Our journey in the Autism Spectrum

Posts tagged ‘peer education’

They Accepted

This last part of the school year has been a bit challenging for our little dude. We are getting some notes coming home in his daily binder; “rough day”, “agitated”, “did not want to work with classmates in group”, “impatient”, “not waiting his turn”, etc. It’s the end of the school year and Henry is having a hard time holding it together some days. This is not surprising to me for a kid with an autism diagnosis. We work daily in the area of his social/emotional challenges. Always. Still.

Last week I had gotten a note and a call from the principal’s office that Henry was bothering some girls on the playground and he reached out and grabbed one of them by the shirt. This week a note came home, “arguing today”. Henry doesn’t like to get into trouble. And he really doesn’t like to talk about it when he does get into it. You can almost see how physically painful it is for him to admit he is wrong or to apologize for something. We have been working VERY hard on how to handle this in an acceptable manner. He wants to play with the other kids sometimes but he just doesn’t know how. Nor does he get those social cues when the kids don’t want to play with him or play his way. Another not-so-surprising aspect of his autism diagnosis. This is his most challenging area for sure! I was wondering if this most recent note had something to do with the playground issue from last week. I worry a great deal about what these social challenges might mean for Henry as he grows up. For how long will these challenges be oh-so-challenging for him? Will he ever learn how to navigate these waters appropriately? Will the kids ever understand and accept him for who he is?

When I questioned Henry about who he was arguing with I got the typical first response I usually get from him, “I don’t want to talk about it!” He had just come home from school which is a rough time of day anyway. Fine. Let him decompress.

In continuing with our vigilance in using everything as a possible teachable moment, later that night before bed when all was quieting down, I asked him again who he was arguing with. “Mrs. Q.” (This is his SSD resource teacher that he adores so I was beginning to worry what this was all about.)

“Why were you arguing with Mrs. Q?”

“I don’t know, Mom. Sometimes it seems like I just can’t help it.”

Fair enough. Not that this is acceptable, mind you, but at least he was thinking about it and talking about it calmly with me.

“Well,” I said, “don’t you think you should apologize to Mrs. Q for your behavior?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, good. So when do you see her next?”

“I see her every day, Mom.” he told me in his “duh!” tone.

“Okay, so the next time you are with her you should apologize and try to work harder at not arguing with her. Alright?”

“Yeah, okay.”

I didn’t say anymore about it after that until he got home from school the next day. “Hey, dude, did you talk with Mrs. Q?”

“Yes, and I said I was sorry and I will try to be better.” (I don’t know if he actually did apologize to her but for now I am giving him the benefit of the doubt.) I figured this was the end of it at this point and we let it go.

However, this morning while the little ones were eating breakfast and I was getting clothes ready for the day, Henry came to me and said, “Mom, you know how I told you I apologized to Mrs. Q?”

Uh oh…”Yes, I remember.”

“Weeeellllllllll, I also apologized to the girls I was bothering the other day.” And with a big grin on his face he said, “And they accepted!”

ummmm….wow! Now, I don’t know if there was any adult intervention or whether he did this on his own but still, big. huge. wow.

“Oh, dude! That is really great! I am so proud of you! Great job!” But, again, as we continually try to practice and remind and practice more, I couldn’t help adding, “So now that you said you were sorry for that, you will try hard and not bother them anymore, right?” While he is getting better at saying he is sorry, he still has a hard time stopping some of the behaviors.

“Right. But can I play with them?”

“Of course! But you need to asked them if you can play with them first. And if they say no, then you need to leave them alone, okay?”

“Yeah. But then can I still wave to them and say hi?”

Oh my sweet little dude! “Yes! That would be very nice of you!”

I realize that Henry’s classmates will never really understand how hard all of this social interaction is for him. But today, I feel we are one more step closer to acceptance!

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A Very Special Kindergarten Story

[Ed. Note: for the record I am getting this out there before my son begins first grade. I’ve been trying to find a way to do this book, this teacher, and my son’s peers justice. It was an amazing year!]

My son entered Kindergarten this past fall. Mainstream Kindergarten. After a few bumps along the way, my son’s extraordinary teacher gave me a wonderful opportunity to talk to the class about autism and specifically, Henry. In my opinion it was a great success.

If you haven’t read about my experiences, I’ve posted links here (otherwise feel free to skip ahead to the link of my video at the end of this post):

Bullying and Peer Education

Teaching Moment #1: Friends and Brains

Teaching Moment #2: Toasters and Hairdryers

Teaching Moment #3: The Senses and What Autism Looks Like

After my last “class”, Mrs. Kindergarten Teacher and the whole class shared a very special gift with me that I will never forget. With some help from Mrs. KT, they wrote a story with illustrations about Henry and autism. The words and illustrations are theirs. Henry’s own words and descriptions about himself are his as well.

The photos added at the end are a few I had taken throughout the year. (please note that I do not own the rights to the music used).

Thank you, Mrs. KT and your Lions! ~from the very bottom of my heart!

And finally….

A Very Special Kindergarten Story

Teaching Moment #3: The Senses and What Autism Looks Like

[Message from the Editor: Yes, I know this installment is long overdue! But at least I’m getting it out there before Henry starts first grade! You can read about my excuses reasons for the delay here.]

For those of you who are unfamiliar with my “teaching moment” experiences you can catch up by reading here, here, and here.

And so finally a bit about my third, and last, experience speaking with Henry’s Kindergarten class about autism just before the end of the school year.

