No two children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are the same, nor do they have the same experiences. Just because one child with autism breaks a pen or tears up a workbook when he/she is anxious at school, doesn’t mean that every child on the spectrum reacts in the same way in an environment that is stressful to him/her.
One of my biggest frustrations is that some schools don’t always understand how one child with ASD can react completely differently to a situation than another child with ASD. There really is no sense making comparisons as everyone is unique.
My husband and I recently called our eldest child’s school as he had become stressed and ripped up one of his exercise books and his teacher had given him a detention. I had to sit down with the teachers and explain they were punishing my child with autism for something he did due to his condition. He only tore his exercise book up as he was being told off for clicking his fingers and fidgeting in his chair. In an effort to stop one behavior, he tore tiny sections of his exercise book as he was becoming overwhelmed in the classroom.
When I explained this to the teachers, they informed me that the other children on the autism spectrum don’t tear up their exercise books. I was totally gob-smacked and tried to explain no child with autism is the same. Every child reacts differently.
Here are eight things I wish teachers would understand about children with autism:
1. All children are unique.
2. A high-functioning autism diagnosis doesn’t mean the child still doesn’t struggle with situations that are overwhelming.
3. Giving a child with autism a detention because of a tick (sometimes seen as disruptive behavior by teachers) is as unacceptable as giving a child with epilepsy a detention because he/she had a fit. It’s important to support the child and uncover the underlying problem.
4. If a child with autism is in a mainstream school and begins making noises, please don’t draw attention to the child in a classroom environment. Find out what is causing the stress and help.
5. Give clear and concise instructions to a child with autism. Rattling off a list of things you want done is difficult for a child with autism to complete.
6. Children with autism like and need routines, so keep that in mind when making sudden changes to activities and daily scheduling.
7. Be as clear as you can when talking to a child with autism as he/she can take things literally. Don’t say, “I’ll come back to you in two seconds,” unless you really mean two seconds.
8. Try to identify what triggers a meltdown or a change in behavior and take the steps to help a child with autism.
Sarah Hawkins is a freelance writer and photographer based in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. She is a mother of two, and her eldest has Asperger’s syndrome.
This article was featured in Issue 67 – Preparing for Adulthood With Autism