In my last post, I mentioned the need for a paradigm shift in the way that these children are viewed and handled. Essentially, this is what I feel the problem is: the schools push them too hard to be something that they are not. In my initial post I listed recommendations on how to ensure that your child will not be subjected to inappropriate punishments. When I discussed the second school, I mentioned the strong need for parental involvement in the school that you choose to send your child too (i.e., do they have a parents teacher organization that will help you meet other parents). I really like the very understanding teachers and staff at the current school my son attend, and I like how they listen when I have suggestions on how to help him. My current concern is with some of the goals that the school sets for my child … I don’t think that I am on board.
I remember a few years ago when my aunt gave me some advice after my son was first born: “When my children are misbehaving and acting up, if they are tired, cold, or hungry, I feed them and put them to bed.” Essentially, she meant that you have to meet the needs first, don’t worry about punishing them when they are miserable, meet their needs. With autistic children, it seems that the schools don’t follow this simple rule.
Time and again, I read stories on line about how some autistic child reacts physically, but if you read further you will find that the whole incident could have been avoided if they had simply meet the needs of the child.
Imagine that you are in a strange foreign land where you don’t know anyone. You don’t speak the language and don’t understand what everyone is saying to each other. Some of the people here are over twice your size. You do your best to try to stay out of people’s way, but cannot really figure out what is going on. One of the very large people comes up to you, and you don’t understand what they are saying. You think they said backpack, and they reach for your backpack and try to take it out of your hands. Your backpack has your only food in it and your favorite toy and they are trying to take it. You scream! They keep trying to take it, and as you try to fight back, the take you and pin you to the ground.
Continually, again and again, I find myself disappointed by the times that an “incident” is recorded because my son responds physically …. But when I start to ask what happened, I find that it is another case of the teacher or the teacher’s aide trying to push him. They push these children in different ways. Push them to look into their eyes. Push them to respond to their questions. Push them to work on the assignments that they want rather than what the child is really interested in. Push them to sit still. Push them to speak differently, to use inflection in their voice. Push them to raise their hands before they go to the bathroom. Yesterday, they pushed him to stop burping in class. As my son is older now, and also is away from the school that placed him in seclusion and made him worse, incidents of him reacting physically are very rare ... but although the current environment helps him to not react physically, he is still becoming frustrated and crying almost everyday.
He told me last night, through tearful eyes, that he became upset and ripped up his daily sheet and pushed over a chair. They took away a point from him for burping three times in class, and those points would have earned him a pizza on Friday. He was really upset, as he was having a lot of gas, and was trying to be quiet about the burps but couldn’t help it. The teacher sends me a note saying that he was burping and laughing and wouldn’t stop, and that he reacted physically when they took the point. Now, if you are a child, who has gas, and you can’t stop, and you are sitting with several of your friends, what is a boy to do? I would say, laugh and pretend it is a joke to hide your embarrassment. As a parent, I really don’t care at this point if he follows all of the social niceties of polite society … I am MUCH MORE CONCERNED WITH HIM BEING IN A COMFORTABLE ENVIRONMENT WHERE HE CAN LEARN.
But these schools are not really designed for autistic children, not a single one of the special needs schools that I have taken him to have been. Oh, yes, they have smaller class rooms. They have occupational therapist and sociologist … but the basic design is still for “normal” children.
Here is a list of ways that these schools could really help these children become comfortable. Ways to help meet their basic needs, before they started to expect anything from them.
1) Their own cubicles!! That is right, adults have them in offices, and autistic children need them. The cubicle wall could be about four feet high (short enough for the teacher to see over, but high enough so the child would not see over it while sitting in there). This eliminates the need to start to work on things that the child might not be ready to work on, like placing a special needs teacher in the untenable position of trying to stop a young autistic child from burping.
2) If the child has a special blanket at home that he likes, for goodness sakes, let him bring it into the school. For that matter, let him decorate his cubby hole the same way adults would decorate the cubicle that they work in. If the child wants a bean bag chair, give him a bean bag chair.
3) If the child starts to have success with a certain teacher, he stays with her or him. The idea of moving up with a class of students does not work well for autistic children. They tend to bond more closely with adults, not their fellow students. The child should only stay in the class IF the teacher connects with him or her. I cannot say enough how well my son does with certain people, and how poorly with others. Of all the care givers or babysitters I have had for him over the years, he NEVER acted up with three of them that understood and connected with him, while he would give a hard time to the others. So, if the child isn’t connecting with a teacher, switch him to a different teacher. If the child makes a connection with a teacher, keep him with that teacher from year to year.
4) Don’t test the child on any subject matter or in any fashion at all until it is determined that he or she is mature enough to be able to handle it. If testing the child does start and it is upsetting to them, stop testing them. Continually testing a special needs child is cruel.
5) Have some type of way to help the child block out sounds from outside his cubby hole. I bought my son an expensive set of comfortable noise reduction headphones, and they work brilliantly!
I know for a fact, that if my son, when he was younger, would have been able to go to school and go to a cubby hole that had his favorite blanket, and then and he could sit on a bean bag chair and read books he liked, he NEVER would have reached the frustration, anger, and anxiety levels that the schools cause him. I also know that he would have been able to learn so much more in an environment were he was not always anxious and afraid.