Only there's nothing "back to" about any of this. New school, new classmates, new teachers, new commute by school bus, new everything. I'd hoped that moving a month before school started would give all of us a chance to get settled in, so that the school transition would go better. So far, I'm pretty sure the only things that month gave us a chance to do were: a) go crazy from the kids' constant hyperactivity in small spaces brought on by myriad changes and the fact our stupid basement playroom addition is about a month behind schedule, and b) realize so thoroughly that we really don't know anybody. Doesn't matter, though, since there's no time for a pity party.
Instead of self-wallowing, I came up with this handy-dandy guide for Sky's third-grade teacher:
A Guide to Sky's Autism Spectrum Disorder
There are three major areas that cause difficulties for Sky at school.
1. Sensory Processing Disorder
Sky has several sensory integration issues. He is hypersensitive in some areas—his visual, auditory, and olfactory senses pick up on everything. He can see, hear, and smell things most people can’t, and this can be very distracting for him. When his senses overwhelm him, he either shuts things out (appears to ignore you) or becomes incredibly hyper. Sometimes when he seems not to be paying attention, it’s because he is trying to sort out the deluge of sensory input he receives at any given moment. Alternatively, though, sometimes when he seems to be ignoring you as he bounces in his seat or wanders around the classroom, he hears you perfectly because the movement is helping him concentrate.
His vestibular (balance) and proprioceptive (sense of body in space) senses are hyposensitive. This means he often seeks this type of input in order to feel okay. In some cases, he pushes, runs into, and otherwise touches his classmates in order to satisfy this need to balance his senses. Dark tight spaces and rocking or swinging, as well as his weighted vest or chest wrap can help reduce his need to seek input inappropriately.
You will notice that some days, he is very much in control of the way he processes the world, and other days, he is not. This may be the most frustrating part of working with him. We constantly strive to keep life as structured as possible, but he is extremely sensitive to change, whether it be a substitute teacher, an increase in air pressure with the changing weather, or new carpet in the hallway, and those changes impact his sensory processing.
2. Auditory Processing/Pragmatic Language Delays
Though he is bilingual and has a large vocabulary in both English and Japanese, Sky sometimes can’t understand simple instructions. When he doesn’t understand, he gets frustrated, leading to inappropriate classroom behavior. He does much better with visual guides. Verbal instructions should be short (and not multiple steps) and should not include abstract or colloquial language. Sarcasm is usually not appreciated. Neither are jokes. Often, he will not realize you are talking to him when you address the entire class. It can be helpful to stand near him or to put your hand gently on his shoulder to guide him.
Pre-diagnosis, Sky had many experiences of getting into trouble because he was unable to articulate what had happened. If he feels misunderstood (and particularly if he feels blamed for something he didn’t do or didn’t intend to do), it can cause him to fall apart. Reminding him that you are not mad and giving him a chance to express himself without interruption can help, but not always.
3. Trouble with Social Cues.
While Sky is extremely social and outgoing, he is not good at reading social cues. He doesn’t know whether people like him unless they tell him, and he doesn’t notice when he is making a friend angry or uncomfortable. This combination of outgoing-ness and obliviousness can lead to problems. Here's an example: At the school carnival, Sky cut in front of several older boys he didn't realize were waiting in line for the bouncy house. The boys then said something mean to him. He didn’t know he’d made them mad and couldn’t understand why they were “suddenly” mean to him. Indignant, sad, and unsure of what to do, he gave up on the bouncy house and came to me for help processing what had happened. (Fortunately, I'd seen the whole things and could explain his mistake). Situations like this lead him to think that people are mean or that they don’t like him, so it helps to explain why people react the way they do.
---When these issues all happen together:
When these issues collide (which is often the case), Sky can find himself on the entirely wrong track. Here are some examples:
When it was time to go to lunch, his homeroom teacher told him to go to the back of the line so he would have more time to get ready to go. He misunderstood and misread her body language, thinking she was angry. So, instead of following his class to lunch, last in line, he sat at his desk and waited for his teacher. She took the rest of the class to the cafeteria and had no idea he’d stayed behind. When she didn't come back, he didn't know what to do. Obviously, he thought, she must be very mad. When she realized the mistake, she was mortified...
A teacher handed out a math worksheet but did not explicitly tell the students to start working on it. Thinking he would make good use of his time, Sky continued to read his book. The teacher, thinking Sky was being disrespectful took his book from him and put it in her desk. He didn’t notice that other students had started working on the sheet and had no idea why he’d gotten in trouble. Further, he didn’t know what to say to the teacher to try to get his book back. Many days later, he mentioned to me he hated school because the teachers were so mean…
---And, finally, please remember:
First, he’s always trying his best. Second, he usually had good intentions. Third, sometimes his anxiety drives everything. And fourth, showing you know these things will go a long way.