What teachers should know about Autism

30 August 2016

Dear Teacher,

I am happy to see that my big lad is in your class. I am sure you have chosen your profession because you love working with kids and have a passion for teaching not because of the short working day and many lengthy holidays (joking, it's definitely not the pay.) I am sure that you are dedicated and highly motivated and that when you realized you were getting a child with ASD you did a lot of research to ensure he would make a great start. However, there are many myths about autism!

  • You have probably heard that autistic children are robotic and unfeeling, that they can not show love or emotion. This is a myth. I know that one of the most difficult struggles you will face will be dealing with his emotions. The truth is that he does feel, probably too much. It is almost as if his emotional thermometer is faulty and only registers extremes. As soon as he enters the classroom you will know if he is happy, sad or angry. I know that this will sometimes take over the lesson that you have spent your evening lovingly preparing. I am sorry for that but believe me it's worth spending the time working out the problem now or the emotional tap will keep running and the bucket will spill later and make an even larger mess. The big lad will learn to trust you and I hope you will like him. He loves jokes, he loves computers, he loves calm, he loves rules and he needs patience.
  • My son is not mentally retarded nor is he gifted. He has strengths and weaknesses the same as all children. However, he has a disharmonic profile, this means he is excellent at some things e.g. visual learning, memory skills but very poor at others e.g. following verbal instructions. Autistic children see the details, what they need help with is putting all these pieces together, seeing the bigger picture. Take care that he understands the task. Sometimes it is too many instructions, too much stimuli or simply too many words that can lead to failure rather than lack of understanding. In short, he can learn given the right circumstances and may surprise you at times. 
  • Autistic people can make friends and have successful relationships. However, he often misreads or misinterprets situations and this makes him feel very nervous and stressed. I compare it to trying to communicate when you are learning in another language; always feeling that you are a step behind everyone, you are missing the joke, not quite getting it, embarrassed at making silly errors, always just missing the point, wondering if you have it right, never really being able to relax. That is hard work! Please take the time to help the big lad with social interactions. Positively, he thinks that everybody is his friend. 
  • Autistic children blow up over nothing; Myth!!! There is always a reason for a melt down and sensory issues can be it. Sensory issues are significant! He may not stay in his chair, he won't always look at you when you are speaking and he may repeat himself many times or fail to answer. But, the traffic is piling up in his brain; he sees every detail, he hears every pencil scrape, he can smell the coffee you drank at break time, I forgot to cut the label out of his new trousers and it is prickling him, he is sitting on a different chair, he missed the last thing you said. He is not being rude, naughty or not listening, he does not have ADHD (but some ASD kids do) his senses are in overload. Imagine trying to give a lesson while riding on a roller coaster and you are close to how our big lad feels.

  • Autism is not caused by poor parenting or by cold, uncaring mothers. Autism has nothing to do with parenting. This was a very poor assumption made in the 1950's and it is not true.   My son will not bring the book/bag that you asked for or remember his homework or P.E. Kit. It isn't because he is naughty or because I am not supporting him. He doesn't remember. (But he will remember some facts/moments/things that will astound you!) School is school and home is home... Separate maps in his brain. Please send me a mail, app or tweet to let me know what he needs and his schedule. Don't judge my parenting know that I do my best...as I am sure you will. I hope we can develop a good relationship for the sake of my son.

I understand that you are probably a bit nervous and worried. Perhaps you even question whether this child should be in mainstream education at all?! Believe me that is something that I have worried about too.  I can only offer one piece of advice, as a fellow professional and as a mum. Don't look at my child as the one with autism, forget the autism and simply look at the boy... His needs are the same as any child; to feel safe, secure and happy in class. 

I wish you a very successful year and want to thank you in advance for the extra time I know you will give to my son.

This post has been revised, I first published this post two years ago at the beginning of my journey into blogging and the start of the school year.

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