Dear new teacher: Please give my kid a chance
This blog is from Mandy Farmer who writes a blog called From Motherhood where she writes about raising her three children, one who has autism, and her military family life.
We are coming up on the first day of school and I am sure you think you know all about my son. I am sure you have read his IEP and his diagnosis codes and you might be dreading the first day as much as he is.
He has autism. New places and new people terrify him. He worries about the unpredictability of a new schedule and a new classroom. He worries about what sounds or smells he might have to endure. Most kids do not notice these things, but his senses run on overdrive. An unpleasant smell or overwhelming sound can ruin his day, sometimes it can ruin his week as he is scared to go back the next day when things were too loud or too much the previous day.
He is working on communicating better. But when he is anxious or bothered and he can’t communicate he may run. He may throw something across the room. He may scream and cry when he can’t find the words. He knows such behaviors will have consequences and he knows he will be corrected. But in that moment he just can’t always control his body or mind. We are working on self-control, but there are days when it will still be a struggle.
I know he is not always the easiest student to teach, but there are some things you can do that can make his day easier. When his day is a little less scary it is much easier for him to learn.
He needs predictability to lower his anxiety. Please give him a predictable daily schedule. Sometimes pictures help him visualize what is coming next and allow him to transition more easily from one activity to another.
He has a hard time with his emotions and sometimes he has outbursts. He has been taught a few calming techniques that you can remind him of when you see him starting to get upset. He likes joint compressions and counting. Taking deep breaths and counting calms him down too. If the room is too busy or loud he likes to go for a quiet walk with a grown-up and he will try to ask nicely to leave the room when it’s overwhelming him.
Because my son is so often preoccupied with the noises around him and the constant thoughts in his head he will need reminders to stay on task. Please do not get frustrated with his processing speed or lack of attention. Listening and paying attention are very hard for him, but I promise you he’s trying.
He is not the easiest kid to teach, but I hope you will give him a chance. Because if you give him a chance he will show you how much he loves to learn. You will see how hard he is trying everyday to hold it together. If you give him a chance you will find he is very smart; he just learns differently. If you give my kid a chance you will find he has a belly laugh to die for and a smile that lights up a room on the good days. If you give him a chance and show him he can trust you he will give you a chance too. And chances are we can have a great year.
Download the free Autism Speaks School Community Tool Kit to assist members of the school community in understanding and supporting students with autism.