” I just don’t know what to do with this kid. I know how to help them if they can’t read. I know how to help them if they can’t add or subtract. But I don’t know what to do with this autistic child. They’re just exasperating!”
This is what the teacher told me me , another long time teacher, who recently became a parent of an autistic child. Those are the words that would have been minor way back when. I would have actually echoed those words. But when autism became one of my” life and breaths” of daily living, those words were piercing and painful , bringing me to tears.
“You are talking to a parent of an autistic child!” I declared. The teacher offered a blank stare and a shoulder shrug. I was silent and numb. If only I had the choice words to reverse the spell. With one deep breath, I walked back to my classroom.
My silence was noised with thinking. I thought of bright eyed Roberta, whose world fell apart when something was not in its place. I thought of Sally Sue who told me the ” ooooooo” ghost story all too often. I thought of Willie who flapped his hands and never looked at me. Something was up with those kids. That something exasperated me. That something spelled autism.
When my Goldi was newly diagnosed, as teacher, I concluded that she would be like Roberta, Sally Sue, or Willie. As a parent, I prayed for bigger hopes than what I offered those kids from my way back when teaching, when autism was still more of a “something is up” label.
Three years later I can tell that teacher and any teacher. I have the words. I didn’t realize it but they’ve been with me for 23 years. Let me tell you, teacher,– any teacher, what to do with an autistic child. It’s not rocket science. The most important thing to do is not something from special education experts. It’s something that should come as natural as you as getting your morning coffee before the school day.
So you are Teacher to an autistic child? Let me tell you. Plan your lessons and share with them your learning day. Be the conductor of your symphony. Practice the day’s pieces with everyone. Make learning appropriate. Make adjustments and take heed to implement different learning styles. Give crayons instead of pencils. Guide them step by step. Give praise. Make them laugh. Recognize their potential. Appreciate their uniqueness. Miss them when they are gone. Their unique contribution will not be offered to that learning day. Giving up is not the answer. A “Whew I am done with that child”at the end of the year is not acceptable. Let them know that you consider them a star that will always shine in the world’s sky and extra brightly in yours. Let me tell you teacher, teach that autistic child- and every child. It’s what you’ve been doing and should be doing all along.
You must know that the autistic child will always be there. The gap of whose not autistic is narrowing. Look in your classroom and they will be there: flapping with excitement, jumping for joy with anticipation, plugging their ears and straining to listen, pacing and needing direction, humming and needing a song, stemming and needing comfort, expressing their amazing imagination and needing a smiley validation, watching the crowd and needing a friend.
What should you do with an autistic child? Let me tell you teacher, do what you have been called to do. Teach. Do it well.