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My Advice for the Teacher of My Son on the Autism Spectrum

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Dear Teacher,

I am happy to see my son is in your class. I am sure you have chosen your profession because you love working with kids and have a passion for teaching. I am sure you are dedicated and highly motivated, and that when you realized you would have a child on the autism spectrum in your class, you did a lot of research to ensure he would have a great start. However, there are many myths about autism.

You might have heard that autistic children cannot show love or emotion. This is a myth. My son does feel, but sometimes his emotional thermometer only registers extremes. You might know if he is feeling happy, sad or angry as soon as he enters the classroom. It’s worth spending the time working out any challenge he is experiencing at that moment instead of later. I hope he will learn to trust you, and I hope you will like him. He loves jokes, computers, calmness and rules, and he needs patience.

My son has strengths and challenges the same as all children. He is excellent at some things, like visual learning and memory skills, and he has challenges in some other areas, like following verbal instructions. He, like some other autistic children, can see the details but needs help putting all these details together to see the bigger picture. Take care that he understands the task. Sometimes it is too many instructions, too much stimuli or simply too many words that can lead to a challenge rather than lack of understanding. In short, he can learn given the right circumstances and may surprise you at times.

Autistic people can make friends and have successful relationships. However, my son often misreads or misinterprets situations, and this makes him feel nervous and stressed. I compare it to trying to communicate when you are learning in another language — you might often feel like you are a step behind everyone, you are missing the joke, not quite getting it, embarrassed at making errors, wondering if you have it right, never really being able to relax. That is hard work! Please take the time to help my son with social interactions.

Understand there is always a reason for a meltdown, including sensory issues. Sensory issues are significant! My son might not stay in his chair, he won’t always look at you when you are speaking and he might repeat himself many times or fail to answer. But it’s likely that the traffic is piling up in his brain; he sees every detail, he hears every pencil scrape, he can smell the coffee you drank at break time, I forgot to cut the label out of his new trousers and it is prickling him, he is sitting on a different chair, he missed the last thing you said. He is not being rude, naughty or not listening — his senses are in overload. Imagine trying to give a lesson while riding on a roller coaster.

At times my son might not bring the book/bag you asked for or remember his homework. It isn’t because he is naughty or because I am not supporting him. He doesn’t remember. But he will remember some facts/moments/things that will astound you! School is school, and home is home. These can be separate maps in his brain. Please send me a mail, app or tweet to let me know what he needs and his schedule. I hope we can develop a good relationship for the sake of my son.

I understand you might be a bit nervous and worried. I can only offer one piece of advice, as a fellow professional and as a mum. Don’t look at my child as “the one with autism” — forget his diagnosis and simply look at the boy. His needs are the same as any child’s: to feel safe, secure and happy in class.

I wish you a successful year and want to thank you in advance for the extra time I hope you will give to my son.

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Image via Thinkstock Images

Originally published: November 15, 2016
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