Monday, November 15, 2010

BUT OFFICER, I DID IT ON PURPOSE!

           When you transition your child to a new school it is important for every person who comes in contact with your child to understand his special needs. He will interact with classroom teachers, special class teachers such as music, art and PE. He will come in contact with cafeteria staff, custodians, resource officers, office staff, assistants, the principal etc.
            During your transition meeting you need to discuss his communication needs  with the team. You don't want your child to get into trouble because a member of the staff doesn't understand that he may have trouble communicating or may inadvertently say something inappropriate.
            A few years ago I had a high school student who had Asperger's Syndrome. For some reason he decided to take things out of the lost and found box and put them in different places in the school. He wasn't exactly stealing. He was just rearranging. I'm not sure why he decided to do this, but I'm sure he had a reason that made sense to him at the time.
            The school resource officer wanted to talk to him about it so he called him down to the office. Since I was working with the student at the time I went down to the office with him. I spoke to the officer and asked him if he knew this student and if he had ever spoken with him before. The officer apparently thought I was questioning his authority and got a bit defensive. He responded, "Why? What's the problem?" I explained to him that this student had autism. And again he said, "So what's the problem?" I tried to explain to the officer that my student may not understand  what he is asking so he may want me to come along and help during the questioning. But the officer did not want my help. He instructed me to wait in the hall. I was more than a little nervous for my student. I was terrified that the officer would ask him a simple question and my student's reply would be bazaar. Kids with ASD can really say some strange things if they don't fully understand a question. I was afraid if this happened that the officer might think my student was being disrespectful.
            As I predicted my student did say something unusual. But thankfully the officer did not  get offended, just confused. When the officer asked my student why he took the items out of the lost and found he replied, "Because it was on purpose." When the two of them emerged from the office my student had his usual blank expression on his face, but the look on the officer's face was priceless. His eyes were wide with astonishment and bewilderment. As if to say, "What the heck?" I swallowed my  giggles out of pity and respect for the officer but I couldn't help thinking, "Dude! I tried to tell you.”
            This situation was funny, but it could have been unfortunate for my student. Kids with ASD don't look any different from other kids their age. You can't pick them out in a crowd. In some cases you can carry on a lengthy conversation and never know that there is something different. So then when the person with ASD blurts out something inappropriate or says something that doesn't quite make sense it catches you off guard. You assume that it was intentional, that this person meant to offend you. But nothing could be further from the truth. It was a misunderstanding that comes from being socially awkward and not understanding the subtle cues that are such a large part of our language.
            Please do all that you can to prepare the school staff  for your wonderfully quirky and unique child. This will help them build a meaningful and helpful relationship with him. The staff wants to do everything they can to help your child learn and grow. By helping them to get to know him ahead of time you are enabling them to give him their best.

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