Our journey in the Autism Spectrum

Posts tagged ‘sensory issues’

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!)

It’s A Kindergarten Halloween Party?

So, I am finally getting around to posting something about Henry’s Halloween party at his school. There were so many wonderful little surprises for me; from the quietness of the classroom to all of the amazingly well-behaved students! I haven’t known really where to start! My first thought was that these couldn’t be Kindergarteners. Except if that were the case, my son and I were in the wrong room! No, this was definitely his class. And they were all so adorable in their costumes! 

Side note: Of all the costume choices we have at home, it took Henry weeks to decide. Every day he would choose something else.  Henry finally decided on The Human Torch, part of the Fantastic 4 superheroes. (So many superheroes to choose from, so little time.) Anyway…

To begin the party, Mrs. Kindergarten Teacher called each table, one at a time, to a carpeted area in the class to take their pictures. She encouraged them to stand close to each other, and even to put their arms around each other or hold hands with their friends. I immediately expected Henry to stand way apart from his group, not wanting to be too close to anyone. Henry definitely likes his space and he is certainly not a fan of group pictures! I was so pleased to see Henry participating that I didn’t even notice, until that evening when I looked at the pictures, was that Henry actually reached for and held the hand of the little princess that was next to him! What? Wow. 

Next, I watched as the kids lined up to head to the gym for the traditional all-school Halloween parade. Henry in a gym packed with kids, teachers and parents and the thunderous droning of hundreds of voices and waiting…and waiting. This would be interesting to see… It was hot and crowded and I was feeling uncomfortable being in there myself. Finally, the parade began and the students made their way around the small gym lead by their teachers in a line of characters and crazy costumes too many to list!  I watched, amazed, as Henry participated in all of this!

As the kids filed back in to the classroom, we parents had each of their places set with their Halloween party treats, Krispy Kreme donuts, rainbow Goldfish, and the cutest juice boxes decorated like mummies. Henry was the first one back in the room as apparently he was line leader that day. He surprised me by telling me he had to go wash his hands before having snack. When each student had finished washing they took their places in their seats. The kids were talking and laughing with each other at the tables but no one was eating. These are Kindergarteners?  Did I mention there was a donut on each plate in front of them? I was almost feeling awkward about it until as the last couple of kids headed to their respective seats, Mrs. Kindergarten Teacher said, ” Class, if your hands are washed and your snacks are ready, you may go ahead and eat .”  And then they did. What? Wow. (again)

When Henry had a hard time opening the straw to his juice box he turned to me and asked me for help. Knowing that Mrs. Kindergarten Teacher really encourages her kids to think of ways they can do it themselves I encouraged him to keep trying and think of another way he could get it open. One kid from another table offered a suggestion of getting a scissors to open it. Henry thought for a moment, turned to the princess next to him and asked, “Can you help me open this.” Okay, Tom Sawyer, I’m pretty sure that’s not what your teacher had in mind, but, well, I couldn’t say I blamed him. When the princess had a hard time as well, the Transformer stepped in to help!

At some point in the party, Henry turned to the that pretty princess sitting next to him and was talking to her about something. The little girl was just smiling at him and giggling. Henry slung his arm over the back of the chair to turn and look at me with a grin and said in the most matter-of-fact voice, “She never knows what I’m talking about, Mom. She doesn’t understand me.”

 I was cracking up and I tried to explain to him that maybe it was because he often spoke so fast and that sometimes even I had a hard time understanding what he was talking about. We were laughing together and he said to me, “Mom, you know I have a super-speedy brain! I can’t help it!” Can’t argue that fact, dude!

Throughout the party, all of these Kindergarteners remained so well-behaved. Even though they were laughing and talking with each other, they did not ever get too loud and they all continued to participate in the little craft a dad had volunteered to do with them and continued when we moved them to the different game stations we had set up. These kids genuinely seemed to have a good time! It was one of the most enjoyable class party I have ever attended!

I think it would probably be difficult for many of the parents of Henry’s classmates to understand just how HARD it is for Henry to hold it together as he navigates his way every day through these types of situations. The seemingly simplest thing as standing in line or right next to a classmate and then even thought of that someone  possibly touching him, well, this is probably one of Henry’s most difficult obstacles.  Yet he is able to tolerate it more and more every day. I credit his teacher for providing him (and all of her students) with such an amazing environment that is calm, quiet, orderly and CONSISTENT so Henry isn’t always so distracted with sensory issues.  Then he can focus more on LEARNING and GROWING along with his peers!

I have always given credit to his wonderful team at the pre-school level for doing just this same thing and I was sure it was why he has come such a long way since he first entered school. Now I am convinced that it is just this type of environment that Henry can learn to thrive in and I feel so fortunate that Henry has another AMAZING teacher for his first mainstream school experience!

Mrs. Kindergarten Teacher may have been dressed as Sam-I-Am for Halloween but I know she that in real life, she is even more special and magical, creative and kind, caring and compassionate, so very, very wise. She truly gets it!

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