Helping teachers get to know your autistic child and the fallacy of high functioning

With a new school year upon us, I have done a lot of work to help new teachers and people working with my son with aspergers understand him better.  I decided to create a document to help describe his challenges and some ways to help him through them.  Not wanting to focus solely on his difficulties, I tried to include an intro of his strengths.  As I was writing the document and adding more and more things, I was amazed at the long list of challenges he faces, despite being on what some call the high functioning end of the spectrum.  With such a list of challenges, I don’t think anyone could say this is high functioning.  He probably will learn to function in a society dominated by non autistic people, but he will probably also still have to deal with all these difficulties and work hard to implement ways he has or will learn to deal with them for his whole life.  In order to make his life and the life of all autistics easier, understanding and acceptance of these differences and not demanding that they adjust to fit in with the rest of the neurotypical is essential.  We do this for all sorts of other handicaps, hopefully with more awareness and education, this will happen for all the autistics out there as well.

I am sharing my document here in hopes that others with autistic children may find it useful:

A little about A A loves to learn and is very curious and bright.  He is very active and in constant motion.  He is shy at first, but opens up once he gets to know people and is very loving and caring.  He loves to be with friends, but also needs time alone.
Things A may have a difficult time with Successful ways to work with him
transitions follow a schedule
give warnings of when a transition is coming (10 minutes, 5 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute)
allow him extra time to transition if he needs it
if he is missing time at an important activity, let him “make up” the time doing that activity later or at home
sitting still position his desk in an part of the room where he can move and not distract others (for example to the side)
use a ball chair
allow to wander the room (he still is listening)
schedule his breaks around his most difficult times of day
have an area of the room he can go to for a break (maybe keep his sensory items in a box there)
eye contact don’t demand (he is still listening)
ask if he understands
have him repeat if necessary
expressing his frustrations in words let him take a break when frustrated
don’t try to talk it out (he just gets more frustrated)
tell mom about the situation and she will talk to him later when he is better able to process
leaving a project of interest unfinished leave enough time to finish all projects
give advanced warning if there will not be enough time to finish a project
make sure he knows the plan of when the project will be finished
give warnings of when the stop time is coming (10 minutes, 5 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute)
changes give advance notice of when a change is coming (like moving desks, etc)
if at all possible let his situation remain unchanged and just change those around him
give him choices around the change (for example: who he would be like to be next to when the change occurs)
homework allow him a weekend to finish any homework assignments (he is fried by the time he has gotten through a school day, needs a break and is not able to do homework in the limited evening hours)
organization he needs reminders and supervision to make sure he gets his papers into his folder (not just crumpled in his bag)
he needs reminders and supervision to get needed items like reading books in his backpack to go home
oral stimulation let him have gum accesible
remind him to use gum if you notice him putting things in his mouth or chewing his clothes
sensory seeking allow him to push on things for sensory pressure
allow him to touch your hands and arms if you are comfortable with that
have a box of sensory items (squeezy toys, scented marker, etc) available for him in his break spot
loud noises when possible warn him if alarms will be going off (tornado/fire/lockdown alarms)
have him use headphones to reduce the noise during alarms or assemblies
yelling use a regular or quiet voice as much as possible (he shuts down when someone is yelling and will refuse to comply)
making decisions give him extra time for decision making
brainstorm ahead of time possible topics/ideas for projects
allow to finish later or take home if he has a block and isn’t able to decide
regulating emotions give him space to calm down on his own (avoid talking to him as that fuels his frustration)
try offering a snack (he has a harder time with emotions if he is hungry)
focus and task completion give rewards for finishing (for example: if you finish it quickly you can have time for _____)
give reminders to get him back on task
migraines allow him to go to the nurse to take tylenol when he has a headache
if he seems to be unusually lethargic or hiding his eyes from light or showing other signs of pain, ask him if he has a headache and remind him to go to the nurse for tylenol
things being taken away this generally makes him less complient and can spiral him into a meltdown so should be avoided when possible
Things other teachers have done Redirected with the use of the whiteboard (we wrote a question, he wrote back)(distraction)
stop watch to show how much time he owed doing a certain activity if he did not transition there right away, then he would spend that much time with the activity later
giving him tasks to do helps his mood and self esteem
Things that motivate A humor
a friendly competition
getting to write about topics of interest (currently ninja turtles, ninjago)
earning things he wants (computer time, candy, small trinkets)
What A’s mom needs open communication
notification by email or phone when Adler has an off day so we can discuss it later and figure out how things could be changed to avoid similar problems or help him think of ways to deal with the problems
when possible, notification of when there will be a sub or changes to the regular class schedule

I believe this document has helped his general ed teacher understand him a little bit better, but like all people there is a need for trial and error with different methods of working together.

Unfortunately, despite this document, the beginning of the school year has been off to a rocky start.  This, however, is, I believe, due to issues with his special ed support; so, I am now off to fight my next battle in that realm.

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One Response to Helping teachers get to know your autistic child and the fallacy of high functioning

  1. Dylan says:

    This is a good list! I hope your son’s time in school gets better!

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