Autism Watch: 2007

Posts Tagged ‘education

Discipline is defined as “training to act in accordance with rules” or “punishment inflicted by way of correction and training,” or “activity, exercise or regimen that develops or improves a skill; training.”

See the recurring theme there? Training.

So what is training? Is it making a kid take a time out? Lose 10 minutes of recess time? Write a sentence about how he won’t xxx 10 times?

I’d argue that any of that is training.

In my job, when I train someone, I say something like “Part of your job is handling customers that call us. To do that properly, you need to learn how to answer the phone. To do that, you need to 1) answer the phone before 10 seconds, 2) push the F9 button on your computer keyboard, 3) recite the company-approved greeting….” and so forth. I’d give the new hire a step-by-step guide on how to use their computer, when they can take their breaks, how to act ethically and what is consider firing offenses. I’d sit them at a desk to watch someone else do the same job, and explain a lot of the nuances — don’t ever argue with a customer, no cursing on the phone or in the office, no yelling, etc. In short, they are taught beforehand what to do and what not to do. When they make a mistake, I’d tell them and tell them on how they can do better. But, there are two key things: 1) always provide the expectations, so they know what they have to attain, and 2) if those expectations are different, for any reason, tell them ahead of time.

Ahhhh, it seems so easy. Tell them what to do, how to do it, and what not to do. Without that, we can’t fairly expect someone to work up to standards. We can hope they have manners and are reliable, arrive on time and respect authority, but what if they’ve never worked before? What if their family didn’t teach these skills? Assumptions can get you in trouble.

Schools should operate the same way. Provide guidance, ahead of time, on what the expectations are. Don’t assume the children have the skills to meet these expectations, but work with them from day one on attaining those skills. Gauge what skills they have and what they don’t, even if it takes a bit longer with some kids. If you tell them that they are to do xxx or xxxx will happen, don’t  suddenly let xxxxx happen to them instead of xxxx. If losing recess is standard, but you’re dealing with an autistic child who desperately needs that time to make social contacts, don’t take away recess; the ‘punishment’ should always fit the crime.

Discipline in the adult world means one thing; why do we allow it to mean something different to our children?

Check your child’s school and be sure things are handled per your IEP or per the law and common sense. Just because a school says ‘this is how we do things’ doesn’t mean it’s fair or right, or even legal. Schools are run by humans, and we all know that all humans make mistakes. If you wouldn’t want to be punished daily for making mistakes on a task you weren’t taught to do, don’t let your child be ‘disciplined’ for it either; instead, ask for help, and training.

Training. A new buzzword, who’d have thought.

One thing that strikes me as odd, as perplexing and disturbing, is that despite how we parents of autistic children want and expect tolerance everywhere — school, restaurants, airplanes, churches, anywhere — how quickly we turn when our child or our child’s class has a difficult experience with another special needs child.

I use the word “we” obviously as a generality, not a blanket statement because this doesn’t apply to everyone, but “we,” the parents of autistic children, are our own community. Within that community, we share our stories of school problems, insurance issues, health dilemmas. We seek support and information, and we commiserate, truly commiserate, with others within our community. But, apparently that stops when another special needs child bites our kid…pushes him on the playground…disrupts his studies one day in class…says something mean, and so on.

Now, I’m not saying that we should put up with anything that other special needs children do, but how can we rant about what a neurotypical (aka non-autistic) child does to our autistic child, when we do it ourselves? How can we expect others to be more tolerant if we exemplify “do as I say, not as I do?” Doesn’t real tolerance mean understanding that the other special needs child needs that same compassion we want when it’s our child causing the problem?

I’ve been on both sides of this. I’ve been the parent of the child treated badly by a neurotypical kid, the parent of the child punched by another autistic child, and the parent of the child biting another child. (And the child he bit? Autistic as well…but to be an equal opportunity problem, he has punched a non-autistic child, too.) I know how frustrating it is when you have to fix your child’s boo-boos that were caused by someone else. And I know how frustrating it is when you have the school call you to tell you your child hit someone else, and the parent is unhappy. Neither side is a pleasure. Maybe having been on both sides has helped me to understand it more — maybe it takes having your child be the problem at least once to truly get what it is like, the mix of emotions that you feel, the need to protect your child but the knowledge that he hurt another child, or hurt the child’s feelings.

I met a parent recently who wanted to call the police because a child in her daughter’s special-needs classroom bit her daughter, a couple of days after the child pushed her daughter. She was angry, and wanted something done. I didn’t blame her, I understood the need for a quick and safe resolution. But it also needed to be fair. And fair to both. Sure, the other child shouldn’t bite and shove, but where was the teacher? Why wasn’t there supervision? And why isn’t that supervisor, or the person who failed to secure it, the one in trouble? And why call the police? Did I mention that this child was 8? People don’t realize what calling the police does. It mars the child’s future, it leaves a nasty spot on his/her record, and that of the parents. And autism is widely misunderstood, so the special needs child who clearly needs more supervision and behavior training gets to learn to deal with the police, seeing his parents stressed, and all the legal hoopla that it brings. Who in the world wants to bring that onto another family?

In short, if we’re going to ask the world to accept our children, we have to be ready to accept our children.

Mine, yours, all.

If we want the general public to tolerate our children’s behaviors, we can’t be the pot calling the kettle black…or calling the police or making a scene with another family because their child displays behaviors due to their disability. If we want fairness, we have to display fairness in return. It only works when we all want the best for all our children, not only when it suits us.

If you’re faced with a situation where another special needs child hurts your child or upsets your child’s classroom, remember what it feels like. Remember that support is critical. Remember that this family may or may not have the support or knoweldge they should have, that you may have. Be a help, and in the spirit of a resolution that works for all, don’t take it out on their child. In the wrong situation, it could be your own. What kind of response would you want then?


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