I received this email a couple of weeks ago.
I would like to share it with every parent and teacher.
It throws light on a teacher’s struggles. My response suggests how we can support teachers and students with special needs in the classroom.
Do share it freely.
Hi, I read an article you wrote and I’m reaching out because I feel desperate. I’ve taught in regular for 30 years… and I’m good… at least I’ve always felt I was and been told I was great… even with very challenging kids… but this year I feel terrible. I’ve never felt so incompetent. I have two students with ASD (not diagnosed… formally yet and one may just have speech issues and learned behaviors from autistic sibling). I teach TK/K so these are very young children. Both students have scary melt downs. Both have hurt students. We’ve been in school since mid August. One had one day with no hurting others. The other seems to be getting worse and is beginning to run away, kick things. Etc. I have one untrained aide who stays with the more diagnosed student. When the other melts… my class is unattended (same room, but) as I work to help him regain calm… My other students are often scared. I know I’ve helped them feel safe, but I don’t feel they’re really safe… (emotionally or physically). Some parents are upset…
AND learning? Teaching? A rare event except when both kids are gone… Any inkling of academics triggers them both… My principal and superintendent are supportive but none of us seems to really know what to do to really keep everyone safe and minimize the melt downs. Our special ed and psychologist have only been minimally involved or helpful. Everything I read says the undiagnosed child has ASD and his parents are having him evaluated… but WHAT DO I DO!?
I need immediate advice.
I read about visual clues for transitions, etc . Advice ? What exactly would/could/should this look like?
One (the one who’s really hurt others) uses his designated zone with aide support… he can stay in room without being too disruptive for long periods. Other (who does not have aide) rarely stays in one of his two designated “break” spots… and instead runs off or goes to spots where I cannot see him and I fear he’ll bolt or start throwing or kicking stuff… he has kicked and punched me. (no bruises)
I have anxious thoughts hours after being with them.
Thank you for reaching out.
It takes tremendous courage to be an expert in the field (you’ve taught for 30 years) and seek help for your challenges.
I applaud you for it.
I hear you.
I understand how difficult the situation must be for you.
As humans, we tend to have an image about how a student should be.
This image has been constructed over the years and reinforced by the hundreds of students we have successfully taught.
Here come 2 students who are different and very challenging.
These two boys have cost you your peace of mind and your sleep.
They have challenged you in ways you didn’t think possible.
May I take 5 minutes of your time to show you a different perspective about autism?
Many autistic individuals struggle with extreme sensitivity. They could be sensitive to loud, sudden noises. They may be anxious in crowds. This could lead to fear based responses resulting in meltdowns and hurting others.
How do the boys communicate? Can they speak or are they non vocal?
If they are non vocal, how will they let you know except through behaviors, that they are distressed.
Even if they are vocal, many autistic children are not able to express how they feel.
I can tell you with certainty that autistic individuals understand everything, even though they may not be able to express themselves fully.
My son and students have taught me this over 25 years.
“Let’s pretend you are like me”, types Philip, a 12-year-old non-vocal child. “You can’t talk, but you have a well-functioning mind and can understand people. Imagine you answer everyone who says something to you, but only you can hear it. Others hear your voice saying things you don’t necessarily mean. They think that’s all you are capable of thinking. People see your repetitive flapping or tapping and they think it serves no purpose. It is hard on me to put my stimming away, but I try. You can’t talk but you have a well-functioning mind and can understand people.”
Philip has autism. He does not speak conventionally, but he has a lot to share with us. Don’t you agree? Speaking or not being able speak is not a deciding factor of the level of functioning. Across the board, people with autism possess depth and wisdom. The question is, can we give them a voice?
Presume intellect- ALWAYS.
Keeping these 3 extremely important points in mind, we come to your question about what you can do.
Nobody knows the child as well as their parents know them.
After the school day, children go home.
Partner with the parents. This will pay rich dividends.
There are many parent training models available.
RDI (Relationship Development Intervention) is at the top of my list.
Please suggest this to the families. They need to be empowered.
And this will make your job easier.
You’ve mentioned you have one untrained who looks after one child. Is it possible to source one more person- either through the school or the families, who could help you during the school day?
I totally understand that you have other students to look after and they should also have a day of learning at school.
Once the child is in the designated area, what does he do?
Take a look at this example of a teacher at SAI Connections working on regulating a child.
Once they’re calm and regulated, they will be able to join the class without too much disruption.
Get a speech language pathologist on board to help the child enhance communication.
They could help with teaching the child to use pictures to communicate, sign language or an augmentative communication device. This will reduce frustration for the child.
I have detailed all these methods and more in this article.
Things will get better.
This has come your way- because you’re a wonderful, capable teacher and you care.
You always have a choice.
The easy road is to wash your hands off and move away to a more comfort zone.
The difficult road will take a lot from you- but it will end up changing you.
And it will show you the wonderful strengths that you never knew you had.
Please feel free to send more questions my way.
I can be reached at email@example.com