High School Sports Options for Teens with Autism

Unified sports are not integrated sports, and I consider that to be a good thing.  My son with Autism LOVES playing basketball and this program created an opportunity for him.

In middle school, my son was in a public school that did a pretty good job with integrating the kids with special needs.  They had 3 teams – the A Team, B Team and C Team.  My son was on the C Team.  And the typical kids had volunteered to help out on that team while also playing on the A or B teams.  My son absolutely loved playing on the team.  As a parent, it was a joy to watch him play.  He gained confidence by being on the team and I remember his teachers commenting on how they saw that confidence showing up in the classroom.

When we hit high school, playing on the basketball team was not an option.  I had several people suggest that my son be “a manager” for the team.  I looked into this but it appeared that my son would get to watch the other kids play while he gathered up basketballs for the players.  That seemed like it would be torture for a kid who wanted to play.

Due to many other reasons, we moved our son out of this high school.  He now attends a school targeted for kids on the spectrum but the school is so small they don’t have a basketball team.  Instead, they partnered with a public high school down the street who  partnered with Special Olympics Washington.  THIS would be our son’s opportunity to play basketball again.

The team was NOT part of the typical high school team.  And that was a blessing.  Why?  My son still has speech therapy, ABA therapy and music lessons.  With a typical high school team, practice is usually 5-6 days per week plus games.  While I want my son to have the opportunity to play a sport that he loves and get the social opportunities that go with that, it must be balanced against these other very important activities.  This special team had practice 2 days a week with tournaments every Saturday.  It worked into our schedule very well.

At the end of the season, the public high school did something that I thought was a wonderful approach to integration.  They had one game where the band and the cheerleaders were there.  They had posters all over the school encouraging all of the kids to come out and support the Unified Sports Basketball team.


We attended the game and had many friends and extended family join us.  As I had watched the Saturday games, they were special.  And it was wonderful to see our family members get to experience this.

The team is made up of teens on the Autism spectrum, teens with other disabilities and then kids who are volunteers.  These volunteers are often siblings or teens looking for community service opportunities.  The volunteers help keep the game moving.  It’s obvious the (volunteer) coaches have taught the players the basics of passing the ball and shooting.  The thing that is special about these games is that every time a player is about to shoot a basket, everyone in the stands, from both teams, is rooting for a basket to be made.

The first few games, as I watched, I would really need to fight back the tears.  The volunteers are so caring as they help the teens who need a lot fo support.  Other players are really strong and have a platform to excel. The players were having so much fun.  The look on my son’s face could only be described one way: pure joy.

After the game at the high school, they had a dance.  This dance was mostly attended just by kids on the team and friends and family.  These teens are in a different place socially.  This dance is likely a lot more fun than a dance that is attended by all of the high school students.  Separate, not integrated, but that is really the right thing to do in this case.

After the season was over, my son texted me (which is the primary way he communicates with me) along with a picture of his basketball team:

I felt kind of sad when basketball is over.  I might miss them from basketball. 😦

An opportunity to play a sport he loves.  An opportunity to make friends that he can relate to at his level and on his terms.  Thank you to Special Olympics Washington as well as to this public high school that recognizes that they need to create these opportunities for these teens when full integration just isn’t appropriate.

Is Your Teen with Autism Ready for Public Transit?

Most 16 year olds are either driving a car or taking public transportation.  But for a teen with Autism, that’s not usually the case.  Our teenager clearly wanted the independence of not having mom or dad dropping him off at school.  Over the course of 2 years, we were able to get him riding public transportation on his own.


Breaking it down.

First, we had to recognize that we needed to find something equivalent to driving a car or taking the bus on his own while we worked through our longer term plan.  I could easily drop him off at school on my way to work, but he didn’t want that.  In the Seattle area, we had the option of using the Access Bus Service.  This was a hassle for me in terms of scheduling and coordinating rides but it gave my son his first step toward independent transportation.

