Sunday, February 15, 2015

Computer Class

As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, we have tried to enroll Alex in a good day program for adults with developmental disabilities for over two years because we wanted him to have the opportunity to socialize with peers. However, his past behaviors raised red flags for the day program we felt would be best for him, despite the improvements he has made over time with medication and behavioral therapy, and they placed him on a long waiting list. In the meantime, we filled his schedule with music and recreational therapy and two hours a week of activities with a caregiver who is about his age. Also, Ed and I have kept Alex busy by taking him to various stores, restaurants, concerts, and sporting events so that he could engage in typical activities. Thankfully, this waiting period gave Alex time to learn coping skills for his anxiety as well as appropriate social skills to use in public.

In December, the day program we had chosen finally had an opening, but we declined the offer. Even though we had thought this program was perfect for Alex, we no longer felt that it was right for him. For one thing, he would have to travel about a half hour each way to get there, and we didn’t think traveling for an hour every day was a good use of time for him. Also, the program had grown during the time we were waiting, and we were concerned that the number of clients and the increased size of the facility would overwhelm Alex. In addition, Alex’s behavioral therapist and case manager, who frequently visit this program to see other clients of theirs, agreed with our decision not to send him there because the program no longer seemed ideal for him.

Instead, Alex’s case manager had told us of a new, much smaller day program that opened last spring. Along with the smaller size, the program appealed to us because their location is less than five minutes away from our home. After touring the facility, we knew that Alex could thrive there; however, their director also had concerns about Alex’s past behaviors. Thanks to the intervention of his behavioral therapist and case manager, they were able to convince the program director to allow Alex to have a trial period to see how he would do in that setting and to prove that he has made significant progress in three years. Knowing Alex’s strengths, his case manager suggested that he could take a computer class there, and they agreed to enroll him for an hour once a week to start.

In January, Alex and I met with the young woman who would be working with Alex and teaching him computer skills. Alex’s behavioral therapist, who met with her to give a briefing on Alex’s strengths and weaknesses, and I were both impressed with her warmth and enthusiasm and felt she would work well with him. So as not to disturb Alex’s afternoon therapy schedule, we decided that he would go to the day program on Thursday mornings from 10:30-11:30, which meant that Ed would get him ready in the morning and bring him to the computer class each week since I’m at work at that time. Even though Alex would have to tape his beloved The Price Is Right episode and watch it later, he was eager to go to “computer school.”  After waiting for so long to get him into a day program, Ed and I hoped that Alex would behave himself so that he could continue and wouldn’t be asked to leave. Fortunately, he has done even better than we could have hoped.

The first week, his teacher assessed his computer skills, which seemed to be stronger than she thought, as he was able to do all the tasks she asked of him. She even had him create a flyer for their agency advertising an upcoming event, and he was able to type all the text correctly and with her guidance add clip art to illustrate the text. After he finished all the work, she allowed him to take a break, telling him that he could play computer games of his choice. However, he apparently did not want to take a break and preferred to work the entire time, so he simply sat there silently and waited for her to make other suggestions. I suspect that she didn’t realize how quickly he would be able to complete the work, and the next week, she had more planned for him to do.

The second week, an activity that could have thrown Alex for a loop thankfully did not. When he arrived, they were getting ready to have a fire drill. After his teacher explained what was going to happen and what Alex would need to do, he complied with her directions and didn’t seem fazed by the activity at all. After starting his session by standing out in the cold, Alex cooperated beautifully with his lesson on spreadsheets, and Ed said that his behavior was perfect. In addition, she introduced him to the other clients in the day program, three young men, one of whom commented about Alex, “He’s really tall.” At the end of the session, his teacher gave him homework in the form of charts he was to fill out regarding prices for his favorite stocks, and he happily and faithfully completed this assignment every day until his next class when he would enter this data on a spreadsheet he created.

The third week, another complication arose at the beginning of class when his teacher was late because she was working with another client. Nonetheless, Alex handled this disruption without incident, going ahead and starting to work on the computer, as she told him to do while he was waiting. Again, Ed noted that Alex’s behavior could not have been better, even when his teacher was flustered because she could not get the computer printer to work and had to make some adjustments to what she had planned. Alex easily accepted the changes to what she had planned. Moreover, he really liked the homework she gave him for the next week—tracking the daily weather data for the following week.

Last week, once again Alex calmly adapted to complications as he and Ed had to drive in a blizzard to get to computer class. As he had in previous sessions, Alex cooperated and completed his tasks exceptionally well. Along with his spreadsheet activities, he showed his knowledge of Spanish, math, and parts of speech as he completed some computer drills on these subject areas, and his teacher seemed impressed with his skills. Because it was the day before Valentine’s Day, the other two instructors gave Alex valentines, and one had prepared a treat bag filled with gluten-free snacks that Alex could have on his restricted diet, which was especially thoughtful. Also, the other instructor commented that she always looks forward to Thursdays because she gets to see Alex. Echoing her kind sentiments, Alex’s instructor told me in an email last week that he is doing very well and that he is “such a pleasure to work with.” As parents we couldn’t be prouder of him, and we know that he is exactly where he is meant to be in this smaller program where he has been able to shine and to endear himself to the staff who see the good in him.

Although we hope that eventually Alex will be included in more activities at the day program, we are delighted that he has adapted nicely in such a short time and pray that he continues to do well. One night as he and I were talking about his computer class, he enthusiastically told me how much he liked the class. Then he earnestly asked me if he could still be a meteorologist or an astronomer, the dream jobs he has talked about since he was a little boy. I think he put those dreams on hold for a while, and the success he is having now with his computer class has reminded him of what he would like to do someday. While I don’t know what the future holds for Alex, I pray that he will have opportunities like this computer class to develop his skills and learn from people who bring out the best in him, and perhaps one day he can be the scientist he aspires to be. As long as he finds joy and fulfillment in whatever he does, we will be grateful, knowing how far he has come.

“See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you. Sing to the Lord a new song, His praise from the ends of the earth…” Isaiah 42:9-10


K. C. Wells said...

I'm so glad to read that the class is going well for Alex! I'm thrilled for him: victory is sweet!

Pam Byrne said...

Hi K.C.,
Me, too! Good thing are worth the wait. Hope you and your family are doing well. :)