One thing I tend to hear from teachers – I say this because I heard it yet again yesterday – concerns a misunderstanding about sudden surprises and panic.
As we know, the bad surprise is the enemy; catch our Asperger kids – or even adults – off guard with a nasty surprise, and they can panic and fall apart. Their brains, so adept at handling facts and figures, simply don’t cope well with shocks to the system. This is why routines and predictability are so very important to peace of mind.
But teachers don’t know this. What teachers see is the fallout from the surprise. They don’t understand – and how could they with little or no specialized training? – why the child doesn’t just solve the problem. I mean, to the rest of the world it’s obvious; break a pencil during a test, sharpen the pencil, and hey presto! good to go again.
I think you can tell that the suddenly broken pencil – at a time of high stress – has caused us no end of grief.
But it’s difficult for teachers to a) understand what the big deal is b) why solutions aren’t instantly apparent and c) that the child, due to social challenges, has no idea that he’s disrupting an entire class, and is not making a fuss just to gain attention.
This is what I do when faced with that shocked, disbelieving, and outraged teacher (who really does want to hear that there’s a logical explanation to this):
- Stay calm, and broadcast calm. After all, the teacher thinks it’s done on purpose only because he/she has no experience with this; probably we would have thought the same, once upon a time (in a galaxy far far away).
- Explain that the child has Asperger’s Syndrome or ASD (which they should already know). This helps bring them back to earth and remind them that, yes, this child is a little different. Usually this confirms their impression that something’s off and they are then ready to listen.
- Explain that his/her brain works a little differently; that sudden surprises can cause panic or meltdowns, and that it’s not unusual. Not unusual in the Asperger sense, that is; this sort of meltdown may happen for your child once a year, once a month, or once a week, depending on the individual.
- Recommend that the teacher suggest solutions to the problem, or prompt the child to look for a solution, depending on age and ability. Give an example (say, pencil breaking above, and then to look around the room for a way to sharpen the broken part, or to replace it from the pencil box). If he/she seems inconsolable, some quiet time in a quiet place (like the guidance counselor’s office) will help.
- Let the teacher know that the child really has no idea what he/she looks like when upset, and that he doesn’t know he’s exploding like an emotional volcano and disrupting the class. There is absolutely no intent to gain attention. There is an inability to see oneself as others do, and that’s part of the social challenges he’s working on. It’s completely normal for Asperger’s children to not only be unaware of what they look like when they’re upset – and of course the ramifications – but also to be unaware of what they sound like. They are simply unable to take that step outside of themselves at a young age.
Your teacher needs reassurance and advice. After all, seeing a breakdown like this can be scary. He or she can feel intimidated and like they don’t know how to handle the situation. Personally, I don’t know how they handle twenty children at a time – it boggles the mind – so there’s some equality there.
Once the teacher has lived through one or two of these, or seen someone else handle the child (and thus learned how to do it), they’ll start to recognize the pattern, feel like they’re in control again, and relax.
Best of all, they’ll have learned to understand and help not only your child, but their future Asperger’s students, as well.
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