During the period of time where he was riding Access to school, we focused his ABA program on several things focused on riding the bus:

  1. Personal Safety – not talking to strangers, where to sit on the bus (near the front), keeping a low profile by wearing headphones and not staring at others, avoiding “self talk” (talking out loud to yourself in public) and how to ask a bus driver for help.
  2. Bus and Navigation Skills – Using a trip planner to plan out a route from one place to another, understanding how to identify which bus to ride, navigating from one bus stop to another if your route has a transfer, and if you are lost, how to call for help and describe where you are.

When our son mastered his Personal Safety and Bus/Navigation programs, we knew he was ready.  In the Seattle area, they have a wonderful program called Transit Instruction.  We signed up our son and he was paired with an instructor who rode transit with him every day, to and from school, until he had mastered the route and demonstrated appropriate behavior on the bus.

The first time our son rode the bus solo, he met his bus instructor but then he got on the bus on his own with a plan to meet the instructor on the other end of the route.  Unknown to our son, there was a secret rider who was working with the instructor so our son could be observed when he thought he was riding alone.  All went smoothly and our son was ready to truly ride solo.

It was difficult for me the first few times I left my son at the bus stop.  Our son appears to be VERY proud of his ability to independently get to and from school.  And this simply contributes to his confidence across all other areas of his life.

If you are a parent wondering if your older child on the spectrum is ready for this, I encourage you to push yourself.  I’ll share in a future post “what happens if something goes wrong”.  We’ve lived through our son getting on the wrong bus and getting lost in downtown Seattle.  He survived.  We survived.  And our confidence in his ability is even greater now as a result.

Prep for Fall Applications in the Summer

If you have kids in middle school and you are looking ahead to high school, both private and public school are options you may be considering. Well, private high school means taking the ISEE.

What is the ISEE?  It’s the Independent School Entrance Exam.  It’s a test that allows a school to assess the academic level of the student who is applying.  If your child is taking this test, it should be all about doing their best.  This gives a target school a better idea of where your child is academically so you can understand whether or not that school is a good fit for your child.

Doing your best on anything involves preparation.  So in order to make sure your child is prepared, you should plan ahead.  Most school applications are due in December and January.  Applications typically have a fee so you’ll want to consider how many schools to apply to and make sure they are schools you know you wanted to attend. This means you need to visit schools and attend open houses.  Those visits usually happen in October and November.  September is a crazy month with back to school.  So, you should plan to get an ISEE test date chosen AND your child needs to be prepared.  Summer is the best time for that preparation in light of all of the activity that will be happening before applications are due.

Since I work at Varsity Tutors, I would obviously recommend them.  Early summer is a great time to arrange to have a tutor assigned.  Before the tutor starts, find a time to talk with the tutor on the phone. Find out if the tutor recommends any ISEE related books.  Many ISEE tutors suggest planning on 2 sessions to focus on just test preparation in general and then 2 sessions each for the 3 different sections of the test.  If you set up a time to meet each week you’ll also have time to do study assignments between each session.

With summer camps, vacations and all the things that summer brings, it is great to get this organized as you head into the summer.  And when Fall hits, you know you’ll be ready to focus on school visits and the typical demands of the 8th grade.  For the test itself, if you have a child on a 504 plan you can get an accommodation for extra time on the test but you need to remember to ask for it.

Even if you ultimately choose public school over private school, test taking strategies are valuable to any teen, especially in high school.  Even as tutors focus on the test specific material, there will be a lot of discussion on test taking strategies in general.

Time well spent!

Challenging Dyslexia: ‘Cause I Want to Decide Between Survival and Bliss

Organizing Dreen

Is it possible to get off an IEP and overcome the challenges that made it necessary? Three years ago, my daughter qualified for an IEP and those special needs are rooted in dyslexia.   After spending 6th, 7th and 8th grade at a school focused on teaching children with dyslexia, she no longer qualifies for an IEP.  She went from being 2 grade levels behind to now reading at an 11th grade level and being all set to enter Algebra 1 for her Freshman year of high school in the Fall.  I’m reposting this blog from when we qualified for the IEP.  And looking forward to future posts where I can share what we’ve learned since then to better support our daughter who is now thriving in school again.

