never earning a cent on one's own. Help him find his unique road, something that gives him a sense of value, and don't focus on any predetermined vision of what that should look like. I've had the same worry with my kids at so many times as they went through their different struggles and phases, but found that the key to me worrying less was realizing that my kids, at least, always eventually picked themselves back up. It took a year and a half for my daughter, but she did it. They are DRIVEN to, when given half the chance. What we do is give them the safe space to it on their own time frame, in their own way.


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ComplexMom
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20 Mar 2022, 9:14 pm

Thank you so much for writing all of that. That helps so much. I feel some relief. It's so hard being a mom to these kids (I guess to all kids). I think I am struggling with his teenagerhood and transition to college being so so different than mine and my brothers. We both were straight A students and went to the 4 year private colleges of our choice. It's hard to accept that his life is going to be very different than mine or anyone I know.



txfz1
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20 Mar 2022, 10:10 pm

ComplexMom wrote:
What do you mean by covering themselves? They want to talk to me before rejecting him so we are not blindsided?

I think it would be fine for him to work for a year, but I don't know what kind of work he would actually do. Right now he volunteers for a library one day a week and works in his school's cafeteria doing some kind of food services. Often the smells and sounds and textures of the cafeteria are too much for him. The other jobs they offered him were stuffing envelops at a hospital or wiping down the work out machines at the YMCA neither of which sound healthy in COVID times or like jobs that anyone would want to do. When he's engaged talking about video games or japanese history or weird facts, he's bright and funny and delightful. When he's bored, he is intolerant.

He says work is boring and tedious and gets frustrated with the repetition. He is so isolated and presents as bored and indifferent to things that are not in his interest and he is socially very timid. Which is why I hoped he would get into this college program. Those characteristics are common in kids with ASD and I thought the college program was set up to support kids like that to help them come out of their shell.

Needless to say his interview skills are weak. One work answers or "I don't know". He is better at expressing himself in the written word, but that does take some prodding if he is talking to a stranger.

I feel like I've done something wrong either at home or with his education that hasn't prepared him for college or a job.


Just the college has limited resources, there is incentive to be as successful as possible, and predicting human behavior has to be crap shoot. Sounds like a good school that I wish I had when I attended. I hope he gets the opportunity.



ComplexMom
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20 Mar 2022, 10:38 pm

ah, got it. Understood. I do plan to email them tomorrow and ask the things you suggested. I still think it would be a great school for him and maybe he needs to mature some more.



DW_a_mom
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21 Mar 2022, 2:05 am

ComplexMom wrote:
Thank you so much for writing all of that. That helps so much. I feel some relief. It's so hard being a mom to these kids (I guess to all kids). I think I am struggling with his teenagerhood and transition to college being so so different than mine and my brothers. We both were straight A students and went to the 4 year private colleges of our choice. It's hard to accept that his life is going to be very different than mine or anyone I know.


I know that feeling. This post goes a little off track, but my husband was literally recruited to an Ivy League and offered a full ride scholarship without ever actually thinking about it. My own experience was very different, but my worry was about paying for it all, not getting in, because of my father's ideas on male v female roles. But, for both of us, it was simply understood that good students got into good schools, and we would be rewarded for our academic records, which we ultimately were. That is no longer a sure thing, and what this generation goes through with the admissions process is hell. Push a special needs student into the craziness and it gets really difficult. The fact that many ASD kids seem to know all the messages they get from middle school and high school are ridiculous and, thus, refuse to play the game, does not help matters; when organizational skills mean more to good grades than actual learning, it gets frustrating, and I've come to respect how my son simply refused to bend to what he always saw as an insane system. I knew at the time the process seemed to be spiraling out of control but it wasn't until my daughter crashed and burned that I really dove deep into the societal forces that have made it this way. Higher education will be an entirely different ball game than high school was, so much more suited to both my children, so let your son experience it before anyone passes judgement on where he can or cannot go from here.


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21 Mar 2022, 6:58 am

1) am I delusional about my son's abilities/disabilities?

Your son has made some progress as reflected in the fewer phone calls you get about his school behavior. Your love for your son made you so hopeful for this particular outcome, that you were unexpectedly crushed. This is not the result of an unrealistic assessment, but rather a powerful hope.

2) how do I encourage the smart socially anxious kid to do SOMETHING other than search the internet to pursue his interests?

Consider the traditional parental tools of bribery, enticement, and even coercion. There are some dramatic activities that you son might be enticed towards such as paying for a "discovery flight' in a small plane. This is an hour introduction to flying a small plane and often at a much lower price than an hour of actual flight instruction. An amateur radio meeting might introduce him to electronics to see if that sparks an interest for him. It might be possible to find an older man who would help out either through a volunteer organization or a church. He might be able to take him fishing or some other outdoor activity like driving go carts or even something like tennis or golf. You might be able to bribe with to try something different to see if you can ignite a spark of interest.

3) Am I enabling him to not learn adult living skills by having him living with me?

You should probably discuss these concerns with him so that he understand your motives for urging him on to experiment with developing better life skills. He should be able to understand the rational for the goal even if he is reluctant to put forth any immediate effort. If you can get him to agree to the goal of skill development, then you should be able to get him to occasionally experiment with the occasional effort.

4) Do I need to get him to move out of my home so he can have a chance to be independent?

