When I’m on Facebook talking to people, one of the topics that keeps coming up is teachers and how many don’t understand children with autism. I don’t want to paint a negative picture of teachers, because most of the time they’re great, but every now and then, misunderstandings happen and mistakes are made.
So I asked this question in a Facebook post:
What, in your opinion, are the most important things a teacher should know about autism?
Here are the seven most-liked comments.
1. “Understand that ‘high functioning’ kids can hide their ‘symptoms,’ but need just as much support.” — Hattie Hodkin
People used to say to me that they would forget I was autistic because of how well I hid my traits, but they were reminded on my bad days. The signs that a day or situation is challenging for a child can be subtle. We need to look for these subtleties and teach teachers what to look for, too.
Sometimes we miss women on the spectrum, as they may be pressured by society’s expectations to hide their many traits. When they appear very anxious, people often mistake it as mental illness instead of recognizing it as a part of autism.
2. “I think they need to know that some children with ‘high functioning’ autism struggle with coming to them and saying ‘I need help.'” — Sarah Forrester
I had a parent tell me their child was coming home stressing about school work. They didn’t know what to do or didn’t understand the wording of the tasks. When faced with tasks they don’t understand, autistic people can get confused and anxious. Then our imaginations are impaired by stress, and the concept, in that moment, to solve the problem doesn’t exist.
3. “Listen to the parent of the ‘high functioning’ child [when they say] they are not being naughty. Kicking arms and legs out is a sign of excitement/anxiety… Teachers need to be educated, but the key thing is to listen to the parent or carer of the child, as we know them best.” — Adama-cherry Devill
I believe that all schools should have fidget toys. The child with autism can still listen to you while holding the fidget toys. If I was a teacher, I would much rather have a child holding a Tangle than swinging their arms and legs around.
4. “Get some facts. Learn about autism, get more training and don’t tell my son to look up at you.” — Helen Todd
I’d quite like everyone to do this — not just teachers but all the other professionals who work with people who have autism.
5. “I would love my son’s teacher to understand the absolute necessity to keep to a timetable/schedule. He depends on it. To appreciate how clever he is, and to give him more advanced work when he needs it. To address him directly, and understand if the teacher speaks to the class generally, my son may not understand she means him as well!” — Kerry Burton
Explain everything in layman’s terms: simple, direct and jargon-free. Autistic people often take things very literally. Avoid metaphors, similes and idioms.
6. “More understanding, giving your child time to process what has been said rather than pushing for an immediate answer. [My son] always needs a good few seconds to process conversations. Teachers need more patience.” — Kate Taylor
Autistic brains often struggle to do multiple tasks at the same time. When we are asked a question we have to:
- Take in the words, know what they are.
- Generate the meaning of the question
- Then find the answer.
That’s a lot to do in a short amount of time, so let’s be patient and give them a moment to answer.
7. “Don’t ask a child to look at [you], [A lack of eye contact does not mean they aren’t listening]. Really winds me up, that.” — Joanne Charlton
Eye contact is very uncomfortable for me. If a teacher says,”Look at me!” I just look at his forehead. But if you’re a teacher say, “Look this way” — It’s a lot nicer. A child with autism who isn’t looking is probably still listening.
Those are my most popular responses. Teachers, please take note!
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