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Things I Want My ASD Child’s Teacher to Know

Updated on October 6, 2017
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Author Diane Mayer Christiansen speaks to parents as well as educators, helping to give a better understanding of what autism looks like.

ASD children can become confused by the world around them.

ASD children might focus so hard on one aspect of their school work that they may not be present in class.
ASD children might focus so hard on one aspect of their school work that they may not be present in class.

Some ASD children become independant within thier own timetable.

Every school year seems to start out the same way with my ASD son. There is the IEP meeting where the teachers and social staff sit around a table telling me how well my son is doing and how great it would be to eliminate some of his accommodations. I sit quietly and listen and when they are finished, I try to help them understand what they are missing in the big picture of autism spectrum disorder.

Silence doesn’t necessarily equal understanding. There have been so many times when my son has sat in the classroom lost in his own head, unfocused due to an outside noise or an anxiety over something that waits later in the day. When asked if he has any questions he may shake his head as a reaction. What his teachers don’t see is the moment when he gets home and I ask him about classes and homework. He becomes panicked. He may not know what his assignments are or what was even going on in class. I’m left to scramble around, emailing teachers to help him get organized. It’s a lot of work for parents and causes a lot of frustration. There are ways to make it easier. Though it may be difficult to know if an ASD child is truly paying attention in class, assignments can be written down after every class. When my son is given a direction, I always make sure that he can repeat it verbally just to make sure that he’s got it. Find out if it’s possible for your child to begin any homework in class just to make sure he understands what’s expected. For us, that made a big difference. Getting a head start elevated much of his anxiety and there became less scrambling after school.

Pushing an ASD child into independence is not always a good thing. As my son entered middle school, this push began. Students now had their own lockers. They traveled from classroom to classroom with a different teacher for each class. There were more freedoms to roam the hallways and socialize with friends. Along with this came a push for independence. Teachers no longer went over homework assignments. There were penalties for late homework and being late to class. Students were expected to come to a teacher for help on their own if their grades were suffering. All of this created a high level of anxiety for my son. He worried constantly about being late to class. He refused to use his locker in fear that is wouldn’t be able to get it open. He was terrified of approaching a teacher for help. As the staff pushed for him to do these things, his anxiety climbed. I do want him to be independent, believe me, but what I have realized is that it will come when he’s ready. I really had to talk loudly to his teachers about this. I think that there is this belief within the school system that we can somehow push the autism out of our kids by forcing them to fit in. They are fighting a losing battle. An ASD child’s brain develops at a slower rate than his peers and he shouldn’t be expected to be on the same playing field as a typical child.

Negative reinforcement does not work. Many of the consequences within the school system involve things like time out away from the rest of the class or the loss of an activity or a punch in a special card. ASD kids are black and white thinkers. This type of consequence only creates anger and feelings of unjust treatment. In truth, this type of reinforcement really teaches nothing. On one sunny recess morning, my son’s friend asked him to say a bad word. He did and the teacher heard him. The consequence was to miss a special party they were having that day, and a punch in a card that could lead to detention. My son never got over this. It was the hurt of not understanding how his friend could have put him in that position and the feelings of how unfair it was. A better strategy might have been to sit down with the two boys to talk about the effect that words have on others. After this episode, my son lived in fear of the punch card, worried that he would fill it up with punch holes and be made to stay after school. He came home crying every night in fear until I had the card taken away. That’s what the teachers do not see.

I think the main thing that I would like my son’s teachers to know is that a lot goes on behind the scenes with our children. It is the parents that see the anxiety and the sadness and frustration that they bring home from a school day. We are the at-home teachers, helping them understand the things from the classroom that they didn’t hear. We are the sounding boards for faceless bullies and misunderstood conversations between peers. So, when I sit in my IEP meetings listening to how well it is all going, I cringe thinking about how exhausted I am as I pick up the pieces day after day. Then I try to help strategize to create reasonable accommodations to relieve some of the burden.

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