Part Three: Ten Commandments For Educators Who Teach Kids on the Autism Spectrumenabledkids.ca | Mar 19th 2012
1 ) Thou shall not perceive me as a diagnosis. It is not true that once you have worked with an autistic child, you have worked with them all. There are many different degrees of autism–hence the meaning of the term, “Autism Spectrum.” We have distinct personalities and talents, just like you. We may present ourselves as nonverbal, verbal, have advanced expressive vocabularies, receptive vocabularies, be aggressive, shy, funny, or ambulatory. We may have mobility issues, be extremely social or shy, or have gifted IQs, or low IQs. Spend time getting to know me. You may learn to appreciate my talents, and the contributions that I can make within the classroom and to my classmates.
2 ) Thou shall not assume that I am defiant. :-0) My ears are extremely sensitive. If I am sitting at my desk and you give me directives from the other side of the classroom, I may not hear you correctly. I have difficulty desensitizing myself from sounds. I may be struggling with attempting to block out the whirring of a pencil sharpener, ticking clock, rain beating on the window pane, and the humming of the fluorescent lights. They often hurt my ears and create one jumbled sound. The sound may be so intrusive to my sensitive ears that they hurt. If you want to give me directions, please walk over to me and look me in the eye to get my attention. Be specific and concise when conveying what you wish for me to accomplish. I am a concrete thinker. For instance, ask me to get my coat from the coatroom, than go back to my desk and sit down, and wait to be excused for recess. Do not merely say, get ready for recess. This is too obscure. I want to please you, I really do, but you need to help me out with this.
3 ) Thou shall help me learn to socialize with my peers. I may appear to be avoiding my classmates. This does not mean I do not want to socialize. Children on the spectrum want friends and need to be included just like anyone else. My issue is that I often do not know how. Perhaps you could encourage the other children to include me in their games. You could role model proper techniques for social interaction, how to read body language, and empathize. For instance, if my classmate has a bellyache, you could point out that his tummy hurts and that maybe I should tell him I hope he feels better soon.
4 ) Thou shall catch me being good. Please make an attempt to point out my positive behavior, actions, and character traits. If I only hear about what is wrong with me, I will feel as though I am unworthy and withdraw. If I merely get attention from you when I am in the midst of a meltdown, or presenting inappropriate behavior, I may become conditioned to misbehave so I can gain your attention. This is the self fulfilling prophecy at work. Give me positive attention through praise, and you will build my positive self-efficacy. Help me believe in myself. If all I receive is negative attention, I will still crave it. Remember: in this case, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
5 ) Thou shall not attempt to embarrass me. Please do not compare me to siblings who were in your class. Do not compare me to classmates, embarrass me, or mimic me if I am frustrated. That hurts my feelings, and leaves me feeling more frustrated. I work twice as hard as my neurotypical peers to perform academically and socially. Embarrassing me will not force me to “straighten out’. That will merely force me to withdraw further within the academic environment, because I feel as though I cannot measure up to your expectations of me. Please try to remember that my emotional age is behind my chronological age. Please treat the behavior, not the child. I depend on you for external control.
6 ) Thou shall practice reflective observation and remediation. If I become distracted, hyperactive, speak out of turn, or agitated, please attempt to find out why I am doing so. It is easier to prevent a behavioral issue than to try and remediate it afterwards. If you notice the early warning signs, you may be able to make adaptations to prevent escalation. Once my behavior has gotten out of hand it will be difficult to assist me with getting back on task. Simple techniques may work. If I am having difficulty focusing, seem agitated, or become socially inappropriate, the bright fluorescent lights may be hurting my eyes. Please remember that my five senses are hypersensitive and I can become over-stimulated by everyday sights, smells, and sounds. Perhaps, dimming the lights in the room may calm me down. If I appear hyperactive, perhaps you could find a job for me to do in the classroom. The job could be as simple as making me a helper and asking me to hand out paper, or art supplies to the other children, pass out homework etc. so I can stretch my legs without being singled out in front of my classmates. If I am distracted by the other children while expected to take a test, perhaps you will allow me to wear earplugs to squelch my hypersensitivity to noise. I know I can be a lot of work at times, especially in a inclusive classroom. It is worth your effort, I assure you. It is a win-win situation for me and my classmates. They will learn to accept and respect differences in people through their interactions with me. They will carry this empathy into adulthood and the workplace. In turn, I will learn appropriate social skills through observation of my neurotypical classmates. With your assistance, the other children will learn to note and appreciate my talents and contributions within the classroom. I will learn how to be a member of a group who appreciates me. This in turn will boost my positive self-efficacy.
