Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I ADORE my Autistic Students.

So if you follow me, you know in know uncertain terms... I LOVE MY JOB. I love my students. I love my coworkers. I love my admin. 

However-- over the course of the past two years I have learned something else about myself. I ADORE autistic students. 

Now to clarify-- the students I work with are in my regular classroom, with 20+ kids and are somewhere between "High Functioning Autism" and "Aspergers". Quite frankly, I'm not even sure that is the proper terminology.   All I know for sure is-- I look forward to having these kids every year. 

My Experience:

My second year teaching I was given a student who I will call "Adam". In our first back to school meeting one of the administrators heard I had Adam in my class and was nervous. Adam struggled with loud noises, disorder, and any kind of "craziness". Now if you look at my blog title (Weird is Cool) you will note that my classroom is not a mundane place to be. My admin told me a little more about Adam and what I could expect from him. I had another teacher tell me to give him rubber bands and paper clips and he'd fiddle with them all class and not be a problem. I'll be honest-- I was nervous about whether I would be the best teacher for him. 

My First Interaction with Adam:

In the early days of class my students were working on their Warm Up and I noticed Adam wasn't working. I considered just letting him "do his thing" but decided against it. He was my student and I needed to treat him like my student. I walked over to his desk and squatted down to his level.

Me: Adam, where's your warm up? 
Adam: Lifts up his warm up, he continues to doodle on his paper
Me: Why aren't you doing your Warm Up?
Adam: Because I didn't know what to do!  (this was said in an exasperated whisper yell)
Me: We are doing numbers seven and eight.
Adam: After rolling his eyes and letting out annoyed sigh he answers the first question. He reads the second question and is annoyed again, "This question doesn't even make sense."
Me: It asks you to write down what each of these dates mean, they are up on the poster on the window.
Adam: Looks over to the window, sees the poster and answers the question. 

A few minutes later the class is going over our warm up. Kids are shouting out answers but I call on Adam. 

Me: Adam can you tell me what the date 1607 is for? 
Adam: Jamestown Colony
Me: Very good, thank you for sharing
Adam: Smiles slightly but then goes back to his doodles. 

For the rest of the year, I worked hard to call on Adam in class. At first I only called on him when I knew he knew the answer, but after a while I got braver (and so did he) :-). During a class debate I made him participate. I asked him questions and he responded strongly. His team was in awe, and glad he was on their side.

Throughout the year I would have MANY conversations like this:

Adam: Why do I have to do this worksheet? Its not even going to help me a little bit!
Me: Doing the worksheet, that I asked you to do, is a sign of respect towards me. So can you do this worksheet for me?
Adam: After a long intake of breath and sigh. "Fiiiiiiiine"

He may not have done the worksheets for himself, but he would do them for me. He liked and respected me as his teacher. 

One of our other favorite conversations:

After he said something offensive about another student

Me: Adam that is not how we speak to students in our classroom. I don't let people speak to you that way so you should not speak to others that way in my classroom.
Adam: Fiiiiiiine. 
Me: I would like you to apologize.
Adam: Nostril Flare
Me: Please?
Adam: Sorry. He said it curtly and with a face ... but it was an apology

This was an important step for my classroom-- I always stuck up for the kids in my class when Adam would insult them. I didn't brush it off just because Adam thought differently. They knew I held him to the same standard of kindness I held the rest of my class. 

Fun Story:

Adam HATED it when kids tapped on the desk and my class had A LOT of tappers. One day at the start of class, I heard a kid tapping and looked for Adam. He wasn't there. The kids told me he had been there earlier he was probably just late. I told them to "HURRY GET ALL YOUR TAPS OUT!" they tapped their pencils like MANIACS for a few seconds before Adam came in. The class stopped immediately when they saw him and I told Adam we were just getting our "taps out". The rest of the class smiled. 

I loved this moment with them. I loved that they stopped tapping because they knew he hated it. I loved that they knew I understood, sometimes it is hard to control yourself. But mostly I loved that they didn't seem annoyed when he came in. He was a part of our class and made us what we were: a classroom of tappers who didn't tap.

An Important Conversation I had with My Class

Half way through the first semester Adam got frustrated because he didn't know what page we were on in our journals.  He yelled and was exasperated. I let him get up to get water. While he was gone I had a talk with my class.

"Guys, when Adam is frustrated-- what do you think you're supposed to do?"

The told me they were supposed to ignore it and pretend it wasn't happening. They really believed that. When I think about it, I guess it makes sense, they didn't want to make him feel embarrassed so they don't say anything. I however wasn't going to have that. 

"Y'all when Adam is frustrated, offer to help. Ask what he is frustrated about. What do you guys notice about how I talk to him?" 

They responded that I was nice and I was patient. 

When I told them they should respond that way as well, they seemed apprehensive, but played along. I told them that Adam thought differently and it was important that we don't ignore him because of that. 

I loved the day I saw a student help Adam out with what page in the book we were on (I made him say thank you :-))

By the end of the year Adam was working in partners and group work. The students would tell me enthusiastically "Adam is really smart! He knew that one when the rest of us didn't!" Adam even participated in "Harry Potter Review Day"!! Though, that day, he did tell the teachers in my hall that, apparently, I had lost my mind (but he said it with a smile).

My Favorite Moment:

I had Car Rider duty on Fridays. I would stand outside and wave people in at the back of the line. Every Friday without fail Adam would get out of his car and no matter where in the car rider he got out he would RUN to give me a hug. Keep in mind this is a kid who would tell people in no uncertain terms that he HATED school. However-- he loved the teachers and the admin. And I tell you this, we loved him too.

Part of the Family:

Second semester he wasn't supposed to be in my class. He was supposed to move to another teacher. When I pointed this out to the counselors and the admin, and they responded "Oh no, he can't get out of your class. Its one of the only classes he likes all day". They switched his schedule around and he stayed. One of my teammates told me in no uncertain terms, "You were the best teacher for him this year, that boy would walk through fire for you". I don't know if that was necessarily true, but I do know I got him to be a part of my classroom family.  

In Closing:

I love my autistic students. I had another glorious student this past year but I'll save that for another blog as this one is already too long. 

If you take anything away from this blog please take this, I know autistic children can be intimidating. What will their moods be like? Is it best just to let them do their thing? What if I upset them? I'll say this-- in my experience, Autistic kids are human and like to be treated as such. Don't treat them like a desk lamp. Try to engage them. Build a relationship-- it will be different but it means so much more when you connect. Let the kid know that you think they are funny and smart and special. Make them a part of your classroom-- don't let them get away with everything. It makes other kids resent them and that isn't good for the class either. Treat them like a kid-- just a kid who thinks differently. 

Happy Teaching!


  1. This was lovely. My nephew is a young "Adam" and I know his parents are grateful for the beautiful teachers he has in his life who have worked tirelessly to pull him into the classroom experience. I love how you recognize and encourage the beauty in their differences. Thank you!

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