The "sink or swim" option can be brutal and does not always have a positive outcome. You might be able to find a sort of 'half way house" to help him transition if you feel you are unable to help him any more. You should probably discuss this with him because to be effective, they will probably be more harsh and direct with him than you may have been. This alone may alarm him enough to respond to some of your suggestions.

5) Will he ever be a productive member of society?

Working as a janitor is something I found helpful for awhile. Most people have such a low opinion of you that they leave you alone. Also working third shift can be helpful. There are many ways to earn a living that do not require college. All the learning in human history until 100 years ago was through apprenticeships. Many people do not appreciate the value of a good welder or machinist.

You might want to explore some vocational options to see if he has any interest is some of those areas.



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21 Mar 2022, 10:14 am

Thank you, timf. Great suggestions. The sink or swim options scares the crap out of me. I can't determine if I am babying him or supporting him the way he needs. It's a very fine line. Unfortunately I think my own baggage is gumming up the works. I have a lot of strong feelings about forcing him to do things he doesn't want to do and about half the time I push thru my discomfort to demand that he go to summer day camp or something like that, which he will reluctantly do and do fairly well.

I feel like I am watching a slow moving train wreck and there's nothing I can do. I met another mom at the open house for this school and she said her ASD son graduated high school 2 years ago and refuses to do anything other than sit in his room and watch videos. It is my greatest fear that this will be my son in 2 years.

And thanks DW_a_mom. It's comforting to know that someone else has the same feeling.



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21 Mar 2022, 4:14 pm

This could have been me in some ways!

I was absolutely obsessed with Neanderthal Man and the "Human Family Tree" when I was a kid.

Also: I certainly wasn't ready for college when I was 18. I applied to Bard College using crayon for my "personal statement." Because I thought it was an "artsy" college, and I wanted to be "different." I went to an interview at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and became obsessed with a sculpture in my interviewer's office.

I had gone to a high school for "gifted underachievers." I wasn't even able to complete my "senior paper." I graduated based upon my overall academic performance. This was in 1979. Way before there was "academic support" in colleges.

Perhaps, he's not ready for college yet? Maybe he can take a couple of "gap years." Maybe get some sort of job?

My "gap year" actually lasted 18 years! I finally "went back to school" when I was 36, in 1997. And graduated in 2006 at age 45 with a double English/speech pathology major with a 3.8 GPA. I graduated Magna cum laude, and received a couple of academic awards.

So even if he defers college for a couple of years, it won't be so bad. I started working right out of high school, and got my present job at age 19. I'm 61 years old, and about to retire from this job with a pretty decent pension. I'm only a data-entry clerk.

Additionally, my nephew totally failed out of college within one year of starting. His parents gave him a little time off. Then he went to a community college for 2 years, then a "regular" college for 2 years, graduating at age 23.



ComplexMom
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22 Mar 2022, 8:46 am

kraftiekortie, can I talk to your parents? (half joking, half serious)



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22 Mar 2022, 9:50 am

I didn't need to do an interview to go to university. Is that a US thing? When I signed up, I just submitted my papers, paid the entrance fee, and I was in.



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22 Mar 2022, 10:27 am

Do you have anything like The Open University in America? It's real qualifications done long distance at home. They have all kinds of subjects.

Actually I think they take international students.

https://www.open.ac.uk/courses/international-students



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22 Mar 2022, 12:08 pm

I just read "We're Not Broken" and the author (a successful journalist) is a big supporter of community college as a jumping off point or a satisfactory full experience. I went straight into University and after one semester dropped out (it was not pretty) and for a year I mostly did puzzles. Then I went back and completed my degree. It continued to be a bumpy ride, but I did it. My husband transferred from community college into an "alternative" college and it was smooth sailing for him but not as prestigious. Pros and cons.

Be open to his college experience (or future) evolving over the next few years --- not that it has to look or progress a certain way. Friendly teasing: who's the one that is rigid, eh? :wink: Seriously: I understand this fine balancing act of hopes, desires, fears and expectations. When to helicopter, bull doze, or free range (finding the right level of support).

(Ettina, I had to interview. Actually, that's interesting to remember, b/c I generally my interviews or auditions don't go well, but I guess that one went well enough.)



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22 Mar 2022, 12:29 pm

haha..that's funny to point out that I'm the rigid one, but there is truth to that. I am doing a lot of black and white thinking here....if he doesn't go to college "the way I did" he will never have a successful life (whatever that means). This might be a holdover from the expectations to which my parents held me. I'm going to have to tease that out a bit. He is such a smart interesting kid who can go deep into his topics of interest and has some really creative thought processes. I'm afraid all of that will get stuffed away if I don't step in a draw it out and that I'll miss the perfect opportunity to get that started for him.

I so want people to see him, understand him and value him for who he is. I think his autism makes that really difficult and if I don't help him demonstrate who he is, he will be ignored and/or overlooked and/or forgotten and left to deteriorate. I keep hearing my mom's voice saying "No child of mine is going to sit inside and watch videos all day! Get out there and do something with yourself!"

*I* would feel like a loser sitting in my room with YouTube 12 hours a day and having no friends at school, but I don't think he thinks about himself that way.

Yes I just looked at this: https://www.greatvaluecolleges.net/free-online-college-courses/

I sent some class descriptions to my son to see if there was anything that interested him and he did select one, so he has some interest in something!