I struggled to connect with her.
She resisted every move I made.
We had pockets of good moments, where she was calm and attentive. But they didn’t last for more than a few minutes.
This little girl could read logos and sounded out words she had not seen before.
She would read them once but not respond when asked to read again.
Her parents wanted to know how to teach her to identify and read words.
They worried about the lack on inconsistency.
I tried every trick I knew.
Trust me, I’ve accumulated plenty over the past 25 years.
But this little one had me stumped.
She rejected every overture.
I spoke to her, like I do with all my students.
“How can I get through to you?” “Show me how you learn.”
“Please may I enter?”
The answer was a resounding, “No.”
I let it rest. I had to respect her wishes.
She had had a long day and had already been through an assessment, earlier that morning.
I explained what I was trying to achieve to the parents.
And how I was unsuccessful.
I wanted her to participate in her own learning. I didn’t just want to shove it down, like an unpalatable dish.
I promised them I would try again the next day.
I reflected on my failed session that evening.
I could visualize connecting with her in varying frameworks the following day.
The next morning, during my yoga class, Leena ji (my yoga teacher) had to shake me out of my reverie.
“Aap kya soch rahe ho, Kamini ji?
(What are you thinking?)
I shook my head and smiled sheepishly.
She understood. She had seen through plenty of my thought processes!
I came up with a plan of action.
This time, I got straight to the job.
Little Diya sensed my determination.
She herself was calm and collected.
She let me guide her from one challenge to another.
I tested my hypotheses and figured out how to get through to her.
By the end of the session, I was able to explain a ‘strategy’ to her willing and eager parents and Consultant.
What if I had not persisted? Who would be the loser?
I would be the loser, not Diya.
Getting through to a child on the Spectrum, excites me.
When I crack the code, I emerge more fulfilled and humbled.
For they show me an aspect of themselves which was thus far hidden.
Time and time again, they reinforce the truth: “Don’t try to teach us conventionally. Each of us learns a different way. Are you willing to stay with us and learn?”
“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”
– Ignacio Estrada
I took the challenge, dear friend. Are you ready to take the challenge too.
To all my professional friends out there, I know you’re in this field to make a difference. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be here.
Autistic children are not here to learn conventionally. They learn out of the box.
Perhaps no box can contain them.
Are you willing to persist in delving deeper to understand them?
If not, then please don’t read further. Don’t waste your time.
If yes, then please join me wholeheartedly.
Keep the following points in mind.
1. Be prepared to struggle
You will not know immediately how to handle your student.
He will resist.
Please don’t view resistance as non compliance.
If you stay with it and examine it, you will understand what he’s trying to convey.
Resistance is the messenger.
2. Observe acutely
This one principle will stand you in good stead.
Observe as if you’re viewing through a microscope.
What does the child play with when left alone?
How do the parents talk to her? When she grabs that cell phone, what does she do with it? Observe her eye gaze. Did she notice when you walked in?
Record your interactions. I can’t emphasize enough how viewing yourself working with a child can help you.
3. Determine the learning style
Does she like looking at words? Does she like music? What is her response when you hold her hand?
When you show her a book, what happens?
Is she attracted to the words and pictures?
Does she enjoy painting or music?
Above all, ask the mother. She is a store house of information about her own child.
The child could be a visual learner, an auditory learner, a kinesthetic learner.
4. When is the child most regulated?
I work with an 8 year old boy, who is jumpy and all over the place.
But when I show him words or write sentences, he calms down immediately.
Words have a calming, regulating effect on him.
I use reading and writing to get him into a state of learning and then work on my objective.
5. What are his strengths?
Another non vocal 8 year old, hums beautifully.
He’s very aware of his environment. Note down what you see in the beautiful child in front of you.
Music, Art, Singing, completing intricate puzzles, drawing, quickness with navigating the ipad- all these could serve as pointers.
Because I couldn’t speak or ask questions, I took everything and filed it in my brain for future use. I believed that someday, I would be able to communicate.
– Mark, an autistic individual in Autism and the God Connection.
6. Is there something that catches your eye and makes you go, ‘Aha!’
Little Diya was in the midst of a tantrum on day 1.
Despite that, she picked up her tablet and opened up the AVAZ app and selected, “I’m sleepy.”
Don’t underestimate your student. There’s more to the individual than the excesses and deficits.
The child tantrumming in front of you is a living, breathing individual who does not learn conventionally.
Step out of your own comfort zone to support this child.
7. Plan meticulously
Reflect on your work. Review it, like a maniac.
Put down your hypotheses and test them out.
You cannot go unprepared.
I have a confession to make.
I knew I had an appointment to work with Diya the following day.
I did not prepare for it.
I thought I’d observe her mother working and take off naturally from there.
I actually said, “I’m going to go out there and have fun.”
I should have done my homework. No matter how many years of experience you have, be prepared to learn from the autistic individual in front of you.
8. Try again
Sometimes, even after all the planning, it may not work.
Don’t lose heart. Pick yourself up and try again.
And don’t give up till you succeed.
Know that the embedded lesson will be huge for you.
When you’re determined, the child will reward you.
You will feel fulfilled.
Once you crack the code, your life will open up to unbelievable vistas.
Keep in mind: Each child is different. What works for one, may not work for another.
Today is a great day to renew your determination to be successful.
I stand up to re determine to understand each of my students. And to be an effective guide to them.
What about you?