They scare me.
Earlier in the year we had an incident where Alex was bullied and that spurred the question of, "What do the kids know about Autism? Do they know anything? Do they even know he has it?" The answers came back as no, no and no. The kids knew nothing.
I though that maybe if they knew something, heck anything, there may be some compassion. They may have some understanding of why he does what he does and maybe with understanding would come some form of acceptance.
I'll be the first to tell you, I worked with our school to do this. Our teachers are great and in some ways I am really blessed. They get it. They get Alex. They get me and they are willing to work with the things I suggest.
I had a PowerPoint presentation and from that presentation, I made a book for each child in Alex's class. I wanted each one of them to have something to bring home so their parents could see what we went over in class. Truth be told, I did it in the hopes that the parents would know what I talked about, and maybe just maybe, there would be further discussion at home.
|A thing of beauty.|
Anyway, it turned out to be really interesting. And enlightening. For all of us. The kids were really interested. The teacher had told the students on Monday I would be coming in, later in the week, and asked if they had any questions about Autism. None of the kids new a stitch. They wanted to know things like:
- Can I catch it?
- How do you get it?
- What is it and where does it come from?
So when I went in last week, we had the presentation on the White Board. They use this all the time in class and its basically a computer screen on a white board (imagine that) on the wall. The kids all sat around in a circle eating their snacks and before I could even start a boy asked, "What is it?"
"So you had questions about how do you get Autism and if you can catch it. Those are really good questions..."
Still, twenty-three sets of eyes, all wide open, all with blank stares, looking right at me. It was like looking down the barrel of a gun.
"A person is born with Autism. You can't catch it. You just have it. It's like you have brown eyes or blond hair. You have what you were born with. When a person is born with Autism, it means their brain is a little different. Its just the way a person is born. So just like your hair or eye color, you're born with it. It's not good or bad, its just different."
"Let me ask you guys a question, do you guys know the gaming devices, what are they Nintendo and PlayStation??"
They all started talking at once. I think at first they wondered how an old person like me would even know about Nintendo or PlayStation. Either way, you would have thought I told them Halloween was in twenty minutes.
They all started talking, "Oh My God, yeah! We have those at home! Do you know we have both?!? You can't play them with each other....my dad says its a conspiracy." No lie, that's what one kid said. It was perfect.
All the kids were talking about which games they liked to play and which ones were better....
"Well yeah, OK, lets go back to those two kinds of games. They both have different operating systems. They are the same but different, right? And like the brain, you can't see those differences, they are on the inside, right? Just like the operating systems of the games---the differences are on the inside."
I had them thinking. They were really quite and pondering. The Doritos's were left off to the side of a criss-crossed applesauce set of legs.
"Well, lets say our brains are like those operating systems. Lets say for this class you all have brains with a Nintendo Operating System, OK? And let's say that Alex's brain, his brain, he has a PlayStation Operating System. You guys following?"
Now a lot of heads were nodding up and down and there were a few hushed, "Ohhh's."
"So what that means is this, when your brain receives information from the world, lets say right now--me talking, the lawnmower outside, the hum of the computer, the rattling of your snack bags, all of it---your brain processes it with a Nintendo operating system. Well, Alex's brain takes all that same information---me talking, the lawnmower outside, the hum of the computer, the rattling of your snack bags, all of it---he processes all that same information....but with a PlayStation operating system. Ya still with me?"
I had twenty-three nodding heads and dead silence. I could tell they were getting it, they were totally getting it.
"So what that means is....you all process information one way, and he processes that same information a different way. It's not wrong, its not bad, its just different."
A hand went up. "Is that why Alex uses headsets?"
It was like the floodgates had opened. "Yeah, is that why he wears those things??? Can we see them? Is that why he wiggles? And shakes? And leaves the class sometimes? Hey, can we try the headsets?"
The kids knew. They knew he was different, they always have. They just didn't know why. And they were afraid to ask, you could see it on their faces as plain as day. All this time---they knew.
"Yeah, that's it. His brain processes things differently from you so he responds differently. So when you see him wiggle or.....you know how he pulls his shirt up over his mouth sometimes?" And I had the kids. They all looked around and were a bit uncomfortable here---Alex pulls his shirt up over his face as a stim. The kids got it, they understood it. They knew it was weird, it was different, it was kinda sorta not right. They all knew it but they didn't know what to do or if it was even OK to ask why he does what he does.
"Well with Autism, sometimes the brain can get overloaded. When that happens he needs a break. That's when he leaves. He goes down to the OT room and takes a break. It gives his brain time to catch up with his body. He's not in trouble or anything. His body and brain just need a little extra time to catch up with everyone else."
And that, hands down, was the start of a the best time I've ever spent in the classroom.
I went through why he does what he does and how they can help. How to be a friend, what to do with him and what not to do. And that sometimes being a friend is work but in the end it would be worth it.
The whole time I kept my eye on Alex. I was so worried about how he felt, about what I was saying. I was outing him.
To be clear: I asked him before I even agreed to talk to the class if he was OK with it. I asked if he wanted me to do it and he agreed. He wanted me to come in and talk to the class, he just didn't want to be there. At the last minute, that morning, he changed his mind and we all agreed that we would keep to his wishes. We would do what he wanted to do. This was not about us. This was about us helping him and if he was not happy with that, or uncomfortable in any way, then the deal was off.
The amazing part was? As soon as the kids asked to see his headsets, Alex piped up from the back of the classroom, "You wanna see them? That would be awesome! Let me show you how they work...." He worked his way from the back of the room to the center, with his headsets, and started showing them to the other kids. And he smiled, a big happy smile.
And in that moment I found hope.
I found hope.
Things we did that worked:
- We respected what Alex wanted, every step of the way.
- The teacher asked the students questions about what they knew, and didn't know, about Autism a few days prior to me coming in. I worked those questions into the presentation.
- I did a PowerPoint so the kids had something to look at.
- The PowerPoint was turned into school prior to me coming in so they knew what was going to be discussed. No surprises.
- A booklet, made directly from the PowerPoint, that went home with each child so their parents could see what we talked about.
- Using the comparison of a Nintendo Operating System to a PlayStation Operating System to define the differences in their brains. For whatever reason, they totally understood what I was saying.
- We kept it short. The whole thing lasted 25 minutes, tops.
- I could not have done this without our teachers and their support and understanding.
So that's it, I hope in some small way this helps if you are going into the classroom.