A Little Thanks

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I didn’t write a blog post last week. I spent most of my week feeling like I was being pulled in approximately a billion different directions.

Six directions rounds up to approximately a billion.

Six directions rounds up to approximately a billion.

During my ‘down time,’ I was running basketball practice, walking the dog, or engaging in a number of coping strategies, sometimes simultaneously.

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Drawing size of coping strategy does not correspond to frequency of use.

I felt preoccupied as I left the house on Thursday morning. I was heading to a meeting with administrators and our district attorney to prepare for a meeting with a litigious family on Friday. As I tossed my bag in the car, I should have noticed the warning signs of dim overhead lights right away.

However, it took a turn of the key to realize the truth: This car wasn’t going anywhere. Later, AAA would tow the car to a shop, where mechanics would confirm my real bad suspicions.

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Luckily, my father was available to Uber me to work on Thursday and Friday. This led to exciting conversations about game theory in economics and sports en route to school, a welcome distraction from fretting about meetings.

gametheory

The meeting on Friday was a long one—3.5 hours—and much of the time I felt like my integrity and competency as a special educator was being targeted. I did my best to maintain calm, speak factually, refer to data, and keep in mind that the lawyer was just doing his job like I was trying to do mine. Our district team was supportive and (for the most part) united, and this was very helpful.

It was exhausting. We gave a little, and we got a little. Like is often true when lawyers get involved in education, much money was spent for questionable gain.

After the meeting, I heard from several higher-ups that I handled myself well. Their kind words of thanks and appreciation were enough to make much of the strife from the whole ordeal melt away.

It’s funny how much a kind comment or a note of appreciation can help when you are going through a struggle, professionally or otherwise. And what an appropriate time of year to notice it!

In the days and weeks ahead, I am going to put forth extra effort to let students and colleagues know when I appreciate them. This week was a reminder of how far a little ‘thanks’ can go.

That wasn’t all I needed after this week, though. A few days off for the holiday will go a long way!

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A Letter Home from the Special Education Teacher

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Dear (parent(s)/guardian),

I am (calling/emailing/sending a messenger owl) home in order to inform you about your (child’s/student’s/teen’s) recent behavior problem. Please understand that I simply want to communicate the situation and I am not contacting you to (tattle on him/blame you/get you to punish him at home). I would greatly appreciate if you would listen and then we could share ideas about (what could have triggered the behavior/ideas to minimize antecedents in the future/how school and home can support each other in reducing difficult behavior).

Sometimes, I may need to contact you in order to tell you about a behavior that you might find (confusing/disgusting/embarrassing/uncharacteristic). School environment is (somewhat/very/EXTREMELY) different from the home environment and comes with (fluorescent lights/busy schedules/high school girls/people with high standards who occasionally say no). Therefore, behavior at school may be (somewhat/very/EXTREMELY) different than behavior at home.

If I tell you about your student being (aggressive/obsessive/a nudist), please do not begin to make excuses for him. Regardless of the reason, the bottom line is that (he/she) (threw an apple at the superintendent/walked down the hallway in his birthday suit/tried repeatedly to hit me when I wouldn’t give him a starburst). We need to work together to prevent the behavior from recurring rather than having a discussion about how (he/she) was (confused/tired/wearing new pants) and therefore absolved of responsibility.

No, no, no… No need to apologize! Let me clarify and tell you something very important: I adore your (son/daughter). I know better than to take the misbehavior personally. Even when (he/she) (sneezes on my face/defecates all over the bathroom floor and then ‘fingerpaints’/drinks my fountain diet coke on those days when I REALLY need one), I still respect and enjoy spending time with (him/her).

Never forget that we are on the same team. I am here to support you and push you and nag you to get the best for your child. We are both on Team (Insert Your Student’s Name Here) and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Please don’t hesitate to call or email me if you have any questions or concerns,

Courtney

Students with Autism… They’re Just Like Us!!!

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“HI ANDREW. I LIKE YOUR NEW BLUE T-SHIRT. IS THAT BLUE? WHAT COLOR IS YOUR SHIRT? BLUE? DO YOU REMEMBER MY NAME? CAN YOU SAY KAYLA? SAY MY NAME. NO, NO NO. SAY KAY-LA. KAY-LA. GOOOOOOOD! NICE TALKING WITH YOU. CAN I HAVE A HIGH-FIVE? THAT’S SO CUTE. I’LL SEE YOU LATER, ANDREW. CAN YOU SAY BYE? BYE, KAYLA? OK, BYE ANDREW!”

If you teach people with developmental disabilities, the above script is probably familiar. I’m sure you can imagine a number of individuals, including other staff members and typical peers, having a similar conversation with one of your students. This situation makes me cringe for a number of reasons, number one being that the offender usually has good intentions.

He is trying to make an effort. He is trying to engage with your student. And yet, he is doing it wrong.

When you interact with a person with a significant disability, here are some Dos and Don’ts that you should keep in mind.

DOs DON’Ts
DO speak in a normal volume. If the student has a hearing loss, speak with the teacher about strategies you could use so the student can better understand you. DON’T shout. Unless the student has hearing loss, shouting will not help him to understand you. Loud sounds may be upsetting to other students.
DO speak to the student about age-appropriate topics that might be relevant. Use complete sentences and age-appropriate language. DON’T speak to the student like he is a baby. He may be developmentally similar to a younger child, but he has many years of experience at that level.
DO encourage the student to use your name to gain your attention and other appropriate social niceties when interacting with you. Ask the student’s teacher about how to encourage social communication. DON’T treat the student like someone you have trained to do a trick. Maybe the student can say your name—so what? Don’t make the student say it over and over again when it isn’t functional.
DO expect the student to follow social rules. If there is a line in the cafeteria, the student should also learn to wait in line rather than being ushered to the front. If the student wants a cookie but doesn’t have the money to buy one, don’t let someone else buy him one! DON’T laugh at a student for making a mistake or committing a social blunder. If the student is aware that what he did wasn’t socially appropriate, he may feel bad. If he isn’t aware, then he may continue to do the behavior in order to make you laugh. Both situations are not ideal!
DO speak to the student in a conversational manner when appropriate. Talk to him normally about how your day is going, what you are doing later, etc. Use language, volume, and intonation that you would use with a typical person. DON’T always expect a response. If you are using a lot of language around someone with classic autism, he may be listening but may be overwhelmed if you expect him to keep up or respond to your stream of consciousness.
DO use short, concrete sentences when giving instructions or asking a direct question. Supplement with visuals or provide a model when possible. DON’T give a long set of directions, sigh when the student doesn’t seem to understand, and then just do it all for the student. Give the student a chance to be successful!
DO sometimes join them in their world. This is particularly directed for students with autism. I spent an entire 1:1 session with a student the other day saying “Whoops!” over and over again with the student. It was the best connection and most rewarding session I have had with that student in quite a while. DON’T force a student to look you in the eye or keep the student from stimming. Eye contact may be incredibly difficult for the student, and stimming might be the student’s method for organizing and making sense of the environment.

Remember that everyone with classic autism is unique, and all of these rules may not apply! Use what seems to work in your situation and have fun getting to know your student. He will have a lot to teach you if you give him the chance.