7 ) Thou shall not attempt to fix me. I cannot be fixed. I am not the equivalent of a broken engine in your automobile that merely needs some adjustments here and there to run like new. Besides, my mom and dad say they like me just the way I am. Respect me for the gifts and talents that I bring into your classroom (and I have many!). You can help me by teaching me compensatory strategies. For instance, teach me to go to a quiet area in the class to read, or to play quietly when I am over-stimulated. At first, I may need many verbal or physical prompts from you to recognize the signs of over-stimulation. As time goes by, I will internalize this mode of redirection through repetition and go to my quiet places independently. Remember to praise me verbally, or with a reward when I do so. I need to know that you noticed–it makes me feel proud of myself. For example, I may love to write but have issues with my pincer grip. Holding a pencil makes my hand hurt. Perhaps you could put a gripper on my pencil to increase my grasp and initiative to write so I do not go on strike during lessons.
8 ) Thou shall not say negative things about me. Please do not speak poorly of me to other teachers, parents, or students. My feelings get hurt when I observe you telling other individuals that I am a handful, that I take away time from the other students, shouldn’t be in your class, or push your buttons. Please do not refer to me as a bad seed, “that” one, a hateful child, unlikable, lazy, or defiant. This is unprofessional and inappropriate, especially when you talk while I am in the room. If you speak negatively of me and I misbehave, I am following your negative expectations of me, and living up to them. I may learn differently, but I can hear and comprehend your unkind conversations. I am not a diagnosis; I am a child like all the other children in my class. Please remember, I am dependent on you to help me hone my skills and succeed in life. I need your support.
9 ) Thou shall differentiate instruction. Differentiated instruction does not mean giving me different assignments or dumbed down assignments. Differentiated instruction is done by making accommodations so I can be included in the same projects and assignments as my classmates. If we are using shaving cream paint during art class, I may not want to put my hands in it due to sensitivity to textures. Perhaps you could offer me a tongue depressor to put the shaving cream on. This way, I can do the same art project as my peers while taking my sensitivity to textures into account. If we are doing a group history project on the colonial era, you may take advantage of my visual perception. I may not read well, but may be capable of building a scale model of a fort. Thus other children could research and present a report and I could provide the props. Perhaps you could allow me to take a spelling test which contains the same words as the other children orally if I have difficulty with handwriting. If we are presenting a play, the loud music and crowd may bother me. Perhaps I could change props, or be in charge of opening and closing the curtains during the performance instead.
10 ) Thou shall perceive as a human being. Please remember that every child has both positive and negative traits. Attempt to teach me what mine is are. Your investment in me will pay off in the future. Who knows, with a little help from my teacher, I could grow up to be the next leader of our country. I believe in you, will you believe in me?
About the author
Mari Nosal has written 12 articles for Enabled Kids.
Mari Nosal, M.Ed., CECE is a school coordinator, blogger and author. She is certified by the Department of Early Childhood Education as a lead preschool teacher, an infant and toddler teacher, and site coordinator qualified to manage school age programs. She is certified in Community Crisis Intervention by the Community Crisis Intervention Team of Bristol County. As a parent of a son with Asperger’s, she and her son show others how it is possible to overcome obstacles and achieve your goals.
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