Dear Parent: About THAT Kid

Dear Parent: About THAT Kid

Posted: 11/17/2014 10:00 am EST Updated: 11/17/2014 10:59 am EST via Huffington Post  / Amy Murray
ABOUT THAT KID

Dear Parent:

I know. You’re worried. Every day, your child comes home with a story about THAT kid. The one who is always hitting/shoving/pinching/scratching/maybe even biting other children. The one who always has to hold my hand in the hallway. The one who has a special spot at the carpet, and sometimes sits on a chair rather than the floor. The one who had to leave the block center because blocks are not for throwing. The one who climbed over the playground fence right exactly as I was telling her to stop. The one who poured his neighbor’s milk onto the floor in a fit of anger. On purpose. While I was watching. And then, when I asked him to clean it up, emptied the ENTIRE paper towel dispenser. On purpose. While I was watching. The one who dropped the REAL ACTUAL F-word in gym class.

You’re worried that THAT child is detracting from your child’s learning experience. You’re worried that he takes up too much of my time and energy, and that your child won’t get his fair share. You’re worried that she is really going to hurt someone someday. You’re worried that “someone” might be your child. You’re worried that your child is going to start using aggression to get what she wants. You’re worried your child is going to fall behind academically because I might not notice that he is struggling to hold a pencil. I know.

Your child, this year, in this classroom, at this age, is not THAT child. Your child is not perfect, but she generally follows rules. He is able to share toys peaceably. She does not throw furniture. He raises his hand to speak. She works when it is time to work, and plays when it is time to play. He can be trusted to go straight to the bathroom and straight back again with no shenanigans. She thinks that the S-word is “stupid” and the C-word is “crap.” I know.

I know, and I am worried, too.

You see, I worry all the time. About ALL of them. I worry about your child’s pencil grip, and another child’s letter sounds, and that little tiny one’s shyness, and that other one’s chronically empty lunch box. I worry that Gavin’s coat is not warm enough, and that Talitha’s dad yells at her for printing the letter “B” backwards. Most of my car rides and showers are consumed with the worrying.

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But I know, you want to talk about THAT child. Because Talitha’s backward “B”s are not going to give your child a black eye.

I want to talk about THAT child, too, but there are so many things I can’t tell you.

I can’t tell you that she was adopted from an orphanage at 18 months.

I can’t tell you that he is on an elimination diet for possible food allergies, and that he is therefore hungry ALL. THE. TIME.

I can’t tell you that her parents are in the middle of a horrendous divorce, and she has been staying with her grandma.

I can’t tell you that I’m starting to worry that grandma drinks…

I can’t tell you that his asthma medication makes him agitated.

I can’t tell you that her mom is a single parent, and so she (the child) is at school from the moment before-care opens, until the moment after-care closes, and then the drive between home and school takes 40 minutes, and so she (the child) is getting less sleep than most adults.

I can’t tell you that he has been a witness to domestic violence.

That’s OK, you say. You understand I can’t share personal or family information. You just want to know what I am DOING about That Child’s behavior.

I would love to tell you. But I can’t.

I can’t tell you that she receives speech-language services, that an assessment showed a severe language delay, and that the therapist feels the aggression is linked to frustration about being unable to communicate.

I can’t tell you that I meet with his parents EVERY week, and that both of them usually cry at those meetings.

I can’t tell you that the child and I have a secret hand signal to tell me when she needs to sit by herself for a while.

I can’t tell you that he spends rest time curled in my lap because “it makes me feel better to hear your heart, Teacher.”

I can’t tell you that I have been meticulously tracking her aggressive incidents for three months, and that she has dropped from five incidents a day, to five incidents a week.

I can’t tell you that the school secretary has agreed that I can send him to the office to “help” when I can tell he needs a change of scenery.

I can’t tell you that I have stood up in a staff meeting and, with tears in my eyes, BEGGED my colleagues to keep an extra close eye on her, to be kind to her even when they are frustrated that she just punched someone AGAIN, and this time, RIGHT IN FRONT OF A TEACHER.

The thing is, there are SO MANY THINGS I can’t tell you about That Child. I can’t even tell you the good stuff.

I can’t tell you that his classroom job is to water the plants, and that he cried with heartbreak when one of the plants died over winter break.

I can’t tell you that she kisses her baby sister goodbye every morning, and whispers “You are my sunshine” before mom pushes the stroller away.

I can’t tell you that he knows more about thunderstorms than most meteorologists.

I can’t tell you that she often asks to help sharpen the pencils during playtime.

I can’t tell you that she strokes her best friend’s hair at rest time.

I can’t tell you that when a classmate is crying, he rushes over with his favorite stuffy from the story corner.

The thing is, dear parent, that I can only talk to you about YOUR child. So, what I can tell you is this:

If ever, at any point, YOUR child, or any of your children, becomes THAT child…

I will not share your personal family business with other parents in the classroom.

I will communicate with you frequently, clearly, and kindly.

I will make sure there are tissues nearby at all our meetings, and if you let me, I will hold your hand when you cry.

I will advocate for your child and family to receive the highest quality of specialist services, and I will cooperate with those professionals to the fullest possible extent.

I will make sure your child gets extra love and affection when she needs it most.

I will be a voice for your child in our school community.

I will, no matter what happens, continue to look for, and to find, the good, amazing, special, and wonderful things about your child.

I will remind him and YOU of those good, amazing, special, wonderful things, over and over again.