We reviewed a bit about the things we had talked about before and this time I wanted to address some of the sensory issues that often times comes along with autism. We discussed the five senses with which they were familiar. I brought in some pieces of sandpaper to pass around when we talked about how tags and clothing and even human touch might feel to someone with autism. We talked a little bit about how some folks with autism see and hear things differently. I told them about fluorescent lights flickering and I brought in an example of some modulated music to try to give them some idea about how certain tones might sound different. We talked about taste and about what might be different regarding certain foods; taste, texture and even color.

This being my third time, I was so much more relaxed and I think the students were as well. We did a lot of sharing of our own experiences with our five senses. It was nice to see how engaged they were.

Prior to my visit, Mrs. Kindergarten Teacher asked the class if they had any specific questions about autism that they would like me to talk about when I came to class. The main question that they asked about was, “What does someone with autism look like?”

When I posed this question back to the class, Henry shot his hand up and said, “Like me!” Yep! That’s my awesome dude!

This next portion of the lesson was easy! Having just finished up Autism Awareness month, I previously e-mailed Mrs. KT back with links to two Autism Awareness videos made by a couple of wonderful autism moms that I have come to know on Facebook. Henry also happens to be in these videos.

“But s/he doesn’t look autistic” by stark.raving.mad.mommy

“More than a number” by No Guile: Life and Stories from Autism

As these videos played the kids commented and ask questions. They also recognized Henry right away which they thought was pretty neat! We talked about how people with autism look just like everyone else.  Kids with autism liked to do all different kinds of things just like them. I told them that kids with autism grown up to be adults with autism and that they could be doctors or lawyers or teachers or nurses or waiters or construction workers or whatever they wanted to be. Grown ups who have autism can even be moms and dads!

They wanted to know if we knew these kids and what their names were. I did give first names to the kids and adults I did recognize and they seemed interested in this!

They all seemed to enjoy watching these videos and it was fun to see how enthused they were about all these kids with autism who were really just like themselves in many ways!

Next it was time for a bit of a surprise for me! I knew Mrs. KT was working on a project with the kids about what they had learned about autism but I was quite taken back by what they put together. Mrs. KT took the students words, including Henry’s, and put them into book form and the kids did the illustrations! Mrs. KT read this book aloud as we all watched her turn pages on the screen. It was all I could do to keep the tears from spilling over and running down my cheeks.

Then it was time for me to go. It’s habit/ritual for Henry to do a high-five and a fist-bump and my leaving the classroom was no exception. Another boy across the room saw us and his hand shot up, “I do high-fives!”. Well sure!

Next thing I know I’m giving high-fives and fist-bumps to just about every kid in the class. My heart was full and I was near tears again! What an amazing gift Mrs. KT had given us ~I was given the opportunity and honor of teaching Henry’s peers about him and others with autism and in turn connections were made!

NOTE: I’m trying to do the class’ book justice by putting into a video…it’s been a work in progress as I’m a bit technically challenged! (The learning curve is killing me!) But I think I’m close to having it done and hope to post it SOON!)

Bullying and Peer Education

My little dude is a quirky one and his Kindergarten peers are noticing. They are noticing that he talks out loud to himself. They know he doesn’t like to be touched. We had some issues the first semester with a few of the kids poking and touching him just to get a reaction. Mrs. KT (Kindergarten Teacher) was on top of it and immediately put a stop to it and did some peer education and even brought in the school counselor to talk about bullying and what it means, etc. After that things seemed to be going much smoother.

This semester however, Henry began coming home more agitated about school. When I would ask him about how his day went he would say, “Worse!”

Eventually, over several weeks I was able to get him to talk about what was going on at school. Apparently a few boys were chasing him out on the playground threatening to touch him. I didn’t say anything right away to the school as I was hoping we could work with Henry at home on how he could advocate for himself at school. Also, I did not want to assume that Henry was completely blame-free in this situation because he can sometimes give mixed messages. You know, that whole social/emotional deficit and not picking up on social cues!

But when he continued to come home upset I finally brought it to Mrs. KT’s attention. It turns out she was unaware this was happening outside. We talked and she immediately set to work on reminding the class about bullying. Grant and I had a meeting with her, Henry’s SSD teacher, and the school counselor. Once I brought the issue to their attention they were ON IT. I was impressed. And relieved. It’s so good to know that we’ve got a great team for Henry!

Mrs. KT had suggested a couple of times that she thought it would be a good idea if I come into the class to talk to the kids a little bit about autism and a lot about how we are all different and yet the same. At first, I was excited about the idea and felt good about how great an opportunity Henry’s teachers were giving me! Then I panicked. How could I do this? I’m just a mom, not an educator! I have no idea what I’m doing! I tried to punt this over to the experts at TouchPoint Autism Services but Mrs. KT insisted that she thought it would have much more impact coming from me. I was not getting out of this one.

I immediately went to my Facebook page with this news. The outpouring of support and the generosity of other mommy bloggers sharing their ideas with me and offering to help was amazing! (Thank you, Caffeinated Autism Mom!) I poured over some of my favorite blogs that I knew had written about similar situations in the past. My first stop was Mom-NOS with her now famous Hair-Dryer Kid in a Toaster-Brained World. And I got a lot of suggestions from TouchPoint as well!

I’ve pulled together a very rough outline for three to five 20- minute learning sessions that I will take with me into Henry’s classroom; the first one is to happen next week just after our spring break. I’m nervous. Still, I’m doing this for Henry and all kids on the autism spectrum. This is a wonderful opportunity to promote awareness and acceptance that I cannot turn my back on. These are kids that Henry will be growing up with and going to school with for a long time.

As with the autism itself, the earlier the intervention the better, the same goes for awareness and acceptance, beginning with Henry’s Kindergarten class. The sooner, the better!

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