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The Challenges of Group Work for Students With Autism

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Let me just start out by saying that I absolutely hate group work! I along with many other students on the autism spectrum have a lot of trouble with group work due to a number of factors. These include difficulties with social interaction, poor social skills, not being able to always be in control, having to compromise, and at times poor self-advocacy skills (especially when I was younger). I also like to work all by myself on projects because I am the true definition of an academic overachiever. I am the student who isn’t OK whatsoever with a “B” grade. Welcome to my life!

A few weeks ago I had my midterms at school before we went on spring break. In my Spanish 4 class, there wasn’t a final test but there was a final project. The project was to (in groups of four) make a PowerPoint presentation about what the world will look like one hundred years from now. For past projects, nobody was allowed to choose their own partners. However, for the final project, everybody was able to choose! So, I went into a group with three other academic overachievers and overall great students.

At first everything was going great. People were staying on task, quality work was getting completed, and for the first time in a while, I was having fun in a group. However, the next thing that happened is the perfect reminder of why I hate working in groups. Our teacher announced to the class that he was going to be offering extra credit to those who dressed up for their presentation. If you are thinking in your head right now, “Oh no!” then great job! If not, start thinking it.

Since the presentation was about a future underwater city, one of the group members suggested that everybody wear a wetsuit during the presentation to get extra credit. By the way, the extra credit was only worth five points. I tried to dispute it. Nothing happened. They were all in favor. I thought to myself, “I finally got into a good group and this happens!” Over the next few days I tried to come up with another way we could dress up, but nobody bought into it. The only problem was that the whole group had to dress up, or no group member could dress up. I was outnumbered, and after talking with my mom about the options, I reluctantly agreed.

It was the day of the presentation and everybody in my group arrived a little bit early to school to dress up and rehearse. I didn’t have a wetsuit, so another guy in the group brought an extra one for me. I put it on (at least it fit) and walked towards the class. I do have to say, though, that the looks I got were priceless! I sat down at my desk in my wetsuit with my group members before we were about to present. I then felt it… the sand!

I have extreme sensory issues. I went to occupational therapy for many years as a young child to help combat this, but I still have so many sensory difficulties (both auditory and physical). Long story short, although the presentation went well, I had to sit in a sandy wetsuit for about half an hour.

After my presentation, I quietly asked my teacher if I could go to the bathroom to change back into my normal clothes, but he said no because he wanted me to see the other presentations. I sat back down and after I could not handle it any longer, I went to my teacher with my “IEP safe card” in hand. This is an index card that has a note from my case manager which states that any time that I present this card to a teacher, they must allow me to go see my case manager, the school speech-language pathologist, or the school psychologist. Once my teacher looked at it, he agreed and I grabbed my stuff to go change.

I changed and literally washed my arms and thighs off with tap water. My skin felt like it was on fire. It was red from me vigorously scratching and I might have even broken my skin layer a little bit. After I changed, I ran to my case manager’s room and the staff there could tell I was distraught. They helped me by giving me water to drink, calming me down, and making me stop scratching my skin.

In the end, I was able to go about my day just like any other day once I finished calming down with my case manager. I’m proud of myself for handling this situation in a peaceful way. If I was younger and this had happened, I would have caused a bigger scene in class, would have had to suffer during group work by not advocating for myself, and would have insisted that my parents come and pick me up from school. Even though these types of situations are bad ones to go through, every time they happen and I see I have improved my coping skills, I know I’ve won.

Getty image by Vadim Key.

Originally published: June 12, 2018
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