It is October so in the special needs world where I live that means IEP meetings for the new school year. Individual Education Plans have to be drawn up within the first month of school so informal meetings and phone with teachers who teach my child fill my days. Last week we had a really wonderful meeting with Johnny’s Autism teacher and his Grade 1 teacher. They wanted to brainstorm ideas and learn from our point of view as parents insights into how we teach him things and what does and doesn’t work for him.
We were not expecting to learn that the minute Johnny enters the regular classroom he begins to sing. Yes you read that right. He begins to sing to his Grade 1 teacher and to the class. The children smile and some clap which makes Johnny feel very special indeed. What is curious is that he doesn’t do this when his EA (Educational Assistant) brings him to the regular classroom but only when the Autism teacher does. He is a generous man but at the same time he has only worked with Johnny for a month so its the “testing” stage. Johnny’s EA has worked with him for well over a year now so she is used to some of his impish mischievous ways and he knows how far he can go with her. So I am trying to picture how this is looking inside my head and I can’t help but get a smile on my face. My little “rock star” is at it again trying to be the centre of attention. I also have to remind myself that again Johnny is challenging the stereotypes of someone who is Autistic because he IS social, he loves being around his peers and he LOVES attention and is always seeking ways to interact with his favourite people.
The Grade 1 teacher felt that Johnny was also trying to get her attention and she was trying to figure out the best way to re-direct him so that he doesn’t get rewarded for singing but instead she can have an interaction with him doing something positive ie reading a story to her. The other thing she said is that she has to work hard to control her facial expression because “gosh darn it he is so cute and that smile when he does that I want to give him a hug but I don’t I try and keep the lesson going.” I recommended just ignoring him when he sings but the EA or Autism Teacher can just suggest to Johnny that he needs to sit in the back of the classroom away from the other children or step outside in the hall for a moment and see if that works. I don’t want him punished because he is happy and is expressing his happiness not in the right way at the right time. Yes he is cute and irresistible but tell him that later during one on one time. I also suggested that the Autism teacher just simply ask Johnny why he is singing in the classroom? Maybe he is so excited to be with his friends and can’t help himself but might need to step out in the hall just for a few minutes to reset himself. Maybe the material the Grade 1 teacher is presenting is visually too stimulating at that moment and Johnny has to be taught how to request a little break. I told them that often when Johnny sings he is very happy about something so in a way this is a big compliment to them that he feels that way about school and their classrooms. I told them to also tell him what the expectations are and remind him that he can sing all he wants in his music class and that he is doing a great job at school and everyone is very proud of him. I prefer to replace a behaviour with something else once I understand what Johnny is trying to say with that behaviour.
But what I find interesting paradoxical is that when you have a child on the spectrum you are taught how to play and do things in order to get your child to have some spontaneous interactions with you. Here is Johnny entering a Grade 1 classroom trying to interact with his peers and enjoy himself when just two years ago he was overwhelmed by the classroom experience. I will take this little victory and gently remind Johnny he can sing to me as much as he wants at home, outside or with his music teacher.