And when another parent comes to me, with concerns about YOUR child…

I will tell them all of this, all over again.

With so much love,
Teacher

This post was originally featured on Miss Night’s Marbles.

The BIG Deal About Small Talk by Judy Endow

“Reprinted from Aspects of Autism Translated http://www.judyendow.com

Teachers – Think about your kids and their task of learning social interactions.  These ideas and strategies are good for autistic individuals as well as our preschoolers as they experiment and discover social roles and functioning. – Kristi Lachlan

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As an adult with autism small talk is the most difficult of all communication and yet it is likely the most important communication skill when it comes to developing real relationships with other human beings.

I think of small talk as all the word fluff that people “lacking” autism (love to say it that way!) seem to require. I was reminded again last night when a dear friend popped out to chat online with me. Here is how our conversation started:

Susie: hey

Judy: what

Susie: “what?”  geez, was just saying hi

Judy: STARTING OVER!

Judy: hi back

Judy: PS Forgot the fluff. Guess I skipped too much blah blah blah. Forgive me?

Susie: LOL no worries

Because Susie is a good friend the conversation moved on. But, consider this – Susie has known me for years. She understands I am not wired to automatically engage in small talk just like I understand Susie is wired to expect small talk to occur. Since there are more Susies than Judys in the world the onus is on me. If I want real friendships I need to engage with other people in a way that shows them I value their friendship. This makes small talk a BIG deal!

People expect small talk. It is part of that ever illusive hidden curriculum – all information neuro majority people are wired to naturally pick up so never need to be taught. Autistic people, on the other hand, have a neurology that does not permit them to automatically pick up all the hidden curriculum that everyone else knows, but nobody has ever taught – such as small talk (Endow, 2012). And because small talk is expected it is a BIG deal in the social arena when you don’t deliver it!

Small talk is also a BIG deal in when it comes to business relationships.  It is difficult for me to understand why, when a boss says, “Time is money” meaning that workers should not waste time he would then EXPECT all workers to engage in a certain amount of small talk with every business transaction (Myles, Endow & Mayfield, 2013). This just goes to show that small talk is a very BIG deal!

Small talk is such a BIG deal that we are even expected to carry on with perfect strangers using small talk!  This is particularly befuddling to me, but it is true that the expected polite thing to do is use the fluff words of small talk everywhere you go. Yesterday I did errands and watched for the small talk. It fell out of the mouths of the grocery checker, the postal worker and the bank teller (even it was the drive through!).

Because small talk is such a BIG deal I have made it my business to learn about it and become proficient enough to use it so as to fit more comfortably into the world around me, having more positive encounters with strangers and business people along with better relationships with close friends. Here are some things that have helped me:

black circle  Watch for small talk:  For many weeks I intentionally watched for small talk when going on errands, working and spending time with friends. Once I started watching for it I was able to identify it. This helped me to understand what sorts of things were considered small talk.

black circle  Find appealing aspects of small talk:  For example, even though I find small talk difficult I do very much enjoy the predictable repeating pattern – basically, you can count on small talk to be part of most conversations so the pattern repeats with each conversation regardless of the conversation partner.

black circle  Identify the small talk topics:  The topics I have identified include the weather, the weekend and compliments.  It has been helpful to me to know these topics that usually come at the beginning and sometimes at the end of a conversation are small talk in that I don’t need to pay close attention or remember all the details. This allows me to focus the more important words that usually follow the small talk in business transactions (Myles, Endow & Mayfield, 2013)

black circle  Writing Scripts Ahead of Time (Endow, 2006, pg. 52): My brain cannot retrieve something it hasn’t stored. Writing scripts ahead of time allows my brain to store the generic small talk fluff words so that I can pull them up and use them without needing to waste the energy it takes to create my portion of each small talk transaction that my brain otherwise reads as novel. I have scripts for the weather with a multiple-choice feature to accommodate current weather events.  Here is one small talk weather script I use: “How are you liking this (heat, cold, wind, rain, sunshine)?

black circle  Play acting scripts: It will not work to simply repeat rote small talk scripts.  You will come off looking very odd. I have found it helpful to think in terms of play-acting (Endow, 2012). This allows me to match the information of the script to the real life setting.  For example, to a friend I might ask, “So, what’s the scoop on your weekend?”  With a business acquaintance I might ask, “Did you have a nice weekend?”

black circle  Build word sandwiches:  Whenever I have something important to say I pop up a picture of a sandwich. This shows me that my important words are the filling, but I need to build the sandwich, with the bread being the small talk words. The sandwich pop up reminds me to start and end my important words with small talk. It is amazing how much better people like my ideas when I sandwich the idea in small talk!

In conclusion, remember: if you teach communication or social skills to folks on the autism spectrum please embed the art of small talk along the way. As autistics, our learned communication strategies fall flat with out small talk. Many of our learned social skills put us in a position next to other human beings because we have learned their ways and are able to look like them. But if we have not learned the art of small talk we appear awkward, are easily dismissed and sometimes teased. Once we have learned the art of small talk we have a choice of when and where we wish to exert the often enormous amount of energy it takes to use it. It has been a huge positive in my life to have this choice. Therefore, I encourage you to please teach us the art of small talk because it is a BIG deal.

REFERENCES

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006). Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers.  Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J. & Mayfield, M. (2013). The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment.  Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Originally written for and published by Ollibean on September 22, 2014