I thought I’d share on my blog what I wrote to Johnny’s New Grade 1 teacher. It really gives a snapshot of his journey and where he is now.
Dear Ms. ******,
First I’d like to welcome you and I’m looking forward to meeting you. I am sure that Ms. ******, the EA, has been giving you the lowdown on Johnny but I thought I would also let you know some insight from the parents point of view.
First off, even though Johnny is autistic he doesn’t have an intellectual disability, it’s neurological. He understands everything that’s happening around him but because of his autism he doesn’t always show it in the way that all the other kids are showing are. He is very happy going to school and he is really enjoying his grade one school year. Johnny is smart curious happy passionate determined and artistic.
Johnny started getting his ability to speak back when he was 3 1/2 but he only started saying words that were understandable and stringing words together in sentences in the middle of his JK year when he was 4. He has been making amazing progress in a very short time. He is 6-1/2 now and speaks at home in 6 to 8 word sentences that are pretty clear and he talks to his sister and they have conversations. My guess is he’s probably not showing that ability all the time at school and maybe to only a select few. He is not a shy person at all but it’s a matter of confidence. He is trying to think about how to make his mouth work as well as put all those words together because he such a new speaker. He has always had very strong receptive language skills so it’s important to note that he understands everything that everyone is saying around.
Even if he’s not looking at you when you’re talking to him or when the other children are around him talking to him he hears everything. It is very normal for many autistic children to have trouble looking someone in the eye all the time. For some children like Johnny, It has to do with sensory integration challenges. Its like he’s a little superman and he hears everything that’s happening in the classroom and the highway and what’s happening outside but he’s trying very hard to prioritize which thing he supposed to listen to first and what is more important and then how do you filter out the sounds. He’s getting a lot better at it but that’s what the distraction is not that he’s not listening to a child or a teacher it’s he’s trying to prioritize which thing first. What I do is I give him little prompts and remind him by saying “who do you think you should be listening to now” or “that child is talking to you what do you say.” His little 3-1/2 year old sister is more robust and will remind him by saying “this is when you’re supposed to answer me because I was actually talking to you” or my favourite “you can do that later or you can listen to that later but right now I am talking to you.”
From my point of view as a mother I think that the reason why socially Johnny can be awkward at times is because he never got to make all those little mistakes the two and three-year-olds make at the playground. He could not talk and he could not make any sounds so all those parallel play opportunities where someone takes your toy or you try to play with the other child all of those were missed opportunities. He has been in many different environments and social groups settings but he’s been playing catch-up. He has lots of empathy and he loves being around other children.
He loves his peers in grade one but I liken it to him being a 15-year-old boy inside that has no idea how to ask a girl to dance. At the playground he will go up to his Daddy and say “I want to play with that little girl over there. Help me please.” So that’s where The ISP Autism room teacher comes in in order to help Johnny learn to navigate the social situations and learn how to make friends at school. Interestingly enough I think he does better when he’s dealing with adults probably because they are more patient with him and maybe a bit more predictable.
Johnny is very curious and he likes to comment on his environment when we are out anywhere and he’s generalizing, matching and figuring out why things work what they do. One of our goals as parents is for him to feel confident enough to express that when he’s around his peers and to his teachers so that they really see who he really is.
He has motor speech delay otherwise known as Apraxia which affects his gross motor and fine motor skills as well. So we’ve done a lot of work with a specific speech language pathologist that touches his face and jaw and teach him how to produce the different letter sounds. We’ve also pursued occupational therapy which helps him with balance climbing and just cuddling his body in space and also strengthen all his muscles in his hands so that he can get become a better writer.
We have been using a lot of apps on our home iPad the last two years in order for him to practice all those printing skills to develop all the fine motor skills hand eye coordination etc. We are trying to put an emphasis on the motor speech delay as well right now because so that he can produce the sounds so that he can do the sounding out of words that is required city can learn to read. The good news is is even though we knew that he could identify and make the sounds of all the letters in the alphabet he was having a real hard time sounding out an actual word. But Johnny is a very determined little boy and when I didn’t think that this was going to be the way for him to learn he is trying to do that. From what I can tell is that if he’s trying to stuck trying to learn to read a word and he can’t, I ask him to give me the first sound of the word and he will do that. Then he slowly tries to say each letter sound in the word and his fighting through his Apraxia and combine the sounds together but he can do it, it’s just going to take him longer. This makes us very proud parents because if there’s one thing I can say about Johnny is he is so very determined to get past his disability. I know he knows he’s different he does not know he’s autistic but ever since he was in junior kindergarten he has told us that he wants to do but all the other kids can do. His only frustration is he sees how easy it is for everyone else but how hard it is for him. We try to teach him in ways that is less frustrating for him and also teach to his strengths at home.
Areas of Strength:
1) insatiable curiosity
2) Visual learner if he sees a picture of it then he connects and it’s in his head
3) He actually is an audio learner but not in a crowded situation he is troubles processing audio but if he’s one on one with the person or using the iPad he likes to listen to how award is said and copy it and repeated he likes doing that.
One of his big challenges for him is trying to filter through all the stimulation and sensory input that comes at him all the time. The happy chatter of all the children and all the situations at school can be overwhelming for him. He just needs to have some breaks to getaway from that to clear his head so he can refocus. Because he’s a visual learner all that the visuals coming at him can be hard for him to focus on especially since he picks up that type of information too fast he will need to clear his head. He can tell instantly when he enters a room if things of been moved and if there’s something that needs fixing. He is always looking and watching and taking everything in.
So when you’re talking to him what you can do in busy crazy happy children loud situations is simplify what you’re saying to him, use a few words to him and he will understand you faster. Always remember that he is trying desperately to filter everything out and try to concentrate on what is important in the room or in the hallway or outside on the playground.
Johnny is also a literal person so he doesn’t understand what jokes are but he does like to tease others and is very joyful. If you feel that he is not answering you properly or in the way that you think you should be getting an answer I always suggested people to ask very direct questions of him. Be as specific as you can never generalize with him because he will always be specific to you.
I hope this helps you get to know Johnny and we look forward to meeting with you.