Posted originally on June 19, 2015…’Cause I Want to Decide Between Survival and Bliss.

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Math Tutoring to Support an IEP

Do you ever feel like your kids that are on IEPs aren’t getting enough attention or instruction in the classroom?  Even if you’ve had relatively positive experiences in elementary school or middle school, you may hit a point where things get pretty tough.

Math is often a subject where Autistic kids do well and may be closer to approaching grade level.  I know a family where this was the case for them and their Autistic 9th grade son.  But then they started seeing notifications from the online math program, IXL, coming home,

Bravo! You have achieved excellence in 40 third-grade skills on IXL!

Third grade?  Their 9th grader should at least be working on 7th grade level math.  They talked to their son so he would choose the 7th grade level.  With communication and comprehension challenges, trying to work directly with him was going nowhere.

They talked to their son’s math teacher.  The school was using IXL during classroom time.  They were having their son use it after school each day even though the teacher didn’t assign homework so he could get more math practice in.  They were making sure the grade level was correct at home.  They didn’t get much help from the teacher at school.  Things would be corrected when they called attention to it but it would quickly fall back to lower grade level certificates coming in.

There are not many options for private high schools for kids on the Autism spectrum.  And even if there were, the cost is prohibitive. This family decided to give 1 on 1 tutoring a try.  If they couldn’t get help from the school, they could at least turn math time at home into high quality time to try and keep progress in this area going.

They looked for tutors in their local area that had experience with kids with special needs.  Locally, there was nothing available.  They contacted Varsity Tutors and found one tutor near them who didn’t have this experience but was at least willing to try.

If they were open to tutoring online, there was a tutor who was also a special education middle school math teacher.  Perfect.  She happened to live in Hawaii.  (They live in Sacramento, CA.) They wanted a session after dinner one night a week.  This was after school for the tutor based on her time zone.  Also perfect.

They decided to try out both online and in person so they wouldn’t waste time seeing which one worked better.  They weren’t sure if online would work for their son.  Would he get distracted?  Could he understand and comprehend across a computer screen?


For the in person sessions, the mother sat at the top of the stairs that lead down into their basement family room so she could listen in on how the session was going.  She knew if she was in the same room she would distract her son.  It was hard to hear the conversation.  When she could, she didn’t know the context of the problem they were working on.  It was hard to assess if this was time well spent or not.  And she knew she wouldn’t get any details from her son, or his teacher, later.

For the online sessions, she had the option of actually watching the session without her son recognizing that she was in the session.  The tutor knew but she told her ahead of time that she was going to watch just to see if her son was giving the tutor any problems and she would not speak or let her son know she was watching.  She could see the problems they were working on via the online whiteboard.  She could see both of them.  She could see that her son was paying attention.  She could see where her son was having a hard time understanding the tutor’s questions.

After the in person session, she met with the tutor before she left, out of earshot from her son, and asked the tutor if there was anything that she was struggling with in terms of working with her son.  No feedback.  “It was fine.”  Based on what little the mom could hear, it didn’t sound that smooth but she didn’t want to push.

After the online session, the mother also met with the tutor after her son logged off the system.  She was able to talk with her face to face just like the in person tutor.  She called out that she noticed where her son wasn’t answering her questions and gave her a suggestion on how she can form her questions to get her son to answer.  She also encouraged her to just wait and let there be silence until he answered.

The following week, they had their next set of session.  She listened from the top of the stairs, still unable to really understand how it was going.  She watched the online session.  It was going much more smoothly.  This time, she just logged off so she could clean up things from dinner because it was going so well.

Over time, this family stopped the in person tutoring.  The online tutor was just connecting with their son more effectively.  (Or maybe the mom felt that way because she simply had so much more visibility into the sessions since she could spot check via sessions recordings.) She also appreciated just logging in right at 7pm, not needing to have her house presentable and not needing to put the barking dog away when the in person tutor arrived.

Not having a lot of options pushed this family to give 1 on 1 tutoring, and online tutoring, a try.  If you’re a parent with a child on the spectrum, this may be an option if you want to supplement what is going on, or NOT going on, in the classroom at school.