Next week I will pull up in front of your building and slow to a stop. After hugs and tears I will sit and watch my little boy put on a brave face and walk away. And I will know some things that you don’t yet, but you are his teacher now. He will look to you and depend on you throughout the day. Here are some things I need you to understand…
I will know that he is afraid and overwhelmed. He won’t know what to expect and doesn’t understand why he can’t just stay home with me. His day will start in a cafeteria filled with children talking and shouting and laughing. He will hate that. The noise will feel like needles in his ears and he will want to cover them up and run to a quieter place. Please stay with him and reassure him. Don’t let him stay in the cafeteria too long before moving to the classroom and if he must be there for a while please let him wear headphones to muffle the noise.
It won’t get too much better when he makes it to his new classroom. He will be surrounded by new and unfamiliar faces and the social pressure will be overwhelming. The noise will have improved some, but now he will notice the fluorescent lighting and his eyes will begin to hurt. It will feel too bright for him and make it difficult to look up toward the teacher or the chalkboard. He may want to run away or hide under his desk. Sunglasses may help if you are unable to dim the lights.
When you stand in front of the classroom and give instructions he will listen and try to remember everything you said. But once he completes the first step he will not be able to remember the next steps. He will feel frustrated or embarrassed because he can’t remember no matter how hard he tries. It will make him want to give up. Be patient and remind him through the task of every step – encouraging him all along the way. A visual schedule will do wonders.
His body wants to move. It will feel unnatural for him to sit at his desk for a length of time and his brain will crave movement. He may start swinging his feet or swaying his body. His hands will want something to play with and until he can move around a bit it will be very hard for him to pay attention because his brain will be telling him that moving is its greatest need. A quiet fidget toy to hold in his hands and regular breaks to get up and walk around the room will help him.
Snack and lunch times will be very stressful. Food in general is hard for my little guy. He has worked hard to move past his fears but the sight and smell of everyone else’s food in the cafeteria may be revolting to him. It will take all his effort to focus on his own lunch box and finish his meal. Make sure he has a friend to sit and talk with to help keep his mind off food that may be bothering him.
At recess he may cry a lot. Children on the spectrum are generally more vulnerable to bullies and unstructured play is the most likely time for bullying to happen. He is a very sensitive boy and when he is teased he doesn’t know how to defend himself or tell an adult. So he will cry and then be afraid to return to school. Please pay extra close attention so that you can intervene and stop or prevent bullying. He also may choose to run around the playground the entire time. That’s okay. He knows how to play on the equipment, but he likes running more.
At any moment of the day his emotions may swing from laughter and joy over a fun activity to tears and sadness from missing his family (his sister in particular). It’s normal for him to go from one extreme to the other very quickly. Each emotion needs the same care and attention for him to be able to move through it.
Most importantly, he will bring you and your class so much joy and life. He will show you a new way to see the world if you let him. His imagination is vast and he is full of bright creativity. He is friendly and compassionate and will love every person who enters the room. He is funny and his laugh will set of a chain reaction. He is smart and intuitive and your life will be better for knowing him.
We are excited about adding you to our son’s team. We know that you want his year to be successful and that you have his best interests at heart. We are looking forward to working together and helping you guide him through the year. Yes, school may be hard for my son, but together we can make this year one of growth and learning and joy.
Mom of a Child on the Autism Spectrum