I was thinking about my 11 year old son’s schooling history recently. Nearly two years ago after a rather bumpy ride on his schooling journey the Department of Education and I decided that James could not be catered for in mainstream schools. I wasn’t angry at all; in fact there was a big sense of relief.
I don’t believe that schools are at fault here; how much can we expect from teachers with 20 odd children in their classes? I mean, really, what exactly do you do with a child who goes missing and is found 30 minutes later asleep in a tree because he has decided he is Buddha and needed some peace to meditate? In the mind of the child his decision making was completely logical – in the mind of the teacher a child went missing and 4 staff members were frantically looking for him.
We dealt with a variety of teachers and the majority of them were amazing! Some had never encountered ASD before and felt very out of their depth. Given that 1 in 110 children have ASD I find it sad that these poor teachers are thrown in the deep end without floaties. They come out of Uni so full of hope and passionate about teaching only to become frazzled and feel incompetent because they don’t understand that you could be the best teacher in the world but, when it comes to as ASD child you need to throw the instruction manual out the window and get creative.
But, we as parents can help! No one knows these children like we do, no one knows more about their traits or symptoms than we do and no one knows how to deal with them as well as we do.
Between my business partner Sacha and I we have three ASD children and I have an ASD husband. We discovered very early on that there were a TON of ASD traits that were not listed in any books and that professionals didn’t mention. We were so relieved to discover that we weren’t the only parents whose children were 11+ years old and we still had to remind them to flush the toilet and wash their hands. We were thrilled to find out that it wasn’t just us who had to break every set of instructions down into 5 smaller ones just to get them to do a simple job.
We know that if our children don’t bond with their teachers in the first week that the rest of the year is not going to be pretty! We know that if a teacher doesn’t give our children a chance to explain themselves or doesn’t explain ‘why’ that frustration levels will very quickly rise and when that happens anything from carrots to expletives could start flying.
We know that ASD kids are far smarter than they are given credit for but if you can’t engage them in the topic then you may as well be talking in an alien language.
We know that if you give them a worksheet with 20 questions you have a very good chance of getting 0 questions answered because they see 20 questions at once and it is too overwhelming.
So take the time to meet your child’s teacher and share your knowledge with them. This has the potential to head off a lot of heartbreak throughout the year.
I have the following list that I like to use for new teachers. This list may not be for you but maybe you could customize it for your child to help their teacher better understand them.
Tips from ASD kids to Teachers
1. It’s really important for us to form a connection quickly. If I like you I will be way more cooperative.
2. I need to know WHY I have to do things. To make my brain concentrate, I have to find a purpose in what you want me to do.
3. My senses get overloaded really easily; I might not be able to concentrate well if that happens.
4. Sometimes I am a bit too honest.
5. I might need you to help me make friends.
6. I need you to help the other kids understand that I am unique...not bad.
7. If you tell me off about EVERY thing....I stop listening. I don’t mean to, it just happens.
8. I am smart in my own ways, I just learn differently.
9. Sometimes I seem very unemotional...but I still get hurt feelings.
10. Please help the other kids to understand me.
11. I am not the same as the other kids so I can’t always be treated the same. Sometimes my needs are different.
12. My parents know me really well and might be able to give you some good tips!
13. Please leave a note about me in the class roll. For substitute teachers.
14. I really want to like you. I have to spend lots of time with you and I need to know I am safe and understood.
15. If I get very angry it is probably because the world has become too loud, too bright, just too much!
16. A place where I can go when it gets too much is a great idea for both of us.
17. Please try to understand me, you are a very important part of my sometimes bumpy journey.
Elizabeth Kavanagh – Autism Advantage
Elizabeth and Sacha are both parents of ASD children and together they have more than 25 years experience in getting creative. Elizabeth has a Diploma of Applied Social Science and Sacha is a Psychology student. They have recently started a support business for parents, carers and teachers of ASD children as well as social groups to teach ASD children Interpersonal Skills.
Visit www.autismadvantage.com.au for more information.