Personal space issues
Overcoming personal space issues is one of the biggest hurdles Johnny is facing right now. Because of the social challenges he doesn’t know when he’s crossing the line and why some of his friends are acting the way they are. They go to their teacher and myself when they see me and share their confusion and frustrations. Now that princess is in Junior kindergarten, if they see her it they go up to her and talk to her as well. I try and remind everyone that because he was completely non-verbal when he was a toddler and a preschooler, he was unable to follow along and learn the social cues that all the other children were learning. I watched as his little sister made little social steps and things might not go well but the little ones were making mistakes or victories together. Now Johnny is nearly 8 and he is navigating the social sphere and every step can be a misstep filled with good intentions. A resource like this to share with Johnny to help him begin to be mindful and look for clues in how his friends are acting is becomes very relevant.
He keeps kissing me. He kisses me a lot and I tell him that my Mommy and daddy don’t like that. He’s always squeezing me. He touches my arm a lot. He sits too close to me I don’t like that.
A couple of weeks ago we had to meet up with Johnny’s Grade 2 class at an event outside of school on the weekend and I noticed all the kids were really happy to see him. A bunch of the girls he plays with quickly helped him get out of his coat cold and asked if he wanted to play with them and he said yes and he went off to play with the group. Then later when the kids were split into smaller groups and a group passed him in the hall, all the kids were happy to see him and immediately called out to him and saying “hi” and high-fiving him. But the simple gesture of “high-five” is also a red flag to me because its often used my many special needs teachers to teach appropriate interactions between children. They are attempting to replace a one behaviour with another behaviour so instead of him touching the kids in ways that they don’t want to be touched instead he can do high-five. Its a great strategy but I don’t thing is getting to the root of the problem that Johnny is facing and here in lies the challenge.
Johnny is trying his very hardest to fit in school and to follow everyone’s expectations and to be like all the other children. He sees himself as part of the Grade 2 classroom and no longer considers himself as part of the ISP Autism Room but a “visitor”. He is a very determined little boy. He holds it together and keeps it together at school and like I wrote in the previous post he’s like a little champagne bottle that has all this pressure inside that is in danger of blowing it’s cork later on in the day. So he hides anxiety quite a bit and then we see it come out in other ways. It manifests itself in him touching the children, being too close to them, being in their personal space. I find it extremely frustrating that the solution seems to be that he be taught about personal space social stories diagrams etc. and then keep being verbally prompted to not sit too close, to not touch, keep hands to himself, to ask permission before you touch which then increases the anxiety even more. There seems to be an assumption that at first he didn’t understand what he was supposed to do. Then now they can see that he knows right from wrong and that he understands the expectations but he keeps making the wrong choice. I then explain about Executive Functioning skills challenges and how those challenges increase when anxiety increases. When he is trying to fulfill expectations and then is told that he’s doing the wrong thing over and over again and then we are in a vicious circle. Then you add sensory dis-regulation that takes place then because of all of this. On top of it, professionals that are working with him are all on a learning curve when it comes to sensory occupational therapy dysregulation. They see the smiling child but they don’t see the stressed-out child that I see the comes home from school.
Johnny has a weighted vest at school and he has had Occupational Therapy Consultant come into the school assess him, work with him and consult with teachers. I have had to fill out a sensory questionnaire and the teachers fill out a questionnaire and then consult with the teachers and explain in depth about why he needs a sensory diet. The challenge seems to be now is he’s in the regular classroom quite a lot now and it’s a very busy classroom was so many subjects that you learn when you’re great too it’s very fluid environment and trying to put in a sensory diet into that day seems to be difficult. When he was in the resource room more it was simpler and also when he was in junior kindergarten it seem to be simpler because he was in the quieter room or could step out of lessons easier. It also doesn’t help that Johnny does not want to be different. He is trying to defy the fact that he is different and autistic and is determined to act and be like all the other children. So emerges with him not wanting to wear the weighted vest because none of the other kids have weighted vest. He doesn’t want to use his iPad in the Grade 2 because that sets him apart as well.
What do we do now? There is less than 2 months of Grade 2 left so we try to remind the teachers to follow the Occupational Therapists sensory diet recommendations because we know that as the school year winds down his anxiety always ratchets up higher and higher. We think about strategies for Grade 3 because will be having meetings about the IEP and placement again and really push hard.
And then finally it comes down to us as parents that we will have to do what we always do. It is going to fall upon us to teach him exactly why he needs to do sensory regulation activities, what does heavy work do and why he needs to do this, why he needs to wear the vest and shouldn’t feel bad about wearing it. Because one of the big things with Johnny is if you sit down and talk to him properly about why he has to do something and then he understands and then he will want to do it. He can be very obstinate and stubborn but also at the same time extremely passionate about some things. So as adults we have to work extra hard to get him to buy into an idea and then once he does he buys into it full throttle.
Now I ask the big question….. how do we convince him to buy into all the sensory integration stuff if his teachers do not buy into it or understand it and think that everything is fine and only raise the red flag when other children complain about Johnny’s actions?