The first day of a new school year brings stress and anxiety to everyone; parents’ tearing up about their kid’s first or last school year; teachers frantically searching for all their lesson plans and dreading the possibility of new juvenile delinquents in their classroom, and the kids themselves wondering what new surprises await them this year. A new school year affects everyone in different ways. Some kids are ready to go and don’t have any fears for a new year. Other kids have a few butterflies but push them aside and try to act confident and optimistic. Some students dread a new school year, knowing there is a very good chance it will just end up like the year before. I am one of those kids. For me, school brings nothing but unnecessary stress and drama I didn’t ask for.
What causes me stress? I worry about every little detail, where are my classes, what teachers will I have, how strict will they be, did the dress code rules change again, where will my locker be, will I have time to go to my locker between classes, how far apart will my classes be, when is my lunch time, will I get stuck with the mean girls and jerks this year again; the list goes on and on. My true friends know I am an Aspie. I don’t think the rest of my class knows, and I’d like to keep it that way. My class perceives me as stuck up, or snobbish, or “goody two shoes” and I don’t care. I hear them complain about “stress.” Yes, some of them have real problems, I get that, but most just complain and use the word stress loosely. Stress is my life. They don’t know daily stress. I don’t know what it feels like to be relaxed. They do. Sometimes I wish they understood that, it’s not that I don’t care, but I’m comparison, I wish I had their problems. I know Aspies all over can relate. A new school brings you back to the people you wish you could escape.
Teachers also bring me stress. There are just certain teacher types I can’t communicate with. I have nothing against them personally. They just either teach in a way they know I don’t get, or insist on being more “social with the class.” Aspies don’t go to school generally to be social. We hate it. We go to school because we have to in order to get an education. I hate it when the teachers assign group projects. They stress me out. It aggravates me when I ask a teacher if I can do it alone and they know full well that group things stress me out, and the refuse to work with me. Please don’t be that teacher that makes kids work in groups. Some kids perform better working on their own. Group projects don’t teach collaboration or social skills, at least for me. All I get out of it is two weeks of never ending stress and a never ending headache. Group projects mean waiting on others to get things done when I am more than ready to get the project over when it is assigned. I also usually end up doing most of the work. How do group projects benefit me again?
Here is my list of helpful tips for teachers in starting a new year:
- Keep your due dates! An Aspie’s worst enemy is sudden change. I know that sometimes change does have to happen, like if you are suddenly out or something because of an emergency. That kind of sudden change is tolerable. The type of sudden change that isn’t OK is saying something is due, and then not collecting it. I hate it when the class whines about something being unfair and the project was too hard and they need more time, so the teacher rolls over and gives them another week, but here I am sitting with a completed paper in my hand ready to turn it in. I stressed out to get the paper done on time, and the deadline changed.
- Say what you mean! The teachers I have never done well with are the teachers who encourage you to give your own opinions, but then fail you because they don’t think your opinion is a valid one. If you want the class to write what you want them to, just say so. This happens a lot more often than you think. To other kids, it will automatically register, OK, this is what I REALLY need to write; not so much for the Aspies. Fully explain your expectation and don’t change them. If you want something done a certain way say so. Please do not infer we have inferred your underlining meaning.
- Don’t give your kids a hard time for asking questions! There have been times where a teacher says something over and over again but it doesn’t register in my head. If I ask for a complete explanation, I get rebuked. Answer your kids’ emails! Eventually kids like me learn not to ask in class, so we come by after class, after school or send an email. I know a few of my teachers hated that. “Why didn’t you ask in class when I asked if anyone had any questions? You should understand what I want from you by now.”
- Work with your spectrum kids! Unfortunately teachers will go to the IEP meetings and say “Oh ya, no problem. I can do this or that or whatever,” and then turn around and don’t help the spectrum kid. I wouldn’t have to put this in here if teachers didn’t do this. It happens all the time. I try to talk to a teacher about an issue and they completely ignore it until I run to my IEP advisor and she handles it and forces the teachers to work with me on an issue. By that time, my issue is no longer relevant. Help your kids out! It is hard for an Aspie to ask for help. If we have an IEP or 504 they are there to help us get resources we need. These are resources not a crutch. You do not get to decide if we truly need them. In high school spectrum kids are taught to advocate for themselves. This is already a difficult task but to be rejected or disregarded when we ask for help, this teaches us not to ask or give up.
This is all I can really tell you teachers to do. The rest is up to the student. They have to put in the work, and figure out a routine in school that works best for them. Give them a few weeks to figure things out. It took me maybe two days to figure out a plan that would cause me the least amount of stress possible. The students know what is best for their performance level. Aspies have survival skills that work for them, and each one of us is different. No two spectrum students are the same and no two have the same needs or react to things the same way. It is important to get to know how each Aspie student you meet processes and what will help them succeed. They have the ability and potential to succeed, they often do not know what they need in order to succeed, but they do need your help to make it to the finish line.
Sydney Holmes was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in 2004. She is a senior in high school and often works with her mother, Stephanie Holmes, a certified autism specialist, to educate others about issues Spectrum teens and girls face
This article was featured in Issue 37 – Making Educational Strides