I'm doing my best to complete the next round of paperwork for Bud's appointment with the new child development clinic, which has been moved up to February. As always, I'm struggling to figure out how to use a standardized assessment to describe my delightfully nonstandard son.
The assessment that's giving me the most trouble is the "Child Behavior Checklist for Ages 6-18." It seems to be designed as a general, global assessment tool, and is not specific to ASD. It asks me to respond to questions by checking the box by the answer that best reflects my view of Bud's behavior. The problem is, the boxes it provides are entirely inadequate.
The assessment starts by asking me to list the sports and activities that Bud enjoys, and indicate how well he does each "as compared to others of the same age". The boxes are marked: Below Average, Average, Above Average, and Don't Know.
I list some activities, though if I really want to describe the things Bud likes to do I'll need more than an inch-wide space. Then I start checking boxes. For most of the activities I check "Don't Know." I'd like to check the box marked "Differently From," but it doesn't exist.
I move on to the next question, which reads: About how many close friends does your child have? It's followed by boxes marked "None," "1," "2 or 3," and "4 or more."
I have no idea how to answer this. What does this mean? How are we defining "friend"? How are we defining "close friend"? Does physical proximity mark the difference between the two? Is a friend "close" only if we spend a lot of time together? I think about VTBudFan, whom I haven't seen in about five years, but whom I consider a very close friend, and I rule out proximity as a defining feature. So, what are the defining features? A spiritual connection? A mutual understanding? Just a feeling?
How can I begin to assess the depth of feeling that Bud has for the other children in his life? Or theirs for him? We don't have playdates with the children from school; Bud is not interested in having them. Yet, there is genuine affection between Bud and Kelly, Bud and Lily, Bud and Sophie, Bud and Michael, Bud and Clay... Bud and a number of other friends at school. How can I - why should I - try to qualify and quantify? It is what it is - and what it is, is wonderful.
I scribble a note in the margin, leave the boxes blank, and move on to the next question.
Compared to others his age, how well does your child:
Get along with other kids? Worse, Average, Better
Behave with his parents? Worse, Average, Better
Play and work alone? Worse, Average, Better
I resist the temptation to tear the paper in half. I breathe deeply, pour another cup of coffee, and take them one at a time.
Compared to others his age, how well does Bud get along with other kids?
Well, that depends on what we mean by "get along." Does he initiate play? Not really. Does he have sustained conversation with them? No. Does he engage in games with complicated rules and turn-taking? Not without a lot of assistance. On the other hand, he has never once (to the best of my knowledge) hurt another child's feelings. He has never been mean. He has never been aggressive. He has often been kind. He makes other children laugh. He makes them feel good. Children want to be around him.
So what answer is that? Average? Better?
I scrawl another note and move on.
Compared to others his age, how well does Bud behave with his parents?
How do other seven-year-olds behave with their parents? I have no idea. Frankly, it seems to me that there is no universal standard of "behavior" that parents use to assess their children, and "good" is a slippery, subjective classification for it. There are a lot of unreasonable parents out there. I've seen them in the grocery store, yelling at children who seem perfectly well-behaved to me.
So, I wonder, is this question asking about Bud, or is it asking about my husband and me? Is it asking how well-behaved Bud is, or is it inquiring about the extent to which Bud's actual behavior matches our expectations for his behavior?
I decide it's the latter, and I check the box marked "Better."
Compared to others his age, how well does Bud play and work alone?
What exactly is our goal here? Are we seeing the ability to play alone as a goal-worthy outcome? He's autistic, for goodness sake. Of course he can play alone. And work alone? What am I being asked to measure? Willingness to work alone? High. Productivity when working alone? Varied. Task-orientation or focus when working alone? Depends on the task.
I scribble again in the margin and leave the boxes empty.
I finally reach the end of the "compared to others his age" section of the assessment and I breathe a heavy sigh of relief. I hate the "compared to others his age" section. It runs counter to my entire philosophy of parenting. In Bud's early years, I tried not to compare him to others his age. Now it doesn't even occur to me to try. I compare Bud now to Bud yesterday, and to Bud a week ago, a month ago, a year ago. And by that standard, he is More, Better, Advanced, Above, Beyond.
In the next section, I'm asked to assess Bud's performance in academic subjects: Reading, English, or Language Arts; History or Social Studies; Arithmetic or Math; Science. The boxes read Above Average, Average, Below Average, Failing.
Seriously? Failing? What would it feel like to check a box marked "Failing" when assessing your own child? I will never know. I scan for a box marked "In Progress." There isn't one.
I plod through several additional pages of more of the same, and I do my best to answer honestly within the rigid boundaries that the assessment provides. At the end, I have a document that reflects some shadows of my son, but captures none of his essence.
I'm reluctant to stick these papers into an envelope and let them be the only representations of my thoughts about my son that this clinic has on file. If I really want them to understand my assessment of Bud, maybe I should send along the URL to this blog. Or maybe I'll print out a few blog posts. Like this one. Or this one.
Or this one.