Autism : a teachers story. A lovely post by @Mammapolitico

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Today I’m lucky enough to have a post written by @Mammapolitico !
I asked twitter if anybody had written a post about what it’s like to teach a child with autism and she very kindly wrote this for me.
I have to say that @Mammapolitico sounds like she did an amazing job , I wish more teachers were like this.

Enjoy this lovely post !

Autism : A Teacher’s Story

Any teacher will tell you that there are some pupil’s you teach that you never ever forget. Children that you put your heart and soul into teaching and who even years later, you still wonder how their lives have turn out.

I was an inexperienced teacher, only a couple of years past qualifying, when the Headteacher called me in to her office to meet a small boy and his family. He was starting in my class the next week. Let’s call him L. This was just a spur of the moment, say hello meeting designed to put his parents mind at rest. I said Hello to L’s parents who smiled nervously. L was playing with a small metal car he had brought from home. Pushing it backwards and forwards repetitively, humming as he did so. L wouldn’t look up as I repeated hello. I didn’t think anything of it at the time as lots of children would be shy when meeting a new teacher for the first time.

Later that afternoon, a longer meeting took place with the Headteacher and the parent’s without L. I learnt that L had Aspergers Syndrome or high functioning Autism as it sometimes known. I listened. I went home that night and researched into the early hours of the morning. This child was going to be in my class on Monday morning and I had NO idea at all about Autism. No idea other than what his parents had told me about what he was going to be like. I had a nagging feeling that my classroom was going to be a difficult pace for him to be. I hadn’t had any training to help me teach this child. An extra support assistant would be allocated to the class for a couple of hours a day but that would be it. In at the deep end.

I taught L for two years. I learnt all there was to learn about Aspergers. School didn’t send me on any training courses, though they could have. I learnt from the cues L gave me how to cope with his behaviour. I developed resources just for him. A visual timetable with pictures of what activities we were doing that day so he knew what was coming next. If there was to be a change in routine, I didn’t just spring it on him. I took him to one side and explained what was happening and more importantly the reasons why. L always asked that question. Many times a day he would say “but why?”. Flexibility made all the difference to him coping. I let him line up last when it was time to go to the hall. I knew he was afraid of big rooms and loud nosies. I encouraged his artistic talent, and if he couldn’t cope with the task the rest of the class was doing, then I let him draw. This child could draw a car as a 3d diagram, in such amazing detail, despite being five years old.

It wasn’t plain sailing teaching L. There were 29 other children in the class who needed teaching as much as he did. Unbelievably and sadly, when he first arrived in the class, some parents of the other children, went as far as to complain to the Headteacher that he shouldn’t be there. That he would affect their children’s education. The school stood it’s ground. The governors got involved. As a catholic school we believed that L had a right to be part of our community and that the other children wouldn’t lose out by being in the class. We believed that they would learn valuable things by him being there.
They did. They learnt patience and showed their kindness. They discovered L had a wicked sense of humour and would hide things and pull funny faces behind my back. They made friends with him, got him to draw stuff for them and loved him being part of the class.

L didn’t say much at all. In the years that I taught him, I’d get the odd hello, the question why often, a goodbye at home time. He’d draw me pictures at home and I’d find them on my desk. Remember I said he wouldn’t look at me that day I met him first?
He didn’t make eye contact for very long time, but the day I left the school, after my leaving assembly, he came up to me after all the other children had gone, looked straight at me and said two words that meant the hard work had all been worth it – those words were simply – thank you.

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