As the mother of two tough-to-raise kids, I can’t tell you how much relief the school bus was some days! When I could just get through the morning routine and get my kids successfully off to school, the day was already a success!
Teachers Have a Hard Job
I am sure I never properly thanked the many teachers that worked with my kids over the years. Their patience, willingness to brace themselves each morning to go into a building full of screaming grammar school kids that would have had me running the other direction, or their tolerance of the attitudes and difficulties in middle school were just some of the many things I was grateful for!
Teachers have a hard job.
And it seems to be getting tougher all the time.
Increasingly those brave souls are faced with kids with all sorts of different diagnoses, learning disabilities, behavior issues, problems at home, etc., etc., etc.!
Understanding the Signs and Emotions
Some kids have a known diagnosis and some not. Some parents are willing to hear that their kids are having issues, and some don’t want to hear it! A teacher has to be part sleuth, part police officer, and part magician to navigate those waters when the seas get rough.
One of the most confusing issues in our schools today is the burgeoning population of high functioning kids with autism. Many can fly under the radar until the requirements of their school day become strenuous enough to exacerbate their problems and bring them to the surface.
Often these kids react with anger, striking out, or some other behavior that doesn’t necessarily make sense at first. “They seem so normal!” is a typical reaction to a high-functioning child.
Many of these very smart, high functioning kids are diagnosed going into the middle school years, when the stakes get higher in terms of organization, changing classrooms, having different students and teachers every hour on the hour, etc. Often they look like they just have behavior problems, have been poorly parented, or just don’t care.
“All of these thoughts, while logical, are really indicating that the autism diagnosis is very misunderstood.”
Back in the day these kids were called bullies, emotionally disabled, mean, or just bad seeds.
Today we know that some of these kids are reacting to autism. It’s so hard to shift your perspective and not blame the child when their difficult behaviors surface, but seeing autism as the child’s fault is not going to yield the best results.
I have heard it all “…but he could do it if he wanted to!” “She could control that behavior if she cared enough….” Or “He doesn’t have any reason to respond that way…”
All of these thoughts, while logical, are really indicating that the autism diagnosis is very misunderstood.
How Behavior Communicates
One very helpful perspective is to see the autism as separate from the child. While this paradigm shift may not be wholly accurate, it can serve as a starting point for helping the child.
When we can begin to look at the behavior as a communication of the child’s difficulty with their autism, we can make great progress forward. This reduces the tendency to shame and blame the child for their behavior and opens up the opportunity to uncover effective ways to address what is happening.
The emotional reaction many adults bring to their encounters with kids on the spectrum isn’t helpful.
Kids with ASD don’t typically understand or respond to emotionally based requests. Our assessment that they are doing this “to us,” as if they are not even making an attempt, don’t care, or are just naughty kids is inaccurate. These kids don’t wake up in the morning trying to figure out how to upset the adults in their world.
“When you take the perspective that the child is struggling … compassion then becomes a more natural response.”
When you take the perspective that the child is struggling with something that is not integral to them, some unseen external enemy that is derailing their ability to navigate the functional world, you open up many possibilities for working more effectively with the child.
Compassion then becomes a more natural response.
Putting in the Effort to Understand
The underlying drivers behind behavior are now viewed as totally different, and perhaps more accurately assessed. The teacher can now support the child in managing the autism by recognizing the difference between “can’t” and “won’t.” Rather than believing that the student is unwilling, or won’t cooperate with a request, assignment, or interaction with another, now the teacher can recognize that their child can’t easily navigate the system given their autism. This improves the likelihood that the teacher can step in to support the child in finding a way to shift from being unable to manage to able to manage.
Of course, the success of this approach is dependent on the teacher having an understanding of the unique world view held by an individual with autism.
Understanding autism is not rocket science, but it is something that requires effort and energy on the teacher’s part to learn. This paradigm shift of understanding can help make that effort and energy expenditure easier.