Just yesterday, I had two encounters with the world of autism that I would like to share.
First was hearing that Sesame Street has officially introduced a character with autism to the show. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/20/arts/television/sesame-street-introduces-julia-a-muppet-with-autism.html?_r=0
I cannot imagine how much help young kids learning about autism through Sesame Street’s choice will be – boundless, I imagine.
Then, I was working in a classroom and met a student who I think could have had an ASD diagnosis. He had a coughing tick and when his group came to work at the table with me, he was humming. Through my instructions, he continued to hum. I carefully asked him to try to internalize the sounds, if he could. I shared with him why – I was distracted. One of the kids offered the excuse of, he always does that. Why? Why not give him feedback and allow him to make a choice? He laughed when I shared that I felt like I had ADHD. I took the issue with the humming on myself, where it belonged – it was my issue with the noise, and he did not hum for the remained of our session – about 20 minutes. I thanked him and told him how I appreciated his helping me to focus on what I was teaching.
Toward the end of our time group work, I asked students to share what they found interesting, confusing, or surprising about the story. They could also share a question they had or a connection they made. I was not surprised that this young man had no connections, and found nothing interesting about the story. It was Sandra Cisneros’ “Eleven,” so an easy story to relate to.
I modeled for the group something I found interesting. I specifically asked him to choose which category he would record that information in. Working more closely together, I modeled another aspect of the story that caught my attention. I asked him where he might record it. Then we moved to his telling me anything about the story that he noticed. He told me one thing. I excitedly encouraged him to record it and shared that that kind of thought was exactly what it meant to connect with the story. When I asked him to tackle recording a fourth (out of six) thoughts, he did so without needing me at all. I told him that I noticed how hard he had worked and that he didn’t give up with thinking there was nothing interesting about the story.
In this moment, this is what this student needed, in order to engage with the text and not be left alone with nothing to write. The other students were able to record their thoughts from our conversations and annotations throughout the reading of the story and the one example that I modeled. This young man needed additional modeling and encouragement, which I was able to provide.
It would have been a shame, even as a guest in the room, to not provide him feedback and to allow him to not engage in the thinking he needed to do. He exhibited no signs of shutting down and while he was initially not compliant, he was capable. “This is the way he always does things” is expecting less of him than he was able – which holds him back in growing socially and academically.
I was very grateful to meet and work with this young man today.